Gershwin: Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra

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GERSHWIN:Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra
Rhapsody in Blue
"I Got Rhythm" variations for Piano and Orchestra
BILLY JOEL: Root Beer Rag.

David Syme, piano; Herrera de la Fuente conducting Orquesta Sinfonica de Mineria. O.M. RECORDS OM 80506 (DD); 61:18. (Distributed by Albany.)

London gives us a performance of the Gershwin Concerto which is pure classical Piano concerto, with all the jazz and blues filtered out. If this is how you like your Gershwin, this may be the performance for you. Pianist Peter Jablonski plays with great facility, and at high speeds where called for, and the Royal Philharmonic delivers a warm accompaniment notable for its lush strings; all is captured by a sweet recording. To me, this results in a boring concerto, very different from the Gershwin piece I know. Symphony orchestras often do this to the piece; "Pops" orchestras, even when they consist of nearly identical personnel, seem to catch the spirit better: the jazz, the blues, the excitement. A case in point is the classic recording by Earl Wind with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fielder; it is probably the safest recommendation, either in its Shaded-Dog original LP or its second CD issue, RCS Gold Seal 6519, especially as the mid-price CD includes three other major Gershwin works: Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and the "I got rhythm" Variations.

Getting back to this London disc, Jablonski plays Bernstein's 1938 piano transcription of El Salon Mexico in a way which reminds us how much Bernstein's own music grew out of Copland. Barber's 1977 Ballade sounds more Chopinesque than usual among these pop-oriented works. Gershwin's three preludes are played with competence but no special insight.

The second disc here is drawn from two live performances for television, abetted by later studio touch-ups. The recording sizzles with live performance atmosphere; even the pauses and near silences seem vibrant and exciting. The performance gets off to a casual, cool start and builds intensity throughout the first movement, with strong accents and occasional rough playing from the orchestra. It has all the jazz that Jablonski's performance misses. In the Andante, the solo trumpet in the Mexican orchestra is nowhere as smooth and elegant as in the Royal Philharmonic, but it wails away in a blues vein that is just right for the music. The finale again starts easily and, at a moderate tempo, builds excitement as it goes, ending in a wild climax. The recording is extremely live, even edgy, at the top end, and carries a tremendous wallop, but it is less well balanced than the London. Bass drum and percussion dominate strings and winds; it also seems to grow louder from beginning to end of both outer movements. However the disc has been created, the result is a performance and recording that I find delightful. The above comment about "Pops" applies here to the pianist: David Syme is a Juilliard graduate who once dropped out of the concert world for two years to play with a rock band that also plays oldies in nightclubs.

The playing in the "I Got Rhythm" Variations has the same outgoing feel; Rhapsody in Blue is more restrained. The opening clarinet solo is played straight, in contrast to the exaggerations usually heard; the piano too opens conservatively; only when we reach the first tutti do we return to the vibrancy of the earlier performances. The whole is rapid and hard-hitting, avoiding the sentimentality that often clouds Rhapsody; even the full-strings announcement of the big tune is retrained. I like it this way, and I find the whole disc eminently enjoyable.

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