Gershwin: Overtures & Songs (CD review)

Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano; John McGlinn, New Princess Theater Orchestra. EMI 50999 6 06689 2.

The tunes of George Gershwin (1898-1937) pretty much summed up the music of the 1920's and 30's, mainly because he wrote so much of it. Not only did his work permeate the Broadway stage, it made its way into Hollywood talkies and classical symphony halls all over the world. If this newly reissued EMI disc of Gershwin overtures and songs is any indication, the man is as popular today as he's ever been.

EMI combined two 1986 recordings on this single mid-priced disc, a bargain running over seventy-nine minutes. The first half of the program contains the Gershwin overtures, preludes, and suites made by conductor John McGlinn and the New Princess Theater Orchestra, a pickup group of musicians named after New York's old Princess Theater, long gone. The second half contains the album Kiri Sings Gershwin, with soprano Kiri Te Kanawa singing a dozen of Gershwin's most-famous songs, with McGlinn and company in accompaniment.

For me, the first half of the newly rereleased material is the most successful. It consists of seven purely orchestral selections in their original arrangements, some painstakingly reconstructed from archival scores, played with authenticity and panache by Mr. McGlinn and his group. The selections include two pieces from the film "A Damsel in Distress" (a suite arranged by McGlinn and an extended dance sequence, "Stiff Upper Lip"); the overtures from "Girl Crazy," "Tip-Toes," "Primrose," and "Oh, Kay!"; and the prelude from "Of Thee I Sing."  It's all done in a breezy, lively, purely Jazz-Age style.

The second half of the album is more problematical, depending upon how you react to soprano Kiri Te Kanawa singing popular American tunes. She had done this kind of thing before. Leonard Bernstein chose her to sing the lead in his recording of West Side Story in 1984, and she did a recording of South Pacific in 1986. Her voice is glorious, of course, but in Gershwin she seems a little out of place. Namely, she often seems too operatic, too cultured and refined for the music, too unbending in her rhythms. I would have preferred someone a bit more sympathetic to Gershwin's brand of pop-jazz.

In any case, Ms. Te Kanawa sings renditions of each of the songs arranged in their original forms, so we get a touch of genuineness in the proceedings. The songs include "Somebody Loves Me," "Boy Wanted," "Things Are Looking Up," "Love Walked In," "Love Is Here to Stay," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "But Not for Me," "Summertime," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "By Strauss," "Embraceable You," and "I Got Rhythm."

The 2010 reissued sound, which EMI originally recorded in July, 1986, is outstanding in almost every way. The orchestral arrangements for a midsized band are lucid and engaging, with excellent stage depth and transient response. If I had to criticize anything in a minor way, it would be that the bass is somewhat thin and the strings a tad forward. However, these qualities add to the overall transparency of the sonics, so we don't lose much. The resultant sound, with its vibrant dynamics and stimulating percussion, is almost demonstration quality and goes a long way toward selling the disc.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa