Gershwin: Concerto in F (CD review)

Also, Rhapsody No. 2; I Got Rhythm Variations. Orion Weiss, piano; JoAnn Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.559705.

American composer George Gershwin (1890-1937) made his name in the musical world in 1924 with Rhapsody in Blue, in which he fused American jazz and classical orchestral music. It probably seemed unique at the time, and it certainly proved influential. But maybe folks back then had already forgotten that the American pianist and composer Louis Gottschalk had done much the same thing some half a century earlier with his Night in the Tropics symphony and Latin American Symphonette. Be that as it may, audiences loved what Gershwin did, and in the following thirteen years before his untimely death, he practically changed the way people would look at serious music forever, with the Concerto in F, An American in Paris, the Cuban Overture, the opera Porgy and Bess, and a whole series of film and Broadway show songs.

In the present album American pianist Orion Weiss, conductor JoAnn Falletta, and the Buffalo Philharmonic present three of Gershwin's most-famous creations, the Concerto in F, the Rhapsody No. 2, and the I Got Rhythm Variations. Although I was not familiar with Mr. Weiss's playing, I have been an admirer of Ms. Falletta's work in Buffalo for some time and looked forward to their collaboration. They did not disappoint me.

Gershwin wrote his Concerto in F in 1925, and in its way it's a bit odd, the piano never quite dominating the proceedings the way you would expect in a concerto. An Allegro opens the piece in a big, robust, sweeping fashion, with Weiss and Falletta leading the way in a forward drive they sustain wonderfully. Supposedly, the Concerto in F was Gershwin's way of saying he could write a "proper" concerto after the popular success of Rhapsody in Blue a year before. The fact is, the Concerto is not as melodic as the Rhapsody, which is probably why it is not as memorable, yet the two works bear a marked resemblance to one another.

The second-movement Adagio evokes the languorous, soulful mood of a nocturne, particularly in the bluesy segment for trumpet and cornet and then in a more breezy and buoyant section when the piano enters. As Gershwin was a fan of Chopin, who wrote so many nocturnes, the similarities would seem appropriate. When the piano does appear, Weiss maintains a good, jaunty, yet poetic cadence.

Then the finale takes up where the first movement left off, big and brassy, Weiss's piano displaying a bravura temperament. Weiss shows us he's a spirited Gershwin interpreter, and one hope he returns for more.

Next up is the Rhapsody No. 2, which Gershwin wrote in 1931 for a Hollywood film, Delicious, with Janet Gaynor. The studio wanted the music to represent the hustle and bustle of New York City, prompting the composer originally to call it Rhapsody in Rivets. Fortunately, he changed his mind about that one. Here, everyone involved with the performance is again in top form, and the piece bubbles over with extravagant, effervescent enthusiasm.

Gershwin wrote the I Got Rhythm Variations for Piano and Orchestra in 1934 for a concert tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of Rhapsody in Blue. It would be the last composition he would fully orchestrate. He based the variations on the tune of the same name from his 1930 hit musical Girl Crazy, the variations marking various musical styles from waltz to Chinese to Arabesque. Weiss, Falletta, and the orchestra handle all of it with ease and practically bring down the rafters.

Naxos recorded the music in Kleinhaus Concert Hall, Buffalo, New York, in November of 2010. It's something a little different for the company in that rather than the warm and slightly veiled sound we often hear from Naxos recordings, this one is very open, very clear, very clean, and very transparent. Coupled with a huge dynamic range, strong transient impact, and deep, taut bass, the results are often startlingly realistic. The piano is somewhat close, true, but it fits in well with the rest of the sonics.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa