Notes and Editorial Reviews
A famous -- and tremendous -- Porgy and Bess no Gershwin lover should miss
What a surprise, and what a performance! A famous evening in the theatre has unexpectedly surfaced on CD. It captures not only Leontyne Price's youthful, rending Bess and William Warfield's grizzled Porgy; the whole enterprise flies with a sense of great drama caught on the wing. And for a touch more stardust, there's the great Cab Calloway as Sportin' Life.
-- Gramophone [7/2008]
This historical set is a major document: In 1952 the State Department sponsored a European tour of Porgy & Bess that was to last more than three
years. This performance comes from a radio broadcast of a live performance in Berlin on September 21, 1952, and judging from the audience reaction (and what a grand time the singers are having!), it was an enormous success. In addition to the exoticism—the mingling of classical and jazz was both alluring and disturbing, and the presence of an all-black cast made for quite a show—the “American folk opera’s” remarkable forward propulsion and almost cinematic energy thrilled audiences wherever it was performed.
The performance is magnificent, with more rambunctious force, warmth, spontaneity, and flavor than any studio recording before or since, and the cast is starry. Leontyne Price, 25 years old and virtually unknown at the time, is a spectacular Bess, with gleaming, focused tone; William Warfield probably has never been bettered in the part of Porgy; and Cab Calloway’s Sportin’ Life is so exciting that it’s practically visual, though some may take issue with his improvisatory ways. The lesser known singers are equally fine, with Helen Thigpen turning in a riveting “My man’s gone now” and Helen Colbert singing “Summertime” beautifully. John McMurry is a properly despicable Crown.
Alexander Smallens’ conducting can be manic and occasional ensembles seem on the verge of falling apart, but they never do. And he comes through in the tender moments like a champ—“Bess you is my woman now” is ravishing. There are some cuts but few will complain. There’s plenty of stage noise, occasionally voices are drowned out by the orchestra, and there’s some blare, but it is never a chore to listen to.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com [8/2011]
Works on This Recording
Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin
Joseph James (Baritone),
William Warfield (Baritone),
Helen Dowdy (Mezzo Soprano),
Helen Colbert (Soprano),
Howard Roberts (Tenor),
Leontyne Price (Soprano),
John Macurdy (Bass),
Cab Calloway (Baritone),
Ray Yeats (Tenor)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1935; USA
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