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This Is Gershwin


Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1265   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Gershwin
Performer:  Joshua Pierce
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



GERSHWIN Second Rhapsody. Rhapsody in Blue. Piano Concerto in F. “I Got Rhythm” Variations Joshua Pierce (pn); Kirk Trevor, cond; Slovak RSO MSR 1265 (72:02)


After receiving his commission from bandleader Paul Whiteman, George Gershwin wrote his most famous orchestral work, Rhapsody in Blue , in a rush, and, if his story is to be believed, while on his way to Boston: “It was on the train, with Read more its steely rhythms, its rattle-tybang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer—I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise . . . there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper—the complete construction of the Rhapsody , from beginning to end.” Gershwin was, like other composers in the 1920s, unduly enraptured with the industrial world; he toyed with calling his Second Rhapsody a Rhapsody in Rivets. It’s hard to hear socialist realism or any other kind of tribute to mechanics in the existing music. Clearly, though, Gershwin was trying to align himself with contemporary trends.


Whiteman had different ideas. He introduced the piece and designed the concert, not merely to show the progress jazz had made towards what he saw as sophistication, but to make classical music “very simple for the masses to understand.” My guess is he and Gershwin succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Whiteman would feature Rhapsody in Blue dozens of times; he made a short version as a theme for his band. The Rhapsody may or may not have led listeners towards other classical music, but it certainly became an end in itself. I, and tens of thousands of others, would hear the piece played annually dozens of times on Boston’s Esplanade on July 4. It was a key part of the annual celebration.


The first time I heard it live, it was being played by Earl Wild and the Boston Pops conducted by Arthur Fielder. I bought the LP they made in 1960. It is still a favorite, despite my general snobby dislike of Fiedler’s music-making. That recording featured Ferde Grofé’s lush arrangement of the piece for orchestra, of course, not the two-piano version he originally sketched, or the jazz-band version Grofé wrote for the Whiteman concert at the Aeolian Hall. What one has to say about this piece and, for slightly different reasons, about the Second Rhapsody and Concerto in F is that there is no definitive orchestration or edition. Earl Wild had previously recorded the Rhapsody in Blue with Whiteman, but added a small chorus. (That rendition is available on Ivory Classics.) More recently, Michael Tilson Thomas recorded the band version along with the Second Rhapsody in vibrant performances. (Gershwin’s performance on “repeating piano” can be heard on Klavier.) All have their appeal.


This new collection by a fine pianist has the advantage of including the four works for piano and orchestra on a single disc. It begins with a lively, even “brittle” version of the episodic Second Rhapsody . (Gershwin said that what distinguished American popular music was its brittle rhythms. I’d guess he hadn’t listened to enough Louis Armstrong.) The orchestra seems more than comfortable with this music; I admire the trumpet smear towards the beginning of the Rhapsody in Blue and the flexibility in tempo throughout. Pierce, whom I have only heard in connection with John Cage, plays with verve and with some flexibility, yet without the awful mannerisms Leonard Bernstein inflicted on the music. It’s wonderful to hear the great theme of the second movement of the Concerto in F played so well, and recorded so fully. (Everyone should also listen to this bit on the recording attributed to Bix Beiderbecke.) Pierce went to the manuscripts before recording this Concerto. As a result, he restores some bars generally cut. In short, this is a consistently fine set of Gershwin recordings. Listen by all means to Fiedler, to Michael Tilson Thomas, and, for a different approach, to James Levine. Then check out this MSR Classics disc.


FANFARE: Michael Ullman
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Works on This Recording

1.
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; USA 
2.
Concerto for Piano in F major by George Gershwin
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; USA 
3.
Variations on "I got rhythm" for Piano and Orchestra by George Gershwin
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; USA 
4.
Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra no 2 "Rhapsody in Rivets" by George Gershwin
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; USA 

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