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Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue, Piano Concerto / Stefano Bollani, Riccardo Chailly


Release Date: 03/22/2011 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001531102  
Composer:  George Gershwin
Performer:  Stefano Bollani
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



GERSHWIN Piano Concerto in F. Rhapsody in Blue. Catfish Row. Rialto Ripples Stefano Bollani (pn); Riccardo Chailly, cond; Leipzig Gewandhaus O DECCA B0015311 (73:36) Live: Leipzig 1/28–30/2010


First the good news: The Gewandhaus Orchestra—at over 260 years old the most venerable of orchestras—knows how to play Gershwin. One shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose. With Harnoncourt, of all conductors, leading a more than creditable Porgy and Read more Bess in Graz, it’s pretty safe to assume the jazz-age idiom has become common heritage. So we have Gershwin from Leipzig now, and while one would never mistake the Gewandhaus Orchestra for a jazz ensemble, that is never quite the point of Gershwin’s orchestral works anyway. So the orchestra maintains its polish—though the brass section does get pretty rowdy at times—and the famous clarinet solo in the Rhapsody does not eclipse memories of Ross Gorman or Al Gallodoro in full cry. Still, Thomas Ziesch starts with a nicely smeared glissando, the trumpets wail or moan soulfully, principal violinist Frank-Martin Erben performs the Summertime solo with feeling and some blue notes, and the orchestra plays throughout with flair and enormous commitment.


It certainly doesn’t hurt that Riccardo Chailly, a rhythm-and-blues drummer in his youth, has more than a little experience with this composer’s music. In fact, he produced a recording of stylish and rhythmically alert Gershwin with the Cleveland Orchestra in the 1980s. His Catfish Row performance here is as good as they come. Not that they come that often, which is a shame since Gershwin’s suite, despite some awkward construction, is a much richer work than Robert Russell Bennett’s popular Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture.


The soloist in the other works is Italian pianist Stefano Bollani. Classically trained, but famed as an exponent of crossover, free, and tango-fusion jazz, he has been racking up awards and getting onto a lot of top-performers lists. Assumedly this, and his popular success with Gershwin’s music, is what led Decca to release another Rhapsody and concerto CD just a year after the plush, sophisticated, and rather staid Alsop/Thibaudet. Happily, the label made better choices this time, and the performances are first-class. As in the previous release, the original Grofé jazz band version of the Rhapsody is used, but this time Decca has recorded Gershwin’s own version of the Piano Concerto in F. Chailly and Bollani play the concerto with full regard for Gershwin’s serious intent, yet with swing and dashing style. They emphasize its modernist tendencies—Chailly suggests a stylistic kinship with Stravinsky in the liner interview—with transparent textures and generally urgent tempos, avoiding the common mistake of treating it like a romantic concerto. Not that Bollani shies away from a big statement and imposing energy, but he is just as likely to employ a light touch and a loose-limbed charm, notably in the bluesy central movement.


The only bad news—and it may not be so for everyone—is the solo improvisation in the Rhapsody . Bollani justifies it, again in the interview, by arguing precedent: Gershwin improvised for the 1924 premiere, so it’s OK. I don’t buy it; Gershwin improvised at Aeolian Hall because he couldn’t finish the work in time. However, he wrote out the solo completely for publication, and except for recording-dictated cuts, performed it as written thereafter. Bollani makes rhythmic alterations throughout, a number of chord enhancements in the solo statements, and adds a set of variations in the final solo section. He takes fewer liberties here than he took a few months later in Rome with James Conlon, in a broadcast video that can be viewed on YouTube, but I would have much preferred it as written.


The disc ends with an orchestral arrangement of Gershwin’s first published work, Rialto Ripples , which is also heavily improvised. Fair enough; it is an encore, and an arrangement, and a novelty work at that. The performers obviously are having a lot of fun. So did I. The sound is first-rate: immediate, detailed, with a wide dynamic range, solid bass, a nice bloom around the soloist and orchestra, and no discernable audience noise. Purist complaints aside, this is one of the most enjoyable Gershwin discs of my acquaintance, joining the Wild/Fiedler/Boston Pops on RCA for the concerto and Mayorga/Richman/Harmonie Ensemble on Harmonia Mundi for the Rhapsody on my best-of list. I can’t imagine any collector who enjoys Gershwin passing it up.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

1. Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin
Performer:  Stefano Bollani (Piano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; USA 
2. Porgy and Bess: Suite "Catfish Row" by George Gershwin
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; USA 
3. Concerto for Piano in F major by George Gershwin
Performer:  Stefano Bollani (Piano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; USA 
4. Rialto Ripples by George Gershwin
Performer:  Stefano Bollani (Piano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917; USA 

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