Notes and Editorial Reviews
An American in Paris is one of Gershwin’s most vivacious works, an orchestral ballet saturated in homesickness and the blues. This recording, however, uses the new 2019 critical edition and offers Gershwin’s original orchestration, unheard for 75 years- leaner, more angular and transparent, it also employs the correct use of the iconic taxi horns, for a new sonic experience. The breezy vitality of Copland’s An Outdoor Overture is balanced by Bernstein’s Songfest- written to celebrate the Bicentennial Year in America, setting the verses of 13 of the country’s poets.
Songfest is in many ways a portrait of its composer in that the music is multi-faceted and ranges from the simple and lyrical to the flamboyant. Not every movement works as well for me on a level of subjective taste—I’m not a big fan of the tenor solo, ‘Zizi’s Lament’, for instance—but overall, the work is entertaining and full of life. The present performance is excellent with six fine singers expertly partnered by James Judd and his outstanding orchestra.
This new recording of An American in Paris has a particular allure in that it uses the new (2019) critical edition. The edition has been prepared by Mark Clague, the Editor-in-Chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition. In an absorbing note in the booklet, he explains that there are two significant differences between this score and the version to which we’re accustomed. One concerns the use of saxophones. Gershwin specified no less than eight different saxes in his original orchestration, including a trio of soprano saxes. Unfortunately, well-meaning editorial work in the 1940s reduced the eight saxes to three—and even these were designated as optional. Here, the full octet is restored and, boy, do they make a difference at times! (Try the episode beginning at 7:23, where they’re smooching in the background. Even better, listen to them in the exuberant passage from 11:39.) The other changes concern the famous taxi horns. Gershwin was, apparently, very specific as to the pitches of the horns but an editorial misunderstanding after the composer’s death meant that the horns were notated at incorrect pitches. Now we can hear what Gershwin intended.
Copland’s An Outdoor Overture acts as a filler; it receives an alert and entertaining performance.
I’ve encountered the work of the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic on several previous Naxos CDs of American music. I’ve never been disappointed by their performances and this latest programme evidences the same professionalism, polish and commitment that I’ve heard before. James Judd guides them expertly through the music.
I enjoyed this disc very much. It’s especially recommendable for Songfest, not least because to the best of my knowledge it’s the only single-disc version currently available and it’s a work that is very well worth getting to know, especially in this fine performance.
– MusicWeb International