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Various Artists, Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

GERSHWIN: “Rhapsody in Blue” et al.

Various Artists

Les Indispensables de Diapason

This compilation, which comes from France by way of the classical-musical magazine Diapason, brings together hi-fi-era recordings of George Gershwin’s concert works. The performances jump from coast to coast. Conductor Felix Slatkin and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra give a bright, deep-focus 1956 rendition of “An American in Paris”; the same group, conducted by another 20th-Century Fox stalwart, Alfred Newman, is joined by pianist Leonard Pennario for a 1961 version of the underrated “Second Rhapsody” that manages to be both grand and skittish — and is also marred by some over-aggressive digital sound processing.

The home team — Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra — is efficiently swanky in a 1961 recording of the Concerto in F, with pianist Earl Wild lavishing his marvelously polished, jewelry-case touch over everything. The real treasure is the 1935 “Rhapsody in Blue” by the Pops, Fiedler, and the great Puerto Rican pianist Jesús Maria Sanromá, a sometimes-elusive recording once again back in print.

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The most complete version of the piece recorded during Gershwin’s lifetime, the performance is strikingly crisp and startlingly lush: Fiedler and the orchestra provide driving, sharp-creased accompaniment, while Sanromá uncorks a magnum’s worth of romantic flamboyance, embellished with no small amount of non-score-sanctioned Lisztian virtuoso embellishment. The “Rhapsody” is as familiar a showpiece as they come, but to hear this version is to strip away decades of ubiquity, performance convention, and, perhaps, excessive reverence, bringing back the original’s brazen vivacity and lyricism.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at
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