GERSHWIN: “Rhapsody in Blue” et al.
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.
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.