George Gershwin - An American in Paris, Piano Concerto, etc.

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Leopold Godowsky lll, piano / Royal Scottish National Orchestra / JosÄ— Serebrier, conductor
SOMM - Ariadne 5003 (67:22)

This is an interesting historical re-issue – first appearing on Dinemec Classics 20 years ago – in celebration of the composer’s Centennial.

The soloist Leopold “Lee” Godowsky (1938-2011) had an excellent pedigree, being the nephew of George and Ira Gershwin and grandson of the celebrated pianist/composer Leopold Godowsky. His is a fine tribute, even if as a performance it does not supplant Freddy Kempf and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Litton on BIS, in my affections.

The conductor is another favourite of mine, JosÄ— Serebrier, who is one of the most recorded classical artists of all time. As well as the works listed above, also included are two works in first recordings, Three Preludes and Lullaby, orchestrated and edited by the maestro.

There is an excellent 20-page all-in-English booklet with the CD from which I see that the recording producer was the renowned Paul Myers.

The circumstances of its original recording make this an attractive release to acquire and gratitude goes to the people at SOMM, the award-winning British independent label founded in 1995, for making it available again.

© 2018 Peter Burt

In common with several other of his contemporary composers of the first half of the 20th century, George Gershwin’s concert works are infused with musical ideas based on jazz idioms.

Although he became firmly established as one of that era’s foremost ‘popular’ composers, Gershwin aspired to write music in a more ‘serious’ vein. A telling remark in the excellent booklet notes – which accompanied the original Dinemec CD in 1998 – relates how, after the first performance of Rhapsody In Blue, (which had been orchestrated by Paul Whiteman’s staff arranger, Ferde Grofe), Gershwin was immediately commissioned to write his first Piano Concerto by Walter Damrosch, the [then] conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra . One of Gershwin’s first tasks was to buy a textbook on orchestration !

On a journey to Paris, he approached Maurice Ravel to give him lessons, but the latter famously responded ‘Why would you want to risk becoming a second-rate Ravel, when you are already a first-rate Gershwin? He did, however, have some lessons from Arnold Schoenberg in the 1930s.

Schoenberg, Stravinsky and others have been cited as having said to Gershwin, upon learning how

much he was earning, ‘I should be taking lessons from you’! (This may well be an apocryphal tale).

The cover of the score of An American In Paris, at Gershwin’s insistence, states that the work was ‘Composed and Orchestrated by George Gershwin’, and that orchestration boasts some quite original touches.

Although Lullaby was written for string ensemble, Jose Serebrier was encouraged to re-score the piece for full orchestra by Leopold Godowsky, and to add to the rather limited repertoire of concert

works by Gershwin, Serebrier took the Three Preludes for piano – written by Gershwin in the mid 1920s – and orchestrated those as well, especially for this recording.

The performances, by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Jose Serebrier, with Leopold

Godowsky as piano soloist, are first rate, and this CD will certainly give much pleasure to all who enjoy the music of the undoubted genius who was called George Gershwin.

© 2018 Tony Clayden

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