Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Strike Up The Band
Pianist Orion Weiss and conductor JoAnn Falletta complete their cycle of piano-and-orchestra Gershwin with the evergreen Rhapsody in Blue, in Ferde Grofé’s final arrangement, for full symphonic forces. The orchestral contribution is lively and idiomatic, with jazzy clarinet and trumpet. The solo playing is clean and clear, but I would also describe it as thoughtful and careful. Yes, I’d be the first to complain if it were thoughtless and careless. But Weiss chooses some slow tempos and shows a slight lack of spontaneity, taking the edge off the crackling excitement of the piece.
The Rhapsody is prefaced by the tuneful Overture to the anti-war satire Strike Up the Band, in Don Rose’s brassy arrangement for full orchestra, and followed by the catchy Promenade, with John Fullam, the Buffalo Philharmonic’s principal clarinettist, a nicely liquid soloist. Last comes Catfish Row, Gershwin’s own suite from Porgy and Bess, which includes some of the work’s finest orchestral passages – such as the thrilling Fugue accompanying Porgy’s fight with Crown – alongside several of the hit songs. It’s all well done, though in ‘Summertime’ the way the solo violinist and oboist place their downbeats precisely on the beat detracts from the loose jazz feeling the melody surely needs.
Recommendable with some reservations, then. If you’re looking for both main works, James Levine and the Chicago Symphony (DG) offer a bright Rhapsody (in the original jazz band version) and a vivid Catfish Row. Or, for a bargain Rhapsody, there’s the excellent Michael Boriskin (Sony).