LABELS: Sony Masterworks Heritage
WORKS: Porgy and Bess
PERFORMER: Lawrence Winters, Camilla Williams, Inez Matthews, Warren Coleman, Avon Long; orchestra & chorus/Lehman Engel
CATALOGUE NO: MH2K 63322 ADD mono Reissue (1951)
The Sony re-release is of the first complete recording (1951) of Gershwin’s opera. Conducted by Lehman Engel, it’s a more than creditable performance, with some fine voices on display in the major roles, notably that of Lawrence Winters as Porgy, a part whose broad human range he paints in vibrant, enriched colours. Also very impressive are the macho Crown (Warren Coleman), the luscious Clara (June McMechan) and the Sportin’ Life of Avon Long, who made a career in the role. But though dramatically vivid, the boxed-in recording and theatre-orchestra string sound tell against it. For a complete Porgy, Rattle on EMI remains the best bet.
The Telarc disc offers highlights from the score with a cast that’s rarely a match for Sony’s, while conductor Erich Kunzel lacks the necessary punch for this most streetwise of operas. It includes a short duet cut by Gershwin during rehearsal and the legendary Cab Calloway singing his famous rendition of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’. Even more valuable is the filler, a recording – claimed as the first in the original orchestration by Will Vodery – of Gershwin’s earlier opera, Blue Monday. Half-parody, half-serious, it’s packed with memorable numbers and a significant pointer to the composer’s operatic masterpiece. George Hall