Gershwin: Piano Concerto; Rhapsody in Blue; Second Rhapsody

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gershwin
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Rhapsody in Blue; Second Rhapsody
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)The Philharmonia/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9092 DDD
These new recordings of Rhapsody in Blue present two different sides of this evergreen work. Howard Shelley treats it as virtuoso piano music, and plays with scrupulous attention to the score. The accompaniments could go with more ‘swing’, and the resonant recording does mask much of the detail but the performance is still pretty good, with an excellent clarinet solo at the start. The original jazz-band version is a more piquant affair, and Georges Rabol’s idiosyncratic playing makes it sound both punchy and whimsical. The Jazzogène Big Band is not always ideally polished, but it plays with tremendous vigour and a novel approach to phrasing.

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Shelley’s logical coupling is the Concerto in F, and both he and the Philharmonia are in fine form here. I particularly enjoyed John Wallace’s bluesy trumpet solos in the slow movement. Chandos also throws in the rare Second Rhapsody: its sectional structure betrays the work’s film score origins, but it has some wonderful moments.

Philippe Selve’s skilful transcription of the Cuban Overture for jazz band (on the Opus 111 disc) emphasises the work’s rhythmic drive. Again the playing is sometimes a bit approximate, but it’s full of vitality.

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The Three Preludes are utterly idiomatic, and Rabol also has a go at recapturing the way in which Gershwin might have improvised on those famous songs from Porgy and Bess. Rabol’s use of the tunes is rather elliptical, but he’s an accomplished jazz pianist and these versions are well worth hearing. The sound throughout is first rate. Stephen Maddock