WORKS: Rhapsody in Blue; Cuban Overture; An American in Paris; Three Preludes; Variations on I Got Rhythm; Songs
PERFORMER: Archive performances by Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Hank Jones, Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin; Cécile Ousset, Alan Marks (piano); Berlin Radio Orchestra/Hans-Dieter Baumann, Stuttgart RSO/N
CATALOGUE NO: 49 222 1
The rush to bring Gershwin fare to market before his centenary year is out has inevitably thrown up dross as well as gold. In addition to capturing the attention of serious musicians, Gershwin remains attractive to purveyors of schmaltz and tinkly hotel lounge Muzak, big-name orchestras sleeping through slushy arrangements of show songs.
Thankfully, this stunning set is pure gold. The first CD has the orchestral masterpieces, never sounding fresher or more full of vitality. Rhapsody in Blue, with Neville Marriner and the Stuttgart RSO electrifying and Cécile Ousset’s playing acrobatic and infectious, is riveting from start to finish. In An American in Paris, Marriner repeats the trick of invoking a charming, spontaneous atmosphere with no sacrifice to accuracy or detail.
The second disc, appropriately, is dedicated to classic jazz recordings, an area in which Gershwin’s songs constitute something of a folk tradition that is constantly elaborated, embellished and re-examined. Every track, mostly recorded live, is a joy, but to name names, listen out for Sarah Vaughan in magnificent voice, the exhilarating xylophonist Red Norvo and the magisterial sound of pianist Roland Hanna. My only complaint is the nugatory booklet notes, which contain misattributions and misinformation, while omitting crucial recording dates and much besides. Christopher Wood