WORKS: Fantasy for Violin & Orchestra on Porgy and Bess (arr. Courage); Three Preludes (arr. Heifetz); Seven Songs for Violin & Orchestra (arr. Brohn & Tunick)
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin)LSO/John Williams (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 60659
There can be pleasure to be had from dressing Gershwin up in full concert apparel, but it has to be done better than it is here. Not that there’s a problem with the playing: Joshua Bell is as expert as ever, but what is the point of using the gestures of the Romantic violin concerto in these simple songs? Double stops, pizzicato effects, and fireworks abound, but they all sound self-consciously grafted on. The Porgy and Bess fantasy is a particularly bad offender: it’s just a sequence of songs from the opera, relying heavily on Gershwin’s own orchestration, with grindingly boring linking passages which should have been thrown out, leaving a suite of separate movements.
Heifetz’s well-known arrangements of the Preludes come off better than anything, probably because they are at least idiomatic for the soloist. The remaining seven song arrangements are a mixed bag, with ‘I Got Rhythm’ showing wit and imagination, ‘Embraceable You’ indulging in real Hollywood schmaltz, and ‘Liza’ turning into quite a jolly little scherzo. But then, in ‘Sweet and Low-Down’, Gershwin himself appears as a ghost from the past on a piano roll, and suddenly there’s all the rhythmic freedom and life that was missing before. Now that’s what it’s all about. Martin Cotton