Gershwin: Cuban Overture

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bernstein,Boito and Wagner,Gershwin,Ravel
LABELS: Warner
WORKS: Gershwin: Cuban Overture; Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story; Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2; Wagner: Tristan und Isolde – Prelude & Liebestod
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 69816-5

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To get from the razzmatazz of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture to the elevated ecstasy of Wagner’s ‘Liebestod’ requires some dextrous programming. Luckily the compiler’s art is alive and adroit at Warner. Gershwin’s rumba-writ-large is a natural bedfellow for the Bernstein Dances which sit easily alongside Ravel whose sultry sensuality leads inexorably back to Tristan.

They could almost have been made for each other… except that the Gershwin and Bernstein (flagged up as ‘First Release 2009’) were recorded in 1997, while the Ravel and Wagner date back to ’91 and ’93 respectively. Used creatively, hindsight is a wonderful thing: here, the resulting programming’s actually more wonderful than the newly-released performances which have been accorded such an ingenious ‘home’.

Gershwin’s postcard from Havana sounds oddly downbeat and detached; Barenboim almost treats it as a deconstruction of the rumba, a Caribbean La valse without the final cataclysm. The central section languishes self consciously, and there is no mischievous twinkle when the music suddenly shakes off its torpor to readmit the breezy opening.

West Side Story disappoints, too. Street-wise ‘attitude’ and a sense of danger are in short supply, as are the physicality and ‘lift’ of the dance (a drawback to Daphnis too). But the Wagner, its first note literally picking up the baton from Ravel, enthrals.

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A ‘Liebestod’ without Isolde is a bit like a party without the guest of honour, but Barenboim coaxes playing of Wagnerian gravitas.
A benediction long-delayed. But a benediction for all that. Paul Riley