Gershwin By Grofé

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gershwin
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: I Got Rhythm Variations; Rhapsody in Blue (arr. Grofé); Songs (arr. Grofé)
PERFORMER: Lincoln Mayorga (piano), Al Gallodoro (clarinet, saxophone); Harmonie Ensemble New York/Steven Richman
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907492

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Hard on the heels of Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s Gershwin recording, reviewed last month, comes this rival version of Rhapsody in Blue, as scored by Ferde Grofé for the famous 1924 premiere by Paul Whiteman’s augmented dance band, and the Variations on I Got Rhythm, in Gershwin’s original scoring for a touring salon orchestra.

The veteran pianist Lincoln Mayorga can’t quite match Thibaudet’s relaxed brilliance, and eschews his embellishments and occasional swung rhythms; but his playing is assured, with an appealing flexibility.

And the contribution of Steven Richman’s Harmonie Ensemble New York is a delight: beautifully recorded (you can actually hear the banjo for once), crisply played, and stylistically spot-on. When in the Variations Gershwin marks an alternation between jazz and straight style, you feel the players are responding just as their predecessors would have done in 1934. 

The Rhapsody is graced by the authoritative presence of clarinettist and saxophonist Al Gallodoro, a member of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra for nearly 30 years: the recording was made shortly before his death in 2008 at the age of 95. Gallodoro and Mayorga also duet inventively on ‘Summertime’.

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And the disc is completed by seven Grofé arrangements of Gershwin songs for the Whiteman band, joyously played over a tight rhythm section. In a curious experiment, one of the tracks was also recorded on a 1909 Edison phonograph, which has the unexpected effect of making the playing sound less competent: food for thought for jazz historians? Altogether, a fascinating and hugely enjoyable disc. Anthony Burton