Gershwin: Piano Concerto

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WORKS: Piano Concerto (arr. Grofé); Rhapsody in Blue (jazz band version); ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations
PERFORMER: Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano); Baltimore SO/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2189


George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with solo piano was written hastily for a 1924 New York concert by Paul Whiteman’s dance band, and scored by Whiteman’s house arranger Ferde Grofé – who later made a theatre orchestra version and the familiar version for symphony orchestra.

Interviewed in the Decca booklet and in the March BBC Music Magazine, Jean-Yves Thibaudet makes much of his choice of the original band scoring as a way of going back to the work’s jazz roots. Clarinet and trumpet certainly set the piece off in fine style, and Thibaudet himself ventures a few added grace notes and some lightly swung rhythms. But in this piano-heavy live recording Marin Alsop’s Baltimore Symphony, while incisive enough, still sounds like a full-size orchestra. The original version is given more of a tightly-knit jazz feeling by Donohoe and Rattle on EMI.


An odder decision is to record the more ambitious though still jazz-tinged 1925 Concerto not in Gershwin’s own orchestration, but in Grofé’s arrangement for Whiteman’s band. This isn’t simply a practical re-scoring, but adds extra lines and bits of percussion to frequently banal effect. More valuable is the use of the original manuscript version of the 1934 Variations on I Got Rhythm, rather than the heavily reworked edition published after Gershwin’s death. That’s one good reason to buy this disc. But the best is Thibaudet’s diamond-bright playing, relaxed and joyful in a way that brushes these vexed questions of authenticity aside. Anthony Burton