Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Catfish Row Symphonic Suite; Piano Concerto in F; Rialto Ripples

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COMPOSERS: Gershwin
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Rhapsody in Blue; Catfish Row Symphonic Suite; Piano Concerto in F; Rialto Ripples
PERFORMER: Stefano Bollani (piano); Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2739

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Gershwin’s jazz-inspired Rhapsody in Blue has been recorded by many fine pianists, but rarely by an out-and-out jazz performer such as Stefano Bollani. He treats most of the solo part with unexpected respect, and even un-swung rhythms. But he occasionally loosens up the text with exaggerated rubato and octave shifts; and in a couple of passages – taking his cue from the fact that Gershwin is known to have ad-libbed parts of the 1924 premiere – he embarks on free flights of improvisation. It’s all neither one thing nor the other; and the Gewandhaus Orchestra, although playing Ferde Grofé’s original band scoring with some flair, never stops sounding like a full symphony orchestra.

Bollani’s clear, crisp pianism is heard to more convincing effect (if slightly too forwardly recorded) in a fine, absolutely straight account of the Concerto in F. And Riccardo Chailly brings off an assured and lively performance of Gershwin’s own, little-heard suite from Porgy and Bess, Catfish Row. But forget Rialto Ripples, a piano-and-orchestra arrangement of an early ragtime number which continues as an improvised solo garnished by banter between soloist and conductor.

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There are tighter accounts of the Rhapsody in its original scoring by Donohoe and Rattle on EMI, and James Levine with the Chicago Symphony on a DG disc also including a full-blooded Catfish Row. Or Sony’s disc of all Gershwin’s piano-and-orchestra music, by Michael Boriskin with Jonathan Sheffer’s Eos Orchestra, which includes idiomatic performances of both the Rhapsody – in Grofé’s second, theatre-orchestra version – and the Concerto. Anthony Burton