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

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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


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.


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