WORKS: Rhapsody in Blue; Cuban Overture; Porgy and Bess Suite; An American in Paris
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/James Levine (piano/conductor)
CATALOGUE NO: 431 625-2 DDD
Neither of these Americans sounds terribly comfortable in Paris. Levine wins on points (not least because he has a better orchestra at his disposal), though even his version doesn’t always capture Gershwin’s jazzy idiom entirely successfully. Both he and Lewis take the blues section too quickly – slow it down a bit and it sounds so much sexier.
Levine’s disc is the more generous of the two: I like the energy he brings to the splendid Cuban Overture, and DG obliges with a suitably technicolor recording. Levine plays and directs Rhapsody in Blue with plenty of attention to detail, and it’s good to hear the original jazz-band version. But his performance has some strange idiosyncrasies (perhaps he knows the score too well?), and it’s not half as much fun as the Donohoe and Rattle account (on EMI). The songs played in Catfish Row, Gershwin’s own suite from Porgy and Bess, sound rather strange out of context; but this well-played account provides excellent karaoke opportunities for budding Willard Whites.
I quite enjoyed Janis Vakarelis’s performance of the Piano Concerto on the RPO disc, despite a rather matter-of-fact slow movement. But Howard Shelley’s recent Chandos version with Tortelier and the Philharmonia is in a different league. Stephen Maddock