Rhapsody in Blue

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Camille Saint-Saëns; Maurice Ravel; George Gershwin
ALBUM TITLE: Rhapsody in Blue
WORKS: Saint-Saens: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22; plus The Swan (arr. Godowsky); Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major; Prélude; Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; plus Love Walked In (arr. Grainger)
PERFORMER: Benjamin Grosvenor (piano); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/James Judd

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Not everything here is perfect. In the scherzo of the Saint-Saëns, a hurried horn phrase at 4:56 throws things off balance for a time, as does Grosvenor’s parallel accelerating of some of the upbeat triplets; and in the fourth bar of the main tune he pedals through a rest each time it comes, whereas the orchestra in reply observe it – small points maybe, but still annoying. In the Ravel slow movement, too, he commits his only real solecism, which is to preempt the first violins’ high B harmonic on the last chord by playing it himself – I trust this is the last time he will ever be thus tempted.

St Luke tells us that ‘Those to whom much is given, of them will much be required’. We could also say, ‘To them will much be forgiven’. The above reservations pale into Beckmesserish scratchings beside the delights of this disc and especially of Grosvenor’s pianism. I can only concur with other critics who hear in his tone and phrasing echoes of a golden age, and that he should count Alfred Cortot and Benno Moiseiwitsch among his idols comes as no surprise: there is the same spaciousness within rhythmic control and the same bell-like sound. For me, his playing of the Godowsky version of Saint-Saëns’s Swan is a high point, with its apparently effortless distinction between the many filigree lines and its aristocratic elegance. At the other extreme, Gershwin’s Rhapsody is blue among many other colours. A champagne disc – fizz and finesse.

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Roger Nichols