Classical Music Review: New Releases

George Gershwin - Rememberence and Discovery, Vol. 2.  S'wonderful?; Funny Face; Maybe; Soon; I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise; But Not for Me; Someone to Watch Over Me; Who Cares?; Rialto Ripples; How Long Has This Been Going On ?; Jazzbo Brown Blues; For You, For Me, Forever More; Isn't It A Pity; Love is here to Stay; Rhapsody in Blue (solo). Richard Glazier, piano; Centaur CRC 2486. 63'31".

It has often been said that America's greatest and most original contribution to musical art has been in the field of musical theatre and the popular song. And the seemingly artless -- read natural -- achievements in those forms usually far outclass the European solutions used in American art songs. We are a public and sentimental people and these qualities drive every aspect our culture (we're also impatient and distrust any ambiguity -- vide Florida).George Gershwin (1898-1937) is certainly one of the high achievers in this field, which also includes Jerome Kern (1885-1945), and of course Richard Rodgers (1902-1970) and his two famous lyricists, Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960).The simplicity and elegance they achieved -- I should also mention Cole Porter (1891-1964), as well asVernon Duke (1903-1969) -- set standards which have rarely been equalled, much less surpassed. And the African-American composer-pianist-bandleader Duke Ellington, who was always beyond category, is probably the best of them all.

American concert pianist Richard Glazier has a special affection for the Gershwin songbook -- he's loved American musicals from an early age -- and he communicates that in this program of 15 tunes, 10 of which are versions by arrangers like the recently renowned Artis Wodehose -- she masterminded Nonesuch's two piano roll CDs of Gershwin material--Maurice C. Whitney, and MGM house arranger Saul Chaplin (he performed those duties in the film of The Sound Of Music (1965).) Glazier evokes a perfect period feel in each number when that's called for -- especially in the first few -- and that's a large part of their charm, though his most impressive "interpretations" come in the "stylized by Stan Freeman" ones which are in the modern jazz idiom, and in Gershwin's "Jazzbo Brown Blues" which the composer originally intended as a solo piano opening to his folk opera Porgy and Bess (1934) -- its director Rouben Mamoulian (1898-1987), who helmed many famous Hollywood films includiing Garbo's Queen Christina (1933), having dissented. Another striking arrangement is young composer Chris Rutkowski's of "How Long Has This Been Going On" (he's studied with Corigliano) which has a longish intro full of suggestive Debussyan harmonies, and rich mid-register piano sonorities. Glazier's Steinway produces warm, brilliant, and definitely charming sounds, and he's especially convincing when he plays Gershwin's tunes straight -- the recently discovered "Two Waltzes in C" being one of Oscar Levant's favorites. You also get the entire "Rhapsody in Blue" as a piano solo, with all its charms intact. Virgil Thomson once told me that Levant was the only pianist who accurately played what Gershwin wrote here -- others fudged its difficulties -- and Glazier makes you feel its beauties and why people keep lamenting the dumbing down of the American popular song, to say nothing of the culture. These tunes, after all, set standards, and they're still setting them.

Michael McDonagh
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