The arresting clarinet glissando at the start of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is probably the most famous opening in American music. It also serves as a symbol for an important current in 20th century music – that of merging popular genres and art music into something wholly new – and as such becomes even more significant through the fact that it wasn’t even in the score when the composer first started rehearsals with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, before the première in 1924: this particular feature, oozing of smoky jazz clubs, was arrived at in collaboration with the clarinettist of the orchestra. At the time, Gershwin was was a mere 25 years old, but already a celebrated jazz pianist and songsmith, with a string of hits to his name. Due to a lack of time, he entrusted the orchestration to Ferde Grofé, the regular arranger of Whiteman’s jazz band. The immediate success of the work created a demand for a version for symphony orchestra, however, and for a long time that was the one most usually heard in concert and on disc.
On the present recording, Freddy Kempf and the conductor Andrew Litton – himself a noted soloist in Gershwin’s works for piano and orchestra – have opted for the original orchestration, allowing the musicians of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra to revel in the role of a classic American big band. Following the première of Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin was commissioned to write a ‘proper’ piano concerto. He did so the following year, this time providing his own orchestration. Also highly successful with its original audience, Concerto in F employed the rhythms, melodic structures and bluesy harmonies of popular music, but its form is resolutely classical. Also included on the album are Gershwin’s two remaining works for piano and orchestra, the Second Rhapsody (here in his own, original orchestration) and the infectious Variations on ‘I Got Rhythm’. The performers on this album have previously collaborated in a highly acclaimed recording of works by Prokofiev – a disc shortlisted for a Gramophone Award in 2010. The reviewer in International Record Review found it ‘an exciting performance, with soloist and conductor working as one’ with ‘wit as well as virtuosity in Kempf’s playing’ – qualities that are in rich evidence in this new release too.
" Good disc ...Its very flattering and dynamic..." ***
Stephane Friederich - Classica magazine - October 2012
"... Kempf is consistently imaginative, attentive to details, technically adroit and emotionally committed. Andrew Litton, an excellent Gershwin pianist in his own right, conducts with tremendous character... strongly recommended ..."
Peter J Rabinowitz - International Record Review - October 2012
Music **** (Very Good) Sound **** (Very Good)
Ole Pflüger - Fono Forum magazine - October 2012
Performance **** Recording *****
"... a highly recommendable disc, featuring state-of-the-art recorded sound..."
Anthony Burton - BBC Music magazine - October 2012