On CD: Alsop and Thibaudet do Gershwin
Jean-Yves Thibaudet: Gershwin Piano Concerto, Rhapsody in F. Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Decca.
by Joe Banno
Gershwin’s most popular concert works for piano and orchestra, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Concerto in F,” try to do the impossible – take the free-form, improvisational art of jazz and formalize it into set, classical scores. But the right interpreters can cut through the traditional structures in these works to rekindle the feeling of spontaneously created jazz that’s at their core.
(read more after the jump)
A new Decca CD of the “Rhapsody” and the Concerto, along with a much shorter, less frequently performed Gershwin concert piece, the “I Got Rhythm” Variations (B001491-02), features pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet with the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop’s baton. Although Ferde Grofe’s jazz-band arrangements of the two main works (created for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra’s seminal performances in the 1920s) have been chosen for this CD, the vibe from both Thibaudet and Alsop is a decidedly classical one. That’s not to say there’s anything stodgy in their readings: The music’s warmth, wit and glamour come though nicely.
The problem is, these performances refuse to swing. Thibaudet tirelessly, in all three works, teases out ear-catching harmonies and brash dynamic contrasts, but only the rare phrase feels fresh-minted, or suggests the idiomatic sway of jazz-club music-making in the writing. And Alsop is in cautious, micro-managerial mode here, muting the pungency in Grofe’s arrangements and conducting much of the “Rhapsody” in a doggedly foursquare way. It’s left to BSO clarinetist Steven Barta and trumpeter Andrew Balio to remind us, in their solos, just how jazzy and seductive this music should sound.
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