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Glorious George

A Century After His Birth, George Gershwin's Music--From "Summertime" to "Embraceable You," Rhapsody in Blue to Porgy and Bess--is Attracting New Generations of Fans
Edward Jablonski
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 5)

"Meeting him was a shock. Here was no art pose, but a blatant earthiness. God be praised, he was alive; lusty, suntanned, athletic, wearing blue shirts, smoking black cigars."

Edward Jablonski is co-author, with Lawrence D. Stewart, of The Gershwin Years and author of An Encyclopedia of American Music; Gershwin--A Biography; Harold Arlen--Rhythm, Rainbows and Blues and the forthcoming Irving Berlin, American Troubadour.

Gershwin's Greatest Hits

The Gershwin centennial unleashed a profusion of compact discs, some new, some old--reissues of vintage 78 rpms and LPs. It is a rare record manufacturer that has not hopped onto the Gershwin steamroller, and artists, from jazz to rock to pop, are having their way (alas, in some instances) with the Gershwin works. Among the best of this group are:

Historic Gershwin Recordings (BMG) One of the greatest Gershwin compilations, this two-CD set contains the two records of Rhapsody in Blue (1924, 1927) and the first (1929) of An American in Paris, in which George plays the celesta and the taxi horns he brought back from Paris. This is one of the best recordings ever of this work. Also included are songs from Porgy and Bess in a recording, supervised by Gershwin, that was made only days after the premiere of the opera. It stars the New York Metropolitan Opera's Lawrence Tibbett, and not the then-unknown original cast. Alex-ander Smallens conducts Porgy's orchestra and chorus. Other highlights: Leonard Bernstein's early American in Paris, and Morton Gould's (a Gershwin favorite) idiomatic performances of the Rhapsody, the Piano Preludes and a marvelous Porgy and Bess suite. The technical job of restoration is superb.

Gems from Gershwin (BMG) A wonderful collection of Gershwin from a 1938 memorial broadcast starring Jane Froman, Felix Knight and Sonny Schuyler, with chorus and orchestra conducted by Gershwin's good friend Nathaniel Shilkret. A cornucopia of music: medleys of songs presented in period style, with Gershwinesque romanticism and zest. Fine transmissions from early masters.

Selections from Porgy and Bess and Blue Monday (Telarc) The major feature of this disc is the first complete recording of Gershwin's early (1922) opera, Blue Monday, using the original orchestration by Will Vodery. The "opere" lasted for one performance in New York as an unlikely presentation in that year's George White's Scandals. Another priceless discovery is "Lonely Boy," a song Gershwin had composed but did not use, in Porgy and Bess.

George & Ira Gershwin Standards & Gems (Nonesuch) Fifteen gems, some from the Nonesuch series of complete Gershwin musicals, and a couple of new ones. All are authentically orchestrated and lovingly performed by an excellent cast. One of the finest collections of the year.

Porgy and Bess (Sony Masterworks Heritage series) This two-CD set features the 1952 recording of the score, supervised by the astute Goddard Lieberson for Columbia Records. While not in truth complete as it is advertised, the recording contains a good deal of the score, beautifully sung, and knowingly conducted by Lehman Engel. This recording was a trailblazer in its day, and it still is.

George & Ira Gershwin in Hollywood (Rhino Movie Music/Ted Turner) A rich two-CD collection of songs from several films, including Shall We Dance, A Damsel in Distress and Gershwin's last, The Goldwyn Follies. Also featured are Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and much more. Produced by the indefatigable Gershwinite Michael Feinstein, the set contains alternate takes, cut songs and a couple of Ira songs written with other composers. Such devotion gives scholarship a good name.

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