George Gershwin (1898-1937) was one of music’s great prodigies, and also one of its greatest losses – he died aged just 39, in the same year as one of the composers he admired most, Maurice Ravel, and 2 years after Alban Berg, whose opera Wozzeck he studied and admired greatly. It was this work that provided the foundations for his masterpiece, the opera Porgy and Bess.
Gershwin moved freely among the top echelons of American music and artistic life, and frequently played tennis with Arnold Schoenberg, yet some of the waspish critics of the time (and some colleagues) were hostile to his excursions in to the concert hall with ‘serious music’. They had him categorised as a Russian Jewish immigrant with a talent for vulgar music for the lower orders – a remarkably offensive and ignorant view. Much to the annoyance of such people, Gershwin absorbed the concerto structure as easily as he had learned from his study of Wozzeck the form of modern opera. The concerto is wonderfully crafted and is a perfect fusion of classical construction and the world of jazz. The music has a self-confidence that captures the spirit of the age – this is New York in the 1930s: optimistic, fun-loving and life-affirming.
The Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in 1924, and was commissioned by Paul Whiteman the band leader who wished to proved that jazz had come of age as an indigenous art form. Orchestrated by Ferde Grofé (who arranged work for Whiteman as his arranger) the work soon entered the concert repertoire. However, Gershwin also intended it to be played on two pianos, as it is on this CD alongside the two-piano arrangement of the Concerto in F.
Recording made in 1980
‘There are some musical performances where the work and the performers seem made for each other. This is certainly the case here, where the Labèque sisters concentrate their unique art and technique to as absorbing and right-sounding an interpretation of these key Gershwin compositions as anyone could wish. Their instinct for the jazz element, so often missing from flabby orchestral versions, and the clean dry recording bring both the Rhapsody and the Concerto to scintillating life: a palpable hit’ Gramophone, March 1986
“The Labèque sisters have certainly got rhythm...Irresistable verve.”
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