Jeffrey Biegel / Brown University Orchestra / Paul Phillips

Manhattan Intermezzo

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Here's a collection of four classical pieces for piano and orchestra linked to New York City, written by composers from the pop world, ranging from the extremely familiar (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue) to the almost completely unknown (the title work, by none other than Neil Sedaka). First off comes the Gershwin, which is worth the price of admission by itself: it gets a distinctive performance from pianist Jeffrey Biegel, with plenty of jazz accents, and it is presented in an edition by scholar Alicia Zizzo that probably represents Gershwin's own intentions. The Sedaka work may be what you'd expect from the composer of Breaking Up Is Hard to Do; its melodies are straightforward. New World a-Comin' is among the less often programmed of Duke Ellington's orchestral pieces, but from the vigorous performance heard here it's hard to see why it should have been neglected. The Piano Concerto No. 1 of Keith Emerson, of the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, may be the nicest surprise of the four works. Those who listened to FM rock radio in the 1970s may well be able to identify the composer, but it incorporates many other influences besides that of ELP (there are even a few 12-tone passages), and it weaves them all together in an attractive score that is arguably the most sophisticated of any of the four works on the album. Worthy of special notice is the work of the Brown University Symphony Orchestra under Paul Phillips, one of the fine university ensembles that give the lie to perceptions that classical music is undersupported in the United States. Recommended.

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