Wayne Marshall

George Gershwin: Concerto in F; Variations on 'I Got Rhythm'; Song Improvisations

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EMI's American Classics series generally offers reasonable low-priced reissues of a variety of American music, but this one, although intriguing, requires caution from the buyer who might naturally be drawn to it: the listener in search of a good, inexpensive album of Gershwin standards. There are indeed a pair of those on offer, from British Gershwin specialist Wayne Marshall, playing the piano and conducting Denmark's Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. Marshall is among the most "classical" of the major Gershwin interpreters, favoring long lines with transparent textures and plenty of phrasing details over motor rhythms, and his performance of the Piano Concerto in F exemplifies these traits. But the longest work on the album isn't a "classic" at all, but instead something entirely original to Marshall. The opening group of seven tracks titled A Gershwin Songbook is not the work known as the Gershwin Song-Book, consisting of Gershwin's own notation of piano improvisations he made his own songs, but instead Marshall's own improvisations on a set of familiar Gershwin numbers including the ubiquitous Summertime. Give him credit: this Summertime doesn't sound like any other. In keeping with his strong orientation toward the classical side of Gershwin's musical personality, he creates improvisations that mostly, except in Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (track 4), de-emphasize jazz rhythms and embed Gershwin's melodies in virtuoso piano figures that are for the most part unsyncopated. In the words of Martin Cotton's brief booklet notes (in English), he may create "the modern equivalent of a Liszt operatic paraphrase," or of "the decorations that Godowsky wove around Chopin." The second comparison is more apt in catching the nice way Marshall expands the tension between the syncopated qualities of the original songs and the largely foursquare material he adds. Gershwin's own Variations on "I Got Rhythm" for piano and orchestra work well as a follow-up to the improvisations, for here Gershwin works with the same kind of idea: he turns that quintessentially syncopated song into a waltz, a quasi-Chinese melody, and a piece of semi-invertible counterpoint. Certainly an interesting and valuable Gershwin disc, just not entirely clear as to what it is you're getting into.

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