Bruno Fontaine / David Wroe

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Piano Concerto; Porgy & Bess - A Symphonic Picture

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European musicians performed the music of George Gershwin in traditional orchestral contexts while he was still largely an inhabitant of the crossover sphere in the U.S., and there is still a seemingly inexhaustible stream of new European recordings of Gershwin standards. This one might qualify as quintesentially French despite the presence of British-American conductor David Wroe, leading the Orchestre National de Lille. Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F major has sometimes been held to reflect the influence of French music (and Maurice Ravel certainly completed the circle if so); the readings of pianist Bruno Fontaine certainly make the connection seem plausible. Even in the brassy first movement of the concerto he plays counter to the orchestra with flexible, rather dreamy solos, with the jazz rhythms not particularly marked, and the slow movement here is an especially lovely night piece. The most notable departure from the norm is the almost impressionistic Rhapsody in Blue, a work whose ability to stand up to the most divergent interpretations constantly reveals its greatness anew. Fontaine controls the pace and freely shifts it, emphasizing small details of phrase structure and creating a poetic rather than passionate (or "bluesy") mood. The big middle theme of the Rhapsody is kept quiet and measured; in this reading it's not the moment of emotional release that it usually becomes. Your mileage may vary, but Fontaine and Wroe have crafted a Rhapsody in Blue that's both original and coherent, no mean feat. The program is rounded out with a competent version of Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, and the album makes a satisfying whole despite ludicrous graphics. The live sound from the Transart label gets maximum clarity out of a restored stone circus building in Reims.

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