Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris

Erich Kunzel

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Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris Review

by James Manheim

At a mere 33 minutes and 36 seconds, this disc is anything but the "Sound Value" proclaimed by the sticker on the cover; you could buy a full-price CD of Gershwin works that utilized the entire capacity of the disc and come out ahead. But the performances inside have proven durable; recorded on LP in 1981, they've been repackaged, with each other and with other works, numerous times, and have found new sets of buyers each time. These aren't the most stirring renditions available of these ever-popular American classics, but enough other well-executed plans come together to make them very satisfying. Foremost, perhaps, is Telarc's digital sound, which helped show the world the possibilities of the medium back in the early '80s. The transparency and clarity of the recording, made in Cincinnati's warm, wood-and-velvet Music Hall, made the transition to CD all right and still holds up very well today; you'll feel as though the large incarnation of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (elsewhere billed as the Cincinnati Pops for these performances, but doubtless there was considerable musician as well as conductor overlap) is arranged around you in a big U shape so that you can hear the oboes and the flutes and the little violin solos as well as the taxi horns of An American in Paris. Kunzel's readings are restrained, detailed, and free of what one might call either mannerisms or highly distinctive features. They are straight up the middle, and in this they work well with Kunzel's Telarc engineering partners on An American in Paris, and also with pianist Eugene List's sharp, vigorous Rhapsody in Blue -- in that work, the orchestra seems to recede into the background. There are brassier, jazzier, bluesier performances of Gershwin aplenty available, but this one keeps scoring with good old German-American know-how.

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