Wayne Marshall / Ålborg Symphony Orchestra

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris; Piano Concerto; Porgy & Bess

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George Gershwin's music was popular in Europe almost from the time it was composed, and European performers gave Gershwin his due in the mainstream classical arena even while he was still somewhat frowned upon by American programmers and career managers. Thus it was probably inevitable that Europeans -- in this case British pianist Wayne Marshall and Denmark's Ålborg Symphony -- would come along with dramatic reinterpretations of Gershwin's music. Marshall, who also conducts the orchestra, has played jazz and strove for a jazz-like spontaneity and freedom of treatment on these 1990s recordings, which have been assembled into a two-disc set by Virgin Classics. It's nice to have such a big group of Gershwin's orchestral pieces in one place, for part of the perennial appeal of his music derives from the variety of approaches he took to building bridges between the pop and classical realms -- it wasn't a one-trick endeavor. Marshall's free-spirited approach to Gershwin's music works quite well in pieces that apply the variation principle; his energetic version of the I Got Rhythm Variations, heard here in a piano-and-orchestra version by W.C. Schoenfeld, has the feel of Gershwin's own improvisatory performances of his songs. And Marshall cultivates a clarity of texture that works to the advantage of the Cuban Overture and even, to a degree, An American in Paris and the Piano Concerto in F, Gershwin's most "classical" work. But the Rhapsody in Blue that opens the proceedings is over the top, filled with herky-jerky shifts in tempo and other big surprises, such as an extremely long pause before the introduction of the work's lyrical subsidiary theme in the orchestra. The Rhapsody is not a complicated work, but its natural quality proceeds from a well-wrought balance among its sections, largely lost in Anderson's interpretation, which tries to be daring but comes off in the end as fussy. There's a lot to be said for hearing great music done in new ways, and that hasn't happened with Gershwin quite as often as it should. But these are unlikely to become beloved Gershwin performances.

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