Michael Tilson Thomas / Garrick Ohlsson / New World Symphony / San Francisco Symphony

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Concerto in F; An American in Paris

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Most familiar in the lush arrangement for piano and full orchestra by Ferde Grofé, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is often exaggerated by flamboyant pianists and conductors to resemble a full-blown Romantic piano concerto. However, this performance by Garrick Ohlsson and Michael Tilson Thomas follows Grofé's 1924 version for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, a leaner and much less pretentious score. With the rowdy interpretation it receives here, replete with distinctive jazz timbres, Rhapsody sounds remarkably fresh and appealing. Conducting a scaled-down "New World" Symphony, Tilson Thomas takes the piece at a fast clip and delivers it in a bawdy big band style, with especially strong blues inflections in the winds. Emulating Gershwin's brisk, no-nonsense piano style, Ohlsson plays efficiently with a crisp, bright tone, and makes no grandiose displays of bravado or sentimentality. Similarly uptempo and vigorous, An American in Paris is almost as exciting as the Rhapsody, though some may find that the hurried pace deprives the work of much of its sensuality. The Concerto in F benefits from Ohlsson's clear-headed and robust approach, and Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony provide an energetic accompaniment to match. In this 2004 reissue, Rhapsody in Blue has terrific sound, but An American in Paris and the Concerto in F are less clear and vibrant.

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