Mark Bebbington / Leon Botstein / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Concerto in F; Variations on "I Got Rhythm"

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The Somm label has devoted many releases to semi-obscure British music, and the same is true of British pianist Mark Bebbington. It may be a surprise, therefore, to see them essay the most famous American pieces of all. Don't let that cause you any hesitation at all: this is an important Gershwin recording that brings completely new and coherent interpretations to works that might be thought to have been fully explored. Part of the appeal is the detailed, rather dry reading offered by Bebbington, which fits into a long British tradition and stands in contrast to the brash orchestral parts from American conductor Leon Botstein, leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. But it's not just that: Bebbington finds polyphony in Gershwin, and that's not a word often associated with this composer. Sample the slow movement of the Piano Concerto in F, which has an almost impressionist feel. Bebbington does not stretch the music in any particular direction; he simply finds things in it that others have ignored. The "bonus CD" is a short selection of eight "preludes" by Gershwin; if you thought he wrote only three you are correct, but Bebbington also includes other short pieces played as preludes by Gershwin in concert or in one case, reconstructed after his death. The most important of these is the rarely heard Novelette in Fourths of 1919, which shows that even at this early date Gershwin was thinking about how to combine classical formal discipline with popular American melody. This is a stimulating and at the same time thoroughly enjoyable Gershwin release from start to finish.

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