Alicia Zizzo

Gershwin: The Original Manuscripts

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Alicia Zizzo is a pianist who has worked for a number of years, in cooperation with the Gershwin family and the late arch-Gershwin expert Edward Jablonski, to resurrect some of George Gershwin's piano music from the dark corners into which some of it has been squirreled away owing to various circumstances. Gershwin was an incredibly busy and popular guy; he pumped piano in the offices of music publishers for hours demonstrating numerous forgotten songs by other aspiring composers, produced more than a 120 hand-played piano rolls -- mostly not his own compositions -- served as rehearsal pianist for most, if not all, of his Broadway shows, and played countless after-hours parties, often not stopping until the last guests were leaving. The summation of all this activity -- and more -- is that George Gershwin was a composer who didn't always have the time to completely write out, down to the last note, the scores he produced, and he also left many projects behind that he intended to use but never did, and as he died at the age of 38, most works set aside for later use. Publishers were also quite aggressive in handling Gershwin's music, changing or deleting whole passages of his Rhapsody in Blue without comment in order to reduce its difficulty and/or to render the whole in a more homogenous -- and ergo, more commercial -- form.

What Zizzo has done is to try to bring to fruition some of the fugitive pieces Gershwin did not complete -- such as his prelude Sleepless Night, also the subject of a reconstruction by Michael Tilson Thomas -- and a piece Ira Gershwin dearly wanted to see put into a final form, to restore the cuts taken out of Rhapsody in Blue and to create viable piano versions of neglected gems like Gershwin's early opera, Blue Monday. Zizzo's work has met with considerable controversy in some quarters -- that it "gilds the lily" and/or and exposes second- or first-thought material that is better left on the cutting room floor where it came from. However, George Gershwin -- who spent a considerable amount of his short time meditating on why he couldn't seem to get recognition as a significant classical composer -- is in the twenty first century regarded as one of the top twentieth century American classical composers, and research into major composers' alternative conceptions is merely business as usual when it comes to musicology. There is no good reason why Gershwin cannot be included in such company, and besides, the results are enjoyable and Zizzo certainly plays all of this material well.

The recordings featured on MSR Classics' George Gershwin: The Original Manuscripts were originally made in 1995 for the ill-fated and now defunct Carlton Classics label in England and well received critically at the time. On the MSR disc they are shuffled into a better order than on the original Carlton Classics release Gershwin Rediscovered, placing Blue Monday at the head, Rhapsody in Blue at the end, and organizing the remainder into groups labeled Preludes and "Miniatures," a sequence that makes good sense. The MSR Classics transfer of the master is better than the Carlton Classics issue -- more full-bodied in sound, whereas the original issue tended to be more top-heavy -- although it exposes some rough edits that were not as apparent on original release. Nevertheless, if one is genuinely interested in George Gershwin and missed this the first time around, then MSR Classics' George Gershwin: The Original Manuscripts is indispensible.

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