Who Cares? is not, as the front cover proclaims, a setting of the Gershwin Songbook for piano and orchestra. Nor is it, as the back cover offers, adapted and orchestrated from The Gershwin Songbook by Hershy Kay, although that comes closer to the mark. Kay's work was done for a ballet based on Gershwin's music, entitled Who Cares?, produced by George Balanchine and performed in New York in 1970. This version, among the vast catalog of concert versions of Gershwin, is not much heard, and this worthwhile release from the venerable Royal Philharmonic Orchestra suggests that the whole ballet is worth a revival. Kay's contribution goes beyond "adaptation and orchestration," and he actually created uniquely elegant versions of Gershwin's famous songs that succeed in capturing several different facets of the composer's creative personality. One attractive feature is that many of the songs have their opening verses attached; often omitted in vocal performances as well as in orchestral treatments, they have interesting links to the choruses (the main melodies). That opens up space for Kay to embed entire pianistic sections in each piece, and for these he draws on the Gershwin Song-Book (not to be confused with the Gershwin songbook), the collection of Gershwin's own piano arrangements of his songs that he published in 1932, relying in turn on his own improvised performances. The end effect is to refract each song through several different lenses. The Royal Philharmonic and pianist Viv McLean have great fun with these. Although the longer orchestral pieces that round out the program don't have quite the same zip, this disc would make a welcome gift for any Gershwin lover and might well remind him/her of an important part of the Gershwin reception history that many people have forgotten.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim