Although not completely ignored, Gershwin's Songbook, his "transcriptions" for solo piano of 18 of his most popular songs, it is still perhaps viewed too often as mere arrangements of pop music and, therefore, unlike the Three Preludes, not worthy of a serious pianist's attention. Why should these pieces or a fantasy on themes from Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess be any less deserving of meaningful consideration than Liszt's transcriptions of Schubert songs or his fantasies on famous operas? Luckily, there are pianists like Ralph Votapek who can appreciate Gershwin's efforts and give them a little love. Since the songs are so brief, Votapek combines two or three at a time into short medleys that work quite well. He uses a light touch that gives the songs a nostalgic air, but still has the jazzy energy that Gershwin requires. In everything he plays on this disc, there is also a depth of color and shading that is subtle but adds so much, particularly in songs like "The Man I Love," but noticeable even in more bouncy tunes like "Sweet and Low Down" and the Preludes. Earl Wild's Fantasy on Porgy and Bess is, naturally, a virtuoso elaboration of melodies and impressions from the opera that manages to also encapsulate the drama. Votapek is very much at ease with the music, bringing out the lazy breeziness in "Summertime," the restlessness of "I Can't Sit Down," and the suspense of "The Buzzard Song." That he is so comfortable with Gershwin's music and seems to truly enjoy it makes this album a complete pleasure to hear.
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AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
|Gershwin Song-Book, song transcriptions (18) for piano|
|Preludes (3) for piano|
|Grand Fantasy on Porgy and Bess, for piano (after Gershwin)|
|Virtuoso Etudes (7) on Gershwin Songs, for piano|