GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue / Piano Concerto (Karol Kopernicky/ Kathryn Selby/ Richard Hayman/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550295)
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George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Concerto in F
An American in Paris
Rhapsody in Blue
The American composer George Gershwin,the son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, was deflected from street games indown-town Manhattan into music by the family purchase of a piano in 1910. Fouryears later he had left school to earn a living as a pianist and song-pluggerin Tin Pan Alley, before long contributing his own songs with growing success.
With some tuition in the techniques of composition he turned his attention, atthe same time, to music of a less immediate commercial appeal. His principalcontemporary reputation, however, rested largely on the songs he wrote forBroadway with his brother Ira Gershwin, both aspects of his career comingtogether in his black opera Porgy and Bess, which he started to write when hewas at the height of his commercial fame, in 1934.
It was ten years earlier, in 1924, thatGershwin had responded to a commission from Paul Whiteman, an exponent ofsymphonic jazz, for a concerto for piano and jazz band. The result was Rhapsodyin Blue, a work that represents a step in the American search for a musicalidentity. It was orchestrated for Gershwin by Whiteman's arranger Ferde Grofe.
Whiteman himself had enjoyed an earlier career as a viola-player in majorAmerican orchestras in Denver and San Francisco, before becoming one of thebest known of the post-War band-leaders. Gershwin's jazz concerto was given itsfirst performance at Whiteman's first concert, held at the Aeolian Hall, NewYork, when it achieved success in musical surroundings that seemed distinctlyunfavourable, as Whiteman attempted to convince an unsympathetic audience ofthe viability of his form of jazz. With its bow to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov,Rhapsody in Blue remains thoroughly American in its melodies and rhythmsand enjoys continued popularity in the concert hall, a souvenir from a Goldenage of jazz, to which it had made its own contribution.
One immediate result of the appearance ofthe Rhapsody in Blue, which incidentally owes its first famous clarinetglissando to the inspiration of Whiteman's clarinettist Ross Gorman, whoselight-hearted addition replaced a simple chromatic scale, was a commission fromWalter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, for anotherconcerto. Gershwin claimed to have orchestrated the Concerto in F
himself, although it has been suggested that he may have had help here andelsewhere from one of his former teachers, Joseph Schillinger. The composer wasanxious enough to show that the Rhapsody in Blue had been no mereaccident and set out, with the aid of a text-book on concerto form, to provehimself. The Concerto opens in unmistakably jazz idiom. The first movement,which makes considerable use of the fashionable Charleston, is an attractiveexcursion into virtuoso piano writing, cunningly blended with the language ofthe jazz piano, that for contemporary European composers had been little morethan a superficial influence. It has, at the same time, other elements that wemight associate with Broadway, rather than with the big band, with which thework opens. The slow movement is a languishing blues, which finds a place forcharacteristic instrumental solos from the orchestra, before the emergence ofthe piano, against a stepping bass. This is followed by a lively finalmovement, depending, as does the rest of the concerto, on its tunes as much astheir musical treatment or attempted development. The Concerto has had avariable reception over the years and has never proved a serious rival to the Rhapsodyin Blue. Nevertheless it offers music in a thoroughly American languagethat is much more than a flash in Tin Pan Alley.
An American in Paris was completed in1928 and proved a decidedly unsuitable contribution to the concerts given atmeetings of the International Society for Contemporary Music, accustomed, asits members were, to a more austere musical diet. The work, replete with thenostalgia felt by the expatriate American in Paris, includes a highlycharacteristic blues for the trumpet. It is, in any case, very familiar fromits use in Gene Kelly's 1951 film of the same name, with which the music is nowunavoidably associated.
The Australian pianist, Kathryn Selby,studied with Nancy Sales at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the age ofnine before being awarded, in 1976, a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship.
Two years later she won the American Music Scholarship and made her debut withthe Philadelphia Orchestra.
In 1981 she received the AustraliaCouncil's International Fellowship for Studies in the United States andgraduated in 1983 from Bryn Mawr College. She has won many other distinctionsincluding the Curtis Institute's prestigious Rachmaninov Prize and theJuilliard School of Music's Mozart competition. She has performed all over theworld and with some of the leading orchestras such as the Pittsburgh SymphonyOrchestra. She is currently artist-in-residence at Macquarie University andwill shortly begin teaching chamber music at the New South Wales Conservatoriumof Music.
America's favourite "Pops"conductor, Richard Hayman is Principal "Pops" Conductor of the SaintLouis, Hartford and Grand Rapids symphony orchestras, of Orchestra LondonCanada and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and also held that post with theDetroit Symphony Orchestra for many years.
His original compositions are standardsin the repertoire of these ensembles as well as frequently-performed selectionsof many orchestras and bands throughout the world.
For over 30 years, Mr. Hayman served asthe chief arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra during Arthur Fiedler'stenure, providing special arrangements for dozens of their hit albums andfamous singles. Under John Williams' direction, the orchestra continues toprogram his award-winning arrangements and orchestrations.
During the past several years, Mr. Haymanhas been concentrating most of his time on guest-conducting special"Pops" concerts. He is reinvited, season after season, by all theleading orchestras across the United States and Canada to conduct these popularentertainments during their regular seasons, as well as for their summerfestivals.