GERSHWIN 'Centennial Edition’ (Serebrier)
Originally released on the Dinemec Classics label to celebrate George Gershwin’s centenary in 1998, this recording reappears on Somm 20 years later, tying in with José Serebrier’s 80th birthday. Its main points of interest concern the conductor’s splendid orchestrations of the three piano Preludes. The first stands out for Serebrier’s witty and unpredictable use of brass instruments and his ingenuously varied cymbal fills when the main theme recapitulates. Everyone gets a chance to poetically shine in the second, especially the clarinet, flute and muted trumpet soloists, although the double-bass soloist’s execution of the second theme straddles dangerous intonational ground. Serebrier effectively expands upon the Lullaby’s original string incarnation as well. Note the almost Mahlerian transparency of the high woodwind ensemble against pizzicato cellos at 1'37", plus the touchingly expressive clarinet and bassoon solos.
However, the distant and diffuse recorded sound undermines the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s boisterous and characterful work in the opening section of An American in Paris, although the sumptuous yet forward-moving strings and virile trombones cut through the murk. Surveying the Piano Concerto discography in these pages (6/07), Jeremy Nicholas praised Serebrier’s colourful orchestral framework (what idiomatic note-bending!), yet disparaged Leopold Godowsky III’s espousal of the solo piano part as ‘careful, cautious and, ultimately, pedestrian’. To be certain, Godowsky (a nephew of Gershwin and grandson of the famous pianist) commands the notes well, but within a limited dynamic range and without the jazzy verve and élan one usually expects in passages such as the first movement’s dotted rhythms and double notes (track 5, fig 18, 6'00"). Compared with the energetic impetus of pianists like Hélène Grimaud, Pascal Rogé and Earl Wild in the central movement’s più mosso, Godowsky just plops along (track 6, fig 3, 3'18"). Nor does his capable handling of the debonair finale come near the scorching agitato and tigerish ebullience that still keep Earl Wild and Arthur Fiedler (RCA) at the head of the pack. Richard Freed’s informative booklet notes are reproduced from the original CD release. Get this disc for Serebrier’s orchestrations.