Music News 2/15/24

 

RHAPSODY IN BLUE CENTENNIAL

 

This past Tuesday, February 12, was the centennial of the premier of George Gershiwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at Aeolian Hall. Gershwin was at the piano, in the original arrangement for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra by Ferde Grofé.

Béla Fleck, RHAPSODY IN BLUE (BFP, $16.98) – Whiteman’s band included a banjo, and our most innovative banjo master today has paid his own tribute to Gershwin’s work. Béla Fleck plays three versions of Rhapsody on his new album.

“Rhapsody in Blue(grass)” features a bluegrass all-star quintet and “Rhapsody in Blue(s)” features Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and Victor Wooten. And, of course, the most-often heard, classic arrangement for orchestra (also by Grofé), performed with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eric Jacobson. The set also features solo pieces by Gershwin: “Rialto Ripples” and “Unidentified Piece for Banjo,” an unrecorded and unreleased gem discovered at the Library of Congress.

Chick Corea, SARDINIA: A Night of Mozart and Gershwin (Candid, $18.99) – I love when jazz players take on the Rhapsody, and Chick Corea brings wonderful inventiveness and exuberance to the piece, played live on November 29, 2018, with the Orchestra da Camera della Sardegna. Mr. Corea played a solo version of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and the concert also featured Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor.

As Lloyd Schwartz said on his Fresh Air review, “He’s not afraid to give Mozart the syncopated, daring and playfulness of jazz…Corea’s performance is a fascinating hybrid. Some of its most convincing parts are the straightforward classical stuff—not timid, with just the kind of excitement I hope for…”

 

And get a classic version as well:

Leonard Bernstein plays the piano and conducts the Columbia Symphony and the New York Philharmonic on GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue & An American in Paris (Columbia, $9.98), recorded in 1959. As Ted Libby wrote for NPR in 2009 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the recording: “Leonard Bernstein's recording is a disc for the ages. It's American music performed with mid-century flair, a moment never to be recaptured. Bernstein had the feel for Rhapsody In Blue, and he does full justice to the still racy and spontaneous score. His performance of the piano solo has a smoky, sultry jazziness to it, along with a brash exuberance; there is touching tenderness in the lullaby, riveting dynamism in the fast pages.”

 

BEATLES 1964

 

Sixty years ago this month, the Beatles flew into New York (February 7), played the Ed Sullivan Show that Sunday night, and then took a train to snowy DC for their first American concert, at the Washington Coliseum, on February 11. They returned to New York for more shows, then on to Miami.

Paul McCartney captured their whirlwind trip from the inside on his Pentax camera.

The monograph, 1964: EYES OF THE STORM (Liveright, $75), is chock full of great portraits, backstage moments, and street scenes, with reminiscences as well.

 

And a new deluxe release celebrates the 50th anniversary of an iconic album from his post-Beatles career:

Paul McCartney & Wings, BAND ON THE RUN: Deluxe (Capitol, 2 CDs, $21.98).

 

MALCOLM X OPERA

 

Pianist and composer Anthony Davis’s X: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MALCOLM X (Boston Modern Orchestra Project, 2 CDs, $43.99) premiered in 1986, and finally made its Met Opera premiere last November.

The cast on this recording is outstanding, with Davóne Tines as Malcolm X, and Gil Rose conducting the BMOP and Odyssey Opera Chorus.