Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sunday Classics preview: Yes, George Gershwin surely did have rhythm


It's only 33 seconds' worth, but if those 33 seconds of "I Got Rhythm" don't lift you out of your chair, I don't know what will. (The 1943 date on the clip seems dubious, since Gershwin died, alas, in July 1937, two and a half months short of his 39th birthday.)

by Ken

You bet we've got Gershwin in tomorrow's "American Treasures" post! (In case you missed it, last night we previewed Aaron Copland.)

Meanwhile here's more "I Got Rhythm": the variations Gershwin wrote for piano and orchestra.

GERSHWIN: Variations on "I Got Rhythm"

Earl Wild, piano; Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1961


"I Got Rhythm" was written for the Broadwqy musical Girl Crazy (1930), with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by his brother Ira, one of the most brilliant lyricists in the English language. Both on Broadway and in Hollywood, George and Ira were among the most successful and sought-after songwriters of the '20s and '30s.

The show included a couple of other numbers you may have heard of: "Embraceable You" and "But Not for Me." We're going to hear a little suite drawn from the Nonesuch recording of Girl Crazy, part of its ambitious series of scrupulously reconstructed Gershwin musicals conducted by John Mauceri, attentively (if not incandescently) performed and remarkably thoroughly annotated.



"Embraceable You" (with encore)

David Carroll and Judy Blazer, vocals

"I Got Rhythm" (with encore)

Lorna Luft, vocals
In the encore: vocal quartet (Guy Stroman, Stan Chandler, Larry Raben, and David Engel); Dick Hyman, piano solo


Orchestra and vocal quartet (see above)

"But Not for Me" (with "comic reprise")

Judy Blazer and (in the reprise) Frank Gorshin, vocals

John Mauceri, cond.
Nonesuch, recorded Feb. 26-28, 1990


George and Ira's most ambitious project was a full-fledged opera: Porgy and Bess. It was produced on their home turf, Broadway, and it 124-performance Broadway run in 1935-36 (followed by two months of tour performances) was a flop by Broadway standards. But it stands as one of the more remarkable box-office accomplishments in operatic history. For all its limitations and flaws, Porgy is a brilliant piece of musical theater, and probably still the most successful American opera.

"Summertime," sung by the Catfish Row neighbor Clara shortly after the Act I curtain rises to help set the atmosphere of the scene, is as beautiful as any song ever written. It's hard to imagine that it's ever been sung more beautifully than it is here by the young Leontyne Price, in the celebrity "Gala" sequence from Decca's 1960 recording of Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus.

Price with Herbert von Karajan, recording Carmen in 1963

GERSHWIN: Porgy and Bess:

Leontyne Price, soprano; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded June 1960

Labels: ,


At 10:55 PM, Anonymous DeanOR said...

Gershwin is the only composer I know of who successfully integrated elements of jazz and classical music, which among other things makes him an American cultural icon. Most other attempts fail miserably, in my opinion, although there may be some that I don't know about. And Gershwin's pop tunes are still loved by jazz musicians and singers. as raw material for improvisation.

At 6:12 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Well said, Dean.

I've already watched that clip of Gershwin playing "I Got Rhythm" a bunch of times, and each time I'm overwhelmed by the sheer communicative energy of his music-making, which almost feels like a force of nature. (Well, I suppose it was!)



Post a Comment

<< Home