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Saturday, June 3, 2017

George Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue; etc. (Earl Wild; Arthur Fiedler)


Composer: George Gershwin
  1. Rhapsody in Blue
  2. Piano Concerto "Concerto in F": 1. Allegro
  3. Piano Concerto "Concerto in F": 2. Adagio - Andante con moto
  4. Piano Concerto "Concerto in F": 3. Allegro Agitato
  5. An American in Paris
  6. Variations on "I Got Rhythm"
  7. Cuban Overture

Earl Wild, piano (1-4, 6)
Boston Pops Orchestra
Arthur Fiedler, conductor
Date: 1959 (1, 5), 1961
Label: RCA



Earl Wild once took "Rhapsody in Blue" on a tour of 50 American cities with the original interpreters, the Paul Whiteman Band. I read this after listening for the first time, and I had just been noting a certain tendency to "over-interpret", with ritardandos, pauses and tempo changes all a little overdone compared with the free and easy Paul Whiteman recording of 1927 with Gershwin himself at the piano. Maybe a touch of middle-aged spread entered into the act with the years. But on listening again, this time without a score, I felt maybe I had made too much of this, for here is decidedly superior pianism and Fiedler is as close to Whiteman in general style as anyone can be with a full symphony orchestra. There is not the riveting quality of the Bernstein version which seems to recompose the music on the spot, but (and this is the miracle!) without in any way going against the letter of the score, but it’s very fine all the same.

About the other works there is little to say. The other two pieces with piano are all you could wish for (the finale of the Concerto lacks little in verve beside Gershwin’s own fragmentary recording) and Fiedler on his own gives a lithe rendering of "An American in Paris", keeping the blues theme well on the move and supplying plenty of brilliance in the final Charleston. Unlike the Ozawa version I heard recently, this will remind nobody of Elgar’s "Cockaigne".

If I end up by recommending this as a decent basic-Gershwin package for first-timers rather than a great historical document this is partly because Wild, for all his proficiency, does not play with a great deal of personality, and partly because the elderly recording gives the piano a rather featureless sound and allows the famous Boston reverberation to swamp orchestral clarity at times.

The booklet tells us that Fiedler succeeded Alfredo Casella as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1930. This was a new one on me. Could the acerbic follower of Stravinsky, Italy’s leading modernist alongside Malipiero from the ’20s through to the ’40s and a composer of some stature, really have conducted the Boston Pops? Well, an American Internet site gives quite an extensive history of the Boston Pops and assures us that Fiedler’s immediate predecessor was "the distinguished Italian composer Alfredo Casella", but I am quite certain this must be wrong and the gentleman in question must be a namesake. Several Italian sites give information on Casella and his activities around 1930 seem fully accounted for, and leave no space for a spell in Boston. Apart from the sheer implausibility of it, to anyone acquainted with the music Casella was writing around that time.

-- Christopher Howell, MusicWeb International

More reviews:


George Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928) as well as the opera Porgy and Bess (1935). Gershwin's compositions have been adapted for use in many films and for television, and several became jazz standards recorded in many variations. Many celebrated singers and musicians have covered his songs.


Earl Wild (November 26, 1915 – January 23, 2010) was an American pianist, renowned as a leading virtuoso of his generation. He was well known for his transcriptions of classical music and jazz, and he was also a composer. In 1939, he became the first pianist to perform a recital on U.S. television. Wild created numerous virtuoso solo piano transcriptions and also wrote a number of original works. In 1997 he was the first pianist to stream a performance over the Internet. Harold C. Schonberg called him a "super-virtuoso in the Horowitz class".


Arthur Fiedler (December 17, 1894 – July 10, 1979) was a long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a symphony orchestra that specializes in popular and light classical music. With a combination of musicianship and showmanship, he made the Boston Pops one of the best-known orchestras in the United States of America. Fiedler was sometimes criticized for over-popularizing music, particularly when adapting popular songs or edited portions of the classical repertoire, but he kept performances informal and sometimes self-mocking to attract a bigger audience.


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