Ferde Grofe & George Gershwin
Symphonic Jazz - original Paul Whiteman Orchestra Versions
Bridge Records BRIDGS 9212
If you can read the details on the album cover, you'll have the item listings and artist particulars, I don't need to repeat them, so I'll just get on with the review.
In short, this is a truly beautiful record. Anyone who's into Grofe, Gershwin or Paul Whiteman will be thrilled with this presentation and I'd say it'd make an excellent Christmas present for such a person.
Grofe's Missippi Suite opens the disc and has that air of confident relaxed pastoral Americanism that we uptight Europeans wish we could reproduce over here in the Old World. The single word I'd use to describe it is MELLOW.
Next we get Gershwin's 2nd Rhapsody for Orchestra and Piano, arranged by Grofe. This is, in almost total contrast, busy with that 20s/30s urban bustle we see in films about smart city highlife. This is the first time I've encountered this composition and while it is reminiscent of Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris it is perhaps a little more mature in its subtlety and thoughtfulness, and what it may lack some of those other pieces' glitzy excitement it certainly makes up in terms of moody dramatic understatement and a high degree of sophistication. I can imagine that this work could sound dull and plodding in the hands of many less accomplished musicians, but here I feel that conductor Steven Richman and pianist Lincoln Mayorga execute the challenging opus with a large helping of authoritative panache.
Saxophonist Al Gallodoro similarly tackles the rather Satie-like Gallordo Serenade for Saxophone & Piano by Grofe with the reverence it deserves and comes up trumps. It's a slow melancholy piece from which he wrings every ounce of pathos his instrument has to offer.
Lastly we come to Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite. This is a work I've never felt completely happy with - it may have something to do with the fact the title leads one to have such monumental expections that can never really be met - so I found myself hoping for a new revelation from this recording that would set the matter to rights for me. I can't say for sure one way or the other - I guess I will need several more listenings before I can arrive at that happy juncture, but I will say that I found this version far easier on the ear and therefore much easier to pay attention to than any previous interpretation I've heard. Time will tell.
As a whole I want to reinforce my opening remarks about the sheer delightfulness of this collection and go even further by affirming this is probably the best CD I've heard this Millennium. Pretty bold, I'm sure, but I think I truly mean it.