GERSHWIN The First Recordings (1924-1949) - PASC637

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GERSHWIN The First Recordings (1924-1949) - PASC637

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Overview

GERSHWIN
Rhapsody in Blue
Three Preludes
Short Story
Concerto in F
An American in Paris
Second Rhapsody
Cuban Overture
Porgy and Bess
“I Got Rhythm” Variations

Studio Recordings ∙ 1924 - 1949
Total duration: 2hr 30:48

Various Artists - see full track listing for details

This set contains the following albums:

This set brings together, for the first time in one place, all of the première recordings of George Gershwin’s works for the concert hall and opera house that were issued on 78 rpm discs, spanning a quarter of a century from the era of acoustic recording to the dawn of the LP. It features several items which have not been reissued previously on CD (some not even on LP), and concludes with an appendix of two early rival recordings of Rhapsody in Blue which are each significant in their own way.

Gershwin’s first recording of Rhapsody in Blue, made for the acoustic horn, was set down only four months after its Aeolian Hall première (12 February 1924) as part of Paul Whiteman’s famous “Experiment in Modern Music” concert. It is heard in Ferde Grofé’s original jazz band orchestration, with cuts totaling about a third of the work to fit it onto a single 12-inch disc. The alternate take of Side 2 was accidentally issued during the early 1940s along with the electric version of Side 1 under the latter’s catalog number, a quickly-corrected error which made it a rarity.

The electric remake of three years later did not go smoothly. Whiteman reportedly argued with Gershwin over the tempo (the bandleader wanted it faster), and Victor house conductor and Gershwin friend Nat Shilkret was brought in to lead the session, although he was not credited on the original disc. The result was a swifter performance anyway, with the composer appearing to play with somewhat less sensitivity than on the original acoustic (which is the version many Gershwin aficionados prefer, despite the more impactful sonics of the electric).

The “Andante” section of the work, in which Gershwin plays both the piano and orchestral parts as a solo, was recorded as the filler to the Three Preludes, which the composer set down while he was in London during a European vacation in the spring of 1928. Two piano solo works which were originally part of the group that included the Preludes were adapted into Short Story by Gershwin and American violinist Samuel Dushkin, who is most remembered for his collaborations with Stravinsky. Dushkin’s performance has the sort of wistful élan that was a specialty of Fritz Kreisler, who was one of his teachers.

The recording of the Concerto in F was the occasion for another “ghost conducting” incident. After an initial session went badly because Whiteman, who had not performed the work before, had problems with the rhythms, another Gershwin associate, Bill Daly, was called in to lead the recording. Gershwin had originally scored the piece himself for piano and full orchestra, but Grofé had been tasked with making the arrangement for the Whiteman band presented here. Some of his instrumental substitutions sound decidedly strange to ears accustomed to the symphonic version. The first movement was recorded complete, but cuts were made to the other movements in order to fit the work onto six sides. It was first issued on American Columbia as part of its “Modern Music Album” series, making a strange bedfellow to Glazunov’s The Seasons (Pristine PASC 432) and Charles Haubiel’s Karma (PASC 127).

The première recording of An American in Paris featured an unexpected appearance of the composer on disc, playing the small celesta part because the orchestra contractor had forgotten to hire a keyboard player. Thanks to this, the original labels read “Victor Symphony Orchestra with George Gershwin”, with Shilkret credited for “direction” in a smaller typeface below. A unique advantage of this first recording is hearing the actual taxi horns the composer brought back from France for the work’s début.

Gershwin wrote his Second Rhapsody in 1931 as a follow-up to Rhapsody in Blue, but it never approached the original’s popularity. Roy Bargy, the Whiteman band piano soloist who appeared in the Concerto in F recording, is featured again here, once more in a cut version which leaves out about a third of the work.

After Gershwin’s death in 1937, Paul Whiteman wanted to revive interest in the composer’s Cuban Overture, which had seen few performances since its 1932 première. He commissioned Allan Small to make an arrangement which would include a piano solo. Small produced a mini-concerto (complete with an elaborate piano cadenza that references Rhapsody in Blue) that would be more accurately described as “freely based on themes” from Gershwin’s original, the latter of which would have to wait until the LP era to be accurately represented on disc. (Ironically, after all the cut versions of Gershwin compositions Whiteman’s band recorded, this arrangement was actually a third longer than the original!)

The recording sessions for the excerpts from Porgy and Bess, made under the composer’s personal supervision, began just four days after the work’s Broadway opening. The same conductor and reportedly the same chorus participated; but the two Black leads (Todd Duncan and Anne Brown) were replaced for the recording by White Met stars Lawrence Tibbett and Helen Jepson. While Tibbett confirms his reputation as one of the all-time great singing actors here, Jepson sometimes brings an unidiomatic “art song English” diction to her role (though, perhaps spurred on by Tibbett, she does rise to the occasion in their love duet).

The final new work presented here is a recording which straddles the age of the 78 with that of the LP; indeed, it was released in both formats during the same month in 1949. Pianist Oscar Levant was a longtime Gershwin friend who became something of a specialist in his works. The brilliant, wide frequency range recording heard here from the original LP is a far cry from the cramped acoustic sound of the first Rhapsody disc.

Concluding our program are two recordings of Rhapsody in Blue made in 1927, the same year as the composer’s own electric remake, the first of which features a 21-year-old Oscar Levant as soloist. While Sony’s 2018 Levant CD set, which omitted this disc, is subtitled “his complete piano recordings”, and its notes by pianist Michael Feinstein claim that “Levant was first wooed into the studio in December, 1941”, the Brunswick 78 presented here proves otherwise. Levant’s reading, even at this young age, is more sensitive and nuanced than Gershwin’s own.

The final track takes us to Weimar-era Berlin, and the first recording of any of Gershwin’s “serious” works made outside the U.S. Pianist Mischa Spoliansky was then known mainly as a composer for cabaret and reviews, although he had also recorded an album of songs from Schubert’s Die Winterreise with Richard Tauber earlier the same year. Julian Fuhs’ direction is the most energetic of all of these early Rhapsody recordings, with characterful playing from his soloists which match that of the Whiteman band.

Mark Obert-Thorn

GERSHWIN The First Recordings

CD 1 (73:58)

1. GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue – Acoustic version (9:20)
Recorded 10 June 1924 in New York City ∙ Matrices: C 30174-1 & 30173-2 ∙ First issued on Victor 55225

2. GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue – Acoustic version – Side 2 alternate take (4:46)
Recorded 10 June 1924 in New York City ∙ Matrices: C 30173-4 ∙ First issued on Victor 35822

3. GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue – Electric version* (8:53)
Recorded 21 April 1927 in Liederkranz Hall, New York City ∙ Matrices: CVE 30174-6 & 30173-8 ∙ First issued on Victor 35822
George Gershwin (piano)

Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra ∙ Paul Whiteman and *Nathaniel Shilkret

4. GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue – Andante (2:37)
Recorded 8 June 1928 in London ∙ Matrices: WAX 3759-1 [part] ∙ First issued on Columbia 50107-D

GERSHWIN Three Preludes
5. No. 1: Allegro ben ritmato e deciso (1:25)
6. No. 2: Andante con moto e poco rubato (2:37)
7. No. 3: Allegro ben ritmato e deciso (1:09)
Recorded 8 June 1928 in London ∙ Matrices: WAX 3758-2 & 3759-1 [part] ∙ First issued on Columbia 50107-D
George Gershwin (piano)

8. GERSHWIN-DUSHKIN Short Story (3:03)
Recorded 10 February 1928 in Studio B, Hayes ∙ Matrices: Bb 12704-3 ∙ First issued on Disque Gramophone P-794
Samuel Dushkin (violin) ∙ Max Pirani (piano)

GERSHWIN Piano Concerto (Concerto in F)
9. 1st Mvt. - Allegro (11:35)
10. 2nd Mvt. – Adagio – Andante con moto (7:32)
11. 3rd Mvt. –Allegro agitato (4:39)
Recorded 15 & 17 September & 5 October 1928 in New York City ∙ Matrices: W 98568-8, 98569-5, 98570-5, 98576-2, 98578-4 & 98575-7∙ First issued on Columbia 7170-M through 7172-M in Modern Music Album Set 3
Roy Bargy (piano)
Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra ∙ William Daly

12. GERSHWIN An American in Paris (16:18)
Recorded 4 February 1929 in Liederkranz Hall, New York City ∙ Matrices: CVE 49710-2, 49711-2, 49712-2 & 49713-3 ∙ First issued on Victor 35963 & 35964
George Gershwin (celesta)

Victor Symphony Orchestra ∙ Nathaniel Shilkret


CD 2 (76:50)

1. GERSHWIN Second Rhapsody (8:47)
Recorded 23 October 1938 in New York City ∙ Matrices: 64598A & 64599A ∙ First issued on Decca 29052 in album Set 31
Roy Bargy (piano)

Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra ∙ Paul Whiteman

2. GERSHWIN-SMALL Cuban Overture (12:44)
Recorded 21 October 1938 in New York City ∙ Matrices: 64592AA, 64593A & 64594A ∙ First issued on Decca 29053 & 29054 in album Set 31
Rosa Linda (piano)

Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra ∙ Paul Whiteman

GERSHWIN Porgy and Bess (selections)
3. Act I: Lullaby (Summertime) (2:33)
Recorded 23 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95465-1 ∙ First issued on Victor 11881 in album C-25

4. Act I: Summertime and Crap Game; A woman is a sometime thing (3:20)

Recorded 14 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95387-1 ∙ First issued on Victor 11879 in album C-25

5. Act I: My man’s gone now* (4:13)
Recorded 30 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95683-2 ∙ First issued on Victor 11881 in album C-25

6. Act II: I got plenty o’ nuttin’ (3:09)
Recorded 14 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95390-2 ∙ First issued on Victor 11880 in album C-25

7. Act II: The Buzzard Song (3:54)
Recorded 14 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95389-3 ∙ First issued on Victor 11878 in album C-25

8. Act II: Bess, you is my woman now (5:00)
Recorded 14 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95388-1 ∙ First issued on Victor 11879 in album C-25

9. Act II: It ain’t necessarily so (3:05)
Recorded 23 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95466-1 ∙ First issued on Victor 11878 in album C-25

10. Act III: Oh, Bess, oh where’s my Bess? (3:11)
Recorded 23 October 1935 in RCA Studio No. 2, New York City ∙ Matrix: CS 95467-1 ∙ First issued on Victor 11880 in album C-25

Helen Jepson (soprano) ∙ Lawrence Tibbett (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus ∙ Alexander Smallens and *Nathaniel Shilkret

(Recordings supervised by the composer)

11. GERSHWIN “I Got Rhythm” Variations (9:03)
Recorded 6 July 1949 in the Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City ∙ Matrices: XCO 41372-1 & 41373-1 ∙ First issued on Columbia 72873-D & 72874-D in set MM-867
Oscar Levant (piano)

Morton Gould and His Orchestra ∙ Morton Gould

12. GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue (9:23)
Recorded 2 December 1927 in New York City ∙ Matrices: XE 25382 & 25385 ∙ First issued on Brunswick 20058
Oscar Levant (piano)

Frank Black and His Orchestra ∙ Frank Black

13. GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue (8:21)
Recorded 20 September 1927 in Berlin ∙ Matrices: 2-20351 & 2-20352 ∙ First issued on Parlophon P-9157
Mischa Spoliansky (piano)

Julian Fuhs’ Symphony Orchestra ∙ Julian Fuhs


Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn

Special thanks to Nathan Brown, Jim Cartwright’s Immortal Performances Inc. of Austin, TX, Charles Niss and David Schmutz for providing source material.
Cover artwork based on a photograph of George Gershwin.

Total duration:  2hr 30:48      CD1: 73:58     CD2: 76:50