The Rhapsody Project Notes on the Performances part 2

"Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is an upbeat, sassy, contrarian sort of tune conceived for Broadway, but found its appropriate home with the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers duo in the film Shall We Dance? "Someone to Watch Over Me" also began life as an upbeat tune, but during rehearsal George was vamping through it slowly when he and Ira realized that it was even more effective as a ballad. (I have tried to give it the "warm and wistful" treatment Ira felt it truly deserved.)

"They Can't Take That Away from Me" started out as a simple repeated-note rhythm, but when Ira suggested the lyric "The way you wear your hat," George agreed to add a couple of notes to the motif, taking the melody up a third on the last note of the first line. This is a prime example of the crucial role Ira played in many of the team's most inspired songs. My treatment of it is more rhythmic than lyrical, in the style of a jazz trio.

"A Foggy Day" is unique among the Gershwin collaborations in that it was written within the space of an hour, after George had returned from a party at one in the morning. (More typical of Ira's pace was the three weeks it took him to come up with a lyric for "I Got Rhythm.") In this rendition, the soulful refrain is followed by two fast variations on the rhythmic motif.

The beautiful number "Love is Here to Stay," the team's last song, was neglected until it achieved immortality in Hollywood's tribute to Gershwin, An American in Paris. For all the song's optimism, it has a bittersweet quality for me, evoking thoughts of all that Gershwin might have given us had he not died at the age of 38. Accordingly, this transcription has a somber, elegiac tone.

Earl Wild also makes ample use of jazz piano techniques in his transcriptions, but he brings many other resources to the task as well, consciously fusing the piano virtuosity of the 19th century (he calls his transcriptions "Etudes'') with the diverse compositional styles of the 20th. His "Embraceable You" is evocative of Debussy, showering the familiar melody with an impressionist mist. "The Man I Love" was conceived by Wild as an etude for the left hand alone, much in the style of the Brahms's transcription of Bach's Chaconne. Wild takes "Fascinatin' Rhythm" at its word, treating the catchy tune to various rhythmic and polyrhythmic transformations (I can't resist adding a bit of swing feel to the occasion). The innovative nature of this song was such that the brothers Gershwin disputed at length about the lyrics, unable to agree on where the accents should fall in the melody. Wild's "I Got Rhythm" is even more complex, adding polytonality and showers of notes to the rhythmic mix.

The Fantasy on Porgy and Bess follows in the tradition of the Liszt and Tausig concert paraphrases on popular operas of the day. Porgy was to be Gershwin's only opera, the culmination of a decade-long effort to realize a truly "American" opera in a jazz idiom. While the melodic material he used was all original, he traveled to South Carolina to immerse himself in the atmosphere that had inspired DuBose Heyward's novel and libretto. The pair attended prayer meetings and black schools to sample the true musical flavor of the region, and this helped the songs from Porgy to achieve their realism. (Gershwin was a bit out of his element, complaining to a friend, "They are still talking about the war—the Civil War—down here.")

Wild uses many of the most popular numbers from Porgy and Bess, such as "Summertime" and "I Got Plenty O' Nothin'," liberally recombining their themes in a style reminiscent of Liszt, but always with an eye to the larger structure. "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," for instance, is heard in its entirety, with the theme from "I Loves You Porgy" superimposed in the second verse for added variety and emotional impact. Wild's Fantasy is exquisitely detailed throughout, and in its original form lasts almost half an hour (for this recording I have chosen to play a slightly abridged version). The rich conception of Wild's piano transcriptions, and the great devotion to Gershwin's music that they signify, ensure that his name will be linked with Gershwin's in the recitals of enterprising pianists for many years to come.—Hyperion Knight