Recording of August 2018: The Gershwin Moment

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (1924 jazz-band version, orch. Grofé). 1 Piano Concerto in F. 2 "Summertime." 3 Gershwin-Wild: "Somebody Loves Me," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You."4 Oscar Levant: "Blame It On My Youth." 5
Kirill Gerstein, piano; 1–5 Storm Large, vocal; 3 Gary Burton, vibraphone; 5 David Robertson, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra1, 2
Myrios Classics MYR022 (CD, 24/192 FLAC). 2018. Kirill Gerstein, prod.; Stephan Cahen, prod.,1-5 eng.; 1, 2, 4, 5 Paul Hennerich, 1, 2, 4 Doug Decker, 3 engs. DDD. TT: 73:45
Performance *****
Sonics *** (CD), **** (24/192 FLAC)

I grew up with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I was the youngest in a family not particularly interested in music, and whose record collection consisted of pop music and three oddly assorted classical recordings, all on 78rpm discs: Enrico Caruso singing "Vesti la giubba," Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (on four 12" 78s), and the 1927 recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra and Gershwin at the keyboard. I loved them all, especially the very lively Rhapsody, which wore out many osmium needles. It communicated more directly than any of the other pieces, but eventually it became over-familiar. After that, the Rhapsody and, indeed, all of Gershwin seemed to me an odd mash-up of classical style and old-fashioned jazz.

The cover art of The Gershwin Moment caught my attention first, but the participation of pianist Kirill Gerstein and conductor David Robertson made the sale. Gerstein's recording of Liszt's Transcendental Études had deeply impressed me, and the single concert I'd attended by Robertson and his St. Louis Symphony Orchestra was an electrifying performance of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. Downloading the Gershwin collection seemed worth a try.

From the opening notes, I knew this was something new. The familiar clarinet solo was subtly trilled, creating eager anticipation of the perfect segue into the orchestra's entry, followed by the initial piano solo, which Gerstein shapes with graceful rubato. After that, everything just falls into place. The natural give-and-take of soloist and ensemble is apparent in their complementary tempi and loudness, unlike many performances of this work, in which the orchestra plays too fast or too loud. The former might have been due to the fact that early recordings had to be cut and/or rushed to fit two sides of a single 78, the latter perhaps to the common use of a full orchestra.

This version uses Ferde Grofé's original jazz-band version for Whiteman's Orchestra. The SLSO, slimmed down to mostly winds, brass, and percussion, sounds articulate and nimble, with spicy percussive flavorings. They perfectly complement Gerstein, who inflects his classical control with flexible jazzy accents. It all works so well that I was no longer aware of any classical/jazz discrepancy or jarring transitions. It flows.

I listened to nearly a dozen other recordings for this review. They use either Grofé's later 1942 arrangement for full orchestra, or attempt to reproduce the early performances immediately following the 1924 premiere. All of the recordings with orchestra, including those by Leonard Bernstein brilliantly playing and conducting the New York Philharmonic, and the classic one by Earl Wild, Arthur Fiedler, and the Boston Pops, sound to me too much like Rachmaninoff compared to the stylistically sensitive Gerstein and Robertson. The attempts at the original version vary widely, but most are compromised by abruptly fast tempos in the passages for band. Most satisfying to me is the recording of the original 1924 arrangement by pianist Ivan Davis and conductor Maurice Peress (long out of print), who get the pace and balance right, even if, in comparison to the imaginative and brilliant Gerstein, Davis's playing is too staid.

The Rhapsody was recorded in multichannel DXD at concerts held in St. Louis's Powell Hall, April 7–9, 2017, as were the Concerto in F and the three Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin by Earl Wild. I find the Concerto a less interesting work than the Rhapsody, but one to which Gerstein and Robertson apply equal affection and panache. Gerstein's performances of the Etudes are delightfully charming; I only wish he'd recorded all seven. Storm Large's singing in "Summertime" and Gary Burton's vibraphone in Oscar Levant's "Blame It On My Youth," each accompanied by Gerstein, were recorded at other times and places but fill out this nicely balanced program. All together, Gerstein and Robertson have completely refreshed the Rhapsody, and offered it as the centerpiece of a great Gershwin album.

I fell in love with The Gershwin Moment by listening to the 16-bit/44.1kHz download available from many websites, but was later sent a 24/192 FLAC version. The 16/44.1 sound is pleasant and acceptably clear, but I'm bothered by its limited dynamic range, and by noises that sound like footfalls on stage. The apparently remastered 24/192 is better every way. There is considerable increase in clarity, and the footfalls are less noticeable, resulting in greater realism and impact. The 24/192 version, currently available from Qobuz, will shortly be offered by other vendors. A multichannel release is planned.—Kalman Rubinson

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

Nice that you compared others like Bernstein and Wild. Will have to seek this out.

dalethorn's picture

Interesting that the 24/192 version is that much better - i.e., not just the usual extra resolution from CD to high-res. I'm seeing this in a lot of cases now, and not just that the high-res is a better master - it can be the other way around, although that's less common. One more important reason to read the reviews.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Some kind of "conspiracy" going on to promote hi-rez? :-) ...............

dalethorn's picture

Did you read what I said? Remember "the other way around"?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You said "the other way around is less common" :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In other words, I was wondering whether there are "double standards" and may be even triple standards like "mastered for iTunes" "mastered for CD" "mastered for hi-res" ............ and pretty soon another standard like "mastered for MQA"? :-) .........

dalethorn's picture

Two thoughts:

1) I want the mastering that sounds the best. My experience says that most of the time it's newer and higher resolution, but not 100 percent of the time. So, the reviews here are valuable.

2) Technology and techniques (DSPs, codecs, ideas...) are still evolving and the hi-fi market with them. It's an exciting time to be involved.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I definitely got the impression from the producer that they are spending more time on preparing the 24/192 and multichannel releases.

volvic's picture

Great CD cover.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wonder what King-Kong is saying or singing? :-) .............

Kal Rubinson's picture

"Blame it on my youth"

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Sounds fabulous [even on "lowly" headphones :-) ] ......... May be the recording engineers used headphones for monitoring, mixing and mastering in addition to loudspeakers .......... Thank you KR for great recommendation :-) .............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In my opinion, this is not only one of the reference quality recordings for loudspeakers, it is also a reference quality recordings for headphones ........... Bravo, keep them coming :-) ..........

NeilS's picture

Excellent review of an excellent recording.

Incidentally, Peress' album (The Birth Of Rhapsody In Blue: Paul Whiteman's Historic Aeolian Hall Concert of 1924) is available as a 16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC download from Presto Classical. I also thought Gerstein beats on piano, but that clarinet Klezmer glissando laugh in the opening bars of Peress' version of Rhapsody in Blue ...wow.

https://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/classical/products/8072221--the-birth-...

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yes, I was able to get hold of the Peress a while back and that Klezmer glissando is thrilling.

TNtransplant's picture

Just watched two nights ago recent Criterion release of the Paul Whiteman starring vehicle King of Jazz which also has the original arrangement with much of the same band notably excepting Gershwin @ piano. Fascinating movie with amazing innovations for its time and some very early Bing Crosby, Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang!

DH's picture

Michael Tilson Thomas, Gershwin on piano roll, same jazz band arrangement

dalethorn's picture

Got that one. The bass impacts starting around 0:38 are prodigious.

Edit: No, wrong one - sorry.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

King-Kong is probably saying (singing) I am "on top of the world" (by Imagine Dragons) ......... Financial world, news organizations world, fashion world etc. etc. etc. :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is also possible, King-Kong could be singing don't "Steal My Girl" by One Direction :-) ...........

hkaye's picture

I tried to download the 24/192 version from the Qobuz website and it says it is not available in the US. Is there some other source or some workaround?

dalethorn's picture

Apparently the only source for U.S. downloads was Primephonic, from whom I purchased several albums. But now Primephonic has ended downloads and does streaming only.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I do not know but I will inquire and report back. My 24/192 file was obtained from the producer who promised that it and the multichannel would be available soon.

dalethorn's picture

Perhaps I committed the unpardonable sin just now, but I downloaded it from iTunes. The top bitrate is around 500 kbps - much better than the best MP3, and only slightly below the typical FLAC bitrate judging by what Foobar2000 reports. The sound is excellent, but the playing very different from the Michael Tilson Thomas version. Here the orchestra seems bent on speed and virtuosity, where MTT is a little more relaxed and lush. The piano does make the difference I think.

Kal Rubinson's picture

"Here the orchestra seems bent on speed and virtuosity, where MTT is a little more relaxed and lush." That is interesting as I hear it exactly the opposite way because MTT has to play at Gershwin's pace. That, in turn, seems fast in order to keep up with the side limits imposed by the 78rpm discs.

NeilS's picture

Tilson Thomas' version with Gershwin "playing" on a 1925 Duo-Art piano roll clocks in at 13:46. Gerstein's version is a comparatively glacial 17:34.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Thanks. That's the way I hear them but I would not choose the word "glacial" to describe it.

NeilS's picture

Gerstein's version is only "glacial" relative to Gershwin's. In absolute terms, it's anything but.

dalethorn's picture

My MTT version is 17:25 -- far from 13:46.

NeilS's picture

It would appear given the duration of the track that you're referring to Michael Tilson Thomas' version with the New World Symphony with Tilson Thomas on piano. The version that's been under discussion is his recording with the New York Philharmonic with George Gershwin on piano roll.

dalethorn's picture

OK, but if it's the same piece (the same composition, uncut) at nearly 4 minutes shorter, they'd have to transpose up a third of an octave to get it all in. The New World Symphony version is a great sound - the bass impacts at 0:38 into it are astounding - reference material for an audio system.

NeilS's picture

Beethoven Symphony No. 7 In A Major (Duration 42:35) Sergiu Celibidache (1981)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6g-u6SiO_M

Beethoven Symphony No. 7 In A Major (Duration 32:55) Arturo Toscanini (1939)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWVbsyOcLXw

dalethorn's picture

I played a half-dozen segments from each, and while they were a little different, not enough to account for the 30 percent difference in timing. It'd be interesting to know for sure whether they're note-for-note the same. I have many versions of the 9th, and I doubt any of them are more than 10 percent different in length.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Well, look at it this way ........ The ear-gasm lasts longer in the longer version :-) ...........

dalethorn's picture

I remember auditioning the "piano roll" thing and not buying it. The two versions I have now - this one and the MTT world jazz version, are similar enough to be a good comparison and instructive stereo demo tracks.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Same thing (same concept), when they do one of those DJ re-mixes of the same song (track) in Pop/Rock, Rap/Hip-Hop etc. etc. etc. :-) ...........

dalethorn's picture

The MTT and Gerstein versions are neither "extended" versions nor "remixes" as many pop and EDM tracks are. They are the standard versions. The suspicious one is the 13-plus-minute version, which must have whole sections of the music missing.

JBLMVBC's picture

Went to the Myrios website... Not one sound bite from this record.
So it is all about "trusting" the promote of Mr. Gerstein and the fine lines "From the opening notes, I knew this was something new. The familiar clarinet solo was subtly trilled, creating eager anticipation of the perfect segue into the orchestra's entry, followed by the initial piano solo, which Gerstein shapes with graceful rubato."
Yeah, right. And tell us too he is one of the greatest of his generation, right?
If they can't muster 30 s highlights, they do not deserve my trust, period.

dalethorn's picture

I clicked on the cover there, and down below it has the text: "This recording is also available as hi res download."

So I could not find the order page for the high-res download as it says, but if you can find it, it will likely have the previews.

JBLMVBC's picture

Yes Dalethorn, I did the same. FYI I found some MP3 extracts on Amazon...
yet it should not be a hide and seek race to get extracts. The label could do better as they did for the previous opus on Liszt by Mr. Gerstein, especially since the disc has been out for months now.

dalethorn's picture

The 90-second previews on iTunes are far better, and generally accurate enough to predict whether you'd like the music. The trick with iTunes is that their internal search function doesn't find a lot of their albums, so when I don't find something, I can often get a direct link to iTunes from a Web search. Buying from iTunes is a different matter altogether - I've learned how to find medium-res albums (~500 kbps) with 70-80 percent accuracy, but the misses aren't worth keeping and cost 10-12 dollars on average.

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