, May 2001
"Conductor Erich Leinsdorf once said that tempos in the performance of orchestral music grew slower as the 20th century progressed. Listening to Gershwin Plays Gershwin, recordings made in the 1920s, one would have to add that songs and piano pieces have slowed down, too.
'Contrast the glacial pacing of most singers today in 'Someone to Watch Over Me' with the composer's own version on piano recorded in 1926: It's a dance tune, and it really swings. Equally intriguing is Gershwin's up-tempo reading of the lyrical Second Prelude.
"The biggest surprise comes with Rhapsody in Blue in the recording of 1924 with the Whiteman ensemble. As played today by a symphony orchestra, the Rhapsody sounds like Brahms: slow and ponderous. Whiteman, leading a 24-piece orchestra with Gershwin at the piano, underlines the work's jazz elements: a real klezmer-style clarinet solo at the opening and quivering saxophones in the Andante theme that sound like the Guy Lombardo band.
"How good a pianist was Gershwin? With his solid technique and inventive flair, these recordings confirm the stories that he played his songs at parties in endless variations. But his style drew more from ragtime than from jazz. There's formal rigor in his fancy cross-hands playing, for example, in 'Looking for the Boy.'
"David Lennick engineered these skillful transfers to CD. Included are 11 songs, the Rhapsody, the Preludes and a superb performance of the underrated Second Rhapsody drawn from a 1931 radio broadcast."