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Jack Sullivan
American Record Guide, July 2011

Most of us think we know the Jazz Age concertos of the 1920s and 30s, but this entry in Naxos’s American Classics series shows us there is more to the genre than Gershwin, Ravel, and Copland. The most exotic item, Harry Reser’s Suite for Banjo and Orchestra, is the work of a master banjoist. It is orchestrated and played here by New Orleans banjoist Don Vappie, a superb musician and improviser I have heard every year when I go down to the Big Easy for my annual jazz fix. Recently, I have been able to walk ten minutes downtown to hear him, as he has become a fixture of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Vappie is currently leader of the Creole Jazz Serenaders, who play exuberantly with him here.

James Price Johnson was directly inspired by his friend George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue when he wrote Yamkekraw: a Negro Rhapsody in 1927, but felt that as an African American he was in a position to write a more “genuine Negro treatise on spiritual, syncopated and ‘blue’ melodies”. The work certainly had a splashy pedigree, as it was produced by WC Handy and played by Fats Waller at Carnegie Hall. It was wildly popular in its time (used, for example, as the overture for Orson Welles’s Macbeth). Now it has all but vanished until this premiere recording of the complete version.

If Yamekraw is a brash marker for the Jazz Age, Dana Suesse’s Jazz Nocturne and Concerto in Three Rhythms are conjurers of that era’s more languid spells, especially in the Blues Adagio movement of the Concerto. The New Yorker dubbed this fascinating Kansas City pianist-composer “Girl Gershwin” in 1933; and indeed she conquered jazz, classical, pop, and the Paul Whiteman bridge that crossed them all. Other than the Gershwin, her work is the most atmospheric and bewitching here.

Yet ironically, the unveiling of this entertaining and obscure group of concertos, snappily played by four different pianists, shows that Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is still the masterpiece of the genre. Both in the colorful manipulation of jazz-classical themes and their intrinsic quality, the Rhapsody is far more sophisticated and satisfying than anything else here. This is not just another recording, but the premiere of the unabridged version of the Ferde Grofe manuscript for jazz band. It sounds much closer to jazz and less to classical than what we normally hear; the band growls and struts in a leaner, meaner way than a large orchestra and is enlivened by Don Vappie’s banjo—a kind of Dixieland continuo. Tatiana Roitman’s piano playing is more clattery and percussive than the norm—a deliberate effect, no doubt. Readers familiar with Richard Rosenberg’s other Naxos albums (especially his Gottschalk) know what to expect from his Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony: performances short on nuance but long on rhythmic abandon. Nothing wrong with that approach in this repertory.

James Miller
Fanfare, July 2011

These interesting artifacts from the Jazz Age are part of a movement to integrate jazz with classical music. With the exception of a few pieces, the integration, at least in obvious form, never took root except in subtler ways. As Leonard Bernstein once pointed out about using “jazzy” rhythms, “In the ’20s, he [the composer] used these rhythms as jazz used them, over a steady and monotonous bass which kept the old reliable quarter-note constantly beating. But now that he does not consciously borrow from jazz, these rhythms crop up in a non-jazzy context, without a meter-bass necessarily holding them up but with a life of their own. They have acquired personal qualities—not always hard and percussive, but sometimes graceful, sometimes singing, sometimes even nostalgic. The whole procedure has become common usage among American composers. And the startling thing is that very rarely does this music ever sound like jazz! The Scherzo movement of my symphony ‘Jeremiah’ would certainly not bring any connotation of jazz to mind, and yet it could never have been written if jazz were not an integral part of my life.” He then pointed out that such examples exist in the music of Copland, Sessions, Harris, Schuman, Barber, and others and added, “The great synthesis goes on.”

James P. Johnson is best known today as the originator or, at least, most assiduous promoter of stride piano, a development of ragtime, using two-beat left-handed rhythms supporting the melody, which was played by the right hand. He knew Gershwin and, after the success of the Rhapsody in Blue, decided to try his luck at fusing jazz to classical music. His first effort of several was Yamacraw: A Negro Rhapsody, first heard in Carnegie Hall in 1928. Inexperienced in orchestration, he sought expert help and found it in the person of composer/arranger William Grant Still. Because Johnson was busy conducting the musical Keep Shufflin’ that evening and couldn’t get the night off, the piano solo was played by his protégé, “Fats” Waller. Johnson went on to compose an opera, The Organizer (libretto by Langston Hughes), a piece merely titled Tone Poem, a Harlem Symphony, a Suite in Sonata Form on “St Louis Blues,” and a Jasmine (“Jazz A’ Mine”) Concerto for piano and orchestra. Johnson himself recorded a shortened version of Yamacraw for solo piano that runs three-and-a-half minutes less than this performance, the first complete recording of the original piece. Not surprisingly, Johnson’s approach to Yamacraw is to state good tunes and then do various riffs on them. The piece runs on motor energy and it’s actually in cyclical form as he brings back two of the earlier tunes to round things off. Since I have a weakness for this stuff, it made me curious about his other classical efforts; his one big pop standard was “If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight.”

In my early piano-student days, I learned a flashy piece called Flaperette (shouldn’t it have two “p’s” if it alludes to flappers?). I had forgotten who wrote it but I now know it was Harry Reser, for there it is, serving as the “A” theme in the second movement of his Suite for Banjo and Orchestra. Since the annotations say it was orchestrated by Don Vappie, I am taking that to mean that three separate pieces, written in the years between 1922 and 1930, were assembled into a sort of concerto and orchestrated (with real flair) by Vappie. I don’t care how it was put together; it’s a lively 11 minutes of fun, full of bouncy tunes and dazzling fingerwork by Vappie, who is obviously a banjo virtuoso. A surprising and inspired choice.

Even the familiar Gershwin Rhapsody has a surprise: several bars of music that had not been heard in public until 1978, when Ira Gershwin presented Richard Rosenberg with a copy of the original manuscript of the Rhapsody in Blue. Paul Whiteman and Ferde Grofé, worried that the 1924 “Experiment in Modern Music” concert would run too long, persuaded the reluctant composer to shorten the piece. Because Gershwin had written the Rhapsody in a hurry, he allowed Grofé to orchestrate it for Whiteman’s forces but gave the arranger advice on what he wanted (as we can tell from Gershwin’s own, later, orchestration of the Rhapsody). The performance by Tatiana Roitman and Rosenberg is unhurried but very nuanced and never lazy. It reminds me a lot of many of the performances of the full-orchestra arrangement. For something that might be a little closer in spirit to what was heard in 1924, you might consider the livelier and more intimately recorded Harmonia Mundi CD by Lincoln Mayorga and Steven Richman, which has the cachet of reed playing by Al Gallodoro, a longtime member of the Whiteman orchestra (but not in 1924). Joining the Rhapsody are eight Gershwin tunes in Grofé’s arrangements for Whiteman, plus the Variations on “I Got Rhythm.” Just as the recordings of Rosenberg and Richman of the Grofé version have their little cachets, so does the recording by Michael Tilson Thomas: the actual playing of Gershwin himself via a piano roll, but some of Gershwin’s fast tempos really test the techniques of the orchestra’s soloists, giving some passages a rigid, breathless quality. As brilliantly executed as it is, the stunt almost doesn’t come off and, if I wanted the Grofé arrangement, I’d stick with Richman or Rosenberg or both.

Filling out the rest of the Rosenberg CD is music by Dana Suesse, unfortunately dubbed “The Girl Gershwin” by The New Yorker, perhaps leading to expectations that this very talented musician couldn’t quite fill. I had the pleasure of hearing the Concerto in Three Rhythms in person. The minute I looked up on stage and saw those four saxophones lined up in place of the standard orchestral winds, I had a good feeling about what I was about to hear and I wasn’t disappointed. The concerto is, basically, an engaging parade of jazzy tunes with virtuoso passages for the pianist. I was hoping it would eventually get recorded and here it is. Once again, the brilliant orchestration is by Grofé. There’s an interesting slow movement framed with a brief dialogue between the piano and the tuba. It’s the kind of music that would be written for, say, a documentary called The Big City Awakens with shots of a milkman on his rounds (this is the 20s!), a sanitation truck washing the street, and a sleepy commuter heading for the subway.

There are a few recordings of Suesse’s solo piano pieces that are worth checking out. Even at their worst, they have a dated ’20s charm to them and there’s no law that compels you to digest them in one sitting. The most famous of them is easily Jazz Nocturne, to which Edward Heyman (against the wishes of Suesse’s publisher) added words and which became the jazz and pop standard My Silent Love, a huge hit after Bing Crosby sang it in a movie (I assume the publisher got over it). Her only other real pop hits were The Night Is Young and You’re So Beautiful, and You Oughta Be In Pictures. I assume that this piano-and-orchestra arrangement of Jazz Nocturne by Carrol Huxley was done to make the piece fit in better with the rest of the program, which it does.

In an essay on the music of James P. Johnson, the British critic Max Harrison, referring to Johnson (but he might as well have been referring to Suesse and several other composers), points out that these pioneering attempts to bring jazz into the concert hall were eventually dropped by performers and audiences “who were unprepared for the sort of fusion they attempted, whether successfully or otherwise. More accomplished composers than Johnson—such as the 19th-century Russians—met almost insoluble difficulties in matching folk material to symphonic processes, and we may doubt whether he, any more than Ellington, would be able to control long-duration forms. Perhaps his orchestral pieces, whatever their status, are best regarded as part of an intrinsically healthy movement to remove the divisions between ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ art. Their continuing unavailability in print or on disc must be regretted, however, for in our present state of enforced ignorance we shall always be uncertain of how Johnson fared.” At the very least, this CD collection is a modest step toward correcting that ignorance.

Tony Augarde
MusicWeb International, June 2011

One may be tempted to think of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as a “one-off”: an isolated attempt to fuse the jazz idiom with the symphony orchestra. It wasn’t all that rare, as Gershwin also wrote his Concerto in F, Cuban Overture, An American in Paris and the Second Rhapsody, all of which blended jazz and the classics to some degree.

This album reveals that other composers were pursuing the same path as Gershwin in the twenties and thirties, although they all seem to be following in the footsteps of Rhapsody in Blue. There was a similar movement in what might be called “Symphonic Jazz” with the Third Stream which arose in the 1950s, but this was hardly ever successful, as it attempted to fuse two differing genres too closely. The experiments included on this album were happier, because they simply added jazz rhythms (especially syncopation) to classical music in a way that “serious” composers like Ravel and Milhaud also tried. In fact, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and his piano concerto contain many anticipations of Ravel’s two piano concertos.

The CD begins with James P. Johnson’s Yamekraw, subtitled “A Negro Rhapsody”. Johnson is best known as one of the founding fathers of the art of stride piano, in which the left hand supplies a two-beat rhythm for the right hand’s melodies and often decorative improvisation. Yamekraw was premiered with Fats Waller—another exponent of stride—as the piano soloist in 1927 (the sleeve-note says 1928). Like the Rhapsody, it includes syncopated passages alongside romantic themes. Yamekraw is the name of “a Negro settlement situated on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia”. Like Gershwin’s Rhapsody, the piece makes good use of prominent clarinets and outspoken trumpets. And it follows Gershwin in that some sections might well be mistaken for the piano concertos of Rachmaninov, who probably influenced Gershwin considerably. Like the other works on this CD, it was orchestrated by someone other than the composer—in this case, William Grant Still. One wonders how much influence the orchestrators had on the original ideas.

Probably the most astonishing item on this album is the Suite for Banjo and Orchestra, arranged by banjoist Don Vappie from pieces by Harry Reser. The banjo is often scorned, even by jazz musicians (e.g. “a gentleman is someone who owns a banjo but doesn’t play it”), but it is here displayed as a virtuosic instrument capable of carrying the solo part in three concerto-like movements. Harry Reser himself played the banjo and led various bands as well as doing studio work from the 1920s onwards. The three pieces in the suite start with Heebie Jeebies, which is not the better-known popular song but a fast number with eerily ghostly changes. Then comes Flapperette, a slower but breezy piece, followed by Pickin’s, which starts by bending notes almost in Japanese vein but soon picks up into a bright melody exhibiting the soloist’s dexterity.

Rhapsody in Blue is so familiar that it doesn’t need describing, although this version is taken from the original manuscript which Gershwin’s brother Ira gave to Richard Rosenberg in 1978 and which contains some extra passages. This is the first recording of the unabridged version and it is performed very well, although it lacks some of the period charm of Gershwin’s original recording with Paul Whiteman. Its opening clarinet glissando still has the power to surprise and, hearing the rhapsody for the umpteenth time, one is still struck by Gershwin’s melodic prodigality. Tatiana Roitman handles the solo part with aplomb. Here and throughout the album, the recording quality is commendably clear and well balanced.

The last two works are by American composer Dana Suesse. She is not exactly a household name nowadays but she was famous in her day for composing popular songs as well as more extended pieces. She was nicknamed “The Girl Gershwin” and had a hand in such popular songs as You Ought To be In Pictures and The Night Is Young And You Are So Beautiful. Her melodic gift is evident in Jazz Rhapsody, whose second theme was translated into the song My Silent Love, which was recorded by Bing Crosby and many others—I can recommend Erroll Garner’s flowery version on YouTube. It is certainly a very memorable tune and is played with lush romanticism by the orchestra.

Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms was premiered in 1932 at a Carnegie Hall concert which also included Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody and the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé—who arranged Dana’s concerto as well as Rhapsody in Blue. The three rhythms in the Suesse concerto are the foxtrot, the blues and ragtime. The first movement is bouncy and assertive; the second slow and mournful—reminiscent in parts of Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto; and the finale frolics merrily.

These pieces were recorded at the Hot Springs Music Festival in Arkansas at various times between 2005 and 2009. By making these recordings available together, Naxos has done us a service by making us more aware of a musical movement in the twenties and thirties which managed to put together two apparently different musical genres, without demeaning either of them. As Dana Suesse said: “There’s certainly no harm in writing [music] in such a form that large numbers of people can enjoy it”.

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, April 2011

FINALLY, a good, well-performed new recording of music by Dana Suesse (1909–1987), who Paul Whiteman dubbed another Gershwin. The title track supports his statement with its centerpiece, the Bing Crosby hit My Silent Love, one of the Jazz Age’s most haunting melodies. Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms (1932) has a similarly grabbing blues movement and an opening foxtrot glazed with gauzy saxophone, harmonic twists and a clear storyline. Like Copland, Suesse was a composition pupil of the eminent Nadia Boulanger.

Yamekraw (1927) is a spicy rhapsody for piano, beautifully scored by William Grant Still and recalling its composer James P. Johnson’s fame as father of stride piano. Harry Reser’s Suite for Banjo and Orchestra wears novelty clothes but is stretched out to include more substance. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is here in its original jazz band version with restored manuscript material that doesn’t add much.

A diverting and enjoyable trip back.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2011

Conductor Richard Rosenberg has a knack for ferreting out undeservedly forgotten symphonic music by nineteenth and early twentieth century American composers. Not too long ago he came up with that terrific Gottschalk (1829–1869) disc we told you about, and now he gives us another equally desirable one. It features five heavily jazz-influenced concertante works (four for piano and one for banjo) dating from 1922 through 1932. Four are world premiere recordings indicated by “WPR” after their titles.

The program begins with a selection by James P. Johnson (1894–1955), who was the father of stride piano and wrote the ever popular Charleston (1925). His Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody (1927) for piano with an orchestral accompaniment by American composer William Grant Still (1895–1978) is presented in its complete final form (WPR). Incidentally it was Johnson’s protégé pianist Fats Waller (1904–1943) who gave the premiere.

Incorporating spirituals and blues melodies, it’s a musical picture of the Yamekraw Negro community outside Savannah, Georgia. You’ll find yourself totally captivated by this brilliantly orchestrated, thoroughly engaging piece. It’s full of toe-tapping tunes, and anticipates the boogie-woogie fad of the 1940s and 50s [track-1, beginning at 06:48]. Make sure to read Maestro Rosenberg’s excellent album notes for more details about Johnson and his music.

The next selection is a real rarity originally penned between 1922 and 1930 by one of the greatest banjoists of all time, Harry F. Reser (1896–1965). Later orchestrated and performed here by one of his equally talented younger colleague Don Vappie, it’s a suite for banjo and orchestra. In three movements, the plucky first, folk-sounding second, and virtuosic helter-skelter third explore every facet of the banjo, proving it’s a compelling solo instrument.

And now for the centerpiece of this release, a recording of George Gershwin’s (1898–1937) Rhapsody in Blue (WPR) quite unlike any you’ve ever heard. But to understand why, a few words are in order about the history of this piece.

It all started in 1923 when legendary bandleader Paul Whiteman (1890–1967) commissioned Gershwin to write a concerto-like work for an all-jazz concert he was scheduled to give early the following year. George accepted, starting on it only five weeks before the scheduled event. Fearing he wouldn’t finish in time, he asked Whiteman to loan him his arranger, Ferde Grofé (1892–1972), for some help with the orchestration.

Paul agreed and the two produced an arrangement for Whiteman’s twenty-four member jazz band plus violins. But time constraints related to the planned concert forced them to shorten it, and it’s either this or one of Grofé’s later arrangements enlarging it for pit (1926) and then full orchestra (1942) that you hear today.

Fortunately George’s older brother Ira (1896–1983) had kept the original unabridged manuscript and parts, giving copies of them to Rosenberg back in 1978. The arrangement on this CD is based on these, and you’ll find a big difference between it and later versions. In addition to a couple of places that will be completely new to you, there’s a spontaneity, jauntiness and abandon which make this a more infectiously jazzy piece. With just a handful of instrumentalists, Grofé produced a highly colorful arrangement with an intimacy many may find preferable to what they grew up with.

Ever heard of Nadine Dana Suesse (1909–1987)? Probably not, but she was an accomplished songwriter-composer back in the 1930s whom The New Yorker magazine once dubbed “Girl Gershwin.” Two of her creations, Jazz Nocturne of 1931 (WPR) and Concerto in Three Rhythms from 1932 (WPR), conclude this enterprising disc. The former is a winsome instrumental with a familiar episodic melody (FE) [track-6, beginning at 01:20] that lyricist Edward Heyman (1907–1981) would later set to words as the hit song “My Silent Love” (1932).

Like Rhapsody…, the concerto was written in response to a commission by Paul Whiteman, who considered Suesse, George’s female counterpart. Also orchestrated by Grofé, it’s in three movements and opens with an allegro that’s a hip fantasia with a foxtrot beat. There are moments when you may experience feelings of déjà vu recalling FE in the preceding piece.

The adagio is a skillfully written, melancholy study in the blues, but the mood shifts with the exuberant concluding presto based on an insistent ragtime riff. With this concerto Ms. Suesse turned to more classically oriented pursuits, eventually spending three years during the 1940s studying with Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979) in Paris.

Pianists Gary Hammond, Tatiana Roitman, Peter Mintun and Michael Gurt are the respective soloists in the four piano selections, while banjoist Don Vappie is featured in the Gershwin and Reser pieces. All are in top form, and along with Richard Rosenberg conducting the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra with an assist from the Créole Serenaders in the Gershwin, make a strong case for this music.

Recorded on four different occasions between 2005 and 2009 at the Hot Springs Field House in Arkansas, the sonics are amazingly consistent. The soundstage projected is of just the right proportions and in a lush venue, which enriches these colorful scores without obscuring their detail.

The balance between the soloists and orchestra is ideal with the banjo and bass drum deftly highlighted in tutti passages, giving the music all the more rhythmic punch. The orchestral timbre is very natural, and the piano well rounded to the point where it may occasionally sound recessed. But better that than those “digital nasties” frequently associated with this instrument.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, March 2011

It’s time we had some alternatives to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which, though ingenious, is overplayed. The ol’ “Rhapsody” is front and center on this disc, this time billed as the “first complete, unabridged recording of the manuscript.” (Everyone has a reason why his or her recording of the “Rhapsody” is the only “true” one.) The good news, though, is that the “Rhapsody” spawned some imitations, and they’re also here. Though they’re not as good, they’re charming, and they’re a change. One is “Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody,” by stride pianist James P. Johnson, the joyous talent behind Big Joe Turner’s rocking “Roll ’Em Pete.” Johnson’s concerto is orchestrated by William Grant Still. (There’s no shame in getting an orchestrator—don’t forget that Ferde Grofe orchestrated “Rhapsody in Blue.”) Two pieces come from the pen of Dana Suesse, whom the New Yorker called “Girl Gershwin.” Her “Jazz Nocturne” and “Concerto in Three Rhythms” (orchestrated by Ferde Grofe, as was the “Rhapsody”), also bring the Jazz Age, to use F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old term, to life. It’s great that Naxos is dusting off this music. The disc’s sleeper hit, however, is Harry Reser’s rollicking Suite for Banjo and Orchestra, arranged by Don Vappie of the Preservation Hall Band. It’s 11 minutes of loony-tunes novelty., March 2011

 It is unfashionable nowadays to imply that the music of a particular country has specific characteristics—it smacks of typecasting and thus of bias. No such political correctness affected composers of the past, though—Arnold Schoenberg, for example, developed 12-tone music in part to guarantee what he saw as the pre-eminence of German music into the future. And fashionable or not, there are certain musical elements that seem to characterize works from particular countries more often than not, both in their older music and their newer. In the case of music by American composers, there is frequently some surface glitz, an attractive veneer characterized by skillful orchestration or instrumental disposition, a certain amount of superficiality, and (often but certainly not always) a desire to please potential audiences with accessibility and interesting gestures. Certainly many of these characteristics appear in the works on a new Naxos CD entitled “Jazz Nocturne: American Concertos of the Jazz Age.” The only household-name composer here is, of course, George Gershwin, whose Rhapsody in Blue has been heard innumerable times. But this CD offers something not experienced before: the work in its full original 1924 version for jazz band, in which form it was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé (now remembered mostly for his Grand Canyon Suite). This first complete and unabridged recording from the manuscript proves a salutary experience: Grofé keeps the music bright and free-flowing, and the familiar melodies sound, well, jazzier here than as usually heard when played by a full symphony orchestra. And the Gershwin is accompanied on the disc by some genuinely interesting and entirely neglected works of the same period. Dana Suesse (1909–1987) was actually called the “Girl Gershwin” by no less than The New Yorker, and proves to have a fine sense of style and rhythm in her 1932 Concerto in Three Rhythms—whose three movements are a fox trot, blues and rag and whose orchestration, interestingly, was also done by Grofé. Suesse’s Jazz Nocturne, which gives this CD its title, is a short work from 1931 that contains a theme that became the song “My Silent Love,” a hit for famed crooner Bing Crosby. James Price Johnson (1894–1955) was an African-American composer whose 1927 Yamekraw (the title comes from an African-American area outside Savannah, Georgia) is steeped in the sensibility of the blues—and featured none other than Fats Waller as pianist at its first performance. And Harry Reser (1896–1965), a master banjo player, not surprisingly requires masterful solo work in his Suite for Banjo and Orchestra (1922–30), whose three short movements leave an overall impression of bright, forthright enjoyment, if little subtlety or significant musical substance.

V. Vasan, March 2011

This unique album is a wonderful snapshot of American jazz in an orchestral setting. Most classical music aficionados are familiar with George Gershwin and his works such as Rhapsody in Blue, but there are also a number of less-famous composers who wrote around the same time who are no less brilliant. These composers also interacted with and influenced each other. For example, James Price Johnson also wrote a rhapsody, entitled Yamekraw, Negro Rhapsody, which is a sophisticated work full of tempo changes, varied rhythms, and various moods and character. (William Grant Still orchestrated this piece.) Yamekraw swings and is syncopated, giving it a very dancelike feel, and the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra does an excellent job bringing the music alive without ever making it rigid. Not only do it play beautifully on this first piece, but also through the rest of the album, where it truly captures all the moods jazz pieces require while never losing strong classical technique. It is much to conductor Richard Rosenberg’s credit that all of the pieces have energy and good musical taste. The Suite for banjo & orchestra surprisingly showcases the instrument much like a violin, and even a mandolin in the second movement. Two works by Dana Suesse are another joy to hear. Her Jazz Nocturne begins with an ethereal feel that conjures up the night, and then a jazz melody enters on the piano. The piece is romantic, with a sweeping melody in the strings (not surprisingly, a popular song was based on one of the melodies in this piece). Suesse’s Concerto in Three Rhythms is a complex piece that draws on syncopations, active dialogues between instruments, and long, legato lines in the strings. The third movement is especially exciting, an orchestrally fleshed-out rag that shows the strength of this talented yet relatively unknown composer. Suesse and Gershwin were well acquainted with each other, so it is fitting that Rhapsody in Blue should also be included on this album. What sets apart this recording of an arguably overplayed piece is its interpretation: it is like a work of jazz that happens to be played by an orchestra, rather than an orchestra trying to play a jazz composition. Pianist Tatiana Roitman’s style is clean and bright, accompanied by a sprightly orchestra. The legato lines are never schmaltzy, but crisp. Highly recommended and highly enjoyable.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

‘First complete, unabridged recording of the manuscript’ proclaims the booklet describing Gershwin’s A Rhapsody in Blue. It explains that the manuscript that the orchestrator, Ferde Grofe, had produced for piano and jazz band was cut and changed before its first performance. That original document had been given to the disc’s conductor, Richard Rosenberg, by George’s brother, Ira, and it was he who gave that versions first public performance in 1978. Whether the additional music is worth preserving is debatable, but for the inquisitive here it is. I would add that the version for jazz band is very different to the big orchestral backing we hear nowadays. The remainder of the disc offers some seldom heard music under the title, ‘American Concertos from the Jazz Age’. James Price Johnson was an Afro-American jazz pianist who today would be described as a ‘crossover composer’, A Negro Rhapsody, coming to popular attention in the film Yamekraw, is here receiving its first recording in the orchestral garb by William Grant Still. Fragmented in nature, it is a pleasing novelty. Harry Reser was the leading banjoist in the 1920’s and 30’s, later becoming a well-known bandleader, his Suite for Banjo and Orchestra being fiendishly difficult and would have been used to show his virtuosity. Pleasing music here stunningly performed by Dan Vappie. From Kansas City, Nadine Dana Suesse, was viewed as the successor to Gershwin, her song Have You Forgotten giving her international fame. From the two works included here, she would appear immensely gifted, her sound being a mix of jazz and the sophisticated smoochy era that followed. Though the sleeve does not make clear, it appears a period piano is being used to good effect, the four agile and idiomatic soloists accompanied by a very capable orchestra formed for the festival by professionals and students. Recordings from 2005 and 2009 in a tight acoustic.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group