Spectrum Brass Quintet | Rhapsody: The Music of George Gershwin

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Canadian Brass George Gershwin

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Rhapsody: The Music of George Gershwin

by Spectrum Brass Quintet

Committed to creative collaboration, the Spectrum Brass Quintet works with innovative performers to enrich and enliven the chamber music experience. In their debut CD, they join forces with soprano Elizabeth Stoner, pianist Aviram Reichert, and percussion
Genre: Classical: Chamber Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Gershwin Overture: Strike Up the Band
2:31 $0.99
2. Porgy & Bess: Introduction and Summertime
4:37 $0.99
3. Porgy & Bess: I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'
1:46 $0.99
4. Porgy & Bess: Bess You is My Woman Now
3:39 $0.99
5. Porgy & Bess: It Ain't Necessarily So
2:42 $0.99
6. Porgy & Bess: Oh, Lawd, I'm on My Way!
1:15 $0.99
7. Walking the Dog
3:11 $0.99
8. Rhapsody in Blue
17:17 $0.99
9. Fascinating Rhythm
4:09 $0.99
10. But Not for Me
4:09 $0.99
11. Embraceable You
4:03 $0.99
12. How Long Has This Been Going On?
4:31 $0.99
13. The Man I Love
6:11 $0.99
14. 'S Wonderful
3:34 $0.99
15. I Got Rhythm
4:45 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Let’s start with an image. In Al Hirschfeld’s familiar caricature of the composer, Gershwin’s chin is long and sharp enough to cut bread. It is a chin confident in purpose and intent, confined neither by the rest of Gershwin’s face nor, it would seem, by musical propriety. It’s a significant detail: that errant chin is Hirschfeld’s way of depicting a composer accustomed to working outside the box.

Take the ever popular Rhapsody in Blue. Take the more controversial Porgy and Bess. Part of their appeal is that they thrive outside the standard genres. Rhapsody premiered in 1924 at a Paul Whiteman concert billed ominously as an “Experiment in Modern Music.” Instead of music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, or other luminaries of the avant-garde, listeners were treated to a bizarre mélange of “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Victor Herbert’s Suite of Serenades, and piano shenanigans delivered by Zez Confrey (“Kitten on the Keys,” anyone?). Among this motley cast of characters, Rhapsody was perhaps less out of place, but its idiosyncrasy was still commented upon—jazzy but not jazz, symphonic but hardly a symphony, concerto-like but not…you get the point.

In a similar vein, Porgy and Bess defies categorization. Premiered as “a folk opera” in a Broadway theater, Porgy and Bess was intended to cross boundaries. “The reason I did not submit this work to the usual sponsors of opera in America,” wrote Gershwin, “was that I hoped to have developed something in American music that would appeal to the many rather than the allured few.”

Gershwin had a knack for appealing to the many—the popularity of his musical comedies attest to this—but his fluency as a songwriter was honed through a self-critical impulse and intense collaboration with lyricist and brother Ira. Ira admitted, for example, that George discarded four versions of “Strike Up the Band” before coming up with the natty tune that opens this disc. Like all great ideas, the final melody roused George from bed in the middle of the night. Finding lyrics for George’s nimble melodies also presented challenges. As Ira struggled with “I Got Rhythm,” he experimented with different sets of dummy lyrics: “Roly-Poly/ Eating solely/ Ravioli/ Better watch your diet or bust.” Not bad, really. The success of George and Ira’s collaboration depended upon mutual give and take. As Ira explained, “We are both pretty critical and outspoken, George about my lyrics and I about his music…Occasionally, I suggest that a note or ‘middle’ be changed, while now and then a line is thrown to me.”

Gershwin’s music lends itself well to the arranger’s art. Many of his songs have become standards—arranged, reinterpreted, and sometimes adapted radically by hundreds of musicians ranging from Diana Krall to Miles Davis to Sting. Even the concert works have been sliced, diced, and reconfigured in interesting ways. James Stephenson’s approach to Gershwin also covers a wide gamut, drawing from Gershwin’s music for stage, screen, and concert hall. Taken together, the collection on this disc showcases Stephenson’s versatility and the Spectrum Brass Quintet’s virtuosity. Their “Summertime” preserves the sultry haze of the original, but with additional arabesques around the melody and a refreshing, up tempo digression. Their funkified “Fascinating Rhythm” takes more liberties, giving Gershwin’s rhythmic kernel fresh verve. The arrangements also go beyond the typical brass quintet setup, allowing Spectrum to engage in its own collaboration with percussionist Alex Trajano, soprano Elizabeth Stoner, and pianist Aviram Reichert, who is featured prominently in trumpeter Brian Buerkle’s daunting arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue. This creative synthesis—enacted on multiple levels, from arrangements to performers—not only follows Gershwin’s example, it characterizes the spirit of the Spectrum Brass Quintet’s project. The performances here offer an abundance of perspectives, illuminating Gershwin’s music in new, unexpected ways. Enjoy.



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