This is the one I remember and was somewhat popular at the time. Don't know how to compare it to others.
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Bernstein's relationship with Gershwin's music is interesting and a bit curious; especially since, as Czarivey points out, he recorded it a few times. He often disparaged Gershwin's music and famously said of "Rhapsody" : "It is not a composition at all, but a string of terrific tunes stuck together with a thin paste of flour and water". It should be remembered that the piano part was simply improvised by Gershwin himself (he was a great improviser) at the work's premiere lending some credence to Bernstein's comment. Also curious to me is the fact that he never recorded Gershwin's piano masterpiece "Concerto In F". I would agree that Mapman's choice is probably the best (by Bernstein) of the bunch. But for a different take on the music (more introspective and slower tempos) try his recording with the LA Philharmonic on DG.
Hi Frogman, thanks for the insight, I am surprised to say the least. It's funny and indeed a bit curious to me that Bernstein would disparage Gershwin's music since he recorded the Rhapsody so many times and seemed entranced with his music, maybe a bit envious of his melodic and improvisational gifts? As to why he didn't record "Concerto in F" maybe he felt he couldn't add anything to Earl Wild's numerous recordings of this piece. While Bernstein was certainly many things and an American Icon in so many ways, he certainly isn't any Earl Wild, especially regarding interpretation and virtuosity of Gershwin's works at the keyboard IMHO!
He certainly was. Copland's musical influence can be heard loud and clear in many of Bernstein's works. As Tubegroover points out, Bernstein was many things, a bigger than life personality and American icon. Some of his works, especially West Side Story, are truly great. However, IMO, I think Gershwin was a better composer and perhaps, as Tubegroover also points out, perhaps Bernstein knew it and that was the reason that he sometimes disparaged Gershwin's music; big personalities have big egos.
Bernstein, was much more of an academician than Gershwin and, as such, more rigid in his outlook on what constituted a "good composition". Much of Gershwin's orchestral music has often been dismissed as "Classical lite" by many in "serious" music circles. Gershwin's music's brilliance is in its ability to be at times compositionally very interesting and, at times, brilliant (Concerto in F) while, at the same time, being very tuneful and accessible.
The specific criticism directed at Rhapsody In Blue from a compositional standpoint concerns the transitions; or lack thereof. This is what Bernstein meant when he states that it is simply a "bunch of great tunes". It is true that the transitions are not particularly well developed from an academic standpoint. However, one has to ask the question: so what?
Another possible hint about Bernstein's true feelings towards Gershwin's music can possibly be found in the fact that in his recording of Rhapsody he takes liberties by actually cutting some of the music in the score and not honoring the composer's tempo markings; like saying "I know best". Taking liberties with tempo markings is nothing particularly unsusual, making significant cuts to the score is much more suspect. In the mentioned Columbia recording Bernstein cuts two major orchestral interludes beginning at 5:40. To cut well over a minute of music in a roughly seventeen minute work is highly suspect in my opinion. The reason that this version still clocks in at over 16 minutes is that Bernstein's tempos are generally much slower than most versions and what the composer's tempo indications would suggest.
For fans of this work the original jazz band version for Paul Whiteman's band is a must hear. My very favorite recording of this work is the original jazz band version by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony. Highly recommended and with very good sound.