Concertante Works by Sedaka, Emerson, Ellington, and Gershwin–Really!

Review by: David Hurwitz

ManhattanIntermezzo

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

What a delightful project this turns out to be! The main work here is the Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame) Piano Concerto, an energetic and fun piece that runs the gamut from a 12-tone opening to a primal, toccata conclusion very much in the spirit of the finale of the Ginastera First Piano Concerto, which Emerson also transcribed and recorded. The other big surprise is Neil Sedaka’s (remember him?) Manhattan Intermezzo, a sort of tonal travelogue of New York County for piano and orchestra, full of good tunes in a genuinely popular idiom.

Duke Ellington’s New World a-Comin’ (in Maurice Peress’ arrangement for piano and orchestra) has appeared on disc a couple of times previously, but this version of the inevitable Rhapsody in Blue goes back to Gershwin’s (and Grofé’s) original score and opens up several traditional cuts. It’s great to hear the whole thing, especially the extended solo part. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel sounds entirely at one with Gershwin’s style–he knows how to inflect a phrase without turning mannered or self-conscious, and the whole performance is full of character.

The Brown University Symphony Orchestra under its music director Paul Phillips has every right to be proud of its showing here. Perhaps there is a touch of scruffiness now and then–the strings at the start of the Emerson concerto, for instance–but on the whole the result impresses as thoroughly musical and technically secure. This is not, in any case, the kind of music that begs comparison to other versions by, say, the Vienna Philharmonic, so there’s really nothing to carp at.

Given the enthusiastic advocacy of Jeffrey Biegel throughout the program–and let’s face it, he’s a better pianist than was Keith Emerson–the result is a disc that truly adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The sonics are good, but do reveal a bit of an “empty hall” quality. No big deal. The uniqueness of the program and the vitality of the performances triumph over all other factors.

 



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Recording Details:

Album Title: MANHATTAN INTERMEZZO
Reference Recording: None for this program


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