Klassik  SoloInstrument mit Orchester
Pascal Rogé & Bertrand de Billy & ORF Radio Symphonie Orchester Wien George Gershwin: Concerto in F · Maurice Ravel: Concerto in G major OC 601 SACD
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FormatSuper Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 601
Release date26/08/2004
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Gershwin, George
  • Ravel, Maurice

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      Pascal Rogé, French pianist and prize-winner (Grand Prix du Disque, Edison Award, Gramophone Award), on this SACD-recording with the RSO Vienna under Bertrand de Billy presents Piano Concertos by Gershwin and Ravel.

      Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
      Bertrand de Billy conductor
      Pascal Rogé piano

      Gershwin and Ravel

      “I had many apartments, but I was at home at the piano,” George Gershwin once revealed. The composer’s beginnings lay in the American hits and jazz tunes he heard in the streets of New York as a schoolboy, and that had fascinated him from the .rst moment on. He began learning the piano, adding lessons in harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation at age 14 as well. Working with his teacher Charles Hambitzer, who had immediately recognized his genius, Gershwin fell in love with the music of Debussy and Ravel, the new gods of impressionism. He began writing songs at a young age, some of which were even printed. He began working as a “plugger” for a publishing house at age 16, i.e. a pianist playing the newest hits all day, every day, in order to get word out about them to the man in the street. But Gershwin soon discovered that he could write much better songs himself. Initially, however, no one was interested. He switched jobs to work as a rehearsal pianist for the Jerome Kern/Victor Herbert show, slowly making himself indispensable with his musical tips and suggestions, and then won the revue’s diva for his own songs. Two of these were then incorporated into the show with great success.

      Gershwin became known on Broadway. He was hired by a publisher for $35 a week – this time as a composer. This was followed by successes, failures and successes – until he .nally landed a huge triumph in 1919 with his own self-composed revue La La Lucille, which boasted 100 performances and the world hits Nobody but you and Swanee. The latter of these was incorporated by beloved singer Al Jolson into his own revue. The song was dubbed the hit of the year and bestowed Gershwin with his .rst modest fortune and a comfortable degree of independence. His teacher Hambitzer had just died, not without first prudently acquainting Gershwin with Hungarian composer Edward Kilenyi, a student of Mascagni. Gershwin now began studying composition with Kilenyi, because he instinctively knew there was still much he needed to know to become a truly successful composer.

      At 26, Gershwin celebrated the next major triumph of his life as both pianist and composer of his own Rhapsody in Blue, written as a commission for King of Jazz Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. The audience at the February 12, 1924 premiere in New York’s Aeolian Hall included such luminaries as Heifetz, Kreisler, Godowski, Mengelberg, Rachmaninoff, Stokowsky, Stravinsky, Damrosch and Jerome Kern. Listeners were electri.ed. Gershwin’s success was indescribable – even with the press. Rhapsody in Blue was an immediate hit – not only in America, but in Europe as well. It made Gershwin, son of Russian immigrants, a wealthy man. Records and music alone brought him a quarter of a million dollars worth of royalties in ten years – and when Paul Whiteman played the piece in his .lm “The King of Jazz”, he paid Gershwin the enormous sum of .fty thousand dollars.

      There was only one problem: the young Gershwin always wrote his compositions at the piano. Others – a practice still usual on Broadway – took care of the orchestration. Rhapsody in Blue, for example had been orchestrated by highly talented pianist and arranger Ferde Grofé, a member of Paul Whiteman’s jazz orchestra. When the respected conductor Walter Damrosch commissioned a piano concerto from Gershwin shortly thereafter, guaranteeing him seven performances, Gershwin retired to a hotel and immersed himself in the study of classical concertos. It was completely clear to him that he had to compose as well as orchestrate this concerto himself to be regarded as a serious composer. The instrumentation alone took him four weeks. He completed the piano concerto at the beginning of 1925, calling it Concerto in F. Full of jitters, Gershwin hired 60 musicians and a conductor, rented the Globe Theater for an afternoon and secretly tried out the piece. He requested some passages to be repeated several times, made corrections and improved various details. But by and large, he was satisfied.

      The work’s premiere took place December 2, 1925 in Carnegie Hall under Walter Damrosch, who had placed the piece at the end (!) of the concert – after Glazunov’s Fifth Symphony and Henry Rabaud’s Suite Anglaise. Gershwin, suffering as always from horri.c stage fright, played the solo part himself. His name had again drawn numerous well known musicians – both supporters and detractors – as well as the most important reviewers. At the end, the audience stomped and cheered – but critics were ambivalent. Some celebrated the new “standard work of the century”; others criticized its composition and form and censured the music’s entertainment character. “Gershwin invents the melodies of our time with all their insolent lack of restraint, their feverish rushing ahead, but also with the extremely deep melancholy we are so intimately acquainted with,” wrote critic Chozinoff. Walter Damrosch said, “The second movement alone, with its dreamy mood reminiscent of a summer night somewhere in the South, proves Gershwin’s formidable talent.” Renowned English conductor Albert Coates found the Concerto in F to be simply the most signi.cant musical work of America.

      The concerto is based on jazz rhythms, of course, primarily the blues. It also weaves in popular dances of the time, with the Charleston heading the list. But above all, it contains Gershwin’s own themes and melodies, which are fresh, natural and full of sensitivity. He plays around with his material as naively as sophisticatedly, his instrumentation is precise, exploiting shrill, extreme ranges at times (muted trumpets at the top of their ranges at the beginning of the second movement); the piano part is sometimes simpli.ed to the point of chunkiness, lending it more of a percussive function, but it always returns to the lyricism Gershwin was so capable of. The pell-mell character, the unresolved dissonances, crazy trombone glissandos, diminished ascending and augmented descending melodic intervals are characteristic of jazz.

      In both works, Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F, Gershwin naturally and easily incorporated the elements he was so comfortable with: jazz and American light music. But he was not the .rst to do so. Jazz had already begun to conquer the world during the First World War – and Gershwin was only one of many who introduced this new idiom to the concert hall. Debussy had already composed a ragtime, his Golliwog’s Cakewalk, in 1908. Stravinsky followed with his Ragtime for 11 instruments and “Piano-Rag-Music” in 1918. His 3rd Dance of the Princess in The Soldier’s Tale is a ragtime as well. Hindemith had included a ragtime and shimmy in his Suite from 1922, Milhaud includes many jazzy references in his ballet La creation du monde from 1923, Aaron Copland’s Jazz Piano Concerto followed in 1926, the second movement of Ravel’s Violin Sonata from 1927 is also a blues, and he incorporates jazz into both of his piano concertos. Krenek’s jazz opera Jonny spielt auf created a furor in 1927, Kurt Weill’s Threepenny opera appeared in Berlin in 1928, followed one year later by his Mahagonny; Martinu, Honegger, Shostakovich and many others fell head over heels for “American Negro music”, the lifeblood of which was drastically capped in 1933 by European politics…

      But now back to Gershwin. In March 1928, an illustrious guest from Europe was being celebrated in New York for several concert appearances: Maurice Ravel. At a party, someone asked him what he wished for his birthday. “I would like to meet Gershwin and hear him play,” answered Ravel. Gershwin came and played almost his entire repertoire for his colleague. Ravel was delighted. Finally, George Gershwin gathered up all of his courage and asked Ravel if he would accept him as a student and teach him harmony and instrumentation. Ravel chuckled and said, “You are a .rst-class Gershwin. Why would you want to become a second-class Ravel?”

      But Gershwin didn’t let up. Next, he focused on Igor Stravinsky. He telegraphed his colleague in Paris to ask if he could study with him. Stravinsky cabled back and asked Gershwin how much he earned per year. Gershwin answered with a rounded down – but still respectable – .gure, prompting the immediate reply from Stravinsky: “Wish to take lessons with you.”

      A short time later, Gershwin visited Europe for the last time, going to Paris and Vienna. He still had the idée .xe of taking instruction with a famous composer. In Paris, the stronghold of modern music, he visited Auric, Milhaud, Proko.eff and Stravinsky. Proko.eff was particularly interested in Gershwin, asked him to play many of his works for him, and .nally said that Gershwin would be able to write many more exciting works if he would interest himself less for dinners and dollars. But Gershwin enjoyed all the parties thrown for him in Paris. Later in Vienna, he met not only Lehar and Kalman, but Alban Berg as well. But his next piece was already composing itself in his head – An American in Paris – and thus nothing came of the desired instruction…

      During this time, Maurice Ravel was completing his major tour of the US and Canada, which took him from New York to Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Houston, Colorado, Buffalo and Montreal, and during which he also conducted some of his own works. Ravel’s songs, piano compositions, and orchestral works, including Sheherazade, Rhapsodie espagnole, the ballet suites from Daphnis und Chloe, his orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the Valses nobles et sentimentales, the suite Le tombeau de Couperin, but above all La Valse and Tzigane had made him world famous. Back in Paris, he would hear the premiere of his ballet Boléro in the Paris Opera on November 20, 1928.

      One year later, Ravel tried out a unique experiment: working on two piano concertos at once, using completely different styles for each. Stacks of music paper lay to each side of his piano. On one, he jotted his Concerto in G-Major, on the other, his Concerto for the Left Hand, which the one-armed Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein had commissioned. Of the former, Ravel said that it “resembled Mozart and Saint-Saëns;” the style of the other “was not so simple.” Ravel completed the Concerto for the Left Hand .rst. The work premiered in Vienna on November 27, 1931, played by Wittgenstein himself. The Concerto in G Major was .rst performed on January 14, 1932 with soloist Marguerite Long, to whom the work is dedicated. Ravel conducted the performance himself. Immediately thereafter, Ravel and Long began a successful tour through Central Europe with the work.

      In the Concerto in G Major, Ravel uses musical material from an earlier planned Basque Rhapsody. The .rst movement (Allegramente) begins with a happy theme played by the piccolo, which some music researchers say resembles a dance from the Navarre region. But the ebullient, bitonal begin is also highly reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Its jazzy references cannot be overheard. Ravel con.rmed this with the words, “This concerto is related to my violin sonata, in which I also used elements of jazz, though only moderately.” Are there also remembrances of Gershwin’s music, of Ravel’s impressions from his 1928 visit to America? Parallels to Gershwin are likewise not to overhear – for example in the second movement, one of Ravel’s most poetic compositions ever. Similar to Gershwin’s, this movement builds on a long piano monolog, which Ravel augments and re.nes through strange, rhythmic, accompaniment .gures in the left hand: neo-classicism in the spirit of Haydn and Mozart! The short Presto-Finale rondo takes us back to Scarlatti; the piano sweeps breathlessly across the landscape interrupted by impudent jazz riffs (trombone glissandos!), the music is rhythmically electrifying, as though Ravel – nearing the end of his life – intended to take music halls by storm.

      Andrea Seebohm
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      SACD 1
      • George Gershwin (1898–1937)
        Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra
        • 1.Allegro13:45
        • 2.Adagio. Andante con moto12:11
        • 3.Allegro agitato06:53
      • Maurice Ravel (1875–1937)
        Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G-Major
        • 4.Allegramente08:45
        • 5.Adagio assai09:47
        • 6.Presto04:08
      • Total:55:29