Though separated by time, pianist Simon Tedeschi and George Gershwin have been connected in spirit. Tedeschi’s newly released CD Gershwin and Me ( ABC Classics 481 00322) is an expression of this simpatico, affirmed by Tedeschi’s introduction to the CD in which he says “Gershwin’s music has, in some ways, been the accompaniment to my life and musical career.”
Gershwin and Me is Tedeschi’s 8th recording, with 14 tracks that trace the works of the composer (b 1898 – d 1937), whose life was cut tragically short aged 38, following surgery which diagnosed a brain tumour.
The tracks range from sparkling Gershwin originals for solo piano, to famous arrangements. There is no question that a Gershwin piano anthology that explores the music as well as the man, should culminate in nothing other than the Rhapsody in Blue. Tedeschi’s performance is of the highest calibre and his interpretation sympathetic, deftly moving from the brighter and punchy style of ragtime, through the mellow romanticism of Gershwin’s ballads (Percy Grainger’s arrangements of Love Walked In and The Man I Love), jazz and blues, to the symphonic grandeur and classical roots of the Rhapsody in Blue.
Refreshing too to hear Keith Jarrett’s version of Someone to Watch Over Me and Tedeschi’s own spin on Summertime and I Loves You, Porgy. On the CD, Tedeschi performs the Rhapsody in Blue with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Northey, in a live 2007 recording from the Queensland performing Arts Centre. For this, he selected Ferde Grofé’s distinctive and career making orchestration of Gershwin’s Rhapsody.
Speaking to SoundsLikeSydney, Tedeschi said ” I have played so many different versions of the Rhapsody in Blue – the 2 piano version, an arrangement for piano and vibes, and piano and jazz band which is in many ways, admittedly, closest to the score. In terms of a symphonic sound, one has to go for the Ferde Grofé arrangement and I’m glad I did because that was particularly successful performance in my eyes and I’m glad it’s immortalised.”
I asked Tedeschi a seemingly impossible question: If Gershwin had lived longer what might he have created? “It’s almost like these composers had an inkling of their impending mortality and were so ahead of their time. The Fantasy in C major by Schubert is like Porgy and Bess in that it ‘says it all’ so it’s a really hard question to answer. Gershwin seems so complete as a composer, he doesn’t seem to be in his formative stages, but who knows, he might have been influenced by Be-Bop or gone atonal. He had already developed a very structured and unique harmonic language.”
Tedeschi’s observations ring true. By the time of his early 30’s, Gershwin was a well established composer and performer, enjoying growing fame and affluence. His output was prolific which created a dilemna for Tedeschi. ” I did find it difficult to choose what to include in the recording. I wanted to put the Grainger tracks down because Grainger was such a fascinating ethnomusicologist. I wanted to explore his sounds and to that extent I was limited to what he had arranged. I also wanted some Gershwin originals because they’re very short – they’re tiny little miniatures, but they are so beautiful and so simple. I Got Rhythm is an omission – in the end I was constrained by time.”
Simon Tedeschi will be undertaking a national concert tour Gershwin and Me in 2013.
Simon Tedeschi was interviewed by Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Gershwin and Me is available on-line at www.abc.net.au and at ABC shops.