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Album review: George Gershwin - Songbook, Rhapsody in Blue

By William Dart

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George Gershwin Songbook.
George Gershwin Songbook.

Some of us knew of Michael Endres before he took up a post at Canterbury University's School of Music. The German pianist had built up an impressive CD catalogue, with stylish and highly individual interpretations of Schubert, Schumann, Mozart and even Weber.

This heritage is very much felt in his new recording of George Gershwin's piano music. The opening The Man I Love, delivered with lingering rubato and resonant inner voices, might have escaped from a Schumann fantasy land, together with the dream-laden Somebody Loves Me and Who Cares.

Top marks amongst these 18 transcriptions must be shared by a knife-edge I got rhythm and a scrupulously voiced 'S Wonderful, more gently paced than the composer's liltingly directive might have suggested.

The disc's centrepiece is Rhapsody in Blue, without orchestral assistance.

Of course one misses that slippery slide of clarinet and brazen wah-wah trumpet but, presented solo, Gershwin's score is more effectively rhapsodic.

Endres' single-minded attention to the work's driving momentum is breathtaking.

The whimsical humour of this pianist is infectious, a feature that is a familiar asset on his earlier recordings.

When Endres takes a few rhythmic liberties with the second of Three Preludes, he gives it a bluesy swing, making it the perfect breather after an adrenalin-charged storm through the first of the set.

Closing the disc, among a selection of less well-known titles, the Irish waltz of Three-Quarter Blues, one of Gershwin's more cohesive sketches, is a charmer. A few tracks earlier, a fierce 22-second snippet of a Prelude comes across as a full-on toccata furioso.

When English pianists Richard Rodney Bennett and Joanna MacGregor recorded Gershwin in the 1990s, both included arrangements by other hands; in Bennett's case his own, in McGregor's, those of composer Michael Finnissy.

Endres could have followed suit, as he enchanted us at a recent Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra concert with his own take on Bach's Air on the G String. I wonder what he might make of Gershwin's By Strauss?

Stars: 5/5
Verdict: German Kiwi pianist illuminates the Gershwin songbook with flair and whimsy.

- NZ Herald

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