Gershwin composed “An American in Paris” in 1928 not long after teaching himself the secrets of orchestration. This was perhaps why he decided to put those newly acquired skills to the test by having his new composition performed by an exceptionally large orchestra. I have to admit that the first time I looked at that colossal score my enthusiasm at the thought of transcribing it wavered for a moment: how was it going to be possible for three instruments to take on that mass of music? Daunted but not discouraged, I met the challenge head-on with the help, luckily, of two other invaluable sources: the excellent transcription for solo piano by Gershwin’s trusted associate William Daly, and the two-pianos version of the piece that Gershwin himself had written while scoring “An American in Paris” for orchestra. So, by comparing one source with the other, cutting periods, adding bars and inserting a brief cadenza of my own (“Gershwin-style”, naturally) shortly before the end, I was able to give this celebrated tone poem a completely new form.
“Rhapsody in Blue” was another seemingly impossible transcription. First of all, it had to be decided whether its well-known piano solo part, written in 1924 by a 26-year-old Gershwin, should be maintained intact (numerous cuts, present in the score itself, are usually made in performances of “Rhapsody in Blue” when the original version for piano and orchestra is played).
Having decided to leave this famous part entirely as it was written, I was faced with the following problem: whom to assign certain rather substantial orchestral passages given that I had only a piano, violin and clarinet at my disposal. The answer was obvious: to my own splendid instrument naturally, the piano, thereby doubling its workload (noblesse oblige...). My final step was to (re)orchestrate several passages that in the original score should be played by the orchestra and leave to my two excellent partners the honor/onus of performing them.
At first glance, Gershwin’s Preludes, which he wrote for solo piano, seemed not to present any particular transcription problems, being an apparently simple question of (re)distributing the melodic material among the three instruments; but the reality wasn’t so simple I discovered. In fact, when transcribing them I had to be attentive both to essential technical aspects (the extension and timbre of the instruments themselves) and, above all, to those formal elements that would highlight the narrative structure of the pieces.
No doubt should remain by now regarding the extraordinary genius of George Gershwin, even though this great American pianist and composer is still the object of many musicological misconceptions. If his undeniable genius were, however, to require any additional proof, well: this CD would be it. Gershwin’s music in fact has the unique ability to preserve his compelling vitality and powerful, unequivocal identity even when his works are performed by ensembles totally different than the original ones. That is precisely the case in “Play Gershwin”.