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Reviews: The Birth of Rhapsody in Blue

The MHS Review 394 Vol. 11 No. 16, 1987

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Karen Monson, Ovation (July 1987)


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Paul Whiteman's Historic Aeolian Hall Concert of 1924

Reconstructed & Conducted by Maurice Peress

with Piano Soloists Ivan Davis & Dick Hyman

Ah, the lessons to be learned from Maurice Peress' noble and exhaustive reconstruc­tion of the Paul Whiteman concert given on Lincoln's Birthday (February 12), 1924. That was the afternoon when George Ger­shwin sat down at the piano to launch his Rhapsody in Blue and, as a commentator at the time wrote, "made a lady out of jazz." It was the first time a dance band had appeared on the stage of a prestigious con­cert hall, the old Aeolian Hall in the piano company's headquarters on ... then-­respectable 42nd Street. Whiteman billed the event as "An Experiment in Modern Music" and enlisted support from such musical luminaries as Mary Garden, Amelita Galli-Curci, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Leopold Stokowski.

That it was a wonderful concert, elegant­ly programmed, Peress proves with this recording, which is filled with spirit and color; you haven't heard a slide whistle un­til you've heard Dave Bargeron's sail through Whispering. And Rhapsody in Blue, performed here from the original parts and score, with Ivan Davis as piano soloist, sounds so right in this instrumen­tation that it puts what Peress calls the "Hollywood Bowl" (full symphonic) ver­sion to shame.

There are treasures of information in Peress' documentation for this album, but the conductor's remarks simply make the reader and listener want to know more. Peress and his musicians--and Whiteman and his musicians--had a marvelous time with this music. That's not to say that Yes, We Have No Bananas is quite on the order of Pomp and Circumstance. But here they coexist happily, side by side. Which raises the most pressing question that results from an evening of enjoying this reconstructed concert: Why can't we com­bine disparate types of music this im­aginatively on concert programs today?

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