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CD Review

George Gershwin

  • Piano Concerto in F
  • Rhapsody in Blue
Julius Katchen, piano
Mantovani Orchestra/Annunzio Paulo Mantovani
Decca 475615-9
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When I was a kid I can recall listening to music by Mantovani. I think some of it was on TV but I am sure my dad had a couple of his LPs. This new release on CD caught my attention because of Katchen and the fact that I wondered how Mantovani would sound in 'pure' classical music instead of the 'easy listening' he was known for. Also, I realized I knew nothing about the man.

Mantovani was born in 1905. His full name was Annunzio Paolo Mantovani. As a young man he played violin and was quite accomplished. Mantovani's 'sound' was created by using "cascading strings" (or tumbling strings) and an emphasis on the strings in general. During the 50s his albums sold 'like hotcakes' and reached the Us pop charts. It was Columbia records that changed the name of his orchestra, the Tipica Orchestra, to His Orchestra. With the advent of the 60s his style fell out of style. He died on March 30, 1980 at his home in TunbridgeWells, England. *

Julius Katchen is more a familiar name to most of us. Frankly, I had no recordings by him, however, until this arrived. From what I hear he has virtuosity comparable to Earl Wild. The notes on the disc (which are so small they create reader's cramp) give a brief bio of the pianist.

Okay, now to the recording. It is different. Mantovani underlines an even italicizes everything. The 'sound' is more orchestral and romantic than you often hear in these pieces. There are things in it I don't recall hearing in other recordings. It is almost as if the conductor/composer had changed the orchestration at points. This is not necessarily a bad thing and, in fact, I like it very much. Katchen matches Mantovani's conception of the music providing a Romantic interpretation more like Brahms or Rachmaninoff than Gershwin. The recorded sound is excellent, placing the pianist realistically in the fabric of the orchestra. I was surprised to find out it was monaural but the 1955 recording date would indicate that it is.

The whole listening experience was wonderful and I recommend this disc to anyone who thinks they know this music. It offers another instance of the concept.

* I am indebted to an MSN site that gave me the information I shared with you about Mantovani.

Copyright © 2004, Robert Stumpf II