gershwin propper forgotten

George Gershwin (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue (1924, rev. Daniel Propper)
Three Preludes (1926)
The Gershwin Songbook
Improvisations on three Songs from Gershwin’s recordings transcribed by Artis Wodehouse
Rialto Ripples
Impromptu in Two Keys – from the musical comedy East is West (1928)
Jazzbo Brown Blues
– from the opera Porgy and Bess (1935)
Promenade – Walking the Dog
– from the film Shall we dance (1937)
Second Rhapsody (fragment) (1931, arr. Daniel Propper)
Daniel Propper (b.1969)
Toccatina (1989)
Daniel Propper (piano)
rec. 2020, Studio Forgotten Records, Rennes, France
Forgotten Records FR1890

Stockholm-born pianist Daniel Propper has recorded Grieg, Bach and many rarities including neglected piano music from the 19th Century – Daniel Steibelt, Auguste Morel, Juliette Dillon and Emile Prudent are some of the names that he has given a voice to. In a huge contrast to this he  tackles the much more familiar George Gershwin, coupling original piano works with transcriptions by Artes Wodehouse, Propper and Gershwin himself. He opens with Rhapsody in Blue in his own arrangement based on Gershwin’s two piano version rather than the shorter arrangement for solo piano made by Gershwin and which omits several sections. My only real issue with this performance is in the big E major tune towards the end of the work where Propper plays the chromatic interjections at an exaggeratedly slower speed than the tune itself, spoiling the flow and makes these bars feel quite heavy handed. Other than that this is a decent no frills performance mostly encompassing the combined parts with ease. The recital also includes his own arrangement of part of the second rhapsody, concentrating on the main theme and in this I love his big boned approach to this gripping music. There is also more flamboyant playing in his version of the three preludes, vibrant in the outer preludes and appropriately bluesy in the middle prelude. Rialto Ripples, one of Gershwin’s earliest pieces is  played perfectly accurately but it is rather four square. I prefer the performance by Lincoln Mayorga’s (Sheffield Lab 10044-2) who finds more of the spirit of the piece, fairly bubbling with dance and energy. More successful is the Impromptu in Two Keys where Propper finds a nice tempo and jauntiness though he is perhaps a little too jaunty in Promenade – Walking the Dog where the brisk pace suggests either dog or walker (or both) are eager to return home.

To these piano originals he adds the song book by Gershwin, little snapshots in time of eighteen songs from a composer-pianist who almost certainly never played a song the same way twice, and three songs transcribed from Gershwin’s 1926 Columbia recordings by Artis Wodehouse. The latter are rarer though I seem to remember hearing Jack Gibbons play his own transcriptions of these on one of his Authentic George Gershwin albums for ASV. All three are longer versions of the songs than Gershwin plays in his songbook where very often there is just a chorus repeated and hover around the minute mark – the man I love and the sensual Liza being the only longer items. To ears accustomed to years of these songs as jazz standards it may seem odd to hear a song like played someone to watch over me played with such swaggering gusto but it certainly demonstrates Gershwin’s style and Propper captures that admirably throughout these songs.

To round off this recital Propper includes a short toccata of his own. Written in a more acerbic style than Gershwin would have known it still manages to capture much of the spirit and rhythmic vitality of his music, matching the vigour of a piece like Jazzbo Brown Blues from Porgy and Bess which Propper also plays. The sound is quite bright and immediate and though I could have asked for a little more richness occasionally, it suits many of these pieces. Booklet notes are in French and English.

Rob Challinor