THIS IS GERSHWINComplete Works for Piano & Orchestra
Rhapsody in Blue
Concerto in F
I Got Rhythm Variations
JOSHUA PIERCE, piano
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
"This new collection by a fine pianist has the advantage of including the four works for piano and orchestra on a single disc. It begins with a lively, even “brittle” version of the episodic Second Rhapsody... The orchestra seems more than comfortable with this music; I admire the clarinet smear at the beginning of the Rhapsody in Blue and the flexibility in tempo throughout. Pierce, whom I have only heard in connection with John Cage, plays with verve...yet without the awful mannerisms Leonard Bernstein inflicted on the music. It’s wonderful to hear the great theme of the second movement of the Concerto in F played so well, and recorded so fully... In short, this is a consistently fine set of Gershwin recordings... check out this MSR Classics disc."
Michael Ullman, Fanfare - November / December 2009
"In this volume, Joshua Pierce presents these four works with great artistic integrity and dedication accompanied by the remarkably supportive Slovak Radio Symphony under the baton of Kirk Trevor... Pierce performs [Rhapsody in Blue] with an unyielding purpose and direction that continually illuminates his performance. The orchestra does remarkably well in supporting Pierce, mastering the 'blue' style Gershwin seeks from the infamous clarinet glissando to the final cadence... Pierce is undeniably effective in conveying the thematic elements that are so rife in Gershwin’s writing... [In the I Got Rhythm Variations] Pierce masterfully structures his performance to go right along with the variations, deluding the audience into musically distant territory as well as jovially welcoming it back to reality as the theme returns... This collection of piano works is beautifully presented, and Pierce’s performances faithfully represent the musical ingenuity of this distinctly American composer. The liner notes contain biographical information on Gershwin as well as background and historical context for each of the pieces, including detailed analytical information. Pierce addresses the reader numerous times with personal asides, offset by italics, incorporating his personal take on preparation and score study."
Robert Myers, Classical Voice of New England - October 2009
"...splendidly played...[Pierce] has had a long personal connection with Gershwin's music. This manifests itself in the tenderness and feeling he brings to his performances. Technically, Pierce is a top-flight pianist. Pierce makes much of [the Variations] and is also very convincing in the Second Rhapsody. The accompaniments are very involved and the recorded sound excellent."
Turok's Choice - No.214, October 2009
"[Mr. Pierce] delivers a smartly played Concerto...the Slovak ensemble under maestro Trevor proves adept at the jazzy idioms of Gershwin's music."
Koldys, American Record Guide - September / October 2009
"The placement of the little-played Second Rhapsody at the beginning of the program signals the kind of Gershwin recording this is going to be: the work, of which Gershwin himself was proud, is perhaps his most "classical" work harmonically, despite its outward similarities to the better known Rhapsody in Blue that preceded it. Pianist Joshua Pierce makes a good case for this work in his extensive notes, from which even Gershwin devotees will learn something new. As he points out, it didn't arise in circumstances at all similar to those than engendered Rhapsody in Blue, it was film music, for a now-lost film, and it marked the first major orchestral composition to appear in a sound film. Pierce's notes are replete with formal analysis in addition to providing historical background... Pierce finds "restlessness" in the shifting tempos and melodies of this [Rhapsody In Blue], which is a fresh way to look at it, and the complexities of the I Got Rhythm Variations also fare well in his careful reading... This is quite a novel Gershwin disc, and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra does better at realizing the aims of Pierce and conductor Kirk Trevor than one might have reasonably expected. Recommended."
All Music Guide - May 2009
"American pianist Joshua Pierce, with assistance from British conductor Kirk Trevor and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, shows that he's one ivory tinkler with a whole lot of George Gershwin in his soul. The result, entitled “This is Gershwin,” comprises all the composer's music for piano and orchestra, including Rhapsody in Blue, Second Rhapsody, Concerto in F, and the “I Got Rhythm” Variations. Particularly with the Concerto, Pierce dug into facsimile editions as research for this project. More than that, his super-smooth legato and intuitive understanding of Gershwin's sensational rhythms serve him well here (And that's an understatement!)
There's not a dull moment in Rhapsody in Blue, a work that cut its way through the classical firmament in a shining path in 1924 with a heady admixture of blues, jazz, and Afro-Cuban rhythms in a classical form that it wears lightly and knowingly. With a pronounced feeling for color, Joshua Pierce relishes Gershwin's dazzling chromatic writing and edgy harmonic sequences to the fullest. Those rhythms – and cross-rhythms - are written large here, and Trevor and the Slovak musicians catch the infection in an orchestral arrangement that has all the visceral impact of a jazz band in its writing for the drums and percussion.
Pierce rightly surmises that restlessness is the salient feature of the piece, as melodies bloom luxuriantly, then splinter into fragments. Rubato – flexibility in the use of changing tempos – is another hallmark of Gershwin's style that gets appropriate attention here. And of course, Pierce's famed legato and his ability to support and sustain a beautiful melody get a work out in that broadly stated slow interlude that seems to embody the very soul of the blues.
Gershwin's Second Rhapsody (1931), which actually leads off the program, has always seemed to be overshadowed, perhaps unfairly, by the earlier rhapsody. Yet it is in many ways even more sophisticated harmonically, making more use of decidedly Latin rhythms in addition to the blues/jazz mix. With its studied out-of-time staccato rhythms in the left hand, later taken up by the orchestra, the work starts off in what Gershwin himself termed a “rhapsody in rivets.” The form of the work lies somewhere between variations and continuous development, and indeed the big melody of the opening movement, heard later throughout the piece, makes the listener wish it could go on forever and ever.
I haven't said anything yet about the Concerto in F. Pounding rhythms, gigantic orchestral tremolos, and flavorful interplay between soloist and orchestra are the salient features in this “jazz concerto” which uses Charleston rhythms occasionally and to good effect. Stunning, fantastic timbres and rhythms take the spotlight over melody here, but when the melodies emerge, as in the languorous repeated-note motif that the soloist transforms into a gorgeous melody in the opening movement, the enhanced lyricism is really welcome.
Pierce goes out in a blaze of glory in the “I Got Rhythm” Variations with its light-hearted, syncopated pentatonic tune that seemingly could spawn endless variations beyond the choice dozen-or-so that Gershwin gives us. Too reverent an approach would have made the piece sound more like “I Have Rhythm,” if you get my drift. With Joshua Pierce taking the lead, there's never any danger of that!"
Atlanta Audio Society - March 2009
"Pierce has become one of my favorite pianists in recent years..."
CD HotList for Libraries
PROGRAM NOTES"In preparing this recording of Gershwin's Concerto, I spent much time investigating and working from the facsimile edition conductor’s score. Drawing upon material I felt to be of vital importance and relevance with regard to the Charleston idiom heard throughout, I have endeavored to provide further insight into several musical options Gershwin himself chose for his world premiere performance in1926. Other material exists as well, notably the reprise of the main theme in the solo piano part set against the orchestra in octaves in the first and last movements. It is my wish that future pianists will have a chance to investigate the material contained in the facsimile edition. This particular recording of the Concerto is not intended to be a definitive version, but rather an historical document; a further reexamination — a more thorough and enthusiastic look at the rich, brilliant and important musical material that was performed by George Gershwin before the omissions of the current Campbell Watson version took hold with performers." - Joshua Pierce, November 2008
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Joshua Pierce’s relation to George Gershwin has family roots. His father, director/choreographer Johnny Pierce, was largely responsible for his becoming a musician and for introducing him to the music of Gershwin at a very early age. The elder Pierce had worked with Gershwin in the 1930s, first meeting him when he was hired as a dancer in the original “Strike Up the Band” of 1929. In 1937, producer Dwight Deere Wilman asked Pierce to work on the Rodgers and Hart musical “Babes in Arms”. The choreographer of record was George Balanchine from the world of ballet but, as was often the case in those days, much of the actual work on the ground was done by others. Among other things, Pierce was largely responsible for the creation of the show-stopping “Johnny One-Note” number. Gershwin, who was aware of this, recommended him to work on the “Goldwyn Follies” film of 1939 which turned out to be Gershwin’s last show. Again, Balanchine was the choregrapher of record; however his credit was an odd one; he was listed under “Other Crew” as “Ballet Conceiver and Stager”, a credit that preserved Balanchine’s contractual credit and good name (while virtually conceding that the actual work was done by others). [ www.jamesarts.com/pierce ]
Rhapsody in Blue
Concerto in F
I Got Rhythm Variations
THE DEVIL'S TRILL
Music for Violin and Piano DAN AUERBACH
RUSSIAN PIANO CONCERTOS
JS BACH, HAYDN & MENDELSSOHN
Piano Concertos JOSHUA PIERCE
PERSICHETTI: LEGACY OF SONGS
Unpublished Songs on Poetical Texts JOSHUA PIERCE
BACH, HINDEMITH & BLOCH
J.S.Bach: Keyboard Concerto BWV 1052; JOSHUA PIERCE
Song Cycle for Soprano and Piano, Op.50
Poems JOSHUA PIERCE
JOHN CAGE: A TRIBUTE
In Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of JOSHUA PIERCE
LISZT: 3 PIANO CONCERTOS; TOTENTENZ
BRAHMS, LISZT & FRANCK
Works for Piano and Orchestra