Glazier Does Gershwin
Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.
July 4th is all the excuse I need to write about American composers or performers. This month I can do both simultaneously thanks to the superb recording of unusual Gershwin repertoire by the gifted 33-year-old American pianist Richard Glazier. The compact disc is called "Gershwin: Remembrance and Discovery," and it's on the Centaur label (CRC 2271). This CD is distributed by Qualiton Imports, though in this case it is "imported" from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a place where, it seems, both modern politicians and classical Centaurs live.
Of course there is no more American composer than George Gershwin. It would be hard to find a compatriot who didn't love his music. He was the first highly successful cross-over composer, writing long-form "classical" music that instantly became as popular as his most popular tunes. In my view, Gershwin was one of the greatest tunesmiths in all music history, knocking out one gorgeous, unforgettable melody after another - an American Schubert, although, unlike poor Franz, very much appreciated in his own time.
As you can imagine, I have quite a collection of Gershwin CDs, so it's hard for any solo pianist to come up with repertoire that isn't already on my shelves. But Glazier has managed to do this, and do it with such feeling, I knew on first hearing that here was a performer who loved Gershwin's music at least as much as I do.
The CD starts with two etudes by Earl Wild on Gershwin songs: "Embraceable You" and "Somebody Loves Me." I never heard these particular arrangements before, and I have to admit that I liked them less than anything else on this recording. They are simply too frilly, too trilly, too fancy for my tastes - the kind of treatment Liberace would have given to Gershwin... and everyone else.
By contrast the Percy Grainger transcriptions of "Love Walked In" and "The Man I Love," which were also new to me, were eloquent in their simplicity.
There are six first-time recordings on this album: the "Impromptu in Two Keys" (recorded from the original manuscript), "They Can't Take That Away from Me" (based on the original orchestration from the movie "Shall We Dance"), "Melody No. 40 (Violin Piece)," in an arrangement by Sylvia Rabinof which is dedicated to the pianist, and three concert transcriptions by Beryl Rubinstein for solo piano from "Porgy and Bess:" "Bess You is My Woman," "Summertime," and "I Got Plenty of Nuttin."
The disc also includes "Jilted" from "Of Thee I sing," "Meadow Serenade from "Strike Up the Band," "Sleepless Night," "Three Quarter Blues," "Promenade," ballet music from "Primrose," "Sixteen Bars without a Name" and the three "Preludes for Piano." There are even some titles here that most Gershwin fans have never heard before. That is not the case with the extraordinarily beautiful "Preludes," of course, but I'm always happy to hear a sensitive new interpretation of these pieces. Oh how they make me wish Gershwin had lived to write the complete set of 24 he intended to compose!
Richard Glazier's interest in Gershwin dates back to when he was 12 years old and his aunt introduced him to the Oscar Levant recording of the "Rhapsody in Blue."
"After hearing the original 78rpm recording I promptly sat down and wrote a fan letter to Ira Gershwin," Glazier wrote in the program notes accompanying the CD. "Because Ira was not in the best of health, his assistant... answered my letter. A correspondence began which ultimately led to an invitation to Ira's Beverly Hills home.
"As I entered, I saw George Gershwin's Steinway sitting in the corner of Ira's living room as a shrine to his beloved brother. It was on this piano that George and Ira composed "Porgy and Bess" in 1934 and 1935.... Imagine how thrilled and honored I was when Ira gladly gave me permission to play this very special instrument! Playing on George's personal piano while Ira sang along is a memory that will always echo in my mind.... Ira appreciated my youthful enthusiasm for Gershwin music and encouraged it. Twenty years later not one bit of my enthusiasm for this great music has diminished."
I used the Internet to interview Richard Glazier by electronic mail -- the first time I've tried that! I asked him what he played for Ira Gershwin and what Ira's reaction was.
"I played 'Embraceable You' and 'Love is Here to Stay'," Glazier told me. And Ira told the young piano student: "You know people say that my brother George played that piano and Oscar Levant played that piano. Perhaps someday people will say that Richard Glazier played that piano."
"What a beautiful thing to say," Glazier told me. "It provided encouragement and comfort for me throughout my life. It was as if Ira was blessing me. I felt very honored. I love this music from the bottom of my heart."
Glazier's sincere fondness for the music of George Gershwin is evident throughout this new CD.
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