George Gershwin – Gershwin Performs Gershwin: Rare Recordings (1931-35)

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NICK DERISO: Dug up from some old dusty box in brother Ira’s attic, this scratchy, other-worldly epiphany issued by BMG is remarkable for its ethereal emotion, ageless grace and surprising reliance on (gasp!) commercialism to push art.

The first 12 tracks are acetates from “Music by Gershwin,” 15-minute radio programs recorded in 1934 to help underwrite George Gershwin’s signature folk opera “Porgy and Bess.” Highlights include Gershwin stiff-fingering the piano for nearly half a minute, only to be stopped by the emcee, who does a plug for Feen-A-Mint, the chewable laxative. (“A laxative does its work most naturally and effectively when it’s taken in the form in which it can be chewed,” he says.)

That’s followed fast and furious by heavenly variations of “I Got Rhythm,” an old favorite gussied up with an upside-down scale, and plunked-down notes. The band is hushed, then swirling.

Side two begins by digging deeper, back to 1931 and ’32. And the old radio recordings are, incredibly, better preserved. We find George playful and pensive. The Fleishmann Hour show is just that: A show. Gershwin – who died 70 years ago this July 11 – takes a long solo bow, and never lets his rear end hit the stool again.

The rest of this second act is filled with a couple mid-30s bootlegs of “Second Rhapsody” and “Porgy and Bess” rehearsals, maybe the most decrepit you’ve read of — but by no means elderly.

Gershwin used these recordings as a rough draft to embellish on and the singers used them for practice runs, but the transcriptions had never been played before. Several original cast members appear, and Gershwin conducts his own work – a rarity on any recording.

A simply breathtaking find.

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