Reviews

GHCD 2313/14 – PORGY & BESS by George Gershwin

RIAS-Unterhaltungsorchester conducted by Alexander Smallens with William Warfield (Porgy), Leontyne Price (Bess) and others

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Klassik.com 31.08.2008

Symphonie der Nebengeräusche
Als Eindruck ist diese Aufnahme bereichernd und inspirierend, die gesangliche Leistung von Leontine Price und William Warfield lässt sich jedoch besser auf der Studioaufnahme würdigen.
‘Porgy and Bess’ ist die Schnittstelle zwischen Klassik und Jazz, Oper und Musical, die scheinbare Gegenpole aufhebt und zu einer amerikanischen Volksoper verschmilzt. George Gershwins, der 1937 bereits mit 38 Jahren unvermittelt an einem Gehirntumor verstirbt und den weltweiten Erfolg seines Werks in den 50er Jahren nicht mehr erleben wird, findet damit einen allzu frühen Gipfelpunkt.
Das Renommee der Broadwayproduktion verhilft 1942 zu einer europäischen Premiere im damals schon von den Deutschen belagerten Kopenhagen. Doch gebremst vom kulturellen Stillstand im Zweiten Weltkrieg und dessen Aufarbeitung nach Kriegsende, kommt es erst 1952 zum europäischen Wiedersehen mit Gershwins Oper.
Welttournee
Mit der heute legendären Leontine Price startet nach der Gesamteinspielung für das Label American Columbia (CBS) eine dreijährige Welttournee, die von der amerikanischen Regierung subventioniert und die großen Bühnen in Südamerika, Südafrika und Europa erobern wird. Der diesjährig beim Label Guild Historical erschienene Live-Mitschnitt vom 21. September 1952 im Berliner Titania Palast mit dem RIAS-Unterhaltungsorchester und dem Eva Jessay Choir unter der Leitung von Alexander Smallens dokumentiert die Atmosphäre dieser ungewöhnlichen Darbietung und vermittelt eine Ahnung von der explosiven Lebendigkeit, die ihr innewohnte. Die Samthandschuhe, mit der die klassische Konzertpraxis allzu häufig mit Jazz umgeht, sind abgelegt. Keine Ehrfurchtstarre vor ausnotierter Partitur: Der Umgang mit dem Notentext ist organisch und lässt spielerische improvisierte Elemente zu, ohne dabei das Original zu überdecken, im Gegenteil. Gerade weil an manchen Stellen reiner Jazz die klassische Oberfläche aufbricht, kann es zu einem harmonischen, dynamischen Miteinander zweier für Gershwins musikalische Identität so wichtiger Stile kommen.
Akustische Unschärfe
Dynamisch ist auch das Bühnengeschehen, das sich auf dem Tonträger nur akustisch mitteilen kann und anfangs einen fast magischen Sog entwickelt. Die große Würfelszene im ersten Akt ist eine wahre Symphonie der Geräusche. Das Nachtleben in Fischerdorf Catfish Row entsteht vor dem inneren Auge und vielleicht sogar farbiger als jedes Bühnenbild, das als Szenerie dienen könnte.
Allerdings ist die Tonqualität des Mitschnitts entweder so mangelhaft oder das neue Mastering nicht sorgfältig genug, dass das farbige Durcheinander der Aktion allmählich zum weißen Rauschen verschwimmt und sich die Nuancen nivellieren. Auch von der Ausstattung her eher blass und lieblos, wird der Mitschnitt nicht zum liebevollen Dokument, sondern bleibt ein schnelles Geschäft mit verstaubten Platten.
Als Eindruck ist diese Aufnahme bereichernd und inspirierend, die gesangliche Leistung von Leontine Price und William Warfield lässt sich jedoch besser auf der Studioaufnahme würdigen.
Florian Wetter

Pizzicato 11/2008

UN TRES GRAND CRU 

* * * * *

En 1952, le Ministere des Affaires etrangeres des Etats-Unis envoya une production de l’opera ‘Porgy and Bess’ de George Gershwin faire une tournée mondiale qui devait durer pas moins de trois ans. La distribution changea en cours de route et il se fait que celle qui se produisit à Berlin, le 21 septembre 1952, était particulièrement excellente. Et heureusement, la soirée fut enregistrée par la Radio. Et voilà ce qui est sensationnel: les bandes ont été retrouvées, restaurées et publiées par deux labels.

Premiere constatation: l’enregistrement vient d’une production assez bruyante et malgré la très bonne restauration le son manque de transparence. Mais, en fin de compte, cela gêne moins qu’on aurait pu croire au début. Car il se dégage de cette interprétation une force et une vitalité qui sont absolument saisissantes. ALexander Smallens dirige avec conviction et entrain, et l’orchestre du RIAS traduit cette ferveur avec un engagement exemplaire. Les choeurs sont superbes et les solistes ajoutent le chantilly.

En 1952, Leontyne Price avait 25 ans et était loin de la gloire qu’elle allait connaître plus tard sur les scènes d’opéra du monde entier. Mais sa fraîcheur juvenile,

la justesse de style, la vérité de , la caractérisation et la qualité du ‘ chant font d’elle une Bess d’exception. Son Porgy est William Warfield (avec lequel elle était mariée de 1946 ä 1967). La chaleur de sa ‘ voix ainsi que l’approche scénique sont irreprochables. Helen Colbert , chante un trés beau Summertime, ‘ et Helen Thigpen est une Serena touchante. Le reste de la distribution est également bon. De sorte que l’on ne peut que recommander ce document historique de très grande valeur.
ReF


BBC Music Magazine September 2008

There can’t be many off-air opera recordings which shed as much light an a work’s performing history as this remarkable Porgy and Bess. It was made during the Berlin run of the famous 1952-3 European tour, sponsored by the US State Department, of a production by Robert Breen, with an all-black company under the work’s original conductor Alexander Smallens. 

This is not George Gershwin’s opera, as he published it even before the 1935 first night: for that, Simon Rattle’s classic Glyndebourne Set remains indispensable. There are cuts everywhere, Small and large, numbers are shifted from one scene to another, new links are created between scenes, and great swathes of Gershwin’s recitative are replaced by spoken dialogue, over music or even without it, sometimes turning serious episodes into Comic routines. Moreover, the chorus’s exuberantly spontaneous spoken reactions and interactions frequently threaten to overwhelm the sung lines and the vakant Berlin orchestra.

But this Same `rhubarbing’ also contributes to a Sense of teeming community life which is wholly in keeping with Gershwin’s vision of a `folk opera’. The Chorus sings with precision and fervour, and there are characterful performances in the many smaller roles. The young Leontyne Price Shows signs of her future greatness as Bess, her new husband William Warfield makes

a virile Porgy, and Cab Calloway does a star turn as Sportin’ Life. And altogether this recording, refurbished in startlingly immediate mono sound, is both a fascinating document and thoroughly enjoyable in its own right. Anthony Burton

PERFORMANCE

RECORDING

 


Ballet Review Fall 2008

Porgy and Bess is surely the best-known 

and best-loved American Opera, whether played on Broadway or at the Met and Glyndebourne. Although there are no formal dance sequences, dance rhythms pervade Gershwin’s score so that dance becomes part of life on Catfish Row. Now, to Supplement several fully operatic recordings that use his original score, complete with the opening piano sequence and recitatives, we have a welcome souvenir of the famous 1952 revival that traveled the world for three years, famously going as far as Russia, using the version with spoken dialogue that Cheryl Crawford had successfully arranged in 1942. Recorded in Berlin an September Zz, 1952, it features Leontyne Price, William Warfield, and Cab Calloway with a strong, experienced cast that includes Helen Dowdy, Ray Yates, and Alexander Smallens from the original 1935 production.

Although Price’s lovely voice hadn’t yet developed the sheen of her glory years, it’s a fascinating document of an impartant moment in the American theater. Price and Warfield later recorded excepts from the score along with John W. Bubbles, the original Sporting Life, who gives a more insinuating performance than Calloway’s over-the-top portrayal, but this recording has a wonderful theatrical feel, with strong characterizations from everyone, desnite the so-so sound.


Gramophone August 2008

Here is something I never expected to hear – one of the most significant 20th-century opera productions, caught live and in amazingly vivid sound. In 1952 the US State Department funded a world tour of Porgy and Bess. The production by Everyman Opera eventually visited Cities across the American continent, north and south, and gave the British, French, Italian, German, Czech and Russian premieres of Gershwin’s opera. The tour inspired two famous memoirs, Truman Capote’s The Muses are Heard and Maya Angelou’s Singirr’ and Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas. Both writers pay tribute to the array of talent the company possessed, from the veteran Cab Calloway as Sportin’ Life to the then-unknown Leontyne Price as Bess. 

Several years later Price and William Warfield recorded a disc of highlights, in which Price sings not only Bess but also Clara and Serena. Fine though that selection is (RCA), it has none of the immediacy and energy of this broadcast from Berlin in September 1952. By then the company had lived with the work for a year. There is a degree of improvisation from the chorus, the famous Eva Jessye Choir, as they enter into the spirit of the drama. Although it is a fairly complete version of the score, there are some cuts (for instance the Buzzard song), but where authentic performance practice is concerned this wins over every other recording.

William Warfield’s Porgy is a noble achievement: as Angelou described him, “he dragged the audience into his despair…his resonant voice straddled the music as he rode it”. Price’s voice is at its youthful best – this is one of the earliest examples of her art on disc. In “What you want wid Bess?” and “I wants to stay here” she proves her star quality as well as her emotional commitment Helen Colbert as Clara opens the proceedings with a lush “Summertime” and Helen Thigpen rings the Berlin rafters with “My man’s gone now”. John McCurry is a fierce Crown, as Capote noted, “high and heavy and somewhat forbidding”.

The original tape has been made available from the collection of Enno Riekena. The sound is clear, well defined; the recording favours the voices, but Alexander Smallens, who conducted the first performance in 1935, somehow persuades some really hot playing from the RIAS Light Orchestra.

In those crucial cameos, Helen Dowdy hollers the Strawberry Woman’s cry, and Ray Yates is the irresistible Crab Man (both created the roles). Cab Calloway’s insinuating manner is just as effective in “It ain’t necessarily so” as it had been decades earlier in “Kicking the Gong Around”. Some of the soloists are uncredited – who is the feisty Maria? No one who admires Gershwin’s work should ignore this unique document. As Angelou put it: “Even the chorus performed with such verve that a viewer could easily believe each singer was competing for a leading part.”
Patrick O’Connor


Gramophone August 2008

What a surprise, and what a performance! A famous evening in the theatre has unexpectedly surfaced on CD. It captures not only Leontyne Price’s youthful, rending Bess and William Warfield’s grizzled Porgy; the whole enterprise flies with a sense of great drama caught on the wing. And for a touch more stardust, there’s the great Cab Calloway as Sportin’ Life.

Spiegel Online Kultur Wednesday August 20th 2008

Zeichen und Wunder geschehen meist unbemerkt. Knapp 56 Jahre nach ihrer Live-Aufnahme ist erstmals George Gershwins Oper “Porgy and Bess” in einer Idealbesetzung, noch dazu vorzüglich remastered, auf CD erschienen – und niemandem ist’s aufgefallen. 

Porgy & Bess”-Aufnahme: Vor Begeisterung und Missionseifer berstende Bande

Liegt das daran, dass uns Gershwins einzige Oper – außer den Hits – doch gleichgültig ist? Die Musikgeschichte wäre ziemlich anders verlaufen, wenn nicht etwa Arnold Schönbergs “Moses und Aron”, sondern Gershwins gleichfalls berühmter Dreistünder traditionsbildend auf die Oper des 20. Jahrhunderts gewirkt hätte. Immerhin, so verschiedene Welten sind das gar nicht. Schönberg und Gershwin waren Tennispartner. Der eine komponierte tonal, der andere nicht (oder nicht sehr lange). Zwei Jahre nach der Uraufführung von “Porgy and Bess” (1935) starb Gershwin und konnte sich um sein Fortkommen in der Klassik nicht weiter kümmern.

Als 1952 dann eine Traumbesetzung von “Porgy and Bess” für eine Tourneeproduktion zusammenkam, war das Werk immer noch keine zwanzig Jahre alt. Das Jazz-Fieber, das in ihm vibriert, traf nun den (lange Jahre unterdrückten) Nerv der Zeit in Europa. Man erlebte dabei eine epochale Riege von Sängern. William Warfield (Porgy) war soeben mit “Ol’ Man River” in George Sidneys “Show Boat”-Revival zum Filmstar geworden (an der Seite von Ava Gardner). Als Sportin’ Life debütierte ein Swing-Bandleader und Scat-Sänger in seiner ersten Bühnenrolle. Ihn hatten die Gershwins beim Schreiben sogar ursprünglich im Sinn gehabt: der legendäre Cab Calloway. Und dann war da in der Rolle der Bess noch eine junge Studentin, die später Karajans Lieblingssopran für Verdi und Puccini werden sollte. Schon hier besitzt ihre Stimme den schimmernden Glanz einer schwarzen Perle: Leontyne Price. Es handelt sich um die früheste der von ihr erhaltenen Schallplatten-Aufnahmen.

Dass der Mitschnitt 1952 ausgerechnet im Berliner Titania-Palast entstand – damals von Wilhelm Furtwängler und den Berliner Philharmonikern als Konzertsaal genutzt – ist eine atemberaubende Kuriosität am Rande. Für die (etwas gekürzte) Tournee-Variante hatte man sich in Berlin ein Orchester eingekauft – das (später leider aufgelöste) RIAS-Unterhaltungsorchester. Das blieb der einzige Neuzugang. Dirigent Alexander Smallens hatte schon die Broadway-Uraufführung geleitet. Der Eva Jessye Choir und einige Nebendarsteller, darunter die hinreißende Helen Dowdy als Strawberry Woman, stammten gleichfalls aus der Originalproduktion.

Tatsächlich macht die vor Begeisterung und Missionseifer berstende Bande dem Berliner Orchester ordentlich Beine. Man hört, wie hier das Berliner Nachkriegspublikum vom Jazz infiziert wird – einschließlich der Musiker. Die Produktion zog danach weiter an die Mailänder Scala und bis nach Moskau – wo sie das erste Gastspiel einer amerikanischen Theatertruppe seit der russischen Revolution wurde.

Später waren dann Leontyne Price, Cab Calloway und William Warfield freilich nicht mehr dabei. Über all das staunt man bei dieser Trouvaille. Mit den heute als Jazz-Standards geltenden Titeln wie “Summertime”, “I’ve got plenty of nothing” und “There’s a boat going soon to New York” ist die Aufnahme ein Wiegendruck der Jazz- ebenso wie der Operngeschichte. So Hand in Hand ist man später nie mehr gegangen. Kai Luehrs-Kaiser

CD George Gershwin: “Porgy & Bess” mit Leontyne Price, William Warfield, Cab Calloway. Live-Aufnahme vom 21. September 1952 in Berlin.


BBC RADIO 3 – SATURDAY AUGUST 9 2008

ANDREW MCGREGOR INTRODUCES SOME OF THE BEST RECORDINGS

Today at the Proms, though, there’s a celebration of 20th century Americana, with George Gershwin ‘Striking up the Band’ at the start of this evening’s Prom, and ending it on a visit to Marais and Colombe’s home city: ‘An American in Paris’. Plus sax player, composer and Jazz Warrior Jason Yarde paying homage to Gershwin in two new works, including an arrangement of a famous number from Gershwin’s opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. If you’re a fan of the opera, then there’s a recently released recording of it you have to hear. In 1952 the US State Department sponsored a European tour for the opera with an all-black cast, which was an awkward time for race relations, to say the least. William Warfield had been put forward as Porgy, and he remembered the controversy in the black press when the production returned from triumphant performances in London, Vienna and Berlin to success in New York City. ‘In 1952’, said Warfield: ‘the black community wasn’t listening to anything about plenty of nothing being good enough for me. Blacks began talking about being black and proud.’ But the impact in Europe was huge…and Maya Angelou, who joined the cast to play Ruby in the second, longer tour of 1954, remembered the tension and tenderness as the love story unfolded at La Scala, Milan, where a black cast had never appeared before. 

But back to that 1952 tour, where Warfield’s Porgy was teamed with the Bess of a little-known young singer: Leontyne Price, just in her mid-20s. Add to that the jazz vocalist and bandleader Cab Calloway in sassy form as Sportin’ Life, and already you ought to be very interested…but apart from these superb leads, the most striking thing about this recording from the Titania Palast in Berlin is the ensemble: the atmosphere of Catfish Row, and the interaction in the chorus. This isn’t a bunch of singers following a score; this is a team of singing actors living it onstage, and despite it’s age I’ve never heard a recording of Porgy and Bess that crackles with so much physical energy and emotional electricity.

Here’s a sequence that ought to give you a feel for what we have here. First, the opening, which means you’ll hear the hustle and bustle, and the Summertime of Helen Colbert as Clara.

Then from the second act, Warfield and Price in ‘Bess, you is my woman now’…before from the next scene, Sportin’ Life’s cynical assessment of religion: ‘It ain’t necessarily so’. And right at the end, Porgy, calling for his goat, determined to set off on the 1000 mile trip to New York in search of Bess.

Alexander Smallens conducts the Eva Jessye Choir and RIAS light orchestra…and it’s curtain up in Berlin, September 1952: evening in Catfish Row, a black tenement on the waterfront of Charleston, South Carolina.

The end of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess, recorded live on the 21st September 1952 in the Titania Palast in Berlin, during the US State Department-sponsored European tour with William Warfield as Porgy, Leontyne Price as Bess, Cab Calloway as Sportin’ Life, and Helen Colbert as Clara in the excerpts you heard. But what about the Eva Jessye Choir, and the quality of those semi-improvised crowd scenes? It’s such a passionately involving performance, we’re lucky to have its like on disc at all. It’s the two act version of Porgy, sometimes called the ‘Broadway’ version, and Warfield recalled replacing most of the spoken dialogue with recitatives. Never mind the 56 year old mono sound, this is the most enthralling recording of the opera I’ve heard, and it’s a recent release from Guild: two CDs at mid-price


GRAMOPHONE AUGUST 2008

EDITORS CHOICE GRAMOPHONE
For full review click on Editors Choice Gramophone 

A FAMOUS – AND TREMENDOUS – PORGY AND BESS NO GERSHWIN LOVER SHOULD MISS


MusicWeb International – Wednesday July 02 2008

In 1952 the US State Department subsidized a world tour of Porgy and Bess, which lasted over three years. For many opera lovers this was their first opportunity to see this American folk opera. A lot of the music was already well known through recordings, not only with operatic artists like Helen Jepson, Lawrence Tibbett and the great Paul Robeson but also with leading popular singers and jazz musicians. This tour was the foundation for the success that Porgy and Bess has been ever since. It was also through this tour that the young Leontyne Price made herself a name, even though it was some years before she became firmly established. 

The present live recording was made when Price was 25 and the youthful freshness of her singing as well as the lyrical brightness are at once apparent. The recorded sound, the noisy background and sometimes odd balance between orchestra and soloists make this a valuable historical documentation rather than a set one buys and consumes repeatedly as a library recording. Leontyne Price and William Warfield recorded a highlights disc for RCA a good decade later in splendid sound with Skitch Henderson’s taut and precise conducting lifting the music to supreme heights. On that LP Ms Price also sang Clara’s Summertime and Serena’s My man’s gone now. William Warfield’s reading of Porgy’s role was even more assured than here. McHenry Boatwright’s magnificent bass made him an even nastier Crown and the jazz singer John W Bubbles gave special authenticity to Sporting Life – he was the singer who sang the role at the premiere. That record is enthusiastically recommended as a complement to any of the complete recordings.

I suppose that the performance in Titania Palast in Berlin also was enjoyable, if the audience reaction is anything to go by. There is long and powerful applause after several of the set-pieces, most of all the glorious reading of the duet Bess, you is my woman now with Warfield’s warm Porgy matching the bright tones of Ms Price’s superb Bess. The three women in the penultimate scene pulling the leg of the detective are met with repeated laughs. The whole performance is lively, noisy and enthusiastic. There is often tremendous force and rhythmic drive in the many mass-scenes. The performance is fairly complete but there are several minor cuts and the Buzzard song is missing all together. On the other hand there is more spoken dialogue in several places, compared to Simon Rattle’s Glyndebourne recording. I tried to follow the performance via the booklet to that EMI set but this was far from easy.

I have already mentioned Price and Warfield who are superb throughout but there are several other singers who make splendid contributions. Helen Colbert sings Summertime with glorious tone and Helen Thigpen is touching in My man’s gone now. Joseph James as Jake has a magnificent black bass and sings with rhythmic élan while John McCurry’s gruff Crown is less of an asset. I am also in two minds concerning Cab Calloway’s Sporting Life. He is oily and slimy and was probably splendid visually too but vocally he tends to over-act. I prefer John W Bubbles, who was just as jazzy but more balanced.

Readers who want a complete recording of this American ‘verismo’ opera have two splendid sets to choose from: Lorin Maazel’s Decca recording from the mid-1970s and the aforementioned EMI set under Rattle from the late 1980s. On both sets Willard White is a deeply involved Porgy, fresher of voice on Decca; on EMI he is a bit strained on the highest notes.

The inlay to this Guild issue has well-written historical notes and a synopsis but no libretto. As I have already intimated the issue is more aimed at specialist collectors than general opera-lovers. Apart from the technical shortcomings and the noisy production it is definitely highly interesting.
Göran Forsling