Those who are familiar with pianist Simon Tedeschi’s artistry will realise that Gershwin and the pianist go back a long way. (In fact, he made his debut with Graham Lyell in the concert band version of Rhapsody in Blue at the tender age of twelve.) Not only is it central to his performance schedules; he plays it in different guises, (he’s been heard in all of the arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue from solo piano and piano with percussion to jazz band and Ferde Grofé’s familiar 1942 version for full orchestra.) The major question arising from all of this is why has taken Tedeschi so long to record this material, which he describes as “the accompaniment to my life and musical career”? Given the uniform mastery of these performances, it must be agreed that this project has been worth the wait.
As early as the second selection on the disc, the gorgeous trilogy of blues-inflected Preludes, it is apparent that this is a Gershwin interpreter who can hold his own against anyone in the catalogue. Tedeschi has the full measure of these short but often elusive pieces and, as elsewhere in this remarkable recital, goes a long way towards proving that it is no longer considered necessary to be an American musician like Bernstein, Graffmann or Tilson Thomas to fully identify with this most American style with its syncopated rhythms, jazz references and improvisations. Simply put, Tedeschi delivers a rarity: a high-energy Gershwin disc that can stand tall among the finest that America has to offer. Conductor Ben Northey and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra provide upbeat support and an idiomatic grasp of the style in this truly exciting live traversal of the Rhapsody that closes the set, but it is Tedeschi as soloist who must be singled out for distinct praise.
As wonderful as the Rhapsody is, perhaps the most fascinating and generous part of this recital is given over to arrangements of those works which hold the widest appeal – the songs. Here he covers a wide spectrum ranging from the composer’s originals through to Australia’s Percy Grainger (Love Walked In, The Man I Love) and more heavily improvised takes from contemporary jazz greats Keith Jarrett and Dave Grusin, to Tedeschi’s own renditions of perhaps the most popular Gershwin songs of all – the sultry Summertime and tender I Loves You Porgy. Even in these done-to-death tunes, Tedeschi finds much that is refreshing, offering a new take upon the familiar.