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Classical Gershwin / Katie Mahan

Release Date: 11/01/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30132
Composer:  George Gershwin ,  Earl Wild Performer:  Katie Mahan Number of Discs: 1

Katie Mahan's first album on the Steinway label is dedicated to the memory of the "Classical Gershwin" whose music brought crowds to the classical concert halls, who successfully incorporated the nuances of jazz and popular music to create a classical music that was uniquely and authentically American.

R E V I E W S:

...Some performers are so determined to explore byways that they create their own. That is what pianist Katie Mahan does on a Steinway & Sons CD featuring arrangements of music by George Gershwin. This is certainly not a disc for Gershwin purists, although it is one that showcases Mahan’s pianistic abilities to good effect. The disc is bracketed by Mahan’s arrangements for solo piano
Read more of Rhapsody in Blue and Second Rhapsody, the first of those being hyper-familiar and the second much less known and still a source of contention in terms of Gershwin’s plans for it (the alternative title, Rhapsody in Rivets, gives a better sense of what the composer was after). Between the arrangements of the rhapsodies are seven for solo piano, by Mahan or Earl Wild, of Gershwin songs: Embraceable You, Our Love Is Here to Stay, I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Walking the Dog, Fascinating Rhythm, and a blend of ’s Wonderful and Funny Face. All Mahan’s arrangements are skillfully done and all focus very much on the pianist (Wild’s tend to hew somewhat more closely to Gershwin’s original style) – and Mahan plays everything with marvelous panache. Her enthusiasm for I Got Rhythm and Fascinating Rhythm, and the blend of two numbers from Funny Face, is especially infectious. And she plays the two rhapsodies very skillfully indeed – and is interesting to watch on the included bonus-DVD video of Rhapsody in Blue. The issue with this disc, though, it that it comes across as a tribute to Mahan, not to Gershwin: there is a certain showing-off in taking pieces as skillfully orchestrated as the rhapsodies and arranging them for piano alone, and turning so many songs into concert vignettes showcasing the skill of the performer. To be sure, variations on popular songs are a centuries-long mainstay of pianism, and in fact it would be fascinating to hear Mahan offer something along those lines: what sorts of variations might she create by starting with a piece such as Embraceable You? But that is not what Mahan does here: she simply takes Gershwin’s original songs and makes them into attractive little encore-ish pieces for herself. And the rhapsodies, for all the fine playing Mahan brings to them, always sound as if they have something missing (even though what is missing in Second Rhapsody remains a matter of dispute). This is a first-rate disc for fans of Mahan and for anyone who wants to hear some very familiar tunes (and a few that are perhaps less familiar) performed with aplomb by a fine artist. But it is not the sort of disc that invites repeated listening: Gershwin’s original material reveals something new each time it is heard, while Mahan’s handling of it simply shows once again how good a pianist she is...

This is very special. At first I thought the Rhapsody somewhat willful interpretively. A second hearing confirmed this, but who cares? Mahan makes the Rhapsody so much a part of the fabric of her being that this solo piano version seems right. Besides, there are no real distortions—just a few tempos that might be considered too espressivo. The album also includes a video where Mahan explicates her feelings about the Rhapsody, along with visuals explaining Gershwin's love for the New York of his time, along with a few of the places that meant so much to him, and to Mahan as well. If I prefer to see the pianist at work without the visuals that's my problem. She certainly is a stunning woman.

Also special is Mahan's transcription of the Second Rhapsody and several of the songs. She also does a few of Earl Wild's transcriptions, and her work is superlatively accomplished.

'Walking the Dog', a sequence from the 1937 Fred Astaire movie "Shall We Dance", is also included.

The pianist studied first with her mother until Pascal Roge became her mentor. She made her orchestral debut performing Gershwin's Piano Concerto, and has appeared extensively in the US and abroad. She was born in Denver, but currently lives in Salzburg, Austria.

While I would like to hear how this pianist does in more standard repertory (Steinway has a few more recordings pending release), there can be no doubt as to her ability to match Gershwin's improvisatory style and embrace his essence. The recording could not be more pleasing to the ear.

-- Alan Becker, American Record Guide

"Mahan brings out the mixture of sensual, indulgent melodies and wonderfully swinging rhythms that make Gershwin's sound so unique, with a punchy, pithy touch, sometimes velvety."

-- Crescendo

It is always nice to be positively surprised. This applies to this CD with music by the American composer George Gershwin. The composer himself loved to play the piano and could improvise for hours. Katie Mahan also makes the impression of improvising when she brings in her very own ideas regarding phrasing and rhythm in the piano solo version of Rhapsody in Blue, which she arranged herself. It all sounds so spontaneous that you really think she's improvising. And yet the music in every fibre is genuine Gershwin, and Mahan's playing, though idiosyncratic, is never excessive. Also in the other pieces, either in her own arrangements or in those by Earl Wild, Mahan's performance is ravishingly eloquent, virtuosic or thoughtful, always serving the music and the composer, who would surely have greatly appreciated such playing.

-- Remy Frank, Pizzicato Read less