Need to hear something that is virtually GUARANTEED to brighten your day? This 2-disc "Historic Gershwin Recordings" set from BMG does it for me EVERY time I hear it. Here's a rundown:
Track 1. The all-time GREATEST Gershwin recording ever made! This is the ORIGINAL 1924 acoustic recording of Gershwin himself playing "Rhapsody In Blue" with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. This is simply the snappiest, jazziest, most thrilling account EVER recorded. It's abridged and runs just a little over 9 minutes (originally designed to fit two sides of a 78rpm disc). Gershwin didn't have time to orchestrate Rhapsody before its premiere, so this is the very FIRST band arrangement by Ferde Grofe (of later "Grand Canyon Suite" fame). Grofe would re-orchestrate it for Gershwin's 1926 electrical re-make, also abridged, and would do so again in 1942. Nobody does the opening clarinet glissando like Ross Gorman (it was arranged specifically for him), and the whole performance just trots along with incredible commitment and sincerity. If this wonderfully spunky performance doesn't lift your spirits immediately, perhaps you need to see a doctor! By the way, you'll be simply amazed at how GOOD this transfer sounds.
Track 2. Probably the second-greatest Gershwin recording ever made: the ORIGINAL 1929 account of "An American In Paris," conducted by Gershwin's boyhood friend Nathaniel Shilkret. Gershwin himself plays the small parts for piano and celeste! As Charles Levin writes in the notes for another Gershwin set on Pearl CDs, "Apparently Gershwin became such a pest during rehearsals, offering incessant suggestions to Shilkret as to precisely how this or that passage could go, that he was awarded the instrumental parts on condition that he absent himself from the studio until the actual recording!" Shilkret here uses the actual taxi horns that Gershwin brought back from Paris. For me, no other recording comes even close to this one for sheer pizzazz and giddy fun.
Tracks 3-10 feature the original 1935 "Porgy and Bess" excerpts with soprano Helen Jepson & the great American baritone Lawrence Tibbett, and conducted by Alexander Smallens. I find Jepson sympathetic but a little uneven (her "Summertime" doesn't quite compare with Eleanor Steber's on LP, let alone Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstong on a London CD called "George Gershwin: The Ultimate Collection"). But Tibbett's wonderfully masculine voice is a real joy to hear (what great diction!). If you still need to cheer up, just listen to his "It ain't necessarily so" and the marvelous "I got plenty o' nuttin."
Track 11. Arthur Fiedler plays "Strike Up The Band." What can I say? At least it's mercifully short (2:17).
Track 12. While a fascinating comparison, the 1927 re-make of "Rhapsody In Blue," again with Gershwin on piano, doesn't have quite the same electricity as the performance on track 1. Still, it's quite delightful (really excelled only by the 1924 version).
That's CD 1. The other CD is generally of lesser interest: 1) Bernstein's first recording of American In Paris is quite similar to his stereo version - neither, to my ears, is as appealing as what's heard on track 2 of the first CD, 2) Morton Gould both plays & conducts Rhapsody in Blue - like everybody else's, it doesn't match Gershwin's 1924 account, but it's jazzier than most and is one of my three favorite modern accounts (the others: Jeffrey Siegel, with Charles Gerhardt conducting, on a deleted Reader's Digest CD set with utterly fabulous recorded sound, and Leonard Pennario with Felix Slatkin on an Angel CD that's still obtainable elsewhere on the internet), 3) the last 5 tracks feature Gould playing three preludes, a solo from Porgy, and then conducting a 30-minute Porgy suite. The latter is very pleasant, but the music really needs the inclusion of singers to make it work most effectively.
An essential part of any Gershwin collection.