Oscar Levant recorded for Columbia Records for a bit less than two decades, leaving behind several albums' worth of material, some of which went into release as late as the early '60s. This collection of his 1940s-vintage renditions of George Gershwin compositions is sort of a no-brainer -- at his most visible, Levant was best known as Gershwin's friend and principal interpreter for two decades, from the 1930s through the mid-'50s. The points of interest here are many, including "Rhapsody in Blue" -- in its familiar edited form -- done the way it was known before Leonard Bernstein co-opted it as pianist and conductor, with the solo part here more prominent than the accompaniment. The much more accomplished "Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra" is present as well, plus "Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra," which was preserved in part as Levant's showcase as a performer in the movie An American in Paris. It's all of interest, if only as an alternative to the Bernstein rendition of the first piece, and what can be considered definitive versions of the others, lightened by the presence of "The 'I Got Rhythm' Variations" and the finest rendition ever of "Preludes for Piano." The sound is surprisingly good as well, given the 1940s origins of everything here, and although the annotation is minimal, the music does sort of speak for itself, at least for anyone likely to pick up this CD in the first place, on the basis of Levant's name. ~ Bruce Eder
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Historic Gershwin Recordings
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe / Pierre Monteux, London Symphony
Mozart Portraits / Bartoli, Fischer, Vienna CO
Joseph Calleja - The Golden Voice / Rizzi, ASMF
Tallis: Gaude Gloriosa, etc / Carwood, Cardinall's Musick
Barber: Adagio for Strings, etc / Schippers, et al
Peerson: Latin Motets / Skidmore, Ex Cathedra Consort
Alessandro Scarlatti: The Cecilian Vespers / Labelle, Rydén, Angel, Slattery, Davies. McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orch.
Victoria: Ave Regina Caelorum, etc / Baker, Westminster