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George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Porgy and Bess Selections for Clarinet and Strings, arr. Carl Davis
Summertime [3:14]
A Woman is a Sometime Thing [2:36]
Bess, You is My Woman Now [5:35]
It Ain’t Necessarily So [2:38]
Lullaby for String Quartet [7:11]
Jerome KERN (1885-1945)
Selected Songs (arr. Kern/Charles Miller)
All the Things You Are [4:39]
The Way You Look Tonight [4:46]
Bill [4:05]
The Song is You [5:01]
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes [4:30]
Once in a Blue Moon [4:03]
Joan Enric Lluna (clarinet); Alexander String Quartet
rec. 24-26 May and 15 July, 2011, St Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, CA, USA
FOGHORN CLASSICS CD2008 [48:15]

This is 48 minutes of chamber-jazz crossover arrangements. There are four Gershwin songs and six by Kern, the Gershwin a suite with a starring role for clarinet. The Kern songs were “arranged by the composer and scored for string quartet by Charles Miller”, a somewhat nebulous statement from the published edition. This really leaves a lot of questions about just how much Kern was involved. Miller was Kern’s assistant, so the author likely at least approved the transcriptions.
 
My colleague Dan Morgan reviewed this CD in 2012 and called it “depressing”. He does have a certain point about the Kern/Miller arrangements: they are so reverential, so precious, that the jazz and spontaneity take a back seat. I don’t want to say “easy-listening”, because in my vocabulary that’s a swear word, but the collection mostly comprises slow love-songs arranged for maximum old-Hollywood glamour.
 
That said, I didn’t dislike them. Sometimes you need a little indulgence. Do as I did and pair it with French chocolate. Or you could be more ambitious and put it on in the background at your next soirée, along with some candles, merlot and prosciutto-wrapped figs.
 
The Porgy and Bess arrangements are significantly more lively, and indeed I was surprised by how much I enjoyed them. Carl Davis is a composer I’m generally allergic to; I’ve been known to mute a Buster Keaton film because of an irritating Davis score. In this case, his contributions are witty off-the-wall intros and outros to well-arranged Gershwin tunes. Joan Eric Lluna’s clarinet dances nimbly around the Alexander String Quartet, even brashly. It’s scored like a mini-clarinet concerto.
 
Best is saved for last: Gershwin’s Lullaby, an authentic string quartet original that really sounds like it. Is he quoting his own Novelette in Fourths halfway through? This leaves us with a half-hour of empty space at the end of the disc, because the repertoire of jazz-classical crossover music for string quartet is not very big. There is one masterpiece in the medium, though. Nikolai Kapustin’s string quartet is a firecracker, with a crazy-brilliant fugue finale. Apparently there is also a String Quartet No. 2, unrecorded. If any enterprising, jazz-loving quartet players are reading this, Presto Classical is selling a full set of parts for the Kapustin. You can listen to it on YouTube. Just a suggestion.
 
Brian Reinhart

Previous review: Dan Morgan