February 18, 2016
When Naxos sent me this recording of “Manhattan Intermezzo” it immediately got my attention because of the name and as I delved further into it I discovered the most unusual coupling of material of Sedaka, Emerson, Ellington, and Gershwin.
Neil Sedaka (1939) will be best known for his string of rock hits including “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” and “Calendar Girl.” When I first listened to “Manhattan Intermezzo” it sounded like nothing I expected at all. While we certainly cannot put this into the classification of true classical we could certainly compare it to “Rhapsody in Blue,” another selection on this platter. Repeated listens have revealed layers of different sounds of culture as well as painting a wonderful picture of Manhattan. The eighteen minute suite was arranged by film composer Lee Holdridge, a fine composer of many Hollywood films and with the permission of the composer Jeffrey Biegel was allowed to add his own embellishment to the work. This work is well worth the price of the CD and one that you’ll want in your collection for your phone etc.
Keith Emerson (1944) was part of the group Emerson Lake and Palmer and did a rock version of “Pictures at an Exhibition” that got my attention so the background was there for classical material. The 20 minute work is divided into three sections allegro, andante, and toccata. The first movement begins in a twelve tone fashion which is skittish, so much so that I nearly turned it off and went to the next selection. As I was about to do this the material changed into a melody which carries on in different rhythms, making it a unique blend of styles. The andante begins in a fugue fashion (hint) and quickly turns into a spirited easy on the ears short piece. The third movement again begins with more twelve tone material which is dissonant, loud with brash and powerful chords. To me this doesn’t sound like a toccata at all but more like something you would hear in a “On the Waterfront” like movie. Towards the end of the movement there is a respite from the dissonance and a melody appears all too briefly. Repeated listens have not helped as they sometimes do.
Duke Ellington (1899-1974) wrote big band standards, religious material, soundtracks to movies as well some great symphonic material which Naxos has made available to us on other CD’s. The work definitely has a big band sound which takes full advantage of this and blends nicely with the piano material. What you hear is a reconstruction of the original material from the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert in 1943 due to the fact that Duke never wrote much of it down or it was lost. “New World a-Comin'” fits into the category of “Rhapsody in Blue” style of music.
George Gershwin (1898-1937) has been written about enough that I won’t include it in this review other than when a group of us gathered one evening and posed the following question. What was the greatest work of the 20th century? It was the winner and for obvious reasons. Jeffrey Biegel uses the 1996 version prepared by Dr. Zizzo and careful listening will reveal the differences. The Brown University Orchestra under the direction of Paul Phillips performs as well as many orchestral recordings I’ve heard in many years of listening.
This is a fine CD and I applaud Naxos for offering this material to us. Recommended.