Tuesday, January 5, 2016

George Gershwin and Paul Dukas - A Conundrum Involving the Listener?

For a reason I cannot  project to you with any degree of logic or intellectual probity, I thought that I might share it with you anyway:
George Gershwin, in his decision to create an opera consisting of  an African American cast  depicting the tragedy  of  Porgy and Bess, created a bit of a firestorm of controversy and consternation, as the year was 1935 when it was created. Nothing like this had ever been done before, but Gershwin  had become captivated by this theme, and actually moved to South Carolina for a period in order to soak up the sense of atmosphere of the setting he had in mind, before committing this masterpiece to manuscript.
Well, history has certainly woven "Porgy and Bess" into the tapestry of immortality, as this story has been told innumerable times throughout the world since its first performance the better part of a century ago. I saw the production many  years back in New York, and will never forget the impact of its message.
Its magnificent array of tunes has since appeared in many forms other than in the original opera format. One of the more popular presentations is to simply have the two voices(Porgy and Bess) heard without the opera setting; that is, in concert  or recital form; such as the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong presentation in the 1950's, or the Cleo Laine/Ray Charles performance of the 1970's.
There is no hesitation on my part in recognizing the magnificent production given us by these great performers, and the glow of Gershwin's music shining throughout.
However, it takes  much more work  for me to listen to these concert versions than it did to simply take in the total sense of  reality by watching the opera as Gershwin had  created it.
Strangely, I have the same kind of reaction when I think of the one piano sonata that Paul Dukas wrote shortly after his immensely popular "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
The work was completed in 1900, and is one of the largest sonatas we know of.
It can take anywhere from 45 to 50 minutes to perform, and has only recently come back from relative obscurity and is recorded - the eminent pianist Hamelin can be  heard, for one.
It is an attractive piece, redolent with melody and truly fine transitional passages that fit the piano  quite superbly, with thoughts of Beethoven and Franck swirling throughout. The piece IS huge, and written by a fine composer, but one in the second tier, as it were.
One of the first critics  to hear it used the word 'recondite' to describe it - does that imply ambivalence about this work?
I think that  this may be the primary reason that I listen to the sonata quite rarely - it may require too much work to listen to it too often.
And so, these two disparate works have something in common - a kind of delicious conundrum...


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