What a great disappointment. I enjoyed immensely Mark Bebbington's previous concerto discs for SOMM (4 in all, excluding an out-of-tune Mozart attempt). In those he brings to life rare and unusual - and quite wonderful - repertoire, superbly played with excellent orchestral support. Why he decided upon the all too familiar (and over-recorded) Gershwin program is a complete mystery. Especially when it's so poorly done.
Unfortunately, much of the blame for the failure of this disc lies at the feet of his accompanist, conductor Leon Botstein. Tempos are slow in everything he conducts here. There is not an Allegro to be found, nor is there the slightest glimmer of verve or flair, or a sense of high spirits or adrenaline. Has he never, ever heard Arthur Fiedler in this repertoire? Or Andrew Litton? Or Peter Oundjuan? Or Michael Tilson Thomas? Or had he even glanced at the score for tempo indications?
The conductor is not entirely to blame, of course. Bebbington himself obviously had something to do with tempos. And he certainly had something to do with preparation. It sounds as if he considered this fluff material and therefore did not practice it much beforehand. That Concerto in F is more difficult to play than it sounds, and his sloppy execution of the repeated 16th notes in the 3rd movement is evidence of that fact. Even in the solo Preludes, Bebbington pedals his way through anything remotely challenging.
And, at first, one might wonder - why TWO discs, when the 2nd disc (of solo piano music) lasts just 17 minutes? The answer is simple. SOMM and Bebbington decided upon a program, and after recording it, the tempos are SO slow, it simply wouldn't all fit on one disc.
How slow? Well, Rhapsody in Blue lasts nearly 20 minutes here! This is completely absurd. Earl Wild (with Arthur Fiedler) does it in 16 (with NO cuts, by the way). Similarly, the Variations on I Got Rhythm drags on for 10-1/2 minutes; Wild takes less than 8. And in the Concerto, the first movement Allegro (no, it's not Andante Maestoso, Mr. Botsetin), takes these guys nearly 15 minutes to plod their way through; Wild: 12. And in the Allegro 3rd movement, Bebbington takes over a minute longer than Wild!
I want to reiterate how disappointing this is after the glorious music-making heard in their previous concerto discs. I listen in complete disbelief that this could be same pianist. It hearkens back to Pascal Roge's abysmal 2004 Gershwin recordings for Oehms.