The best recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

What are the finest performances of Gershwin's riotous Rhapsody in Blue? See below for our definitive recommendations…

The best recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue

A guide to the best recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue

To celebrate tonight's performance by Benjamin Grosvenor and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Gershwin's ground-breaking masterpiece, here are five recordings you need to hear!


The best full symphony orchestra version

André Previn

Recordings of the symphony orchestra versions of Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F are not exactly few and far between. So who to choose? André Previn started out as a jazz artist in the 1950s and so is very much on home ground in this repertoire, as can be heard in his 1971 recording of both works in which he directs the LSO from the piano.


The finest original jazz version

Jean-Yves Thibaudet

The French pianist recorded Rhapsody in Blue in Paul Whiteman’s jazz ensemble version in 2010 – in Thibaudet’s own words: ‘Gershwin basically has very few strings – only violins and double basses, no violas, cellos and so on. Then there are trumpets, saxophones, banjos, a whole different kind of percussion. It makes it sound quite different and you don’t hear it in that version very often.’ This is a rip-roaring performance.


For sheer jazz exhuberance

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts is one of surprisingly few jazz pianists to have recorded Rhapsody in Blue. Here, recorded in 1996 on his Portraits in Blue album for Sony Classical, he strays a little away from the original – tempos are pushed and pulled and, in the best jazz tradition, large sections are improvised. No matter, however, as this is a hugely engaging listen.


Something a little different…

Larry Adler

Rhapsody in Blue for mouth organ? Yep. Larry Adler performed the work in this form with Gershwin himself in 1934, provoking the latter to comment ‘The Goddam thing sounds as if I wrote it for you!’ Sixty-five years later the two joined up for a recording, with the real-life Adler being accompanied by the long-dead composer in the form of a piano roll.


A jazz reinvention

Tommy Smith

Taking even more liberties than Marcus Roberts, Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith’s lengthy jazz set stretches Rhapsody in Blue to just under an hour long. The main themes from Gershwin’s original are all recognisably there in this live performance by Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, but so is much else – Cuban dance, drums solos and kitchen sink included. Great fun.


What's on at the Proms tonight?

Prom 46: Thursday 16 August 2018, 10.15pm

Programme to include:

George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, arr. by F Grofé (original jazz band version)

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
National Youth Jazz Orchestra/Guy Barker


The Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

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