Reviews of Grainger's Fantasy on George Gershwin's  'Porgy and Bess'

Two Pianos alone:
    
"The Contiguglias’ wonderfully vibrant Fantasy on Themes from ‘Porgy and Bess’ by the Australian pianist, Percy Grainger, triggered an unusual reaction from the normally conservative audience which attends these concerts. Their singing, shouting, strutting, clowning and dancing interpretation of this rich synopsis of the opera brought the crowd to its feet. That indicates to me that a good many people join me in wishing these double dynamos of pianism a speedy return to San Antonio.

-Andrew Mihalso, San Antonio EXPRESS NEWS

Two Pianos and Orchestra:
Pianists Score with Concerto on ‘Porgy and Bess’ Themes
     Seattle – In the beginning there was George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess,’ considered by many to be America’s first great opera. Using themes from ‘Porgy,’ the celebrated Australian-born pianist/composer Percy Grainger composed one of his greatest works for two pianos. Then, twin pianists, John and Richard Contiguglia, commissioned Tom Kochan to build a Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra based on Grainger’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ Fantasy. The Kochan version was performed here last weekend by the Contiguglias and the Seattle Symphony under guest conductor, Joel Revzen.
     The Seattle premiere was a smashing success, acclaimed by a packed Seattle Center Opera House crowd. Premieres in music or dance are generally highly risky. In the case of
Fantasy on ‘Porgy and Bess’ for Two Pianos and Orchestra the ingredients for success were extremely promising. Grainger’s Fantasy is a superb score, the Contiguglias, a magnificent pair of pianists, and Gerard Schwartz’s Seattle Symphony, one of America’s great orchestras. The only questions centered on Kochan’s ‘orchestral presence’ and conductor, Joel Revzen.
     The orchestral additions are so terrific that this new version of the
‘Porgy and Bess’ Fantasy is likely to start appearing in symphonic pops concerts around the country, and Revzen demonstrated that he is high on the list of America’s finest young conductors.
     If conductors and managers are alert, the Contiguglias could easily spend the rest of their lives playing the new concerto, relieving audiences of endless performances of Gershwin’s greatest hit,
Rhapsody in Blue. The Contiguglias play the great Gershwin tunes with seductive phrasing and exuberant all-American rhythmic vitality.
     When everything works, discovery is the richest experience any audience or critic can enjoy. While the single two-and-a-half hour rehearsal demonstrated the solid qualities of the Seattle Symphony, the conductor and soloists, the concert itself lit up with the special magic that transforms excellence into greatness.

-Byron Belt, NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

 

Fantasy on George Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess' - Percy Grainger
Program notes by Richard and John Contiguglia

The genius of Grainger's re-creation of Gershwin is not only that it makes pianistic what was essentially orchestral and vocal, but also that it gives in under 25 minutes a very satisfying emotional traversal of the opera. In addition to material from the introduction and the finale, the Fantasy includes settings, imaginatively knit together, of 9 songs, perhaps the opera's most familiar 'hits', in Grainger's, not Gershwin's, order: My Man's Gone Now; It Ain't Necessarily So; Clara, Don't You Be Down-hearted; Strawberry Call; Summertime; Oh, I Can't Sit Down; Bess, You Is My Woman, Now; Oh, I Got Plenty O'Nuttin; and Oh, Lawd, I'm On My Way. The opening and closing sections of the Fantasy parallel the opening and closing of the opera. Serena's passionate aria, My Man's Gone Now, the Fantasy's first song, represents a kind of emotional summing-up of the action that preceded it in scene I of the opera, the crap game and the murder. Sportin' Life mocks the fundamentalist beliefs of Catfish Row's Christians in It Ain't Necessarily So, followed immediately in the Fantasy by the chorus's consoling advice to Clara, Clara, Don't You Be Down-hearted. Normalcy and joy in community life find expression in The Strawberry Call, Summertime, Clara's lullaby to her sleeping child in the opening scene of the opera, and Oh, I Can't Sit Down, the exuberant chorus sung on the way to the Kittiwah picnic. Porgy's transformation by Bess' love is expressed in one of opera's greatest love duets, Bess, You Is My Woman Now, and his renewed sense of self, in the jaunty Oh, I Got Plenty O'Nuttin. The opera's and the Fantasy's final song, Porgy's quasi spiritual, Oh, Lawd, I'm On My Way, underlines our hero's resolve to find Bess in what has by now become Gershwin's epic tragedy of love and loss.

 

Fantasy on 'Porgy and Bess' for Two Pianos and Orchestra
George Gershwin / Percy Grainger
(Orchestration by Tom Kochan)

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Transposed Score

Instrumentation for Full Orchestra

Piccolo
2 Flutes
2 Oboes
English Horn
3 Clarinets in B-flat (Clarinet 3 doubles on Bass Clarinet in B-flat)
2 Bassoons

4 Horns in F
3 Trumpets in B-flat
3 Trombones
Tuba

Timpani
Percussion (2 Players):

    Xylophone                    Suspended Cymbal
Orchestra Bells Crash Cymbals
Wood Block Snare Drum
Tom Tom Bass Drum

Harp

Strings

Instrumentation for Chamber Orchestra

Flute/Piccolo
Oboe
Clarinet in B-flat
Bassoon
Horn in F
Trumpet in B-flat
Trombone

Timpani
Percussion
Strings

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