While attending a special music school for gifted children, Berlin-based Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein learned to play jazz by ear – the best way – by listening to his parents’ record collection. He went on to study jazz piano at Berklee while maintaining his classical pursuits. He is thus arguably one of the best-equipped pianists to tackle the music of George Gershwin.
Gerstein here presents a program of orchestral, chamber and solo works in various guises. There is the Rhapsody in Blue in Paul Whiteman’s jazz band version, orchestrated by Grofe, and the Piano Concerto in F, not in Grofe’s but in Gershwin’s own sparer orchestration. As interludes there is a selection of Earl Wild’s extraordinary Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin as well as Oscar Levant’s Blame It on My Youth, in which Gerstein is joined by legendary vibes player Gary Burton, and Summertime, where Gerstein accompanies Storm Large.
In Rhapsody in Blue and the Concerto in F, Gerstein, true to the spirit not just of jazz but of concerted music’s earlier days, tastefully improvises and embellishes while maintaining a flexible, cantabile line and fulsome chordal articulations. In this, conductor David Robertson and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra are as one. The mood of the interludes ranges from a profound Lisztian intensity to the introspection of a Chopin. Which again comes as no surprise.