On March 29th Universal Classics released a terrific CD that features the music of Gershwin, as performed by pianist Norman Krieger and the Prague National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Neal Gittleman.

Featuring Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue, his Piano Concerto and the three preludes, this is a CD that celebrates Gershwin in all his glory. This is particularly fitting considering that 2024 marks the 100th Anniversary of the composition of his Rhapsody in Blue.

For those unfamiliar with Norman Krieger, he is currently the Chair of the Piano Department at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. He has performed as soloist with the majority of the major orchestra’s across the United States including, The Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. He’s worked with conductors such as Leonard Slatkin, Myung-Whun Chung, and Michael Tilson Thomas amongst others and has collaborated in chamber music concerts with the likes of Pamela Frank, Nobuko Imai, Sarah Chang and the Tokyo String Quartet. Simply, he is one of the most active and sought after American pianists on the scene today.

This is Krieger’s second recording that features the music of Gershwin. The first recording came out in 1988, and was in fact, Krieger’s first ever recording project. When asked what keeps bringing him back to Gershwin, the answer is simple, as Krieger states, “Somebody said once ‘the two greatest song writers of all time are Schubert and Gershwin.’ I happen to agree. I don’t know anyone that writes melodies more compelling than George Gershwin. And as an American, I love his music because it is a reflection of a time in our history where hope and positive energy and joy were just so much a part of the entertainment world.”

It is clear the Gershwin’s music has been a beacon throughout Krieger’s career. He has performed both the Rhapsody and Blue and the Piano Concerto in F many times, including the original version for big band. Krieger points out that in the year that separates the Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and the Piano Concerto (1925) Gershwin grew as an orchestrator. “To see how he progressed as a composer just in terms of orchestration… he didn’t orchestrate the Rhapsody in Blue, it was orchestrated by Ferde Grofe… but the Concerto in F is all Gershwin’s orchestration, and it’s quite something!”

Krieger knows this music intimately, and it comes across on this recording. “I find that Gershwin’s music shines when you get out of the way…and you just let the music sizzle, speak and sing.”

It has been 36 years since Krieger released his first CD with the music of Gershwin, and his interpretation has changed. “I think as I’ve grown, and I’ve studied more music written around that time by other composers…I find that less is more. I find myself smiling inside and I don’t feel like I have to get in the way of the music.”

The recording sessions happened before the pandemic, and then the project got sidetracked because everything shut down. Krieger describes the venue where the disc was recorded as if it was like you were in a big cello. “Everything was wood, and the space has a wonderful acoustic.”

The conductor Neal Gittleman has been a long-time friend of Krieger. He was actually the best man at Krieger’s wedding. This friendship, and Krieger’s knowledge and love of this music are very apparent on this recording. This is a wonderful performance of this iconic music of Gershwin. The Prague National Symphony Orchestra sounds fantastic, and Krieger’s perfect voicing and touch at the keyboard let the music sing and sparkle in a way that Gershwin should.

This is a disc that is well worth a listen!