This is one of those recordings which tests one’s willingness to accede to the composer’s world-view. All too often, such projects fail to convince, which is a fairly cheap (and rather dull) triumph for the listener. Occasionally, the listener is won over from the start, which is, well, nice. However, perhaps the most interesting – and least predictable – variation is exemplified here, where one almost wills the composer and his interpreter to fail, yet one is eventually attracted to what seemed at the outset to be a perverse, even negative, viewpoint, realizing that in fact the exercise is not only valid but musically stimulating.
The motivation behind Finnissy’s arrangements of Gershwin is complex and intellectually sophisticated, being shot through with the cultural implication of so called popular music (which, being in reality populist music, is of course nothing of the sort) and, as the composer himself puts it in the booklet notes ‘… the British fear of elitism, the potency of cheap music, Forsters Scudder rescuing us from inherent moral turpitude, the annexing of inverted snobbery by aesthetics, legitimised rough trade and kitsch.’ Well, plenty there to be getting on with, I suppose, although it’s not entirely clear, either from the text or the music, as to where Finnissy himself stands in relation to this multifaceted conundrum. This may or may not be deliberate.
This is Gershwin as a half-remembered, ambivalent musical force in a culture in which artistic heritage is mutable and volatile, bent to the will of succeeding generations, interpolated, reinterpreted, augmented, abstracted, reassessed and reconstructed. The pieces themselves are like otherworldly inversions of their originals, or works which have garbled memories of their earlier lives. Where Gershwin places jollity, Finnissy inserts tentative uncertainty; where Gershwin places resolution, Finnissy allows flux; where Gershwin proposes a placid acceptance of life’s woes, Finnissy returns us to the contradictions inherent in doing so. Pace is clearly so conversant with this music as to be a constituent part of it, while the deliberately dated piano sound and recording style is perfectly suited to this strange yet compelling music. This disc is unique and remarkable.