Eliane Rodrigues piano
Nina Smeets piano
Carlo Willems percussion
Koen Wilmaers percussion
Piano virtuoso Eliane Rodrigues returns with her latest Navona Records release — THE GERSHWIN & BERNSTEIN CONNECTION, a new look at timeless pieces by legendary American composers. Together with talented artists including her daughter, pianist Nina Smeets, Rodrigues thrills audiences once again with her moving and truly spellbinding performances.
First is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and this is a truly marvelous performance of the work. Gershwin’s intended improvisational, rubato style reigns, allowing the performers generous liberty to express a new interpretation. The employment of percussion blesses the timeless work with a fresh coat of paint. Gershwin’s masterpiece offers the perfect segue into an arrangement of symphonic dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Many audiences know the longing ballad “Somewhere” quite well and likely never thought it could get any sweeter, but Rodrigues’ ensemble adds a new layer. The recording is unexpectedly subtle — the polyrhythms are intact, but not overstated. The execution is balanced and exceptional in every single way. Finally, Rodrigues and her colleagues offer Gershwin’s Concerto in F in a seemingly effortless journey. One highlight is the meditative beginning of the second movement which captures the essence of George Gershwin and what listeners love so much about him, but with an arrangement that transpires into an all-out collection of keyboards, all performing with equal importance.
The execution of these arrangements serves as an example of how an ensemble can tastefully bring new perspectives to a recording, rather than simply reiterate a well-known composition. The inclusion of the percussion helps to set this album apart. Similarly, this album is equal parts Gershwin, Bernstein, and Rodrigues. This step away from the strictly classical concerto displays Rodrigues’ innate versatility and strength as an artist. It cannot be emphasized enough how the creative use of percussion transforms these classics — an effort not easily achieved, yet Rodrigues and her ensemble gracefully pull it off.