La Scena Musicale

Monday, 25 January 2016

Lebrecht CD of the Week - Manhattan Intermezzo (Naxos)

Editor's Note: La Scena Musicale is pleased to welcome back contributor Norman Lebrecht for his weekly CD reviews, which will be posted online on Mondays and appear in the print edition.  Read Norman's regular CD reviews and columns at Lebrecht Weekly.

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Manhattan Intermezzo (Naxos)
Run Time: 69 m 19 s

Rating: 3/5 stars

What you really need to start 2016 – what you never imagined you'd ever need – is a piano concerto by Neil Sedaka.

Absolutely no irony here. Anyone who can write a novel or concerto start to finish without falling on his/her plot deserves all the credit going and a fair ride from reviewers. Sedaka, 75, made his name with a stream of teen hits in the late 1950s after attending Saturday classes at Juilliard. He hit the #1 jackpot with Oh, Carol, a tribute to his ex-girlfriend Carole King, and never looked back.

Except, perhaps, for a hankering to do some of the stuff he learned at Juilliard. He kept up his piano playing and, after tooling around with a Chopin project, produced the title piece of this album, a meditation on his home town. Like Manhattan itself, the score has got all you can eat – lashings of Rachmaninov, a splosh of Schumann, a Gershwin kick-start, ethnic dabblings and layer upon layer of pure smooch. Jeffrey Biegel plays it for all it’s worth, the Brown University Orchestra is perfectly adequate and you won’t feel the slightest bit ripped off by the experience.

Also on the album: a Duke Ellington concoction, a concerto by ELP’s keyboardist Keith Emerson and a somewhat unnecessary Rhapsody in Blue. On my copy, the order of play on the disc differs from that on the sleeve. Let your ear be the guide. There’s no mistaking the Duke’s irresistible swing or the unfiltered breakfast syrup of Sedaka. Go on, ignore the calories and indulge.

—Norman Lebrecht

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