Manhattan Intermezzo - Works by Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin - Brown University Orchestra - Jeffrey Biegel, Piano - CD cover

Reviews for "Manhattan Intermezzo - Works by Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin" - Brown University Orchestra - Jeffrey Biegel, Piano (2016)

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"Manhattan Intermezzo" fuses jazz, rock and popular songs, from Keith Emerson's classical meets jazz semi-autobiographical "Piano Concerto No.1" to Neil Sedaka's "Manhattan Intermezzo", a celebration of New York as a melting pot.

Piano by Jeffrey Biegel. Brown University Orchestra conducted by Paul Phillips.

* Manhattan Intermezzo review from Fanfare magazine - July 2016

"This extraordinary album programs four classical 20th-century American and British works for piano and orchestra by composers better known for their popular and jazz compositions and, through the dynamic playing of pianist Jeffrey Biegel, makes a persuasive case for the three less recognizable ones. [...]"

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* Audio Video Club of Atlanta review from May 2016

"It is to the credit of Steinway artist Jeffrey Biegel and his collaborator Paul Philips, at the podium of the Brown University Orchestra, that they approach this program with the excitement of having discovered something vital and unsuspected rather than just a collection of scholarly exercises. Their enthusiasm carries over to the listener in no uncertain terms. Biegel's demon technique and Phillips' wicked point-making help make this CD one of the undiscovered gems of the year." © 2016 Audio Video Club of Atlanta May 2016

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* The Classical Reviewer review from March 2016

"This is a thoroughly enjoyable release with pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the Brown University Orchestra conducted by Paul Phillips delivering first rate performances." © 2016 The Classical Reviewer March 2016

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* AfriClassical Reviewer review from March 2016

"The four works on the program are well matched, and the orchestra members, pianist Jeffrey Biegel and conductor Paul Phillips have produced an impressive recording which is consistent with the reputation of the Brown University Orchestra as a leading ensemble among American college orchestras." © 2016 AfriClassical March 2016

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* Film Music: A Neglected Art review from February 2016

"The Brown University Orchestra under the direction of Paul Phillips performs as well as many orchestral recordings I’ve heard in many years of listening. This is a fine CD and I applaud Naxos for offering this material to us. Recommended." © 2016 Film Music: A Neglected Art February 2016

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* Here is what Keith Emerson says about Manhattan Intermezzo:

"Classical pianist Jeffrey Biegel along with The Brown University Orchestra conducted by Paul Phillips are truly fantastic here!

Apart from the wonderful performance of my Piano Concerto, I did not know that Neil Sedaka had written a Piano Concerto. It is staggeringly beautiful! I was aware of the early Gershwin "Rhapsody In Blue" of which he had many arrangements - as Stravinsky had about 12 versions of "Rites Of Spring". And let's not forget Duke Ellington here.

Congratulations to Naxos for being brave enough to put such a profound musical statement out. The quality of which is superb.

– Keith Emerson, 30 Jan 2016"

* Manhattan Intermezzo (CD review) - Classical Candor

I'll bet when a lot of folks hear the words "new music" in the classical field, they think about something avant-garde, experimental, maybe atonal, devoid of melody, harmony, or any other signs of popular entertainment. Not so with the new music on the present disc, Manhattan Intermezzo. The program runs the gamut from relatively new, somewhat sentimental, and probably unfamiliar tunes to an old and well-loved warhorse. More important, it's all highly enjoyable.

The album brings together the works of four twentieth and twenty-first century musician/composers who describe various aspects of downtown New York City. It seems the program concept was the brainchild of American pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who had wanted for some time to bring the music together. Certainly, it could not have fallen into more capable hands. Biegel is a smart, sophisticated musician, and conductor Paul Phillips and the Brown University Orchestra ably accompany his vision.

The opening work on the disc, the title tune Manhattan Intermezzo, comes to us via the first of two perhaps surprising sources: Neil Sedaka. Yes, that Neil Sedaka, the one whose pop music we all grew up with. He wrote the Intermezzo in 2008 (with orchestration by Lee Holdridge) as "a journey through the musical diversity of Manhattan." I mentioned above the "sentimental" part of the program. This is it: very melodic, lush, and rhapsodic. It reminded me of a score for a possible Nicholas Sparks movie. Biegel plays the music with a careful abandon, a measured but enthusiastic approach that keeps Sedaka's tunes from becoming too romanticized. While it's undoubtedly lightweight, perhaps sounding fluffy to some ears, it is undeniably relaxing and enjoyable, too.

The next piece is from another surprising source: the late Keith Emerson. Yes, that Keith Emerson, cofounder of the British rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. His contribution is the Piano Concerto No. 1, a three-movement work he wrote in 1976 (co-orchestrated by John Mayer). Emerson recorded it with the London Philharmonic a year later, and Jeffrey Biegel took it under his wing in 2001, playing it as often as possible since then. Even though I'm not entirely sure what the music has to do specifically with Manhattan, it's fascinating and entertaining, nonetheless.

Emerson's music sounds distinctly more "modern" than Sedaka's, yet it always maintains an eye toward the everyday audience. Its tone can be a touch harsh at times, its varying contrasts a tad disconcerting to the casual listener. Still, if one is a fan of Emerson's pop roots, one will appreciate what he does in this more-serious genre. Biegel plays the music with a straightforward eagerness, emphasizing its expressive vigor, cheery middle, and concluding fury. Moreover, the Brown University players accompany the pianist with their own eager pleasure.

After that is New World a-Coming' by Duke Ellington, written in 1943 and based on journalist Roi Ottley's book of the same name about his vision of "improved conditions for blacks in postwar America." Ellington said he "visualized this new world as a place in the distant future, where there would be no war, no greed, no categorization, no non-believers, where love was unconditional, and no pronoun was good enough for God." Here, Biegel and company show their skills as interpreters of something jazzier than the previous selections, and the work becomes a perfect lead-in for the Gershwin piece that follows.

The final item on the agenda is George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which needs no introduction. The special thing here, besides the virtuosic piano playing and the orchestra's youthful zeal, is that Biegel plays the piano part as closely as possible to the way Gershwin intended it, without all the cuts made to it later. The result is a tad longer than most recordings of the piece but sparkling and fresh.

Producers Paul Phillips, Jeffrey Biegel, and Joseph Patrych and engineer and editor James LeGrand made the recording at Sayles Hall, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island in October and November 2014. The piano appears particularly well integrated with the orchestra, out in front, certainly, but not too far in front, with the rest of the instruments realistically distributed behind it. The piano sound is also realistic, clear and clean yet with a hint of room resonance. The orchestra itself sounds nicely balanced, with perhaps a slight emphasis on the upper midrange and with a wide stereo expanse and reasonable stage depth.

John J. Puccio - - March 2016

* Portraits in Sound (

An intriguing mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, a blending of musical styles as well as genres, and a portrait of New York City in all its sprawl and excitement, a new Naxos CD of the music of Gershwin, Sedaka, Emerson and Ellington features first-rate pianism and a pervasive sense of joy in music-making. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue has been recorded innumerable times, although not always in the Ferde Grofé orchestration heard here. Jeffrey Biegel and the Brown University Orchestra under Paul Phillips proffer a performance in which the jazz elements of the music predominate and the rhythmic verve of the music carries it through from start to finish. This may be a student orchestra, but it is a well-trained and well-rehearsed one that has considerable polish and does not seem to be struggling with any of the material. The other three pieces on this disc are less often heard, much less often recorded, and also feature contributory work by hands other than those of their composers. Second-oldest after Gershwin's 1924 piece is Ellington's New World a-Comin' from 1943, as arranged and edited by Maurice Peress. This is written-out jazz, with a written-out cadenza originally created by Sir Roland Hanna – something of a contradiction in terms, but the work retains the feeling of spontaneity associated with the jazz form, and the cadenza also sounds spontaneous, as if Biegel were making it up on the spot. Emerson is best known as a founder of the group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, not as a classical musician, but he clearly has abilities in the classical field. His Piano Concerto No. 1, which dates to 1976 and was co-orchestrated by John Mayer, is in the traditional three movements but gives very short shrift to the central slow one, which is not in an especially slow tempo (Andante molto cantabile) and lasts just two-and-a-half minutes in a 20-minute piece. The result is a work weighted toward positive emotions and a kind of bright optimism, despite the initial fury of the finale. Although not overtly connected to New York in the way the other works on this CD are, the concerto is certainly reflective of some aspects of the city's personality, notably through its insistence on fighting through to optimism in the end – despite whatever reversals appear earlier. In contrast, Sedaka's 2008 Manhattan Intermezzo, orchestrated by Lee Holdridge, does directly celebrate New York; and it makes a fascinating parallel and contrast to Gershwin's Jazz Age piece of virtually the same length. Sedaka, like Emerson, is known for popular music, not anything classical, but here he shows himself quite capable of working in an admittedly free-form sort of concert piece, for which Biegel himself filled out and embellished the piano part. Essentially a freewheeling tribute to the energy, intensity and diversity of New York (Manhattan is only one of the five counties that make up the city, but is the one that virtually everyone refers to when speaking of the city as a whole), Sedaka's piece is superficial but quite attractive – as the city on which it focuses often seems to be. Actually, none of the works here tries to look for the artistic and cultural depths that are elements of New York life: there is certainly no grandeur here. But all four pieces suggest that there is a great deal of enjoyment to be had in music that relates to New York, as well as in the city against whose backdrop the pieces were produced.

Portraits in Sounds - - The InfoDad Team - 18 Feb 2016

* With Jeffrey Biegel in Manhattan (translated from German)

"The program presented by Jeffrey Biegel on this disc is truly New York, and it's as attractive as the city itself. It begins with a colorful portrait of Manhattan by pop singer Neil Sedaka (born 1939), who has prepared a tasty and opulent dish mixed with ingredients from the romantic school of classical music. Jeffrey Biegel and Paul Phillips save the work from exaggerated sweetness, so it sounds fresh, full of verve, including the brilliant playing by the Brown University orchestra from Providence, Rhode Island.

Keith Emerson's piano concerto has three movements, whose titles aptly describe the work: Allegro giocoso, Andante molto cantabile and Toccata con fuoco. Jeffrey Biegel performs the work with plenty of power and pep, just as brilliantly as in Duke Ellington's "New World a-Comin'" in an arrangement by Maurice Peress.

Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" - in Ferde Grofé's original version, at full length - gives Jeffrey Biegel the opportunity to shine at the piano, as he doubtlessly owns this music. His personal musical nuances meld into the musical whole quite naturally. The Brown University Symphony Orchestra under music director Paul Phillips accompanies Biegel with assurance, so that this disc is recommended for all who enjoy this genre.

A catchy program, brilliantly performed."

With Jeffrey Biegel in Manhattan - - Remy Franck - 12 Feb 2016

* AllMusic Review of "Manhattan Intermezzo" by James Manheim

Here's a collection of four classical pieces for piano and orchestra linked to New York City, written by composers from the pop world, ranging from the extremely familiar (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue) to the almost completely unknown (the title work, by none other than Neil Sedaka). First off comes the Gershwin, which is worth the price of admission by itself: it gets a distinctive performance from pianist Jeffrey Biegel, with plenty of jazz accents, and it is presented in an edition by scholar Alicia Zizzo that probably represents Gershwin's own intentions. The Sedaka work may be what you'd expect from the composer of Breaking Up Is Hard to Do; its melodies are straightforward. New World a-Comin' is among the less often programmed of Duke Ellington's orchestral pieces, but from the vigorous performance heard here it's hard to see why it should have been neglected. The Piano Concerto No. 1 of Keith Emerson, of the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, may be the nicest surprise of the four works. Those who listened to FM rock radio in the 1970s may well be able to identify the composer, but it incorporates many other influences besides that of ELP (there are even a few 12-tone passages), and it weaves them all together in an attractive score that is arguably the most sophisticated of any of the four works on the album. Worthy of special notice is the work of the Brown University Symphony Orchestra under Paul Phillips, one of the fine university ensembles that give the lie to perceptions that classical music is under-supported in the United States. Recommended.

Review of Manhattan Intermezzo - - James Manheiem - January 2016

* Album du jour: Jeffrey Biegel, Paul Phillips & the Brown University Orchestra, “Manhattan Intermezzo”

"Let me pause here to offer boundless and obsequious praise for the album's solo pianist, Jeffrey Biegel. He's got all the technical firepower anyone could want, and has all the tone color and suppleness of phrasing these works demand. What really stands out, however, and what unfortunately cannot be assumed of pianists with similar gifts, is the absolutely impeccable timing with which Jeffrey interprets the vernacular rhythms when things get jazzy or start to rock. The lack of such timing has ruined many an attempt of classical musicians to "let their hair down," and end up making fools of themselves in the process. Bravo! In the Ellington, Jeffrey Biegel recreates the cadenza improvised on a 1988 recording by the late jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna. In the Gershwin, Jeffrey restores more than fifty measures of music deleted without Gershwin's participation by Harms Music prior to the Rhapsody's original publication. And he plays the living daylights out of both. Oodles of kudos also to Paul Phillips, known locally as long-time maestro of the Pioneer Valley Symphony, and the occasionally overtaxed but very game musicians of the Brown University Orchestra."

Album du jour: "Manhattan Intermezzo" - - John Montanari - February 2016

* "Manhattan Intermezzo" album (Naxos - 2016)

"What a delightful project this turns out to be! The main work here is the Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame) Piano Concerto, an energetic and fun piece that runs the gamut from a twelve-tone opening to a primal, toccata conclusion very much in the spirit of the finale of the Ginastera First Piano Concerto, which Emerson also transcribed and recorded. The other big surprise is Neil Sedaka's (remember him?) Manhattan Intermezzo, a sort of tonal travelogue of New York County for piano and orchestra, full of good tunes in a genuinely popular idiom.

Duke Ellington's New World a-Comin' (in Maurice Peress' arrangement for piano and orchestra) has appeared on disc a couple of times previously, but this version of the inevitable Rhapsody in Blue goes back to Gershwin's (and Grofe's) original score and opens up several traditional cuts. It's great to hear the whole thing, especially the extended solo part. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel sounds entirely at one with Gershwin's style – he knows how to inflect a phrase without turning mannered or self-conscious, and the whole performance full of character.

The Brown University Symphony Orchestra under its Music Director Paul Phillips has every right to be proud of its showing here."

Concertante Works by Sedaka, Emerson, Ellington, and Gershwin-Really! - - David Hurwitz - January 2016