Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – Manhattan Intermezzo
*** (out of five)
What you really need to start 2016 – what you never imagined you might ever need – is a piano concerto by Neil Sedaka.
Absolutely no irony intended 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 is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.