January 25, 1988 12:00 PM

Various artists

Last year’s 50th anniversary of George Gershwin’s death brought out a variety of tribute albums, none finer than this. A 205-minute package, it includes vintage recordings of 53 of his compositions. Independent producer Paul Tannen did a remarkable screening job, winnowing the mass of recordings of Gershwin material down to this marvelous showcase for the composer’s talents. (Gershwin’s brother Ira, of course, wrote most of the lyrics.) The expected performers are all here. Fred Astaire does I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck. Judy Garland suggests worlds of meaning in Do It Again. The Benny Goodman Trio glides ecstatically through Oh, Lady Be Good! Bing Crosby croons Maybe. Billie Holiday swings through Summertime backed by Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw. Art Tatum improvises easily around Liza (All the Clouds Will Roll Away). Ethel Merman belts I Got Rhythm. And one of the best, if least known, Gershwin interpreters, Lee Wiley, finds all the romance in I’ve Got a Crush on You. More surprising are affecting performances by such pop singers as Johnny Mathis (Embraceable You), Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark (‘S Wonderful), Keely Smith (They Can’t Take That Away From Me) and Diana Ross (I Loves You Porgy). The glaring omission is Frank Sinatra, who refused permission to use his records. Tannen did come up with a number of piano performances by Gershwin himself; among them is Rhapsody in Blue, recorded with Paul Whiteman in 1927. It is a measure of Gershwin’s talent that this selection, and indeed all the music in this collection, still seems contemporary and vital today. (Mail order only: Teledisc USA, 1/800-543-5400)

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