Monday, May 15, 2017

Monteverdi – Madrigals – Leonhardt

THE 450th ANNIVERSARY OF CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI’S BIRTH

★★★★✰

   Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona, traditional musical centre of Northern Italy. In 16th century newborn children were baptized as soon as possible, so his baptism day, May 15th, 1567 is widely recognized as a date of his birth. He was composer of two eras, starting his career in late Renaissance style and continuing his work in early Baroque. And it’s hard to overestimate role Monteverdi played as creator of new musical idioms and establishing new forms. He was one of first composers who were developing the idea of opera as combined music, poetry, dance and theatre, and the first one who wrote opera L’Orfeo being regularly played. His late works Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642) remain in common repertoire giving him position of first composer with significant position in the history of opera. These two works, written by composer in his seventies, are considered as his crowning achievements. He died in Venice in 1643.
   Crucial moment in his artistic career was publishing in 1605 his fifth book of madrigals Il quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci, where he switched main style of musical composition. He resigned of earlier rules of polyphony with strict counterpoint and equity of voices – which he called prima practica. In place of these he used counterpoint more freely with hierarchic voices. These features help him create music with more dramatic emotional shape. In next four books of Madrigals Monteverdi established foundations for the new style. Every book gave new solutions to the problem of relation between lyrics and musical form. Choices of works from Monteverdi’s Libri are common part of musical life, what can be observed in concert programs and record catalogues.

Claudio Monteverdi – Madrigale – Gustav Leonhardt (1979)

   Among many productions some are really significant. Meaningful moment in performing and recording Monteverdi’s music was change from romantic visions of ancient music to historically informed and methodically conscious interpretations. One early examples of such attitude is album called Madrigals (Madrigale in German) published in 1980 under SEON/RCA label. This is one of late issues in catalogue of SEON label, which in 1978 moved from Phonogram to RCA. Recording sessions took place in Haarlem (Holland, Netherlands) in September 1979. Performers were Dutch singers Marjanne Kweksilber (soprano), Marius van Altena (tenor), Michiel ten Houte de Lange (tenor) and Floris Rommerts (bass) and great countertenor from Belgium, René Jacobs. Artistic director was Gustav Leonhardt, who played harpsichord and conducted the ensemble.
   Program of this album was composed with carefully selected madrigals from Monteverdi’s last four books of madrigals. First position of this anthology is four-part Lamento d’Arianna (Libro 6). Second dominant of the programm is three-part Lamento della Ninfa (Libro 8).  Madrigals are often versions of opera arias and duets. Opening second side madrigal Bel pastor (Libro 9) is dramatic scene for two voices where shepherd is seducing shepherdess. This madrigal written to the text by Ottavio Rinuccini was probably a scene from one of lost pastoral operas. Such procedures were normal behavior not only in 17th century. Whole program of 15 madrigals shows also some stylistic dependencies towards earlier style. Monteverdi was using various stylistic means, sometimes even facing to older manners just to give his oeuvres most lucid, credible shape. Such perspective was also shown in collection set by Gustav Leonhardt bringing a lot of musical experience and some further evidences of composer’s greatness.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Keith Jarrett — Treasure Island

April 30 - INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY celebrated under the auspices of UNESCO since 2012

   Keith Jarrett from the starting moment was pianist of huge possibilities. As multi instrumentalist he was playing piano, harpsichord, pipe organ, soprano saxophone, flute, recorder, harmonica, guitar, bass guitar, drums and various percussion instruments, he was also songwriter and singer and composer giving creative continuation of third stream idea. As performer he was also polystylistic, playing not only various style of jazz, but also folk rock and giving well established performances of baroque, classical and 20th century music. The catalogue of his albums is huge both for its volume and variety. Considering Jarrett’s achievements in jazz as main stream of his activity, it’s difficult to point one direction or style for his work.

Keith Jarrett — Treasure Island (1974)

tbc

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mstislav Rostropovitch conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 'Pathetique'

★★★✰

   As one of great personalities in music of second half of 20th century, Mstislav Rostropovitch was versatile artist of many qualities. His cello virtuosity and interpretative skills made his name widely recognized as soloist and conductor. Starting from 1962 stage of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in Gorky Opera (today Nizhni Novgorod) he was active also as opera conductor. In 1967 he was conducting Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. From 1977 he was director and conductor of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. As Russian patriot, born in Baku, son of Polish noble descent father, he was known for his civil courage and rational views. Year after year he was increasingly famous not only, in musical circles but also for his political attitude. His human rights advocacy was appreciated and rewarded with many awards and orders, especially in post-soviet time. Awards he received show, how unique person he was, for example Stalin Prize in 1951, Lenin Prize in 1964 and Medal of Freedom from President of USA in 1987. His position in musical culture and in 20th century social history is indisputable.
   Starting from his student times, when he quit Moscow Conservatory as a gesture of protest against dismissal of Dmitri Shostakovich form professor’s post he was supporting towards the opposition. In time of cold war he was openly opposed against political control over Soviet Union citizens especially artists and intellectuals. In August 1968 while playing in London at The Proms he made clear gestures of solidarity with Prague Spring. Developing his artistic career, he had more possibilities to fight for freedom of speech and democratic values. He was supporting many dissidents, among them Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was his long time friend. In seventies, after he was banned from official musical life in Moscow, in 1974 he left homeland and four years later he was deprived of citizenship. He remained in exile for 16 years. In 1989 when Berlin Wall was falling down, he gave improvised concert. In 1990 his citizenship was restored and his return was seen as a manifestation of new era in Russian history. He was active in social life also later years; in 1991 he was supporting Boris Yeltsin during coup d'état attempt.

Mstislav Rostropovitch • Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony 'Pathetique' (1977)

   In mid-seventies Mstislav Rostropovich recorded complete six Symphonies by Peter Tchaikovsky with London Philharmonic Orchestra for His Master’s Voice label of EMI Records Ltd. This English production with addition of the Manfred Symphony op. 58 was published in 1977 by EMI branch offices all over the world. In England it was available as complete of 7 LP records in the box, but for various markets it was also released apart. It was possible to buy standalone symphonies or the whole cycle promoted in various collections and club editions. Next year EMI released record with Tchaikovsky’s two orchestral fantasies Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini. These recordings were reissued by EMI as 5CD set in 1995. Although all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic works are eminent achievements, the whole series most featured are last symphonies, especially Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ which was last great work composed by Peter Tchaikovsky, premiered only nine days before his death.
   Recording session for Symphony ‘Pathétique’ took place at Kingsway Hall in London during three days September 13th to 15th, 1976. The place was known for its perfect acoustic space for orchestra sound and it was heavily used for recording sessions with London Philharmonic Orchestra (280 recordings) and London Symphony Orchestra (421 recordings). When London Philharmonic Orchestra was recorded Tchaikovsky under the baton of Rostropovich, it has 44 years of recording experience with Kingsway Hall. The orchestra in Pathétique sounds perfect as in organic unity. Rostropovich’s recordings were made during the years Bernard Haitink was on the post of principal conductor (1967-1979) so the period was propitious for plastic and massive sound of late romanticism. With this orchestra Russian artist found great partnership to create sophisticated performances of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, thus the interpretation idea is rather balanced than dramatic, closer to classical spirit, although composition by itself is dramatic and narrative-like in post-Romantic manner. This credible performance uncovering lots of inner beauty demands some friendly attention.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Original Broadway Cast Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

   In the history of musical theatre, projects winning best position were always connected with some historical changes or social issues. In fact this refers to any work of art especially when it’s a narrative one. The tension between political or economical processes and particular moment in the life of a hero is the energy moving storytelling from oldest times. When in short period of time and on one stage takes place whole story, with music, acting and dance, whole production needs to be concentrated – the stage works as a focusing lens. With this presumption we need to take into account also artistic qualities, good music, sense of humor and breathtaking dance scenes. Commercial success was always connected with various factors, but most efficient was its impact and popularity. Phonographic recordings played significant role as a step to wide promotion of any work. During first decades such albums were main step outside the Broadway to any place where music has a chance to find new listeners. Not only blockbusters were released as musical recordings. For those with higher budget LP records or CD albums were sometimes a second chance to find its way to listeners.
   Every period has its stories, songs and hit musicals. When there is such need it could be more conservative, in other moments radical or even revolutionary. Music, arts and letters were always synchronous with deep needs of at least some significant part of the society. In second half of 1960’s postwar stability for great part of society was seen as no longer a value. Young, well educated Americans perceived it as a stagnation atoned with unacceptable price of deaths in Vietnam and social inequality. Rebellious behavior and riots were side-effect of young counterculture. In couple years young minority became power enough significant to reshape official culture. This process was background for probably most ambitious musical project of the era. Breaking many taboos Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical became famous as the voice of young Americans in late sixties.

Hair • The Original Broadway Cast Recording (1968)

tbc

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Shakatak — Night Birds

In seventies all styles of popular music were the subject of deep change. Although many kinds of jazz and rock were still continuing artistic quest in old directions, the wide public and main labels were choosing more dance and rhythmic kinds of music. After fell all bastions of intellectually ambitious jazz and progressive rock, after jazz rock gave ways to fields of popular instrumental music to disco, it became clear music is a kind of product. This was the great time for many musicians. After years of some strange ideas basing on invention value, commercial kinds of music gave musicians many chances to develop their virtuosity being a primary quality and a source of recognition. That was the background for the new wave of bands and musicians playing various kinds of smooth jazz mixed with elements of disco, rhythm and blues, or some local folk traditions. One of most popular in Europe was English band Shakatak.

Shakatak – Night Birds (1982)

tbc

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chick Corea — The Mad Hatter

★★★★★

   In the middle of 1970’s decade Chick Corea was one of best recognized musicians on jazz scene. He was appreciated as pianist, composer, arranger, improviser and leader. He was known for his band and artists he played with. But first of all he was famous for his own style. Since his first fusion experiments in late sixties, Chick Corea was artist connecting and melting Spanish music idioms with elements of jazz genre. First great work, opening the sequence of such productions was Stan Getz’s Captain Marvel recorded in 1972 where Corea composed almost complete material. Musicians involved in recording sessions with Stan Getz, the same time were creating first album of Return to Forever – the band aiming to take vanguard position in jazz-rock of seventies. 
   Time spend with Return to Forever was this period when Corea has focused on symphonic type of arrangement. This was idea clearly taken from progressive rock. In 1976 composer of La Fiesta published groundbreaking double LP album My Spanish Heart where he developed great new vision of Latin jazz. Two years later in 1978 Chick Corea released next album experimenting with jazz-rock and fusion genres, combining jazz elements with progressive rock ideas. Titled The Mad Hatter this was a concept album with lyrics written by Gale Moran and clearly connected by some symbolic, graphic and narrative ideas with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. And the tendency of creating intricate concept albums with plenty of references was further evidence for strong bonds between fusion jazz and progressive rock.

Chick Corea — The Mad Hatter (1978)

   Chick Corea released The Mad Hatter album in 1978. It was recorded in Kendun Recorders studios in Burbank with jazz line-up and chamber sections. Jazz section were Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, flute, piccolo), Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Jamie Faunt, Eddie Gómez (basses), Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason (drums) and Gayle Moran (vocals). Brass parts were played by Stewart Blumberg, John Rosenburg, John Thomas (trumpets) and Ron Moss (trombone) and string section was Charles Veal and Kenneth Yerke (violins), Denyse Buffum and Michael Nowack (violas), Dennis Karmazyn (cello). The leader himself played piano, electric piano (Fender Rhodes), synthesizers (Mini-moog, Poly-moog, Moog 15, Moog Sample & Hold, Arp Odyssey, Oberheim 8 Voice, Mxr Digital Delay, Eventide Harmonizer) and percussion (African shaker, marimba, cymbal and cowbell. He was also composer and arranger.
   As it has been indicated above, main contribution of progressive rock into jazz-rock crossover style was symphonic narrative and orchestral structure of arrangements. One of consequences of this attitude was concept album idea, which was not used before but so often convention in mainstream jazz. Chick Corea as pianist and composer was always closer to classical music than rock, especially in his sound ideas. In his albums he was constantly developing structural means giving in result various kinds of closed compositions and cycles. This feature played decided role also in construction of The Mad Hatter album. It is so rich in qualities, ideas and conceptions, fragments of modal improvisations are entwined with modernistic chamber arrangements and neoclassicist elements of compositions, it’s just perfect subject for structural analysis. Nonetheless all of these make this album more ambitious than it was acceptable in 1978. Four stars is lowest grade for such ambitious and well done project. Fifth star I am giving for my personal reasons - it was just one of my high-school favorite albums.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Yevgeny Mravinsky conducts Symphony Pathétique

★★★★★

   In history of culture we have many mysterious phenomenons giving scope to our imagination. Facing chef-d'oeuvre we can’t rationalize all of its qualities, so we are mythologizing the story of its creation or just seeking any reason to explain its uniqueness. One of such masterpieces is Symphony B minor, Op. 74 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The work has been called Symphony Pathétique by composer’s brother Modest, and approved by composer himself. This emotional work was intended as program symphony, A Programme Symphony was even its projected name, but composer decided not to reveal the program as it was too much private, as Tchaikovsky wrote “suffused with subjectivity”, so he decided to leave it without any comments.
   Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his 6th Symphony in February and March 1893 and orchestrated the work in the summer of the same year, although there are some rumors connecting this composition with his death assuming he committed suicide. The official cause was cholera, and the idea of connecting Symphony Pathétique with his death is again testimony of our inability to accept some phenomenon exceeding our understanding. Facts are simple and still significant. He died three months after he finished this composition. October 28th, he conducted the premiere of this symphony in St. Petersburg, and after first performance he said: “Something strange is happening with this symphony! It's not that it displeased, but it has caused some bewilderment. So far as I myself am concerned, I'm more proud of it than any of my other works”. Nine days later, November 6th, 1893 he died.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky - Symphony Pathétique - Yevgeny Mravinsky (1956)

   The same city Tchaikovsky premiered his last symphony, 63 years later was the scene of unforgettable recording session when great performance of this work was captured. This was the time of growing recognition and interesting focusing on Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and its artistic director, conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky. Series of great premiere performances including symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich, international fame was already huge, even if conductor was traveling reluctantly and did not like recording sessions. As conductor he devoted his career to orchestra, to create its artistic profile and to build technical possibilities. The results of his work were astonishing. Precision of articulation and sound of Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra was recognized as one of most characteristic achievements of Russian universal musical culture, as well as Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music, especially his last symphony. The only reason this recording has few releases, definitely not as much as it deserves, was its monophonic technology, which as the moment was out of date already. Despite of this, published by Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft it remains one of most significant recordings of this symphony.
   Symphony Pathétique belongs to core repertoire of symphonic orchestras and with huge range of possible readings and interpretations it’s good to know some essential and most meaningful renditions. The one that can play referential role and one of most famous is monaural recording made by Yevgeny Mravinsky with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956. What tells the difference between this and many other performances is intensity of musical action. Every phrase of this recording is clear and strong sentence of the whole story which is the 6th Symphony in itself, although devoid of program, it remains a strong narrative construction. Profound and expressive, perfect in every moment, this album is document of artistic potential of the Leningrad Philharmonics one decade after the war. And this is the reason to see such recordings as corner stones of the orchestra’s and conductor’s fame.