Friday, December 31, 2010

Captain Beefheart – Unconditionally Guaranteed

First of two commercial albums made by Captain Beefheart for Mercury Records in 1974 was Unconditionally Guaranteed released in April 1974. With following album Bluejeans & Moonbeams, recorded in August and released in November, this pair established most criticized group of Beefheart’s works. Although main idea of this productions was to show more soft and popular picture of Beefhearts music, no commercial success has been reached by these albums. They are example of big record company’s weakness and misunderstanding cultural niche’s needs. Captain Beefheart was extremely disappointed. After album was published, he encouraged buyers to “take copies back for a refund”.  
Due to legal issues, artist didn’t have a chance to decide on his music. Made out of Captain Beefheart’s sight this album became the beginning of serious crisis in artist's biography. The era of freaking out in sixties has gone without any alternative idea. Psychedelic and surrealistic formulas has no chance to exist in main stream pop music, in developing in Europe glam rock these elements became a kind of unimportant ornament. In 1974, the year of ABBA European and world triumph, for large audience the style of sixties was obsolete and sometimes just pathetic. In later recordings Don Van Vliet came back with his school friend Frank Zappa (Bongo Fury) and signing his own name (Shiny Beast and Ice Cream for Crow), but there was no new opening. Beefheart appear more fragile than average artist in show business and unable to fight against disco and commercialization of rhythm and blues music.

Captain Beefheart – Unconditionally Guaranteed (1974) 

Even if Don Van Vliet called it “horrible and vulgar”, Unconditionally Guaranteed is almost successful compromise between radical vision of RnB and musical genres popular in 1970s. The complete set of Van Vliet’s songs could be quite impressive if they were realized more firmly, with this rhythmic precision and more determined articulation we know from his previous albums. The performing style we known from his earlier recordings had gone. And what we got, can convince, the contract with Mercury was violation of Van Vliet’s artistic personality. One look into record cover gives explanation of the mood concurrent to the creation of this record. Distance and mockery were arrays contradicting to previous Van Vliets attitude. Some men in Mercury didn't take the trouble to understand more than customers' expectations.
Question is how much Captain Beefheart was guily himself. Musicians were disappointed, the known from Trout Mask Replica, guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo and bassist Rockete Morton came out of The Magic Band. At last line up of The Magic Band was always rotating. It was Captain Beefheart who tried to hit the market and hoping to convince wider group of consumers. In effect, he lost reliance of his fans. And this makes him totally responsible for the final effect. No matter he credited his wife Jan Van Vliet and producer of the album Andy Di Martino as coauthors of all songs. In such moments one have to admit, sometimes is better to refuse than publish anything.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Concert of the Century at Carnegie Hall

Maybe the worst moments in the history of Carnegie Hall came in the 1970s. Since first decades of 20th century many things were changed – cinema, radio, television, popular culture and mechanical reproduction of sound made many forms of social activities obsolete. Many were convinced Carnegie Hall waits for the fate of many similar institutions and its bankruptcy is inevitable. The idea of collecting founds for help to the most remarkable musical institution in New York came from Isaac Stern. Great violinist called together his friends, the best musicians of this time, to commemorate the past and to help revitalizing the Carnegie Hall by giving special presentation in its auditorium.
Celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall on May 18, 1976, musical society with Carnegie Hall Endowment Found produced great concert event with participation of great musicians. Artists invited to this project were in close relations with the place and its history. In program of this concert listeners can hear and see Leonard Bernstein with the Members of the New York Philharmonic, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Vladimir Horovitz, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Issac Stern and The Oratorio Society directed by Lyndon Woodside. Also Martina Arroyo has been invited, but the star had to cancel her appearance due to accident. 

Celebrating The 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall

This special event, advertised The Concert of the Century, was recorded live and published in CBS Masterworks series (79 200). Two records, leaflet with lyrics of Schumann’s Dichterliebe and poster in red gatefold cover were the hit in following season of 1977. There was also a special edition of this album, printed in limited issue of 1000 numbered copies with large photos signed by artists and biography of every soloist, the program of the concert and essay on history of Carnegie Hall – all in red calf portfolio and marbled slipcase. In 1978 this album won the Grammy Award as Best Classical Album of the year. It was the third prize in this category in the career of Thomas Frost, producer of this album.
Special program assorted for this celebration include a number of works that became the base for individual and collective exposition. And everyone can find here something enjoying to himself. Beethoven’s „Leonore” Overture No. 3 in solid sound and natural expression of New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein was the single symphonic piece in this program. Strong and emotional Pezzo Elegiaco from Piano Trio A Minor op. 50 by Peter Tchaikovsky was performed by Vladimir Horowitz, Isaac Stern and Mstislav Rostropovich. Also Rachmaninoff's Andante from Cello Sonata G Minor Op. 19 (Rostropovich and Horowitz) was example of perfect playing.
The cycle of songs Dichterliebe Op. 48 Robert Schumann composed for the lyrics by Heinrich Heine. This is one of most exacting romantic song cycles. And Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau maintains it with purity and lightness. His conception is clear and his voice sounds perfect in pair with accompanying him Vladimir Horowitz. Also Bach’s Concerto D Minor for Two Violins BWV 1043 with Yehudi Menuhin, Issac Stern and Leonard Bernstein playing harpsichord and conducting orchestra can satisfied the connoisseur. But what gives the listener the vision of the whole evening? When after Tchaikovsky’s Pater Noster sung by The Oratorio Society directed by Lyndon Woodside, in performance of Alleluia from Handel's oratorio The Messiah the whole collective of soloists engaged in this evening joined the choir. And even if it looks like an occasion to listen to Horowitz, Bernstein and Stern singing along, it is worthy to remember this recording as an perfect example of promoting a social activity.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Captain Beefheart – Bluejeans & Moonbeams

Captain Beefheart or better we should say Don Van Vliet is the personality occupying more than one level of creative efforts not only in performing arts. He was influential person in American fine arts market. Being a child prodigy in sculpture, authoring a great bunch of recognized and highly valued works of visual arts he is known all over the world under his stage nickname Captain Beefheart. He is recognizable worldwide as bluesman, vocalist and harmonica player and the leader of his own group – The Magic Band. His records are the most radical and modern continuation of delta blues and progressive rock implementations of folk blues and roots music from American heritage. Except his avant-garde accomplishments, courageous experiments with linguistic poetry and deconstructing popular music, except he has overcame postmodern dilemmas yet in end of ’60s, sometimes he was just a pop blues singer.
Captain Beefheart came out from electric folk blues. One of  his masters was Howlin’ Wolf and this is why Beefheart’s Magic Band ’60s recordings – Safe as Milk (1967), Strictly Personal (1968) or Mirror Man (1971) sound like they were continuation of electric blues style. Some of his works, especially Trout Mask Replica (1969) sounded more like protopunk or progmetal and they were as progressive as they can be, which means they never have too many listeners. After series of radical recordings Don Van Vliet decided to issue two records in quite popular, rhythm and blues style. It’s just like he wanted to say something less comprehensive and of general meaning for people who don’t have enough nerve to listen Ella guru while keep on driving.


Captain Beefheart – Bluejeans & Moonbeams (1974)


The 1974 record Bluejeans & Moonbeams was an opportunity to show the new face of the artist, more popular and society oriented. Don Van Vliet sings and plays harmonica. The Magic Band were Dean Smith on guitar and bottleneck guitar, Ira Ingber on bass, on keyboard instruments Michael Smootherman, Mark Gibbons, Jimmy Caravan, on drums Gene Pello and on percussion instruments Ty Grimes. Also in Observatory Crest played basist Bob West and some musicians sang back vocals. Cover painting and concept author was Don’s cousin Victor Haydon, aka The Mascara Snake.
The concept of this program is close to popular rhythm and blues productions of early ’70s. Altough author of most songs was Don Van Vliet, there are two covers – Same Old Blues by J. J. Cale and Captains Holiday by The Tractors. Back vocals, soft and mild accompaniments, simple harmonics, schematic rhythm section and permanent weakness of instrumental solos makes this record little off the Beefheart's style. Some critics say it is „the worst Beefheart album” (Justin Sherill) and „you can live without this one” (Graham Johnston), but this opinions seem to be little too anachronistic. It’s good to remember this record was made in time of winding down the progressive scene. Even the greatest musicians like Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp, groups like King Crimson, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd or Yes had this time their worse moments. Some progressive musicians resigned or turn back to the straight rock. Only great personalities were able to resist and reconfigure their art to meet expectations of ambitious listeners.


*   *   *
Saturday evening, sitting in the café and talking about next year festival, I received a text message that was so urgent in its simplicity, I found it more as a kind of illusive provocative artifact. It just said „Beefheart is gone” so my friends and me, we were quite unable to understand this simple information. Maybe we were thinking, we all are dying with every minute and nobody will be eternally alive. Every obituary says more about living  itself than about those who are gone. I am aware this short remembrance says more about me, than about the artist or even his record. And I hope it is understandable, while it is not only about myself but also about whole group of my friends. Next morning I was so unsure of what happened, I took a record with the first song  of Captain Beefheart which came to my mind. It was Further than We’ve Gone – the second song from the B-side of the 1974 Virgin record Bluejeans & Moonbeams. Unexpectedly, this song revealed a quite new denotation. And this is what gives poetry its point.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki - Polish Requiem

In late 1970s it became clear that Krzysztof Penderecki has turned to neoromanticism. The public opinion received this turn as a meaningful gesture towards tradition and against progress-focused contemporary culture. The profound meaning of this attitude was strongly visible in the era of changes, when political and economical stabilization in end of decade has run to an end. In Poland, after strikes, the rise of Solidarity and political collapse of the system, a quite new context for new music was established. And social acceptance of new traditional style was bigger than anybody could expect.
Two months after victorious workers’ strikes, Penderecki received historical order. The monument of shipyard workers killed in 1970 was going to be unveiled in Gdansk December 1980. For this ceremony composer wrote Lacrimosa. After the death of the Polish primate cardinal Stefan Wyszyński in May 1981, in few hours Penderecki wrote Agnus Dei for choir a cappella. It was performed for the first time during the funeral in St. John Cathedral in Warsaw. These pieces became the two parts of his newly planned work. The next two movements which the composer wrote for the cycle were Dies irae, devoted to 40th anniversary of Warsaw Uprising, and Libera me, Domine in memoriam of Katyń victims.  The premiere performance of the complete Polish Requiem took place in Stuttgart, September 28th, 1984 under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich.

Krzysztof Penderecki - Polish Requiem

In April 1985 Polish Requiem has been recorded in Center of Arts in Katowice. Performance was successful and was recorded under the direction of Antoni Wit, who was an alumnus of Krzysztof Penderecki's composition class. The performing team was the best possible of this time. Soloists Jadwiga Gadulanka, Jadwiga Rappé, Henryk Grychnik and Carlo Zardo, two Krakow choirs: Radio-Television and Philharmonic and Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice joined the top quality performing body. Dramatic tension and monumental construction of the Polish Requiem are features which made impact on public acceptance.
Musical form of Polish Requiem is in close relations with the order of missa pro defunctis. Traditional construction of mass for the dead was based on contrasting comparison of lamentations alternated by dramatic movements pointing visions of the last judgment. Krzysztof Penderecki gave this composition clear message. The most dramatic and moving fragment of the whole cycle is Recordare where lyrical lamentation in Latin is sung along with Polish supplication Święty Boże, Święty mocny (Holy Lord, Holy and Mighty). This culmination point is so much affecting on listener because of the double musical narration. Themes to the Latin text and Polish religious song come together in form of passacaglia. The supplication I have mentioned before is based on Polish religious song which is singing while the moments of peculiar threat. The same motive returns in final part Libera animas and it is clearly a prayer for his country.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Live at Kimball’s

   Transmissions and registrations of live performances were factors that made jazz so perfectly fitting for the radio and gramophone records. Since first live appearance in 1954, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers were registered on dozens of great live recordings. At this point it is good to recall one of first live recording commercially published in history of the jazz. It was A Night at Birdland from February 1954, signed The Art Balkey Quintet, with Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell. For series of historic Jazz Messengers’ live gigs, becoming one of basic lines in the history of modern jazz, we should include this live recording of evening at Kimball’s in San Francisco on April 13, 1985. This time Art Blakey was in sextet with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, alto saxophone player Donald Harrison, pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and Jean  Toussaint playing the tenor saxophone. As more than dozen Jazz Messengers lineups before it was again the group of young and very young musicians – three of them were 25, Blanchard was 24 and Miller was 30. Record was published in 1986 by Concord label (CJ-307). 

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Live at Kimball’s

   The unquestionable star of Messengers was always Art Blakey. His drive, magnetism and artistic attitude was so attracting for musicians playing with Messengers, it became legendary. In 1885 he was 66, but thank to his young friends he was still active and creative musician. His solo in Jody is so vital as it can be definition of modern jazz drumming. His great intuition helped him to choose the best young personalities. This lineup has two highly promising young artists: pianist Mulgrew Miller and trumpet player Terence Blanchard. And both of them could be easily called the leader of this incorporation of Jazz Messengers idea.
   Mulgrew Miller is very flexible artist. The performance published on this record has been recorded when he was at his thirties. Still young but yet independent, possesing technical knowledge but still creative.  Maybe this is why his piano technique was so close to the masters techniques, especially to the one by Oscar Peterson but in the same moment so personal and searching. Even at this point Miller’s playing was slightly more modal and harmonically progressive. Miller’s solo in Jody makes good work for the whole Messengers’ performance. Profound sound and subtle phrasing gave him position of the starring pianist and maybe the proper place for him was to be the leader of the Messengers. On second side of the album he plays solo Old Folks, and in You and the Night and the Music he is joined by basist Lonnie Plaxico and Art Blakey. Third song of the B-side, Polka Dots and Moonbeams is opened by solo Terence Blanchard, the theme is played by duo – trumpet and piano, and then with whole section. Stable, well build trumpet solo leaves no doubts – Terrence Blanchard is a star of this formation. And he really is, playing prodigious and with unforgettable sound. 
   In last piece, written by former Messenger Jackie McLean bop theme, Dr. Jekyl, whole sextet is back to a main stream of hard bop. Literal citation of Giant Steps in Donald Harrison's alto-saxophone solo once again points for the main idea of this music. And Mulgrew Miller gives next great brilliant solo in his style somewhere between Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner. After all, one can wait for the closing solo by Blakey but after short reprise this track comes to the end. First it can be a little bit disappointed but then we can ask if this wasn't the sign of the time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jazz Inspired Piano Compositions

Decades before jazz became ambitious and sophisticated stream of music for connoisseurs, when it was still a dance style strongly linked with night life and casinos, some composers pay attention to possibilities of improvisation as a medium forming an expression. One of greatest composers, Maurice Ravel was under great impression of technical and artistic possibilities he found in new dance music. In 1975 the leading Czech label Supraphon published the double album of piano music influenced by jazz. The collection of works by nine composers in interpretations of five pianists was a kind of the homage to inspiring power of early jazz music. Program of this album has been recorded in performances by Peter Toperczer, Jan Vrána, Emil Leichner, Jan Marcol and Miloš Mikula.

Jazz Inspired Piano Compositions

The French composers took place on the opening of this collection. Claude Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk (No. 6 from Children’s Corner Suite) is well known as semi-popular piece. In context of popular European dance music remain two cycles: Eric Satie’s Jack in the Box and Georges Auric’s foxtrot Adieu, New York! Also the cycle of Jazz Piano Preludes by George Gershwin, though it is still deep-rooted in romantic ideas, gives quite new glance to the bounds of early 20th century concert music with the jazz. In style of French composers remains works by Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff. And he is the only author presented by two cycles: Esquisses de jazz and Rag Music
Connecting to ideas draw from jazz music gave hope of reviving music in times of anti-romantic breakthrough. Almost ideal example is Suite “1922” op. 26 by Paul Hindemith. Interesting solution of creative dilemmas is the cycle Four Piano Blues by Aaron Copland. It has been based on a few idiomatic motifs, thus harmonic language is free of function tensions. Connection with blues in title of Copland’s cycle refers to emotional contents and characteristics of this style. Modern in style and in formal foundations are also Préludes by Bohuslav Martinů and American Suite for Two Pianos by Emil František Burian. These two Czech composers are closer to after-war jazz and third-stream experiments.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Art Blakey & The New Jazz Messengers – Buttercorn Lady

   The great legend of modern jazz, be-bop drummer and stage personality Art Blakey has a great gift to find extremely talented musicians. Maybe it has something to do with luck but one can explain it in more rational way as attracting young musicians by creative personality of the leader. No matter how we try to rationalize this phenomenon, the fact is The Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and later The New Jazz Messengers was the place for developing their musical ideas for more than sixty musicians, whom Messengers gave the solid base to successful future. Leading his band mostly as a classical quintet lineup with trumpet, saxophone, piano and double bass but sometimes as sextet with trombone or guitar, Art Blakey has an idea of encouraging young artists, thus his band outlast for more than three dacades. 

Art Blakey & The New Jazz Messengers – Buttercorn Lady

   Recorded live in January 1966 and published the same year by Limelight (LS-86034), The Buttercorn Lady is much more than one of dozens of Art Blakey’s Messengers records. The first reason is the unique lineup with young jazzmen Chuck Mangione and Keith Jarrett. Short period of their service in Blakey’s quintet was surprisingly fruitful. Mangione is skillfully hard-boping and lyrical, Jarrett is amazingly classical in technique and in harmonic style. This attitude shortly had to become a standard as a new sensitivity in ’60s and later. Frank Mitchell is playing tenor saxophone with imagination and efficiency. Basist Reggie Workman and Art Blakey are in close connection as good rhythm section. Six pieces – three pieces on every side of the record – can convince this was great jazz event. And thanks to the record it still is. Original edition was extremely hard to buy so it was in next years reissued by label Tripp Jazz (TLP 5505). 
   The opening tune is the real jewel thus probably gave the title for whole album – bright and full of warm feelings with surprizingly light Jarrett’s solo, Buttercorn Lady is like a virtuoso miniature, short and intense. Complex and vibrant solos give second piece Recuerdo a listener a chance to enter into the atmosphere of Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach in January 1966. In The Theme, which is closing the A-side, trumpeter and saxophonist are holding the theme in dialogue and punctuating over the piano solo. Last piece on this side is the brace with the first tune at once an example of unique understanding and natural collaboration between Mangione and Mitchel and again short but still fresh and witty solo of Keith Jarrett. Second side is more hard-bop but still incorporating some brilliant ideas. Solos are as serious as good. In Between Races Mangione has a chance for solo improvisation in extremely hot style while in My Romance he plays lyrical and poetic phrases. He uses wide range of trumpet expression. Blakey is more modern than anytime before. In Secret Love musicians one more time confirm their possibilities of building deeply sensible, narrative and meaningful vision.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki – Symphony No 3 Op. 36

Third Symphony by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, widely known as The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is one of most important works of the last quarter of 20th century. Composed in autumn 1976, it became one of turning points in the newest history of music. Before this moment music including external meanings was out-of-fashion. Composers of three after-war decades were trying to oppose against music at the service of ideology by apply to the idea of musica pura. But after the great rise of serialism and sonorism, after decades of creating avant-garde intellectual formulas, comes discouragement. In mid ’70s, group of modern composers decided to turn back to the melodic and harmonic roots of European music. Amid many ways of anti-avant-gardism, return to romantic idioms in modernity had long tradition since Gustav Mahler, Alexander Zemlinsky or Charles Ives to Oliver Messiaen, Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. And this way was looking exceptionally effective. In Poland the one of very few was Henryk Mikołaj Górecki. But before his Symphony No. 3 became well known all over the world, criticism of mainstream media was huge. 

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki – Symphony No 3 Op. 36

The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs was composed for the commision of Radio Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden and premiered at the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Royan by Südwestfunk Orchestra with soprano Stefania Woytowicz under the direction of Ernest Bour on April 4th, 1977. None of renowned critics gives this work positive opinion and in many reviews it was just crushed. One year later in May 1978 this work was recorded by Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice with the same soloist Stefania Woytowicz and conducted by Jerzy Katlewicz. Record has been published in 1980 by Polskie Nagrania – Muza (SX 1648). Critics didn't notice the values of this work until 1985, when Maurice Pialat used fragments of Górecki's Symphony in soundtrack to movie Police. Subsequently radio stations begin to play this record with success. In 1992 in Nonesuch Records came out second recording of The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs recorded by David Zinman with Dawn Upshow and London Sinfonietta and became an immediate hit, with over one million copies sold.
Structure of Symphony No. 3 consist of three songs. 1st Song Lento, Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile is a canon based on folk theme from Kurpie region. Middle section of this part is soprano lamentation - lyrics came from 15th century codex found in Holly Cross Monastery in Łysa Góra.  For litany in Song No. 2 Lento e Largo composer used the praying scratched by a girl prisoner on the wall of Gestapo prison in Zakopane during the war. 3rd Song Lento cantabile - semplice is variation of folk lamentation from Opole region. Górecki used very small amount of resources in this work. His style was always minimalist, but this work is compromise between modern language and traditional form. Archaic timbre and religious connections give this work unusual strength and change minimalistic limitations into highly effective rules of organizing musical form.

*

After many months of heavy illness, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki died November the 12th, 2010, leaving over eighty works of  modern, sometimes avantgarde, though very legible music. In youngest period his works were avantgarde and serialistic the same manner as the works of many other composers of this time. Then in second period he abandon the formal and intellectual complexity thus his music became readable and highly valued by the audience. He is known mainly for his choral works in which he joints economy of resources and emotional intensity. Nonetheless his work is still under critical pressure of those critics who believe they known better than anybody else what and why is worth to hear.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pavlina Dokovska plays Chopin and Liszt

   The sonata form after long evolution in second half of 18th century became more than one of classical forms, it was itself a foundation of classical style. So it is quite obvious the romantic era made out-of-date four movement sonata. In the half of the nineteenth century it was the form obsolete as well in form as in idea. Among many instrumental settings piano sonata  as an exceptional case. Piano occupied central position in lounge rooms of the epoch and stayed the main instrument in romantic music. Using the romantic manner some of their sonatas composed Franz Schubert (the last three sonatas composed in Sept. 1928) and Ludwig van Beethoven (some sonatas from his later period, esp. No 23 F Minor Op. 57 “Appassionata”, No 26 E-flat Major Op. 81a “Les Adieux” and No 32 C Minor Op. 111). Later classical sonata form became the subject of so many changes that sometimes it is not easy to find consequence or continuation of classical idea in the sequence of compositions.
   This was the time for song-like instrumental miniatures with domination of melody or fantasy-like, loose and improvising romantic forms, just like in Ferenc Liszt’s Fantasia quasi sonata “After Reading of Dante”. Nevertheless there had been created some great sonatas in post-Beethoven times. In history of music high position took sonatas composed by Fryderyk Chopin (esp. No 2 B-flat Minor Op. 35 and No 3 B Minor Op.58), Edvard Grieg (Piano Sonata in E Minor Op. 7), Ferenc Liszt (esp. Piano sonata in B Minor), Felix Mendelssohn (3 sonatas for piano – E Major, G Minor and B-flat Major), Sergei Rachmaninoff (2 Sonatas D Minor and B-flat Minor) and Robert Schumann (3 sonatas with No 3 F Minor op.14 “Concerto Without Orchestra”). It is still possible to trace some formal connections with sonata form in freely constructed romantic works.

Pavlina Dokovska - Chopin and Liszt Sonatas

   Pavlina Dokovska is Bulgarian and American pianist who achieved many successes as performing artist. She studied in Sofia with Julia and Konstantin Ganev, then in Paris with Yvonne Lefebure and in Julliard School where she achieved her MM degree as student of Beveridge Webster. She recorded for RCA, Koch International, Arcadia, Elan and Gega New. She is also well known for music fans all over the world from brilliant live performances on philharmonic halls and festival stages so well as for her perfect recordings. Her repertoire is much wider than general concert routine. She is a specialist of big romantic and modern forms combining intellectual and virtuoso elements. For example her 2007 recording with Vladimir Ghiaurov conducting Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra encloses three piano concertos by Liszt (1st), Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Prokofiev (1st).


*     *     *

   Some time ago I have published review on Pavlina Dokovska’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto C Major. It was shortly after her first great international success – the solo recital in Carnegie Hall. And from this years came the very interesting vinyl record of the pianist. It has been pressed by Bulgarian label Balkanton and as I know, it is the premiere recording of her art, which remains the great achievement of young pianist. The two Sonatas stating opposite sides of the début album by Pavlina Dokovska are crucial point in romantic sonata history: Chopin’s Sonata B-flat Minor op. 35 and Liszt’s Sonata B Minor (1853) are strong opposition against classical form. Whole new feeling and sensitivity marked with loosely form and intuitive discipline made this two works the famous romantic compositions which represent extreme requirements – both technical and musical. And it is always great experience for listener to hear how pianist can deal with such assignment putting together intellect and intuition.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Randy Newman’s Born Again

Sixth album of Randy Newman occurred a little bit weaker presentation than its predecessors: Little Criminals and especially earlier Good Old Boys. Trying to continue the pattern with provocative song on opening of the A side, Randy Newman placed on first row the real apotheosis of money. Trying to convince listeners the love for money is as good as love for anything else… and sometimes even better, he noticed he doesn’t love Jesus. In second chorus he says: They say that's money / Can't buy love in this world / But it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine / And a sixteen-year old girl / And a great big long limousine / On a hot September night / Now that may not be love / But it is all right. If somebody was still unsure about Randy’s intentions, this exposure can help to see this work as a regular iconoclastic.
Released in August 1979, album was a quite good attempt to bring Newman’s songs closer to the rock style. This time the choice of rock was meaningful gesture against the culture of the discotheque and pop culture. Despite how excellent musical setting is, this time songs doesn’t rock as firmly as these from Newman’s earlier recordings. His attitude is still sarcastic and mocking. In one of best works he is satirically mythologizing career of pop music band Electric Light Orchestra (The Story of Rock and Roll Band).

Randy Newman’s Born Again

Not like in Good Old Boys it is hard to find the second bottom for this songs. Many of them are just wider continuation of personal misfits stories from Little Criminals. Like those in closing the A-side They Just Got Married. The same as before Newman’s sense of humor is presenting by Spies, a document of still alive in ’70s suspiciousness against undercover agents of foreign special forces. Sometimes he is just a serious songwriter, sensitive to social problems and honest in his endeavours. In the lack of mercy, Kiss-like-painted Randy just gives us a hint how not to be merciful. And this makes him a Vonnegut of popular song. His consequence in breaking the clichés can convince, that Randy Newman is one of greatest songwriters of our times. Even if it’s hard to find any reason to take too seriously this production, full of witty lyrics and well balanced instrumental parts are enough good to save Born Again in memory.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition - 1980

The International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition takes place in Warsaw since 1927. Promotion of great composer’s legacy was the leading idea for the group of musicians concentrate around prof. Jerzy Żurawlew. Although the source idea of competition came out from his teacher in Warsaw Conservatory prof. Alexander Michałowski, Żurawlew was the one who taken whole duties onto his shoulders. There were two basic aims of this festival – to connect various Chopin interpreters from all over the world and to preserve romantic way of playing Chopin’s music. 
First editions of the Warsaw Chopin Competitions became the great festival of romantic culture. Some participants were more amateurs than professional artists, but still it was significant event in European music. After series of extremely talented laureates – Maurizio Pollini in 1960, Martha Argerich in 1965, Garrick Ohlsson in 1970 and Krystian Zimerman in 1975, became clear that artists who wins are almost automatically the personalities of international scale. It is not an incident, Deutsche Grammophone is signing recording contracts with 1st Prize winners of every edition of Warsaw Chopin Competition.

Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition 1980 Sound Chronicle

Side effect of growing denotation of International Chopin Competition were increasing doubts about who should be the winner and how objective was the verdict. Since 1980 few editions of the competition rouses controversies and turbulent discussion on jury’s verdict. It took place once in press, then in radio and television and nowadays goes on internet forums. Probably this is the best way for expressing social concern and deep emotional relationship with Chopin’s music. But still the best way is to listen every competitor personally and if it’s impossible, it’s good to listen at least these who’s recordings were marked out and published on one of the chronicle records. 
On series of recordings with 1980 Sound Chronicle we can find very interesting in it’s ideas and well balanced performances of Chopin’s sonatas played by Arutyun Papazyan (Sonate B-flat Minor, Op. 35) and Tatyana Shebanova (Sonate B Minor, Op. 58). Also some smaller pieces played by a group of pianists on far places – Ewa Pobłocka (who has taken 5th place with Akiko Ebi – ex aequo et bono) and two ex aequo et bono 6th prizewinners – Irina Pietrowa and Eric Berchot. Also some artists out of official ranking: Angela Hewitt, Bernard d’Ascoli, William Wolfram. Some recordings from the 1980 Chopin Competition Chronicle has been published in next years in bigger choices. This means the complete of live recordings of 1st Prize winner Dang Thai Son and two volumes of live recordings by Ivo Pogorelic who was favorite artist of the audience and the legend in next years. In ’80s there was also republished the album with collected competition appearances by William Wolfram.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fryderyk Chopin's Greatest Hits

A great number of performances is the hallmark of Frederic Chopin’s music. And the reason for such appreciation is not the same as for Vivaldi’s Le Quattro staggioni or Handel’s Watermusic. There is a big bunch of beloved pieces in Chopin’s catalogue, and looking for any favorites does not make too much sense. It’s hard to find in Chopin’s oeuvre these few works which are not bestsellers. This is why pianists who play Chopin’s music have to be so flexible.  Beside of romantic stylistic idiom Chopin’s music is polyphonic and disciplined as Bach’s studies. And that was the basic repertoire Polish composer was playing while his everyday rehearsal routine. It is worth to remember that, to train his hands, young Chopin was playing what Johann Sebastian Bach had written as the examples of teaching composing techniques. Within many qualities most are common for Bach’s and Chopin’s music, but one differentiate them firmly. Interpretations of Chopin’s pieces are like snowflakes – it is impossible to find two identical ones – both, in idea or in realization. This is by the way one of the greatest features of his music. 

Chopin's Greatest Hits

Maybe the craziest thing one can do is choosing greatest hits out of Chopin’s legacy. And even more crazy is to include in such choice a big variety of unoriginal arrangements. The Columbia label produced in 1969 in a Masterworks series (ML 5442 and MS 7506) a sellection of original and orchestrated Chopin’s hits. Later this edition was reprinted in CBS Harmony series (S 30005). Only three pieces are recorded in the original piano versions – these are Minute Waltz in D-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1, Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 and Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op. 53 in great performances by Philippe Entremont. Two pieces arranged for symphony orchestra were recorded by Andre Kostelanetz conducting The New York Philharmonic (Military Polonaise, Op. 40, No. 1) and The Columbia Symphony (Etude in E-Major, Op. 10, No. 3). The other six pieces arranged for symphonic orchestra were recorded by The Philadelphia Orchestra under direction of Eugene Ormandy. These are Waltz in D-Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1, Mazurka in D Major, Op. 33, No. 2, Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2, Waltz In G-Flat Major, Prelude in A Major, Op. 28, No. 7 and Grande Valse Brillante in E-Flat Major. Arrangement credits are not complete – they were included only in references for two pieces (Nocturne in E-Flat Major and Etude in E-Major) and they indicate that these pieces had been rewritten for orchestra by Arthur Harris. And even if it still looks crazy, orchestral versions sound quite good. Sometimes even much better than works of some other romantic composers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Alexander Brailowsky plays Chopin's Preludes op. 28

   One of the best interpreters of Chopin’s works was Alexander Brailowsky (1896-1976). He was born in Kiev in a family of a professional pianist who gave him first lessons. As 15-years-old he finished Kiev Conservatory with gold medal and continued his studies in classes of Theodore Leschetizky in Vienna, Ferruccio Busoni in Zürich and Francis Planté in Paris. He specialized in performing Chopin’s music and shortly he became famous as virtuoso and a great interpreter.
   Brailowsky has programmed Chopin’s 160 pieces for performance in cycle of six public gigs. For the first time in history he played the complete cycle of Chopin’s works in 1924. Then he had played further 30 events of this kind in various locations, Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Montevideo. After his outstanding debut in Aeolian Hall in New York in 1924 he became frequent guest in United States of America. He played the cycle of Chopin’s complete works also during 1936 coast-to-coast tour. After years he repeated this event in New York, Brussels and Paris in 1960 for 150 anniversary of Chopin birth. In 1926 he settled in Paris and became naturalized citizen in France, but later he stayed in US where he was living in New York and collecting clocks.

Alexander Brailowsky - Chopin - Preludes

   Taalking about playing Chopin’s music, Brailowsky once said, the pianist technique should be “fluent, fluid, delicate, airy, and capable of great variety of color”. This attitude is clear the base for his interpretations of 24 Preludes op.28. He reads Chopin’s intentions in virtuoso manner, more to amaze and move than affect or incline to fantasize. He captures the cycle as a whole, splitting it into eight mini-cycles. First three cycles contain four preludes each. Two preludes go in pair (Nos. 13 and 14) and one (No. 15) stands alone. And then comes sequence of three cycles three preludes each which are completing the opus. Maybe it is only the side-effect of organizing the material on the record plate into four easy to reach parts on each side, but this split has its musical sense.
   This is very fortunately, the timeless art of Alexander Brailowsky can be judged nowadays thanks to the series of recordings he made for RCA-Victor in ‘30s. And recordings of Preludes after over 70 years still sound fresh and bright. Besides this significant achievement of 24 Preludes the recorded collection of Brailowsky’s Chopiniana includes also The Complete Mazurkas in two volumes, The Complete Etudes, Waltzes, Nocturnes in two volumes, Polonaises, Concerto No. 1 and A Chopin Recital. On some other records one can also hear him playing Liszt’s 15 Hungarian Rhapsodies and Rachmaninoff’s Piano concerto No.2, but even short look onto his discography shows the main subject of his artistic activity was the interpretation of Chopin’s works.

Postscriptum: Tittle of the edition is misleading. This is not the complete collection of the Preludes written by Chopin. It should be entitled just Preludes op.28. Because there are two more preludes he wrote – first one composed earlier in 1834 – Prélude a mon ami Pierre Wolff, and last one Prelude op. 45 from 1841.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů – Rhapsody-Concerto; Piano Sonata

   In autumn of one’s life the lack of inspiration may be cause of repeating some ideas and even autoplagiarism. Some composers in their last years finishing creative attempts and retire of active musical life. But sometimes the late creative period means the best quality of freely and innovative works. For Bohuslav Martinů, this was the time for more open and creative viewing of many achievements from various moments of the European tradition and his own history. His, so called „fantasia period” was the time for loosing neoclassical formal bounds and constructing his works in more natural way. In his late years, he composed a great quantity of works which in emotional shape were precisely following spiritual and intellectual temperature of its times.
   It’s important to keep in mind Martinů was already well known composer when he wrote two major works of his last years – Rhapsody-Concerto and Piano Sonata. The Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra has been composed in 1952 – the last year of composer’s residency in United States. This is not typical set of concerto cycle. After five years of following the neoclassic formulas, Martinů submitted work in form of the double-part construction with lyric Moderato and more concertante in style second part Molto adagio ended in elegiac mood. It was sudden turn out of both neoclassic stylistics and traditional concerto form. Viola’s parts are warmth and fervour – lyric than firm. And whole concerto is about to be the reverse of baroque form, with its sequence of slow and fast movements ended by slow episode. Also Sonata for piano is one of most popular works by Martinů. The work has been composed for Rudolf Serkin in 1954 when after return from America composer and his wife were staying in Nice, France.

Martinů – Viola Rhapsody-Concerto, Piano Sonata (1979)

   Sonata for piano is more radical in expression, harmonics and in musical style than Rhapsody-Concerto. Based on dynamic and texture contrasts Sonata can be seen as a some kind of a test for technical and musical maturity. In Panton five recording series of Bohuslav Martinů legacy under the head ŽIVOT, DÍLO, MYŠLENKY, the performer of Sonata is pianist František Malý. On the same record (Panton 8110 0024) in Rhapsody-Concerto one can hear viola player Lubomír Malý and Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Václav Smetáček. This recording was also published on the monographic album of viola player Lubomír Malý. The record cover exposes the portrait of Paganini painted by František Tichý.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Randy Newman's Little Criminals

Three years after a great success of the album Good Old Boys, in October 1977 Randy Newman decided to premiere his sixth album Little Criminals. Previous successes made him well known all over the word as a singing pianist, stage personality and eccentric songwriter. In new project he has continued with more courage the idea of concept album. And this time the whole issue was more a set of songs which are loosely bounded by the idea of general depravity, than a traditional cycle of songs. The leading idea is to expose the gallery of immoral characters – not the great malefactors, rather small crooks we meet in everyday life. And the Little Criminals became the highest-charting album by Randy Newman.
Despite this the conception of Little Criminals sometimes looks less clear than in previous recording. It may seem more hermetic because songs are changing it’s style and every next song differs not only in musical idea but also in style of lyrics and subject’s point of view. Perverse in sense of humor and in cultural context Little Criminals gave us a view to an American failures and mistakes but still made easy to identify with the heroes of the songs.

Randy Newman's Little Criminals

This time Randy Newman was set as a star of pop music, accompanied by very good sidemen and even by back vocals of musicians from the popular group Eagles. One song Baltimore was heavily quoted. Vision of dying city where “ain't nothin' for free”  and “ain't nowhere to run to” was in times of recession especially bearing. Covers of Baltimore have been recorded by Nina Simone, The Tamlins and Nils Lofgren. And more popularity means more unprepared listeners. In first song of the album Newman begun text with the phrase “short people got no reason to live” and it became immediately famous as an aim of many protests against alleged cruelty of song lyrics and its author. Of course such accusation can be only an effect of misunderstanding the idea of whole work. Anyway Little Criminals album close many sarcastic, than poetic moods. And even if from this perspective new songs sometimes are not enough clear or maybe sometimes contain some personal connotations, this album is still enough distanced and critical against social reality to be comprised in genre of satiric rock.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki – Jutrznia

Born in 1933, Krzysztof Penderecki was first composer in after war generation, who has emancipated from dictatorship of avant-gardism. In mid seventies his style evolved and reach the point close to post-romantic stylistic idiom. Seventies and than eighties were the decades many listeners became weary of conceptual and experimental music. And so did composers who were more and more isolated in close circle of contemporary festivals and workshops. Considerable group of composers was looking for the ways to reunite with the audience expectations. But still it was a kind of surprise when after period of short and formally simple compositions, Penderecki turned towards great cycle-forms leaning on polyphonic structures and traditional narrative ideas of musical construction.
In predominant majority of critical studies, this turn marks second period of Penderecki’s creative output, but from perspective of few next decades it looks like consistent process of creating his own and highly legible style. After St. Luke’s Passion (1965) and Dies irae (1967) he composed two part oratorio Orthros (sometimes called Matins but best know from original Polish Jutrznia or in Old Church Slavonic Утреня). Based on Orthodox canonical prayers of Great Saturday and Sunday oratorio consists of two parts – The Entombment of Christ and The Resurrection of Christ. Oratorio finished in 1971 together with composed five years earlier Passion according to St. Luke forms a Holy Week triptych. Composer was planning and preparing for this piece many years before. Looking for inspiration he studied rites of various Orthodox churches and sects as well the connection between them and religious works of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Especially Bulgarian spiritual heritage became significant experience in composer’s research.

Krzysztof Penderecki – Jutrznia

Oratorio Jutrznia or Утреня – the major work of Polish composer was also the great recording project in early ’70s. The Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Markowski was good basis for National Philharmonic Choir and Polish Pioneer Choir. Vocal parts, especially massive choral entries are crucial factor in sonoristic structures of first oratorios written in ’60s by Krzysztof Penderecki. Narrative functions were carried mainly by soloists, so this made essential the presence of wide set of solo voices. In this performance took part sopranos Delfina Ambroziak and Stefania Woytowicz, mezzosoprano Krystyna Szczepańska, tenor Kazimierz Pustelak basses Włodzimierz Denysenko and Bernard Ładysz as well as bassi profondi Boris Carmeli and Peter Lagger.  The double album was published in 1971 (Muza - Polskie Nagrania SX 889-890) and become the cornerstone of composer’s international career. In next decades this recording was reedited for digital media, and widely cited.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki - Passio et mors domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam

   Krzysztof Penderecki became famous in his twenties. Shortly after completing studies in classes of great Polish composers Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz, he gained recognition as a representative of the Polish post-war avant-garde. His debut came about time of breakthrough after 1956 and rejection of socialist realism esthetic standards – finished his studies in 1958, one year later he won three first prizes in competition of Polish Composers Union. Being one of youngest in the group of composers grown after the war, he was as radical as focused on exploring newest formal ideas and possibilities of new sonority. Primarily his creative output in Poland and in whole Europe was mainly judged as experimental. Limited role of the melodic and harmonics, as well as the subordination of other elements to an individual concept of organizing musical narration, determined his original, highly personal composing style, which quickly paved the way for success in whole world’s stage.
   The first period in the artistic work of Krzysztof Penderecki brought such works as Emanations (1958), Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960), Anaklasis (1960), Polymorphia (1961) and Psalmus “1961” for voice and tape (1961). The second period is marked by some more frequent references to traditional forms especially oratorios and opera, which allowed the composer to deepen his search on the basis of sonoristic technique. The first oratorio was Passio et mors domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam (St. Luke’s Passion) which he composed in years 1963-1965, having been commissioned by the Westdeutsche Rundfunk for the 700th anniversary of Münster Cathedral. The same place in March 30, 1966 the mighty work of young Polish composer had its world premiere.

Krzysztof Penderecki - St. Luke's Passion (1966)

   Next performances took place in Kraków – in Philharmonic Hall and in the courtyard of Polish kings’ castle Wawel. This set of musicians was recorded and published on double album by company Muza – Polskie Nagrania (SX 0325-0326). Though this recording is highly underrated it still has a great impact in Polish artistic life. Soprano Stefania Woytowicz, baritone Andrzej Hiolski and bass Bernard Ładysz were most appreciated singers for decades. The list of solo voices feels out the profound reciting voice of actor Leszek Herdegen and featured as one mighty instrument boys and men groups of the Cracow Philharmonic Chorus prepared by Janusz Przybylski and Józef Suwara. Immense group of voices and Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra were conducted by Henryk Czyż, who was one of brightest Polish artists, conductor, writer, teacher  and popular TV personality.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů – Symphony No. 4, Sonata for Flute and Piano

Bohuslav Martinů is a composer of 6 symphonies, which he became to create in his fifties. Five of his six symphonies come into being in the time of composer’s exile during 2nd world war and in first years after the war – First in 1942 to Fifth in 1946. There is no doubt, this set is crowning of Martinů’s neoclassical period. Last symphony, Sixth, written 1953 and premiered in 1955, was titled Symfonické fantazie (Symphonic Fantasies) and its construction was rather free fantasy than typical symphonic form. The most  popular, clear in its idea and fresh in formal invention is Symphony No 4. This work is exceptional for its positive impact – Martinů completed his Fourth the 14th day of June, 1945.
This was most joyous time in whole history of his wartime exile. Nazi Germany were defeated, war was almost ended and his professional life was on the best way to success. Unsure how the future will look like, as many exiles, he was enthusiastic about upcoming months. This spirit predominate in the whole composition. Scherzo is the second part (Allegro vivo) and it is stormy hence intensive in emotional pressure. The dreamy trio makes impression of outward parts more catchy. Largo is masterpiece of dramatically marked stopping of narration. After the moment of reflection, final Poco allegro gives listener diverse communication content.
Next day after finishing his 4th Symphony, on June 15th 1945 Martinů begin to compose Sonata for flute and piano, one of most popular Sonatas in XX-century music. During spring of 1945 Bohuslav Martinů and his wife Charlotte were living in South Orleans on Cape Cod. One day they found in the garden injured bird. The bird appeared to be whippoorwill and after Martinů took care, cure, feed and thought him to fly, the bird stayed in the garden and was singing before the composers windows. This melody taken from the whippoorwill has been quoted by composer in his Flute Sonata.

Bohuslav Martinů – IV Symphony, Flute Sonata (1979)

These two compositions were recorded and published in 1979 (Panton 8110 0023) – Symphony No. 4 performed by Prague Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Jiři Bělohlávek and Sonata for Flute and Piano played by flutist Jiři Válek and pianist Josef Hála. On the cover editors used fragment of picturesque vision of The Desert painted by Alén Diviš who was close friends with Martinů when they were living in Paris before the war and later in New York. Friendship between artists is always important but that doesn’t mean their works are enough close to put them together. For two joyous and hopeful compositions set together on one record, probably any other picture would be more relevant than waste desert land. It's clear, this is a kind of cognitive counterpoint to show how deserted was the European continent in 1945. And there are indications some shadows of  this war will survive even our grief.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů - Double Concerto, Parables

Bohuslav Martinů was a prolific composer, an author of more than 400 works. And great amount of his opera were neoclassical in form and modern in content concerto pieces. His concertos became the field for searching the balance between expression and conceptual idea. One of supreme works among many Martinů’s concertos was Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani. This concerto is great closure of prewar period in composers life. He finished working on score of this three-part composition on September 29th 1938, the same day Germany, France, Britain and Italy signed the "Munich pact" permitting German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland and then whole country. This was the beginning moment of composer’s emigration, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Twenty years later in 1958 he wrote Paraboly (Parables), one of best works of his after war period. This poetic work focused on surrealistic connections of ideas, which makes it sounds more abstract than Double Concerto. Before the war Martinů was interested in jazz and in his compositions from this period jazz idioms were often the point of handling the creative work. After many years of teaching (his pupils were among many other composers Alan Hovhaness and Burt Bacharach) he was able to create his own, sometimes idiomatic, sometimes universal and generally polystylistic language. Paraboly is very universal in its firmly emotional an still abstractive narration. And it’s quite different than Double concerto. Both are three-part constructions but it’s hard to find more common form related issues. Despite of many differences both works correspond well on opposite sides of one record – both are dramatic and highly expressive.

Bohuslav Martinů - Double Concerto, Parables

In this recording (Panton 8110 0022) Double Concerto has been performed by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under direction of Stanislav Macura and Paraboly was played by Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Prague conducted by Zdeněk Košler. Cover art featured painter František Muzika and his Requiem. Surrealistic connection was often mentioned in context of Paraboly and whole fantasy period of Martinů’s creative output. Painter František Muzika was one of Czech surrealists and author of scenography to 1938 setting of Julietta – one of Martinů’s great opera successes in Prague.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů - Kytice

Bohuslav Martinů was probably the greatest Czech composer of XX century. He was born in Polička in 1990 and died in Liestal, Switzerland in 1959.  His style evolved in opposite direction from neoclassical forms to post-romantic idiom. Before the war he was continuing the tradition of romantic national Czech music. Cantata cycle Kytice (Bouquet of Flowers), connected directly to homeland folklore, was one of his best works. In fact, it was more syncretic fusion of modern solutions and elements of folklore than continuation of the school founded by Antonin Dvořak or Bedřich Smetana.
In 1979 Panton Records active in capital of former Czechoslovakian Republic issued a series of records with best known Martinů’s works. Set of five records has been opened by cycle Kytice (Panton 8112 0021). This cycle of works, composed to folk texts for mixed and children choirs, soloists and small orchestra, has been written in 1937. Performed by musicians of Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir and soloists – four singers, two pianists and one harmonium player under baton of Libor Pešek, these recordings became great opening of the series.

Bohuslav Martinů - Kytice
The record cover features Jan Zrzavý’s picture Krucemburk.  Jan Zrzavý was a famous Czech artist and a close friend of composer. This is why Martinů dedicated the whole cycle Kytice to Zrzavý. Vision of the town Krucemburk, where time slowly flows by and past meets the future in sleepy small marketplace, could be just an ideal background for creation of Martinů's work. The same way he is joining tradition and modernity.  Martinů made his cantata neoclassical in construction and its strong rhythms are close to the one used in Les Noces (The Wedding) by Igor Stravinsky. This connection is confirmed by using piano as a part of accompanying orchestra, which is characteristic not only for this cycle. In comparison to Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Martinů’s work is much more complex in using various sets of voices and instruments. In Kytice folk lyrics are the basis for creating simply and modern, strong and expressive picture of human joy and destiny.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yaacov Shapiro - The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs

   In the 1980s, after the movie Fiddler on the Roof became extremely popular in whole Europe, in many countries and societies came out the new wave of sentiments for Jewish culture. The same time many records in numerous countries were issued. After one thousand years period of peaceful coexistence which has been brutally finished in German death camps, Jewish community in Poland was largely destroyed. The dramatic acts of after-war pogroms and expulsion, that took place in 1968 under control of Communist party, made situation very hard. Although Jewish culture had no chance for place in official culture, it was still alive and in half underground created many important phenomena. And in many cases it was recognized mostly as Polish culture, eventually the one of Jewish origin.
   After 1978 Nobel Prize in litereture for Isaac Bashevis Singer, with every translation of his books more positive attitude towards Jewish culture was coming out. After translations of Singers prose (first from English) came more literary translations from Yiddish language and many of them were books printed in Poland before the war. Maybe this was the beginning of the returning to the consciousness of Jewish presence in Polish culture. But in popular culture situation was still not so good. Big part of society is not reading any books and especially artistic prose. The turning points became the movies – Polish production based on the book by Julian Stryjkowski Austeria (1982), East-German TV-series Hotel Polan und seine Gäste (1982) and much older Hollywood production of Fiddler on the Roof  from 1971 but shown in Polish TV in mid eighties.
   The issue of the musical about Tevye and his daughters made elements of the Jewish culture an obvious element of secular European tradition. But Jewish music in wider society was still almost unknown. As the consequence there came recordings from actors of Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. In spirit of those years Polish Jazz Society label – POLJAZZ published two records of Jewish music. The editors choose one in Hebrew and one in Yiddish. While the Hebrew one – Hava Nagila by Effi Netzer & Beit Rotschild & Band – was closer to folk and Israeli tradition, Yiddish record was quite a nostalgic view of music in East-European Diaspora as sung by 1956 Ziemia in the album The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs.

Yaacov Shapiro - The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs

   Yaacov Shapiro - Di 18 Perl fun Yiddishen Lid (יעקב שפירו - די 18 פערל פון יידישן ליד)  – this album became an unexpected success in Poland. Recorded and produced by Dov Zeira this album originally title was Mameleh, after the opening song of the album. In Polish edition as the opening song in the A-side editors used Mashi’ah Kimt and Mameleh was placed as the first song of the B-Side. The title of the album indicates that it includes 18 songs, however there are only 13 pieces on the disc – the last one is titled Potpoury (in later CD edition Chiribim Medley) and unites 6 popular songs – Chiribim, Shayn vi di Levuneh, Tumbalalaika, By Mir Bistu Shein, Di Greene Kusine and Josl, Josl. Whole album is completed of most popular songs, and sometimes they have much more meaning than just popular music. Maybe the most notable example of artistic value is Hulyet, hulyet kinderlach (Play children play), the song written by Mordehai Gebirtig in Krakow ghetto.
   All the songs collected by Yaacov Shapiro are valuable part of Yiddish folk heritage. And they are really beautiful even if sometimes little bit too monotonous what concerns both accompanying group and lead singer. Voice of Yaacov Shapiro sounds well, it is strong and resonant. Instrumental parts are arranged by Martin Moskovitz in pop music convention of early 80’s sometimes it sound little cheap, like it was one of common bands playing for dancing. Of course there are no mistakes or weak moments, it is only consequence of artistic assumption. It is interesting the Shapiro's album was more popular than  Hebrew songs and it's harder to find it on a second-hand internet auctions. Probably Yiddish tradition is closer to stereotypic image of Jewish songs. Maybe its Yiddishkeit was the primary reason for buying decisions – no matter what it was, this record accomplished the great mission of promoting Jewish culture in Poland.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Effi Netzer's Hava Nagila

   Effi Netzer is popular and highly esteemed person in Israeli music. Working as a composer, arranger, and animator of musical culture he was probably the first who brough the custom of sing-along events to Israel. This is why he and his accordion became a kind of symbol of popular culture of the State of Israel. He is also known as founder of Beit Rothschild Singers. With this group and his band he recorded a great bunch of traditional Jewish songs. Most of them are wide known and sometimes almost iconic for people who don’t have closer connections to the heritage of Jewish culture.
   Shortly before the end of 80’s Poljazz, the label of Polish Jazz Society published Hava Nagila – the choice of popular Jewish songs signed by Effi Netzer & Beit Rotschild & Band. It was licensed edition of the record originally published in Israel by Hataklit Haifa Production. And once again musician with accordion made great work for popularity of Jewish song – this time in Poland. It was one of very first Hebrew recordings in post-war Central Europe. In moment of rapidly changing perspectives this was crucial for those who after long decades of ideologically based internationalism were asking about their roots.

Effi Netzer's Hava Nagila

   Program of the record is 16 songs and dances from various Diaspora traditions. First positions of the both sides are occupied by traditional songs Hava Nagila and Hevenu Shalom Aleichem. Worked out in manner of popular songs, but arranged for mixed choir and small accompanying group, melodies collected in this plate show many influences which are representative for early culture of State of Israel. In many dances the direct connection to local traditions can by traced. Krakoviyak, Hava Netze Bemachol or Korovushka are inspired by folklore of Slavonic countries, Debka Haabir exposes Arabian culture connections, Horrah Nirkoda comes directly from Romanian Round Dance. There are also straightforward connections with kibbutz folk culture. Three songs are own compositions by Effi Netzer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Randy Newman's Good Old Boys

   Randy Newman is a composer of many soundtracks for Hollywood movies. He is skilled piano player and brilliant stage personality. But popular culture do not recognize the polymathic artist. For years he was seen only as an author of songs. And as in creative output of some romantic era composers the songs Randy Newman composed for his own lyrics are best known part of his work. His songs can be not only the great narrative medium, but also effective discourse area. To see, let's just try some of these songs on a Redneck living in Birmingham with wife Marie who is desperately trying not to loose his dignity.
   The Good Old Boys is fifth album by Randy Newman. Twelve songs in straight sleeve with stylized for amateur and out of focus photo of somebody who can be the title Good Old Boy has been published by Reprise Records in September 1974. From the beginning it was concept album. Projected song about main character was withdrawn and hero of the whole cycle became more general personification of Deep South inhabitants. It is sure this group portrait could be easier to accept if there were less racism and drinking references. But this would make the picture complete unreal.

Randy Newman's Good Old Boys (1974)

   Maybe it was the spine of American consciousness in early seventies, to articulate the true emotions about something everyone knows and not to loose positive attitude. Maybe it was the question of respecting their nobility and dignity. Randy Newman’s songs never before was so straightforward and probably never again touched the point of American self-confidence so directly. And all songs create this multidimensional picture: Rednecks, Birmingham, Marie, Mr President, Guilty, Louisiana 1927, Every Man a King, Kingfish, Naked Man, Wedding in Cherokee County, Back on My Feet Again and Rollin. One of them is artistic document of South past - Every Man  a King is original song by Governor of Louisiana in the years of Great Crisis Huey P. Long and Castro Carazo.
   As the poet Randy Newman is as wise as lyric and so serious as satirical. The great musician who has the gift to translate his vision into simple melodic structures. And he did this in his songs with perfection and class. Even if some of them are something man have to „think twice about playing in civilized company”. While it’s still hard to classify it into existing genres, in its time this record established quite new perspective of song – somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. In subsequent records – especially in  Little Criminals and Born Again – Randy Newman continued this idea with even greater effect.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Herbie Hancock V.S.O.P. - The Quintet

   Herbie Hancock became a jazz star long time before greater audience had the chance to know his funk and electro-jazz albums. After brilliant making one’s way up in Sixties when he played in Oliver Nelson’s Big Band and legendary Miles Davis Quintet, he didn’t engage in jazz-rock movement. Of course he was in personnel of first Miles Davis’s jazz-rock recording sessions for In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and many more but working on his own ideas he worked out the style that was closer to funk and more popular, dance music. It’s quite understandable – piano in fusion-jazz was a second-row instrument, in first were rock-guitar, jazz-saxophone and any other melodic instrument like violin or trumpet. So he hit groovy music on the jazz-soul-funk frontier where keyboard instruments were present from the gospell times. And this became his great commercial success. Maybe this popularity gave him intention to prove he was still a great and intellectual jazz pianist.
   Probably the first one of many periodically recurring projects of Herbie Hancock was the V.S.O.P. In may 1977 Hancock explained his own idea saying: „generations who never saw us perform in the Sixties will get a chance to see what we look like playing together”. In fact V.S.O.P. was nearly Miles Davis’ quintet from mid Sixties but with Freddie Hubbard playing trumpet and flugelhorn. Wayne Shorter who was always second soloist in Miles Davis quintet, here is more mature and conscious of himself. And his soprano and tenor saxophones sound really prolific, not just following the leader. Rhythm section were Ron Carter and Tony Williams and they were just like in Miles Davis recordings ten years before, both intellectually brilliant and emotionally deep. Spiritual binder and discrete leader of the group was Herbie Hancock. Like his piano states harmonic and rhythmic connection between rhythm section and melodic instruments, his idea of quintet without soloists, the group of equal jazz musicians became the real basis for creating great bunch of dynamically changing pictures of instrumental creation.

Herbie Hancock V.S.O.P. - The Quintet

   The Quintet by V.S.O.P. is an album recorded live during two gigs – July 16th, 1977 at The Greek Theatre in University of California in Berkeley and July 18th, 1977 at San Diego Civic Theatre. The tittles of compositions are: One of a Kind (Hubbard), Jessica (Hancock), Lawra (Williams), Dolores (Shorter), Third Plane (Carter), Byrdlike (Hubbard), Darts (Hancock) and Little Waltz (Carter). The best thing Hancock did as a leader was good balance between five artists. As critic of Dawn Beat noticed, listeners of the V.S.O.P. concerts „were thrilled by the charisma generated by five masters who listened to one another's inner ears, spoke to each other at multiple levels, and, no matter how dense the musical content, conveyed their messages to the audience with amazing clarity”.
   Maybe it is not a milestone in jazz recording history. Maybe even it is true that every musician of The V.S.O.P. Quintet made better performances on other albums, some of them with Miles Davis, some under their own names. But for me this is one of top jazz records in the history. The idea of modern but conservative group was introduced while choosing the name. It was postmodern per se and the same way understood by the public. In late 70’s musicians with hard-bop past in structure of typical modern quintet do not tried to be the avant-garde, but they built the two decades summary of modern jazz. And they did this in an unforgettable shape.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pierre Boulez - Piano Music vol. 1.

Pierre Boulez is probably the last real avant-garde classic and one of biggest serial technique and generally new music masters. As a young man he was inspired by conclusions of New Vienna School. He was swayed especially by Arnold Schoenberg’s works. And before many others he understood serial music has only one chance to avoid closure in mathematic formulas. Looking for the way to unbind musical series, trying to move the musical potential contained in twelve-tone complicated by rhythmic or dynamic series. Building them as analogy and creating almost impossible to seize number of variants, he was trying to open musical form and make it universal container for emotions, for cosmopolitan-like acceptance of mutability.
The idea of music which can’t be useful for totalitarian propaganda was very important part of composers attitude. As many intellectualists in post-war Europe, he evoking fundamental question of how nazism could happen on the ground of European culture. And with fellow composers in Darmstadt School he was trying to create the style and methods which were able to became antidote for intellectual and emotional structures leading to totalitarian society and nationalistic frenzy. Important element of his anti-totalitarian style was aleatoric music, which should be understand as a technique of creating resultant output with incidental changes. The degree of changes is always the matter of compositor’s decision. From controlled to radical aleatorism there were many different solutions but idea was unquestionable, destroying transcendent position of composer, who in traditional European music was  like divine creator while director hold position of the tyrant. In works of aleatoric stream many composers – Boulez, Stockhausen, Lutosławski, Xenakis, Ligeti – were working on redefining position of composer as creator.

Pierre Boulez - Piano Music vol. 1. Charles Rosen

His Piano Works are both serial and aleatoric. As I pointed before there is no contradiction between them. Serial and punctual music were the steps in the same direction as the very next step approaching aleatoric music and controlled chance method. This gave music freedom in creating wider spaces. Sonatas performed by Charles Rosen create almost immediate climax of classical equilibrium between „what” and „how”. Structures are absolutely transparent, and the space between sounds makes listeners feel totally comfortable. And this makes Pierre Boulez classic of XX century.