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).

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   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.