Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joe Sample – Rainbow Seeker

Joe Sample is one of jazz pianists and composers who have bounded their creative directions with crossroads between many music genres – soul, fuky, gospel, blues, jazz, classical and even pop music. Great culture of sound, perfect timing and articulation, nice phrasing and dynamics make him number one pianist in smooth jazz. He is best known in USA where he was born and where he is active since 1952. His music is some kind of American culture inner phenomenon, well recognized in USA, also in other countries of both Americas and in Asia but rather weakly known in Europe. It’s only European problem. Some of his compositions have entered the repertoire of non-jazz musicians and are played in various contexts, best known is One Day I’ll Fly Away performed by Randy Crawford in 1980 being the reference do Schubert’s Impromptu G-flat Major. Later it was sung by Nicole Kidman as a part of Moulin Rouge movie and recorded by Keith Jarret with Charlie Haden on their 2010 Jasmine album.
In fact he started very early, he became to learn playing the piano when he was five. As 13-years-old student with his high school friends Wilton Felder playing bass and saxophone and drummer ‘Stix’ Hooper he formed jazz group The Swingsters. He started piano studies in Texas Southern University, but he never ended with academic degree. Instead he expanded the band to Modern Jazz Sextet and later Jazz Crusaders which was by the name referencing to Jazz Messengers. In 1960 with the band he moved from Huston to Los Angeles. In sixties the group played hard bop with elements of soul and R&B which resulted with popularity. In 1971 the name was shortened to The Crusaders and musicians switched to electric jazz-funk style which was probably the best decade in history of the band. The group was active until 1987 when it was disbanded. Fifteen years later it was reunited and recorded again.

Joe Sample – Rainbow Seeker (1978)

Joe Sample is well known as pianist playing various genres from jazz with Miles Davis and George Benson, blues with Jimmy Witherspoon, B. B. King and Eric Clapton to rock with Steely Dan and soul with The Supremes. In 1969 he started recording albums signed by his own name. More than twenty records show the history of changing style and developing creative ideas. Second Sample’s album Rainbow Seeker from 1978 can be seen as perfect realization of smooth jazz idea. To understand it better it is good to remember the special moment this music was played. Ten years after modern and free jazz has dive in fusion music, after late seventies disco and funk burned in straight rhythms and rebellious punk rock took over big part of rock scene, there was not many other possibilities for selling new music. 
Joe Sample like many other jazz musicians came out with his own fusion of jazz, funk, blues and pop elements. Joe Sample who is playing keyboards along with section from The Crusaders – drummer ‘Stix’ Hooper and basist Robert ‘Pops’ Popwell. He was also author of strings orchestrations. Record features long list of special guests, there are Paulinho DaCosta, Garnett Brown, Ernest J. Watts, Fred Jackson, Robert O. Bryant, Jay Daversa, Steven Madaio, Ray Parker, Dean Parks, Billy Rogers and David T. Walker. 
Maybe arrangements are the best part of this record. After more than three decades they still capture the soul of the easy listening. And the result is perfectly smooth. Musicians are improvising fluently and lightly avoiding too much expressive interval jumps, harmonic roughness or rhythmic instability. This makes their easily waving phrases enchant and comfort listener. There can be no misunderstanding. And maybe this is why millions of Americans for decades had listening fragments of Rainbow Seeker album in “Local on the 8s” of Weather Channel. The title piece was featured in 2008 on The Weather Channel Presents: Smooth Jazz II compilation. The drive and touch of this piece is unique and consecutive songs show these values are applicable to the whole album. His solo in Melodies of Love is clear and perfect the way reserved for best compositions – it is really hard to believe it was improvised. And how deep he can exploring the sound of grand piano he showed in Together We’ll Find A Way, the solo piece closing B-side. For sure it’s worth to keep in you memory.

Ruth Slenczynska – Chopin Four Ballades

In the beginning of her career Ruth Slenczynska has been promoted as first child prodigy since times of Mozart. Her father Joseph Slenczynski who was virtuoso violinist gave her only recipe of the success he knew and „imposed a rigorous and disciplinary practice routine on her beginning at age three”. Forced to learn and practicing from being a child she made rapid progress. When she was four, she begun to study in Europe, taking lessons with Artur Schnabel, Egon Petri, Alfred Cortot, Joseph Hofmann, playing also for Serge Rachmaninoff, who’s music she recorded in sixties – first large project was 1963 CBS television recording of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes but she often played smaller compositions of last Russian romantic as encores and virtuoso pieces. 
She debuted with solo performance in Berlin in the age of six and with full orchestra in Paris when she was only eleven. She instantly made great resonance in European musical world. Series of public performances and discipline practicing was too much stressing for young artist so in the age of fifteen she suspended her public concerts and withdraw from virtuoso career. In 1945 and 1952 she recorded for 78 r.p.m. discs and for radio archives. She resumed her career as performing pianist in 1954 and has been recognized as pianist of perfect technique and clear vision of musical beauty. Her work was associated with University of California and since 1964 with Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville where she was Artist-in-Residence. She published two books Forbidden Childhood (1957) and Music at Your Fingertips: Aspects of Pianoforte Technique (1961). The sample of her artistry are the records.

Ruth Slenczynska – Chopin – Four Ballades (1960)

In late fifties and early sixties she recorded primarily Frederic Chopin’s music. It was natural consequence of her studies. She was in orbit of Chopin’s music since very beginning of her musical career. One of her masters was Alfred Cortot who’s teacher was Emile Decombes, Chopin’s pupil. This gave almost natural transmission of musical ideas. And it is quite reasonable. In mid fifties she recorded for Decca-Belgium Chopin’s 4 Ballades. Then in 1957 Decca published two opuses of Chopin’s Etudes and four Impromptus – in January 12 Etudes op. 10 and first two Impromptus in October 12 Etudes op. 10 plus 3. and 4. Impromptus. Then in February 1958 Deutsche Grammophon released 4 Scherzos. In autumn 1958 Decca published two records showing pianist’s versatility – Encore! and A 25th Anniversary Program. Next year the same label published record with Chopin’s Waltzes.
Next Chopin’s album by Slenczynska was complete of Four Ballades released in October 1960. It was second recording of 4 Ballades by Chopin. Published in Gold Label Series with Ferenc Liszt’s Six Chants Polonais after songs by Chopin, this album didn’t ends the list of Slenczynska’s Chopin recordings. One year later Decca released 24 Preludes op. 28 and Polonaise A-flat Major op. 53. In forthcoming years artist recorded many new renditions of these works and gave series of lectures focused on Chopin’s music and teachings piano virtuoso.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Carlos Santana – 25 Hits

Santana was iconic name for early fusion rock. Thank to bright personality of Carlos Santana and famous group bearing his name from the guitarist, Latin music became one of essential elements in rock fusion style. Great success of the group during Woodstock Festival and phenomenal popularity of first two records were starting point for the history of later albums worrying decline. Older albums were still in the spotlight of record shopping customers but newer were bought more by force of habit. From the other hand music market and specially pop music market in mid-seventies became very unstable. Trying to sustain interest in aging Santana’s records CBS published older and still unbeatable songs on album Greatest Hits in 1974 and four years later, in 1978 the double LP album 25 Hits. In the seventies record industry has still giving a chance to promote valuable phenomena in their marketing policy.
Republishing Santana’s hits was like giving this music the second chance. With generally the same quality of pressing as originals, both compilations have the same sound space as earlier editions. And both became perfect opportunity for renewing the way Santana was perceived. Between late sixties when Santana was a kind of musical and ideological phenomenon and second half of seventies many has changed. First of all there was new generation of disco and punk rock fans who seen Santana as too hermetic. Carlos Santana’s guitar solos were still interesting but for gradually smaller part of audience. No wonder these two albums have place in official artist’s discography. It’s understandable, these compilation was planned as the next success of the group. And this plan worked with almost immediate success – only in US first Santana hits album has been sold in 7 millions of copies.

Carlos Santana – 25 Hits (1978)

Success of second album was not so remarkable although it was noted on bestseller charts and sales in France earned a golden record. It’s interesting question, why only first of these two albums have its place in discography on official artist’s page. Almost complete material from first anthology has been moved to double album, the two songs omitted were Hope You’re Feeling Better from Abraxas and Everything’s Coming Our Way from Santana III album – maybe not number one hits, but pretty good music to return to, and maybe to keep in mind. In other words, it’s difficult to adjudicate if publisher choices are kind of testing alternative collection of songs or this is just an attempt to collect some more money out of popularity of previously published pieces or even to earn on artist fame. Especially for critics who are trying to find more rational criterion for a medley than popularity of every song.
The 25 Hits set could has been a great introduction to a young audience into the world of Santana’s music. Various songs from eight previous albums, and not all of them were number one hits, set in new context, gave listeners a great possibility to renew Santana’s creative image. Interesting combination of the program allows to redefine one’s approach to the style of Carlos Santana. It’s interesting producers of 25 Hits album considering Santana’s songs found that the older they are, the better they are. Probably not by accident they used as much as six songs from debut album Santana and from first three Santana albums comes more than half of material published here. A little bit pressure they also applied to the newer songs especially these promising more commercial potential from 1976 albums Festivàl and Amigos. No songs from the most recent album Moonflower (1977) also points to the marketing key of tracks selection.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Canby Singers – O Great Mystery

Renaissance vocal polyphony is great part of Europe’s musical tradition. Blossomed out of mediaeval church traditions and ars nova ideas, gradually liberating and complicating all the way to exceed borders of subordination of religious and external to music meanings, 16th century polyphony remains highest achievement in counterpoint and characteristic element of early music sound. More freedom to perfect counterpoint of renaissance gave baroque when all polyphonic resources has been used in various musical contexts and not always consequently.  
There are hundreds of fantastic choirs and vocal groups interpreting ancient a cappella music. Every year shows new groups not just singing renaissance repertoire but searching for new principles of interpreting early music in most flexible way, in accordance to historic manners and in compatibility with today sensitivity. One of choirs with more than half century lasting tradition is The Canby Singers. Founded in 1957 by Edward Tatnall Canaby choir is known for its perfection and notable achievements in the field of choral music. The repertoire of Canaby Singers covers wide range of styles from medieval songs to works of contemporary composers so the choir is well known for its versatility.


The Canaby Singers – O Great Mystery

One of greates achievements of The Canby Singers was recorded for Nonesuch set of a cappella compositions for Christmas O Great Mystery – Unaccompanied Choral Music of the 16th & 17th centuries (H-1026). The main part of this set is loose presentation of early Christmas hymns. Especially three opening tracks are compositions to the same Latin hymnal text O magnum misterium – set by two Spanish renaissance composers Tomas Luis de Victoria, Cristóbal de Morales and English composer William Byrd. Some more Christmas tunes came from Francisco Guerrero Canite tuba in Sion and old carol Resonet in laudibus in new setting by Edward Tatnall Canby and ancient one by Orlando di Lasso. Archaic sound of this selections gives background to changes depicted in next chapter of European musical culture.
While the A-side has been placed in roman catholic and anti-reformation tradition, the B-side of the record is quite different in ideas and in style. Opposite side presents composers from the protestant and secular music circles and resulting various cultural traditions in compositions set to lyrics in various languages. Protestant church music is represented by Flemish composer Hubert Waelrant’s Musiciens qui chantez à plaisir and three works by German composers of late renaissance and early baroque eras Selig sind die Toten by Heinrich Schütz, Mein Schifflein life im wilden Meer by Johann Herman Schein and Ihr Lieben, wir sind nun Gottes Kinder by Melchior Franck. Here are still in this set two works by Counter-Reformation compositor Jacob Handl – O admirable commercium and Mirabile mysterium.
Selection ends with master of secular polyphony Claudio Monteverdi. His madrigal Sfogava con le stelle gives a chance to see the title subject more in musical than religious context. The ambition of such program was clearly the idea of observing music in context of its cultural background. Half century after creating this album, this conception is still inspiring and gives us one more level for decoding the meaning of mysteries in culture.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Frank Zappa • 200 Motels

★★★★★

   Writing about historic works, music critics have the privilege to judge phenomena that have been sentenced before by most crude referees – the generations of listeners and the time. When addressing to contemporary work they try to determine its value and chances to remain in the history of music. Just like they don’t learn any lesson from the past. Reading contemporary opinions about Zappa’s works, sometimes it’s difficult to keep a straight face. He was so much creative composer, musician and personality, even professionals had lots of problems with denomination and qualifying his ideas. Crowning example of such critics’ mistake is the album 200 Motels, which was described as full of cheap humor, bombastic and worst Zappa’s record. Yet it sold very good reaching 59th position on Billboard 1971 pop albums chart. 
   After double album Uncle Meat which in fact was musical setting for unfinished movie project, 200 Motels still didn’t give a clear picture of composer’s aim. And in context of previous concept albums, Freak Out! or We’re In It Only For The Money these narrations still were too much open and loose. Both for movie and for rock opera the story of 200 Motels was not enough consequent and had no climax. Surprising by originality was major goal and even sharp characters are disappearing in unfinished sequences. Discontinuity and surreal associations in movie narration were completed by songs and these fragments with illustrative music bind together the story. Music occurred to be the main hero and the basic layer of 200 Motels. And just like in real life it is something what makes this low budget film works.

Frank Zappa  – 200 Motels (1971)

   In its core theme 200 Motels is the movie about music, about musicians and about touring with the group – sometimes not exact the touring because clue of the story is quitting the group by bassist Jeff Simmons. And the group is the key factor in this narration. Simmons has really quit the group during the session and he was replaced by Jim Pons who was playing bass in The Turtles. From the same band came also Howard Keylan and Mark Volman great duo appearing also as The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie or  Flo & Eddie. The line-up of 200 Motels band was premiered on Chunga’s Revenge and then published on Fillmore East – June 1971. One of many stars in 200 Motels crew was singer and the legendary Mothers of Invention personality Jimmy Carl Black. Together with Flo & Eddie they created characteristic sound of the vocal parts. Playing keyboard instruments George Duke and drummer Aynsley Dunbar also were members of the band who press clear sign on musical image of this movie.



   Featured actors of this movie are Theodore Bikel, Ringo Star and Keith Moon. Theodore Bikel in the role of demonic narrator is unrivaled. Of course it’s also worth to see Ringo Star acting Frank Zappa. Zappa himself has only few episodic presences, for example as a musician seen in the background, but in fact he is present almost constantly in Ringo Star role of Larry, who „likes to dress up funny. Tonight he's dressed up like Frank Zappa”. For finishing the work the co-directors Frank Zappa and Tony Palmer used some improvised scenes and incidental material. For example natural behavior of musicians surprised with acting actors, sometimes they were expressively shocked. During short period of time between members of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and rock musicians came to disagreements, what Frank Zappa two decades later put into The Real Frank Zappa Book.
   Surrealistic documentary of the band disintegration and individual musician’s lost was perfectly brought in decadent mood of musical setup of this movie. In early seventies this can be seen as prophetic vision of the falling regime. Today is more or less precise diagnosis for decaying utopia of sixties movements. Maybe it was still in top condition but leading straightforward to paranoia. Like in opening B-Side pair of two pieces – orchestral Touring Can Make You Crazy and very next song Would You Like a Snack? make contrast of depressive gravity in orchestral chords and shockingly naïve text and melody – both giving strong esthetic and intellectual dissonance. For many artists satirical and critical attitude was the strategy to survive but Frank Zappa made it his own trademark.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Barry Sisters – Shalom

   Jewish melodies and Yiddish songs reached great popularity in the first half of 20th century. Especially in USA where it became part of all-American culture that had high and well-deserved reputation. In late thirties when Andrews Sisters reminded Yiddish evergreen Bei mir bisdu shein, the song became an instant hit. The same with other popular tunes from Jewish theatres and vaudevilles. Thanks to the radio the same songs were instantly popular. For two young singers, sisters Claire and Merna Bagelman this trend became perfect opportunity to start their career. First songs they recorded under their family name as The Bagelman Sisters. Shortly they changed the name of the duo to Barry Sisters.
   The legendary Barry Sisters became extremely popular almost instantly after debut. It was this special moment, when popular music has creating it’s modern shape. Thanks to the radio and the propaganda efforts, American popular culture became the sample of US democracy in the war era. The same time European civilization was collapsing in hatred, the new world was giving a real hope for the people flying off the old continent. And there’s no need to add, many listeners were really proud listening to Jewish songs in nationwide radio shows.
   Barry Sisters started in thirties as they called themselves „Yiddish jazz singers”. Since 1937 they’ve participated in New York Radio Show „Yiddish Melodies in Swing” singing traditional tunes and jazz standards in Yiddish language. Barry Sisters singing popular music in close harmonies and dance rhythms were classified as the mainstream of  swing era vocal ensembles. They were valued especially for great voices perfectly sounding together, smart interpretations and nice stage personalities. It was really hard to find such talented, creative and good looking singers. Thanks to this features, unparalleled Claire and Merna made Yiddish song the phenomenon in the era of the swing.

The Barry Sisters – Shalom (1962)

   In fifties radio pave the way to LP recording. The high capacity carrier, more resistant for repeated use, in more protecting and visually interesting covers – recordings gave chance for almost substantial presence of music on listener’s shelf and was great opportunity to buying and possessing although the substitute of what was unattainable before. While radio was elusive medium, record gave the feeling of possessing something valuable. In fifties phonographic industry flourished and recording became the kind of activity that shortly became one of main parts in musical life. And this were the best times in Barry Sisters musical career. They started in times of 78 rpm records and these early recordings were compiled and published as their first LPs. But the era of modern LP record became for Barry Sisters the earnest when they signed contract with Roulette label.
   Recorded in 1962 Shalom (Roulette SR-25157) is fourth Barry Sisters’ album published by Roulette and their sixth LP record in general. It has been released shortly after the tour in Israel, so cover photo shows duo’s arriving on airport in Tel Aviv. Following this album came published the next year live recording The Barry Sisters in Israel (Roulette SR-25198). Shalom is one of most popular Barry Sisters’ albums of the top period in the career of the duo. One look to the program of the record can reveal artists’ intentions. Mainstream Yiddish pop repertoire positions like Ketzele Baroiges, Ain kik auf dir, Chiribim Chiribom or Die Greene Koseene and popular melodies to Hebrew lyrics in Israeli Medley or the theme from movie Exodus make this selection attempt to connect the old and new world of Jewish culture. The title of this LP is greeting word Shalom. And this speaks for itself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Herbert von Karajan – Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem

   Johannes Brahms was one of most prominent personalities in romantic music. His position was build on the idea of three great B’s – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms – presumption deeply correlated with nineteenth century theoretic understanding of formal values in musical construction. And Brahms was number one composer who can melt some romantic ideas with creating complex musical constructions in Beethoven’s manner. It’s not sure if he was truly satisfied composing symphonic music. Four symphonies, three concertos, two overtures even if every one is great work, is not too much considering 64 years of composers life. However the symphonic compositions was the part of his work that made his fame and creative image, and among his great works every one fully deserves for its special place.
   One that’s very special is requiem based on texts from Lutheran Bible. The full title of the work is Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift op. 45 (A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures). The text has been edited by composer and is opposed to the traditional requiem based on roman catholic mass order. Words had been taken from some fragments from Old and much more  from New Testament. Sometimes he assembled very short fragments. Ein Deutsches Requiem is focusing on those who are living in sadness and this strongly difference between this setup and traditional requiem masses. Brahms started composing this work in 1965 after death of his mother and finish the whole composition in 1868. This seven-movement work composed for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra German Requiem with more than an hour time of duration is longest composition by Brahms.

Herbert von Karajan – Brahms – Ein Deutsches Requiem (1964)

   Herbert von Karajan recorded Brahms’ Requiem at least five times. First time he recorded in October 1947 legendary performance with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, baritone Hans Hotter, chor of Singverein Der Gesellschaft Der Musikfreunde Wien and Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra. Then in 1964 for Deutsche Grammophon with baritone Eberhard Waechter, soprano Gundula Janowitz, Wiener Singverein choir and Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra. This recording was also published in 7 LP box with complete Brahms Symphonies and Violin Concerto with Christian Ferras. Third recording has been made twelve years later, in 1976 for EMI with the same choir and orchestra and with different soloists – soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow and baritone José van Dam. Fourth recording was digital and was recorded with the same chorus but with Wiener Philharmoniker orchestra and with soprano Barbara Hendricks and with baritone José van Dam. There was also video recording of Deutsches Requiem with Kathleen Battle and José van Dam published in 1984 by Sony.
   Herbert von Karajan belongs to the greatest conductors who needed a large-scale works, big performing sets and challenging interpretations to be fully recognized as the great masters. He was equally efficient conducting symphonies, concertos, oratorios and operas. No wonder he is remembered mainly as the conductor of huge attainments of romantic music. One of his most challenging works was Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. Maybe this is reason he recorded this work so many times. It’s interesting he always recorded with the same choir of Wiener Singverein. Brahms Requiem is work of extremely high demands on the performers and choir is privileged in various ways. And this choir sounds unbelievable firmly and rich. The 1964 DGG recording has been priced by Grand prix du disque award in Paris.
   In Karajan’s renditions Deutsches Requiem takes 65-75 minutes and perfectly matches CD capacity, but on traditional vinyl records it usually took three standard sides. Thus for Brahms’ Requiem vinyl editions publishers added extra compositions on 4th side of double LP album. On Karajan’s DGG album such bonus work was Variationen über ein Thema von Haydn op. 56a, and on EMI album newly recorded Variationen and Tragishe ouverture. Although the choice of Variations is quite good thanks to its solemn character and soothing emotional distance, I still advise not to listening this two works together. Karajan’s performance of Deutsches Requiem is so much closed, so perfectly follows the idea of the work, it should be listened standalone.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Rabbit – Johnny Hodges

   For many years Johnny Hodges was playing both alto and soprano saxophones. He became soloist and leader of saxophone section in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. After 1946 he refused to play soprano and after 1951 he started his own band. After few years he returned to play with Duke. He was one of most valued saxophonists of swing era. His solos were solidly constructed and routed with lightness, his phrases were naturally resulting from the theme. But what sank the most in memory was the sound of his saxophone, as said by Ellington, his tone was „so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes”. His discography is not as big as his saxophone successors but it is still impressive. Most recordings have been done with Duke Ellington, Garry Mulligan, Billy Strayhorn and trombonist Lawrence Brown.

The Rabbit – Johnny Hodges (1957)

   In 1950 Johnny Hodges came to Europe with The Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. It was first European tour after the world war. He recorded for French label Disques Vogue under the name Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra. In fact it was only combo emerged out of Duke’s orchestra members. In this „orchestra” line-up we can find best names trumpeter Harold Baker, trombonist Quintin Jackson, saxophonist Don Byas, pianist Raymond Fol, basist Wendell Marshall and drummer Sonny Greer. It was band recorded April 15, 1950. In next recording session April 20th, Don Byas was replaced by clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton and Sonny Greer by Butch Ballard. Last session June 20th, was the same line-up but without Hamilton. Of course in all sessions Johnny Hodges was playing alto saxophone.
   Recorded in Paris during three sessions, 16 pieces were previously published on 10 inch disks. The set was reedited in microgroove era and published on single LP album. 14 pieces has been released in 1957 as the 31st volume in the series for the 10th anniversary of Disques Vogue label. Microgroove haute fidélite long playing record titled The Rabbit – Johnny Hodges includes almost complete recorded material – vanished pieces are Wishing and Waiting and Last Leg Blues part 1. The same set of recordings had been published in USA by Master Jazz Recordings as A Memory of Johnny Hodges (MJR 8107). It is surprising how modern sound these improvisations. It looks just like the stars of the swing style were looking out into the direction of modernity, and not wishing to follow the be-bop musicians.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leonard Bernstein – Schumann – Symphonies 1 & 4

   Robert Schumann was intended to be virtuoso pianist but in the first period of his musical career he became influential music critic and aesthete of German romanticism. Until the age of thirty, he was composing exclusively piano music. In 1940, when he married Clara Wieck, encouraged by his wife, he begun his symphonic period. And shortly he became famous as a composer of vocal and symphonic music. One of milestones of his creative output was Symphony No. 1 in B flat Major op. 38 „Spring” which he sketched in four days of January 1941 between 23rd and 26th. In one month he completed the full symphonic score. Premiere took place in Leipzig and was conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. This work is widely known also under original German title „Frühlingssymphonie” is one of most loved symphonies of romantic era.

Leonard Bernstein – Schumann – Symphonies No. 1 & No. 4 (1985)

   The same year Robert Schumann composed his 4th Symphony in D Minor but this work hadn’t been published for years, until composer has revised this composition ten years later. In 1851 Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D Minor op. 120 has been published for the first time. This dramatic work clearly presents romantic style, even if it’s still in four movements, yet in new setting played without pauses between. It was the sign of the time composer changed not only the form and orchestration, but also language of tempo indications. The first version from 1841 has traditionally Italian tempo indications and final version from 1851 has German tempo indications. There are lots of differences between those two versions. Despite the first version was lighter and more transparent in the facture, Clara Schumann insisted for recognizing the essential meaning of 1851 version.
   In 1984 Leonard Bernstein conducted all four Schumann’s Symphonies in Vienna Musikverein’s concert hall. Life recording of this event was published by Deutsche Grammophon label next year and is undeniably one of best recordings of Schumann’s music on vinyl, cd, dvd, youtube or any other media. One can hear and watch fragments of recorded concerto but no new media can give out the power of original DGG album with 1st and 4th symphonies.


   Leonard Bernstein’s interpretations of romantic and post-romantic symphonic music are a class for itself. He was able to bring out the essence of musical experience using measures corresponding to the era and style of the works. As creative personality he was sometimes arbitrary but his interpretations were never anachronic or incoherent. Especially performances of nineteenth century music require a thorough knowledge of ideas and technical solutions evolving over several decades, sometimes from one symphony to another. This is real foundation of conductor’s workshop and Bernstein was one of the best in interpretation of symphonic music. Under his baton Wiener Philharmoniker sound warm and precise, playing with passion yet with necessary distance. Hope of Frühlingssymphonie and dramatic aura of Symphony No. 4 in D Minor are like two sides of the coin. Between them one can find deep conflicts, power of feelings and unique creative rendition of two great romantic symphonies Robert Schumann.

Monday, November 21, 2011

King Crimson – Earthbound

The 1972 in the history of King Crimson was the year of constant changes and instability. Band broke up and than the same year its line-up was formed for fulfill appointed concerts. With intention of disbanding immediately afterwards. During 1972 tour the group was in some kind of transitional stage between line-ups of albums Islands and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. The sound of the band has been documented by first King Crimson’s live album Earthbound. Recorded during USA tour in February and March and released in June 1972 by Island, this is one of most progressive albums in the history of rock music. 
After great debut album from 1969 In the Court of the Crimson King and almost perfect continuation of its style one year later In the Wake of Poseidon, group begin to change the line-up and the style. Next records Lizard and Islands came with deep changes and escalating disagreement. Shortly after recording sessions of Islands the 1971 group featuring composer Robert Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield along with drummer Ian Wallace, bass player and singer Boz Burrell and Mel Collins playing saxophones, flutes and mellotron, was going to collapse. Disagreements between Fripp and Sinfield and then differences in opinions of the band members resulted in its decay.

King Crimson – Earthbound (1972)

During the 1972 US tour the atmosphere in the group was heavy. As an effect of ideological contradictions and personal disagreements every artistic effort was at risk of failure. On the other hand, the tensions between the musicians resulted in loosening discipline, and in consequence increased the expression – paradoxically, limited communication gave artists more freedom. Thus this album includes more improvised solos and free structures and than any King Crimson’s recordings released these times. In opening this album live version of 21st Century Schizoid Man along with Robert Fripp extended guitar solo drummer Ian Wallace and bassist Boz Burrell are playing phrases which are neither the soloing nor the typical accompanying. Such qualities were repeated along with Mel Collins saxophone solo. In culmination it is quite close to collective improvisation joining together rock and free jazz fusion.
More discipline band showed in Groon, recorded during the same concert as 21st Century Schizoid Man at Willmington. Groon is largely improvised composition previously published as B-Side of King Crimson’s 1970 single Cat Food. In single version it was 2’45” long, here it is 15’30” and includes extensive improvisations of band members and Hunter McDonald operating VCS3 synthesizer. Phenomenally sounds The Sailors Tale recorded in the rain at Baseball Park in Jacksonville, FL, February 26, 1972. Unfortunately this recording is only small fragment set from silence and muted on the end Side One.  Full live recording of this song with great drums and synthesizer solos has been published in 1998 as Live at Jacksonville 1972.



Recorded next day at Orlando, FL, Earthbound is funky and closer to fusion music. The same attitude is presented in composition Peoria recorded at The Barn in Peoria, IL, March 10th. Baritone saxophone solo opening series of improvisations in Peoria gave some new sound for King Crimson music. This more funky than rock saxophone solos have it’s answers in scat singing improvisations by Boz Burrell.
Improvisations became the base for exposure of artists’ individual ideas and a chance to check the concept of the leader. The style of the album is still located within Robert Fripp’s arrangement and compositional ideas. First, middle and last compositions, 21st Century Schizoid Man, The Sailors Tale and Groon are clear expression of King Crimson’s style. Among this three the are mostly improvised Peoria and Earthbound. And this joint of ideas makes this album says more about seventies than many others, even if these occurrences are more popular, commercially successful and famous.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Maurizio Pollini – Beethoven’s Piano Concerto G Major

There are dozens of great renditions of every one from Beethoven’s cycle of five piano concertos. This is natural consequence of qualities inserted to this traditional formal construction by the last of the three greatest composers of classical Vienna school. Due to the extraordinary economy of resources and an unprecedented wealth of musical content, all five piano concertos are groundbreaking creations. Every one of his concerti as well as any work in other form is different and in its individual way full of significant features. It’s worth to notice, Beethoven’s music is always consistent on formal level, but still most of references point directly to emotional spheres of musical meaning.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 G Major op. 58 admittedly is one of very best piano concertos in the whole history of this form. The outward appearance of this concert is typical for its time – three part concerto construction with tonal change in middle movement (E minor in Andante as relative key to G major of first and last movements) and a Beethovenian usual cast of symphonic orchestra (flute, double winds, dual horns and trumpets, timpani and strings) – it looks like it was common work of late Classical Era. Piano introduction opening Allegro moderato, enchanting impression in Andante con moto and lively rhythmic Rondo, all this makes Concerto No. 4 the major effect of creative impulse. This is common characteristics of Beethoven’s oeuvres and maybe this is the reason for great respect which surrounds his music.

Pollini and Böhm in Beethoven's Piano Concerti (Eterna 1982)


Every record collector has personal choice of almost any great musical works best renditions. There is the real crowd on the shelf with excellent recordings of Beethoven’s piano concertos. But still it is hard to omit among them the Deutsche Grammophon series of LPs featuring Maurizio Pollini along with the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Karl Böhm. This collection of three records included only three of five Beethoven piano concertos – 3rd, 4th and 5th – which are definitely more essential and more appreciated by the public than first two. This 1976 DGG edition was awarded by music lovers with the Grand prix des discophiles. In 1982 series of records has been released as a oficial license edition by Eterna company in GDR, and than became widely recognized in Eastern Europe.
Recording Concerto No. 4, Maurizio Pollini gave great performance both on technical and on esthetic level. His piano sounds firmly and stylish, tempi are based on phrases formed the way as set by Beethoven. Such prudent approach along with original composer’s cadenzas makes this interpretation absolute perfect picture of this work. Orchestra of Viennese Philharmonic sounds deep in dynamics and perfectly in articulation. This recording is founded upon qualities giving Piano Concerto No. 4 G Major op. 58 mark of one of the best symphonic works and overall form of piano concerto the parallel position to Beethoven’s symphonies.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Santana – Abraxas

The second album of Santana group has been released in September 1970, a little bit more than a year after their debut album. On the new album Abraxas, group still presented quite new face. Their sound, rhythm and style were real groundbreaking combination so shortly it has been named just „Santana style” and copied by many other groups. The beginnings of the style came from San Francisco fusion joining the psychedelic rock of the sixties with some idiomatic motives of latin jazz and rhythmic patterns of salsa, blues and gospel. A lots of inspirations gave this music great variety of meanings and the tittle „Abraxas” shines a light  for connections to esoteric, even some sort of Gnostic ideas.
Literary inspiration of the title came from Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian and short fragment is cited on the back side of the cover: „We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...”. Directly related to this inspiration is cover art featuring Mati Klarwein’s 1961 painting Annunciation. This cover design and Hesse’s works became inspiration for whole generation.
Sound profile of the group in Woodstock era was presented on first two albums. It can be considered in four main aspects – rich and tense guitar solos by Carlos Santana, rhythm and blues Hammond B-3 organ played by Gregg Rolie, vocals in San Francisco psychedelic style and huge rhythm section of bassist Dave Brown, drummer Mike Shrieve plus two conga and percussion players Mike Carrabello and José Chepito Areas.

Santana – Abraxas (1970)

Characteristic feature of first Santana line-up’s music is that nothing is fully obvious. Rhythm section based on sharp, energetic percussion drive by Shrieve’s drums and steady, sometimes even lazy Brown’s bas guitar makes a lots of crossing and syncopated structures but isn’t apparently Latin kind of rock or all the more jazz-rock. It would be enough interesting if it was attempt of being somewhere between styles and cultures. The same with the harmonic structures which sound quite progressive yet they are predominantly blues with some straight adds.
Guitar solos by Carlos Santana were unprecedented in rock music contribution to the style of the group and its true hallmark. His precise and bright sound was counterbalance for dark vibrating Rolie’s Hommond. Clear and very precise guitar phrases became the center of musical narration. Although guitar was in center of rock since it’s very beginning, this kind of playing was something new and original. Great hits of this album were Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen by Peter Green and Gabor Szabo or Oye Como Va by Tito Puente but revolutionary number one hit for decade occured Carlos Santana’s Samba Pa Ti – nice and easy piece with charming phrases and carefully slow and mild accompaniment. It is one of most beautiful melodies in history of rock music, used in endless repetitions and covers. José Feliciano even sung this theme with his own words. In a short time this tune became obligatory for young guitar players and every high school party. On the opposite side of the Santana group’s style was situated Gregg Rolie’s Hope You’re Feeling Better with fiercely intensive rhythm section and one more great guitar solo.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bernstein conducts Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique

   Leonard Bernstein, composer, pianist, conductor and teacher was one of brightest persons in second half of 20th century. He was famous even among people who didn’t ever visit any philharmonic hall. As an orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein was expert of extended symphonic forms. In many visionary interpretations he was able to balance individual emotionalism and stable construction. And under his direction orchestras always played on the top of their possibilities. The real greatness of his artistry we can appreciate while listening records with New York Philharmonic, orchestra which he was musical director for 11 seasons (1958-1969).
   Leonard Bernstein was conducting New York Philharmonic much longer before and after his term of office. Since unrehearsed and spectacularly successful debut in 1943 he was working with this orchestra regularly until last years of his creative life. And he left dozens of outstanding recordings made with New York Philharmonic. Especially as musical director of the orchestra he recorded every major work from Philharmonic repertoire. The material he worked on during rehearsals immediately after public presentation was recorded in CBS studios. And CBS was his primary label these years, later in seventies and eighties he recorded mainly for Deutsche Grammophon with various orchestras and wide range of repertoire.

Leonard Bernstein - Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique (1987)

   Composing Symphony no. 6 in B Minor op. 74, Peter Tchaikovsky has suffered from serious depression. There are even presumptions about last symphony he finished was illustration of composer’s suicide plans but with lack of evidence or indications such ideas must remain in the realm of speculation. Such conjectures have emerged as a response to the extremely emotional nature of the work. Four part construction with widely expanded first and last parts and with as much characteristic fragments as Adagio lamentoso in final movement it was ideal fodder for imagination.
   This meaningful symphony was called „Патетическая” after opinion by his brother Modest. Russian title means „passionate” and traditionally is accepted worldwide in French translation as „Pathétique”. Composer considered to call it „Programme Symphony” but finally he rejected the idea because he wanted to keep his outward ideas in secret and he didn’t want to encourage conjectures on this field. Qualities of the work makes us think composer’s decision should be respected.

Leonard Bernstein - Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique (1987)

   Leonard Bernstein recorded Symphony no. 6 in B Minor „Pathétique” with New York Philharmonic Orchestra in August 1986. It was live recording of the concert performance in Avery Fisher Hall. This rendition can be seen as a best probe of conductor’s possibilities in eighties. In this recording he achieved the effect of sublimity and nobility, characterizing only these musical works which are devoted to the final decisions on moral and philosophical questions. The first movement is opening with pianissimo possibile giving artists best start posision to create differentiated and complex part. Middle parts are just complete for filling the emotional and imaginary span of the work. It’s worth to pay attention to the 3rd movement Allegro molto vivace, powerful but still subtle. And the answer for the questions of the beginning is given by finale part of the symphony. Experienced conductor is aware of the rules, genius can follow universal path focusing emotions of every receiver. And Leonard Bernstein gives listener a chance to see it from highly captivating perspective. Thus the Bernstein's interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique reveals its inner beauty so well.

Stanley Clarke – Find Out!

   Born in Philadelphia, Stanley Clarke is one of most prolific jazz musicians of last four decades. He is known mainly for his double bass and bass guitar virtuosity and for his contribution as a member of Return to Forever one of most famous band in history of fusion jazz. In fact he is multi-instrumentalist, composer writing for film and television and musician playing all kinds of music from jazz and funk, through R&B to rock (esp. with The New Barbarians) and pop songs where he even sung. Many of his seventies and eighties recordings published as high-impact hit recordings later were underestimated or forgotten just because they are dance and popular songs with some short solos only.
   He became bass player by coincidence. He was late in school when instruments were assigned for students and when he at last came only double bass was available. Results he shortly achieved were astonishing and he continued to learn in Philadelphia Musical Academy. After graduation in 1971 he moved to New York where he was playing with great artists – Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Gato Barbieri, Joe Henderson. In 1973 he joined new project by Chick Corea – super group of fusion Return to Forever. And this band became greatest achievement for all its musicians, even if it was only a small amount of their creative output. After years in reunion concerts – like in 2008 during Montreux Jazz Festival – this group gives instrumentalists a chance for expanding individual creativity with fully synergic cooperation.

Stanley Clarke – Find Out! (1985)

   Naturally there were also other musical and creative projects. Some of them were highly popular and then rejected. Most of all this applies to the disco era. Many great musicians tried to find perfect connection between dance music, possibilities of new electronic instruments and jazz idiom. It was like a next step after fusion music. Many other musicians were on the same way, trying to actualize the idea of more popular jazz. An like many musicians these times, Clarke was experimenting with styles and genres, working on ambitious projects as well as popular music for high-volume issues.
   As the artist who is really concerning about being understand for listeners, Stanley Clarke get closer to popular music. Few of his records should be treated as pop or disco concession, although it is still perfectly made music with many solutions these time can be seen as revolutionary. One of many was Find Out! – fourteenth album by Stanley Clarke published by CBS in 1985 under Epic label. He is playing bass guitar with driving energy and sings in a way eighties were fitting on. It is connected with albums recorded together with George Duke as Clarke/Duke Project which were even closer to glitter rock and disco.

Stanley Clarke – Find Out! (1985)

   Find Out! is few years later and more homogenous. This can be seen as advantage and as a result of musicians selection. In contrast to Clarke/Duke Project this group is much smaller.  The Stanley Clarke Band was only four musicians – Clarke playing basses and guitars, drummer Rayford Griffin, and playing keyboards Robert Brookings and Sunnie Paxton. Other musicians were keyboardist Pat Leonard, Pulinho da Costa playing percussions and guitarists Eddie Martinez and Raymond Gomez. Maybe songs are not so well written, but in instrumental pieces he gave some beautiful Clarke’s solos. Maybe vocals are not enough spirited. There are also discreet references to modern jazz and deeper drifts. Like in introduction to rap cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. where leader’s bass guitar gives some links to Jimmy Garrison’s tradition. It is hard to resist the impression that the music in the future will be more appreciated.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eric Ericson – Virtuoso Choir Music

It is quite easy assumption that legendary choirmaster and conductor Eric Ericson is a successor of great Swedish tradition of the joint singing. Sweden has always lively musical culture – both folk and artistic. And great choirs were natural element of musical live in the country where basic form of prayer and social behavior across centuries was singing. Conducting the choir is never the same as conducting the orchestra. Choirmaster is more teacher than conductor and best choirs are always connected with best leaders.
One of best choir conductors of 20th century is Eric Ericson. Born in 1918 he was studied in best conservatory in Sweden - Stockholm Kungliga Musikhögskolan and after graduating he improved his skills abroad in Switzerland, Germany, England and USA. From 1951, for forty years he was principal conductor of Sangsällskapet Orphei Drängar in Uppsala University (before Ericson the chief of this famous male choir was Hugo Alfvén). On initiative of Eric Ericson in 1951 was established also Swedish Radio Choir for which he was choirmaster until 1982.

Eric Ericson – Virtuoso Choir Music (1978)

There is a lot of recordings made by choirs conducted and mastered by Eric Ericson. His name is featured as choirmaster of vocal ensembles in numerous recordings of other conductors. Among many records of Ericson’s choirs one set is exceptionally rich. It is released by EMI in 1978 set of 4 LPs entitled Virtuoso Choir Music (Virtuose Chormusik). The choirs immortalized on these records are Swedish Radio Choir and Stockholmer Kammerchor. Vocal perfection and flexibility, dynamic precision and scale of expression of two choirs lead by Eric Ericson make this album everlasting testimony on music potential of the seventies.
Huge program of this album comprises mainly works of 20th century composers. There is variety of highly exacting works by modern French composers – Epithalame by Andre Jolivet, 7 Chansons by Francis Poulenc, 5 Rechants by Olivier Messiaen, Ariel’s Choir from Shakespeare’s „Tempest” and „Messe” by Frank Martin. Only German composer is Richard Strauss presented in two choral works: Die Göttin in Putzzimmer with lyrics by Friedrich Rückert and Der Abend to poem of Friedrich von Schiller. Contemporary music is present in three compositions from ItalyIl coro delle malmaritate and Il coro dei melsmmogliati by Luigi Dallapiccola and Tre composizioni corali by Ildebrando Pizzetti and one Swedish work Elegi by Lars Edlund.
Early music works are represented by Claudio Monteverdi’s Sestina „Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata” and Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium, first sung by Stockholmer Kammerchor, second by Swedish Radio Choir. Perfection of sound required in contemporary works and discipline of early music mark out the space for vocal artistry of Eric Ericson’s choirs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Santana I

   Since the beginning San Francisco has been the cultural and intellectual center of American West. Especially in postwar era this metropolitan city was radiating with creative ideas and outstanding personalities. One of most respected musical names came out from Bay Area in late sixties and increasingly popular until today is Santana, even if average listener doesn’t associate this name with the city. Some people confuse the name of the group with the name of its leader who recorded also independently as Carlos Santana, who has formed in 1967 as Carlos Santana Blues Band. Santana’s songs performed by the band were the ticket to the world of universal appreciation.
   And name of Santana shortly became one of most recognizable names in musical business. Success did not come right away. After their first audition Chet Helms, who was a cultural figure in San Francisco of the hippie era, stated that there is no room on rock scene for the Latin rock. He advised Santana that it would be better if he can keep his work with the dishes in Tick Tock’s Drive-In.
   Two years later musicians were appointed to play Woodstock festival and CBS, anticipating their success recorded in May the debut album of Santana and in one month finishing editorial process. Santana performed August 16, the second day of the festival, for huge crowd. The result was almost instant success of the debut album released shortly after festival, picking at number 4 on Billboard 200. Although first single Jingo didn’t met supposed feedback, second single Evil Ways was included in U.S. Top Ten. After thirty years Santana hits 150th position in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time.

Santana (1969)

   End years of sixties decade were the time when revolutionary recordings and artistic events were released almost every month. And it’s really hard to say if the first Santana album could be heard without Woodstock connection. But after festival announced as „3 Days of Peace and Music” even subtle association with this event gave the album power of political statement. Santana’s music was strongly connected with Mexican rhythms and melodic idiom and in context of antiwar and antiestablishment demonstration new idea o cross-cultural connection has the power of demonstration for freedom. And this is primary value fusion music has its roots. Later the idea of music based on explicit cross-cultural or multicultural links has been called „world music” and specific sound of Santana group was copied by dozens of other groups and musicians.
   Instrumental composition Waiting opens A-Side with great organ solo by Gregg Rolie and guitar solo by Carlos Santana, making basic exposition of group’s style. And since this very first piece it’s more fusion music than just Latin rock. All elements from Afro-Cuban beat to sharp, electrizing dialogue between soloists are melted in the whole which is almost homogenous. And almost gives some place for individual character of every artist.
   In Evil Ways we have another solo sequence, blues organ and ecstatic guitar are enriching this hit song. Some songs are clearly following the psychedelic style of San Francisco, like Shades of Time where only thick Cuban percussion section makes listener remember he is listening modern Latino rock. The same in Persuation where vocals and solo instruments are is perfectly in style of late sixties rhythm and blues. There is also piece perfectly fitting white blues of late sixties Just You Don’t Care with great solos and vocals of Santana and Rolie.
   What characterizes this music is explosive emotionalism and trance rhythmic continuity. This are very clear factors in completely instrumental Savor, for ending album Soul Sacrifice and partly vocal Jingo. Also in Treat after blues piano introduction group is creating strong rhythm line. This way of playing in upcoming years was treated simply as Santana style. And the first album of the group together with Santana’s performance in Woodstock were just fragments of basic floor for fusion music and crossover developing in next decades.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

Symphony in F Major, commonly known as Pastoral Symphony was finished in 1808 and premiered together with composers Fifth Symphony during one concert in Theater an der Wien, December 22nd, 1808. And this is not by coincidence these two works are so close. Ludwig van Beethoven begin to compose his Sixth Symphony in 1802. He was under great impression of just premiered oratorio Die Jahreszeiten by Joseph Haydn. Since we know he was wandering on every occasion by the rural outskirts of Vienna, it can be confirmation of his deep love to the nature and straightforward country living. And this affection made him try to render the beauty of countryside in series of symphonic visions.
Invoking most obvious situations, imitating sounds of nature and suggesting emotions he achieved much more than programmatic instrumental music. Formally it is first symphony of this kind in the history. It has five movements instead of four which we know as a rule according to classical principle. Composer gave series of tittles suggesting matter of every part and forming a kind of story beginning with arrival to the country, admiring idyllic scenes, surviving the storm, feeling gratitude and happiness.
He made this external program the most readable layer of his work but composition was constructed consequently as a symphonic cycle. Even if it is composed of five parts, fourth part is a kind of introduction to the real finale. This movement titled by composer as Gewitter, Sturm can be also seen as a second part of the scherzo which would be then consisted of two contrasting episodes. But the first option is more likely because of lack of final cadence in fourth movement of this symphony.

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

Beethoven was intentionally searching for best dramatic solution in frame of classical symphonic form. Scherzo in Pastoral Symphony has two trios what can be taken from idea of the rondo form balancing sonata rondo form in closing part of the work. Theodor Adorno considered this to be a pattern referred to by Anton Bruckner in his scherzos. Nevertheless three last movements are connected together and played attaca as one movement. And whole symphony is enough universal in it’s idea and realisation to be listen just as a symphonic cycle. And maybe this is why composer said it is „more the expression of feeling than painting”.
Among many phenomenal renditions of this work one is special. Recorded in 1962 with Berliner Philharmoniker and first published in 1963, Herbert von Karajan’s interpretation of Sixth Symphony is rare example of perfection. Every phrase appears, resounds and ends with soft coherence. And even if we would find somebody who can’t understand sound painting effects, emotional substance of this music should be build the inkling of future happiness. This kind of attainment is always dependent of the orchestra highest artistry but person determining the final vision of the work is a conductor. And Karajan was always personality with clear creative vision of final work and complete skills to achieve his aim.
In discography of Herbert von Karajan one can find almost every great composition from the history of orchestral music, but his privileged position was based on master interpretations of greatest nineteenth century symphonies. His cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies recorded in 1961 and 1962 was internationally acclaimed and in next decades published in many series of Deutsche Grammophon. This edition was released in series Accolade in 1978 for English market and marked conductor’s position in Great Britain.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chaka Khan – I Feel for You

Chaka Khan is one of most distinct personalities on American scene in seventies and eighties. Her career in entertainment was spectacular sequence of successes while her style encloses various styles of pop, jazz, funk, soul, disco and R&B which became her basic genre assignment. She was leading vocalist of Rufus band from the very beginning in 1973 to the last album Stompin’ At the Savoy – Live ten years later. Simultaneously from 1978 she was publishing her own albums. Her first solo album Chaka with Michael and Randy Bracker, David Sanborn, Airto Moreira, George Benson, Anthony Jackson, Whitney Huston, Luther Vandross and large group of session musicians exploded as an instant success. Opening song I’m Every Woman became Chaka Khan’s hallmark hit. The same year she was featured performer of Stuff Like That by Quincy Jones and next year she recorded with Ry Cooder for his Bop Till You Drop album.

Chaka Khan – I Feel For You (1984)

Recorded in 1984 I Feel for You was sixth solo album of Chaka Khan and her first production after separating with Rufus band. Comparing this set of songs to her earlier records, it looks like artist was searching for wider and more elastic style with principle to last enough clear to be compatible to pop music but still deeply expressive. Solution she found was crossover somewhere between soul singing, jazz phrasing, popular dance rhythm intensity and density of big band orchestrations. Her new style sounded like it was strictly connected to songs of Prince and Stevie Wonder and shortly gave her position of a big star of pop and R&B in eighties. For almost decade pop charts appeared her new frontier.
Success of this album came with three elements, beautifully written songs, powerful vocal parts of diverse expression and new sound structures. Thank to the state of the art electronic equipment and instruments like Synclavier, the most advanced synthesizer of the decade, new way of recording and organizing musical material and new vision of sound was totally different than before. The accompaniment is not organized in lineup anymore. Various instrumental parts are assembled more like in symphonic music which is different than rock and roll, pop or jazz groups traditions. We can hear even Stevie Wonder playing harmonica in tittle song. Producers carefully chose program with some covers of Prince and Burt Bacharach songs. And every element gives space for vocal extravaganza. Even after three decades of modern production in pop music, this record remains exceptional, it can amaze and is still worth of consideration.

Harnoncourt and Leonhardt conduct Bach’s Osterkantaten

There are no doubts Johann Sebastian Bach was greatest composer of European music ever known. Building his output almost exclusively on demand, he made synthesis of all genres and techniques used before. Only one form of music was beyond his reach. He never received an order for dramma per musica. And in 17th and early 18th century works, especially operas were composed only on request. Nevertheless Bach shifted his operatic ambitions into his oratorios and cantata works, carrying dramatic action with pure musical agents. Using only church music resources he created highly legible and clear language based on musical rhetorical means and measures strengthening the emotional expression.
Since his music was rediscovered in romantic era, Johann Sebastian Bach for more than a century was the composer who was increasingly recognized as genius who made the formal synthesis of all achievements of the previous music. In 1985 many record labels seized the opportunity of 300 anniversary of the birth of the great cantor from St. Thomas church in Leipzig and made special editions of his works. One of panoramic projects for Bach’s birthday celebration was Teldec Special Edition 1985 „300 Jahre J. S. Bach”. The fifth volume of the series was double album with set of five cantatas for Easter – numbers 4, 6, 31, 66 and 134 in Schmieder’s Bach Werke Verzeichnis. As signed two great personalities, Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt – conductors famous for performing music of the baroque period on original instruments.

Harnoncourt and Leonhardt - Bach's Easter Cantatas

Published by Teldec in Direct Metal Mastering technology album is mostly some kind of collection of older recordings from seventies. There is one newly recorded Cantata 134. Double album is divided between two conductors. First LP featuring Gustav Leonhardt conducting instrumental group Leonhardt-Consort, choirs Collegium Vocale working under direction of Philippe Herreweghe and Knabenchor Hannover leaded by Heinz Hennig includes two cantatas BWV 66 and 134. Second LP contains three cantatas BWV 4, 6 and 31 conducted by Nicolaus Harnoncourt with baroque orchestra Concentus musicus Wien, choirs Wiener Sängerknaben and Chorus Vienensis working under direction of Hans Gillesberger. The core group of soloists is mutual for both records – Paul Esswood (alt), Kurt Equiluz (tenor) and Max van Egmond (bass). In Cantata BWV 134 this group was augmented by soloist of Knabenchor Hannover Sebastian Hennig (sopran) and René Jacobs (alt). The same happened in Cantata BWV 31 with soloists of Wiener Sängerknaben and Siegmund Nimsgern (bass). Beautiful, perfectly tuned up voices, forced in timbre and pitch and totally new sound of baroque music.
This recordings were a part of quiet revolution in art of performing the old music. The top indication of new style was use of original instruments tuned in one of original tempering systems. But this was only surface of deeper changes. When whole sound and metric system has changed, ideas of reading and constructing the work need to be redefining. This is why conductors were the most important artists in these recording sessions. Of course there is always a personal imprint in such complex work as cantata. And obviously these conductors and bands are different. Leonhardt aims to the vision of ancient, raw, so much emotionally clear as sometimes rude musical seting of Bach’s work. Harnoncourt creates equilibrium of historical aesthetics and contemporary sensitivity. While Leonhardt goes towards reconstruction of historical music, Harnoncourt builds more readable parallel of old music for today’s listener. Both represent highest level of musical artistry due to the nature of composers creativity. Different personalities and one ideology to make old music alive, sounding the way it sounded 300 years before and agitate as strongly as it was in Bach’s in early 18th century.

Antologia del Bel Canto

Opera can be treated as complex form of musical work created since the fall of Renaissance to contemporary music. Opera can also be seen as the great idea of narrative art which has the zenith of its popularity in romantic era, but considering new music and new theatre settings of older compositions, after 400 years of history opera is still alive and developing. But for real opera lover a scene or a borders of a performance are the universe containing greatest stars we can imagine. Beautiful voices of bel canto era, great appearances, acting possibilities are only starting point to achieve the devotion of opera lovers.
There are a lots of great recordings which can give some light on vocal artistry in first decades of 20th century. And one of best compilations is 5 LP album Antologia del Bel Canto presentata da Giuseppe Di Stefano. Outstanding artist, according to many the last great tenor in history of opera, Giuseppe di Stefano chose 50 artists in 51 arias and one duet. From legendary Metropolitan Opera primadonna Adelina Patti singing dramatic aria from La Sonnambula to Maria Callas performing with Giuseppe di Stefano Duet from 1st Act of Manon Lescaut. Only two artists are presented in two arias, Francesco Tamagno and Enrico Caruso. Francesco Tamagno one can hear in aria Niun mi tema from Otello – this interpretation he was instructed personally by Giuseppe Verdi.

Antologia del Bel Canto

Enrico Caruso, one of greatest singers in recorded history of music left many exceptional recordings. His compilations deserve the separate place and more attention. In Giuseppe di Stefano’s Anthology Caruso is presented in two fragments. Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Jacques Halevy’s La Juive aria Rachel, quand du Seigneur la grâce tutélaire are crown recordings in Caruso’s collection. Phenomenal voice and great artistry are tangibly present in this recordings.
It is hard to mention all 50 singers, but the collection was set up as respectfully and exactly so this anthology can be perfect start to establish collection of records of greatest voices. The list of great singers immortalized on vinyl records is very long. The best has their own recitals, sometimes in song repertoire, sometimes with most popular operatic arias and spectacular scenes. Tradition of recording best arias is much longer than history of recording opera as complete performance or even highlights. Analog cylinders time of playing was 2-4 minutes and later 78 rpm records maximum time was only 3-5 minutes per side. Early recording technology made possible only short pieces. And still these noisy, narrow band recordings can amaze by power of artistic personality and abilities of great voices.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

The band Steely Dan was founded by two friends Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Both were musicians and co-leaders of the group, together they were co-authors of great amount of songs. Best feature of the band was it’s jazzy harmonics and perfect sound precision with multidirectional influences aiming to the wide synthesis of American music. It was few years before in late Seventies American super group Steely Dan became as much disappointing for some rock-fans as great hope for popular music. Soft rock songs often with sarcastic lyrics combined with jazz, jazz-rock and elements of funky was their mark of identification. After success of their third album which was one of most perfect productions in rock history, musicians suspended concert tours for many years, focusing on studio recording, but 1974 album was really hard to conquer.

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974)

The third album of Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic became greatest success of the group. Reaching position in first ten of the charts record went gold and then platinum. The song opening this album – sung by Donald Fagen Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – was introduced by riff taken from Horace Silver’s Song for my Father – perfect idea for straight connection with jazz tradition. It was not the only jazz connection of Pretzel Logic – for the end of A-side musicians played instrumental cover of swinging twentieth’s standard East St. Louis Toodle-Oo composition by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley. Opening reverse side Parker’s Band was a kind of jazz-rock tribute to great improviser. But next song Through with Buzz is pearl of creative jazz-rock harmonization. Even elements of country music in With a Gun or polyphonic instrumentation of Charlie Freak can be the part of the play.
Shortened versions of first and third (Any Major Dude Will Tell You) songs from Pretzel Logic were published as a 7” single and became the hit of summer 1974, reaching number 4 on Billboard hits chart. And Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 all time greatest albums gives for Pretzel Logic 385 position. It’s worth to understand what makes this record so unfading and still much worth to listen to. Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and 17 other musicians created great album with lots of courage to mix every possible, alive and worthy ideas and unify them in one musical work. This idea was mutual for many artists in midstream of fusion music in Seventies but Pretzel Logic gives it new shape enough close to jazz, rock, soul, progressive and pop music.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ricardo Muti – Beethoven – Symphony No. 7

Nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven belong to the group of highest accomplishments in the history of European musical culture. Therefore every one composition from this collection is played constantly anywhere in the world. The symphonies are not the cycle. Every one has it’s own idea and unique character, sometimes it is obvious, sometimes enigmatic and all are bonded by person of great composer. Consequently it is hard to point the best interpretation. After hundreds and thousands of performances, Beethoven’s symphonies are still a real challenge for artists. One of great conductors who recorded unforgettable Beethoven’s renditions is Ricardo Muti. He recorded complete cycle with Philadelphia Orchestra which he was leading for twelve years 1980-1992. Among many later recordings, early recording from 1979 deserved the special place it occupies on the record shelf. This is debut recording with the orchestra, has great idea of the work and incomparable sound. It was published under Angel and EMI labels.
During the 1970s when Muti was principal guest conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, naturally he was also the Philly’s featuring artist, both on concert events and recordings. This position is commonly treated as a kind of qualifying period and after Eugene Ormandy in 1980 officially retired, Muti succeeded him as Musical Director for next 12 years. Ricardo Muti is great conductor in the style of old masters of the baton. He understands the weight of artistic responsibility when working with full symphonic and performing big works for thousands of listeners. His career can be seen as he is the same kind of personality as Arturo Toscanini. He is not finishing his job until piece of art is completed and self-referenced.

Ricardo Muti – Beethoven – Symphony No. 7 (1979)

One can have totally different idea of interpreting some opus, but when listening to his interpretation it is hard to avoid the impression this is the only well-founded attitude towards the work. Seventh Symphony is rhythmically strong, swinging and emotionally pronounced work. While many conductors try to calm down natural expression of this work, in his 1979 recording Ricardo Muti gives perfect example of interpretation following composers ideas. And this is not the same interpretation as included in recorded in forthcoming years the nine symphonies complete. Sound is much more natural and still every nuance is greatly audible.
The recording session took place in historic place called the Met Church, former place of the Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia. Opened in 1908 opera house seated 4200 patrons every one of whom had perfect sight to the stage and was biggest concert hall in the world. In first 3 dacedes it was opera house, later it was used as a hall for various entertainment undertakings, cinema and sport venues,  as ballroom and since May, 1954, it was used as a church.
Today building located at 858 North Broad Street, the major arterial street of the Pennsylvania capital, is used by Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center at the Met, consecutive religious institution which tries to raise founds for renovation of the historic building. The legendary hall has near-perfect acoustic conditions. In 1978 and 1979 EMI used The Met Church for recording with The Philadelphia Orchestra marking records as „The new Philadelphia Sound”. In 1979 orchestra started recording using digital technology and this changed the approach to acoustic matters. Change doesn’t mean made obsolete. Listening 32 years after recording The Philadelphia Orchestra sounds astonishingly modern and alive. The sound space effects are more natural than from any studio processing. And maybe this is why vinyl records have still their power of making listeners happy.