Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rare Earth – Ecology

Rare Earth was first successful white band recording for Motown label. The group was formed in 1960 as „The Sunliners”, later in 1968, just before publishing their first record, they rename for „Rare Earth”. Although their debut album Dreams/Answers published by Verve in 1968 passed unsuccessful, Motown recorded their second album Get Ready in 1969. Company specialized in soul and rhythm and blues was going to induct new label publishing white rhythm and blues bands. Following the group joking about giving new label the name of the band, Motown accepted idea and new label Rare Earth has started with albums of Love Sculpture, Pretty Things, Rare Earth, Rustix and Messengers. In next three years style was evolving to rock and after 1973 it was limited almost exclusively to Rare Earth’s new tittles and reissues. Last two albums in label catalogue were Real Pretty by Pretty Things and Midnight Lady by Rare Earth, both published in 1976.

Rare Eatrh's Ecology (1970)

Maybe most recognizable Rare Earth title is Ecology – third studio album of the group released in 1970. Group this time come out as base line up of five musicians: Gil Bridges playing flute, saxophone, tambourine, guitarist Rod Richards (born as Rod Cox), drummer Pete Riveria (also known as Peter Rivera, Peter Hoorelbeke), bass guitarist playing also trombone John Persh (a. k. a. John Parrish, John Parsh) and organist playing also other keyboard instruments Kenny James (born as Ken Folcik). For the second album group was augmented by percussionist playing conga Eddie Guzman, who became member of the group in forthcoming years. Rare Earth often changed its line up. In next year’s album One World group has changed guitarist and organist, and in next title Willie Remembers in 1972 also bass player has gone. Interresting annotation in personnel list says „Vocals By All” exactly as if it was an added person.
Seven songs program encloses five original songs – four by producer of the album Tom Baird and one by bass guitar and trombone player John Persh. Other two were hits of The Temptations (I Know I’m Loosing You) and The Beatles (Eleanor Rigby). Opening first side Born to Wander is maybe first great hit of the group. Expanded version of I’m Loosing You is a great illustration of the changes proceed in the end of sixties. Soul, almost funky rhythmic intensity, groovy sound, which was still fitted in Motown’s style, gives a lot more expressive feeling characteristic for direction, called in recording company advertisements „heavy label”. This album is one of few remnants of flower-power era and revolt in the music of the sixties.

Karl Böhm – Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony F Minor op. 36

One of most versatile composers of romantic era was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (in Russian – Пётр Ильич Чайковский) who was developing symphonic music just as surpassing Brahms’ achievements and opening perspectives for post-romantic emotionalism manifest later in symphonies composed by Dvorak, Bruckner and Mahler. It is hard to overrate his symphonies worth, even if he is well known for different forms and genres. And it is characteristic, his style is very personal in every genre and work, in symphonies or songs, compositions for piano or ballets, operas or religious music, and despite of early works his music is always touched by his own, idiomatic and almost intimate emotions. His attitude towards classical forms was very modern, free from dichotomy between nationalistic romanticism represented by group of five composers called Moguchaya kuchka (Russian – Могучая кучка) and on the other side a group cosmopolitan academic composers continuing composing in the manner of German classical school. It is interesting he remained in good relation with both sides of the stylistic conflict Mily Balakirev and Anton Rubinstein.
He perceive classical forms as an almost neutral container for emotional expression. Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies mark composer’s way to establish his own equilibrium of classical forms and individual emotions. After testing and exposing his approach in first three symphonies, in fourth he began series of great works which represent grandiose synthesis of contradicted traditions. Sublime of Russian imperial culture and ideas of Western European music braided in Tchaikovsky’s 4th, 5th, 6th and in Manfred Symphony, gave composer position of one of the greatest composers in nineteen century. His highly elevated, romantic solution became turning point in the history of Russian culture. Despite of this Tchaikovsky has been accused as too much cosmopolite by ideologists of communistic regime, who by the way were in many cases zealous followers of Russian nationalistic ideas.

Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony in Karl Böhm Ausgabe

Searching for solution of creative dilemmas, Pyotr Tchaikovsky created Symphony No. 4 F Minor op. 36 in four part form which setup is straightforward reference to constructions of Beethoven’s late symphonies. The narrative mode of constructing symphonic work descends from pre-romantic symphonic style of late Beethoven and Schubert, but most influential were depictive-programmatic symphonic works Liszt and Berlioz. There also some clear reflections of Russian heritage. Wide almost vocal phrase in Andantino could be seen as idiomatic for Russian style. Pizzicato ostinato in Scherzo sounds just like Russian balalaika. In final Allegro con fuoco Tchaikovsky incorporated as a refrain theme folk song In the Field Stood a Birch Tree (originally – Во поле берёза стояла). All this let him save national character of this work, achieving the highest volume of emotional amplitude.
On this equilibrium is based interesting recording of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony made in 1978 by Karl Böhm with London Symphony Orchestra. Probably most disciplined orchestra in Europe with charismatically consequent and moderate, arbitrary exacting conductor made this work very classical in emotional balance and structural construction. Maybe this rendition is not as much dramatic as Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s interpretation with Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, for sure it is not so much lyrical as it was Igor Markevitch’s recording with LSO. Böhm is reading Symphony F Minor somewhere between solemn pathos and virtuoso glitter. And he is deadly consequent. Narrative gesture and wide emotional span makes this vision closer to Bruckner’s academicism than any composer of Russian romanticism.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Liturgy of Dohány Street Synagogue

In multinational society of  Austro-Hungarian Empire religion was still mandatory element of cultural tradition and individual identity. Nineteenth century acculturation gave Jewish in Hungary slightly better position than in other regions of central Europe. Possible the key role in this process was played by Neolog Judaism, local reformation conception trying to find the balance between Orthodox and Reformed Judaism, but more open for others and using Hungarian language in prayers and teachings. This religious reform was characteristic for Budapest and some other cities while in small towns and in the country Jewish life was still more orthodox. 
Build between 1854 and 1859, Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Eurasia and have enough place for 3 000 seats in its interior. Since its beginning this is a center of Neolog Judaism. Reformed organization of the faith was still focused on holidays observance or kashrut but some rules were avoided, for example separation of men and women in the synagogue. In its principles it was closest to Conservative Judaism in United States, but of course influences were reciprocal. It is not an accidental convergence between shape of Dohány Street Synagogue and Central Synagogue in Manhattan erected 13 years later as a copy of architecture of the temple in Budapest. Today’s Dohány Street Synagogue exterior complex encloses birthplace of Theodor Herzl who called it in his speeches Tabakgasse Synagogue (which is exact translation of Hungarian name of the synagogue – Dohány utcai Zsinagóga).

Liturgy of Dohány Street Synagogue

In 20th century building of the Synagogue was seriously damaged, first it was bombed by Hungarian nationalists in February 1939, second it suffered during war, especially in time of Siege of Budapest. After the end of the War, partly damaged building served as prayer house for much-diminished Jewish community. After the end of communistic era in 1993-1996 Dohány Street Synagogue was reconstructed thanks to the grants of private donators. Biggest support of 5 millions USD community had received from Estée Lauder who was daughter of Hungarian Jewish emigrants.
Ten years before renovation, in 1986 there was published recording of most meaningful prayers and anthems from Dohány Street Synagogue. The performers were chief cantor of the synagogue Sándor Kovács, organist Mária Lisznyai and The Chorus of Dohány Street Synagogue with chorus master Andor Somló. The program of this record contains mainly traditional tunes, some in arrangements of Gábor Lisznyai, Sándor Kovács and Mária Lisznyai. Few prayers were composed by Jakob Gottschall (V’shomru, R’tse Vim’nichosenu) and Louis Lewandowski (Ma Tayvu).
During the reconstruction in 1996 organs in the synagogue were placed by modern organ with 63 voices and 4 manuals build by Jehmlich Orgelbau Dresden GmbH. It replaced the historic 5 000 pipe instrument which was in use since 1859. Album documenting Liturgy of Dohány Street Synagogue published by Hungaroton (SLPD 18091) is probably one and only recording of old synagogue organ which were concerting Ferenc Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens. And recorded sound gives a good example of romantic trends in organ building.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hebrew Melodies for Sabbath and High Holidays

Music always played respectable role in Judaism. It took its place in everyday prayers, Torah readings and vocalizations, sounded in shofar callings during last month of the year, in holidays singing, in Shabbat zemirot and nigunim. The whole Diaspora music was strictly connected with religion and knowledge, establishing tradition strong enough to lead people across centuries of dispersion. In history of Hungarian Diaspora cultural heritage played special role. Following the history of central Europe, Hungary was shaped as a multicultural country. After Kingdom of Hungary became in 1867 a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire, tolerance and liberality was the only way to maintain the society. 
The 19th century Hungary was home for widespread Jewish life. Rabbis created a vivid movement of yeshivas, blossomed with moral tractates and halakhic studies. On the other side some people wanted to adjust rituals in agreement with modern views which in Hungary lead to Neolog Judaism which was orientation close to American Conservative Judaism but with using of Hungarian language in some parts of synagogue service. In 1845 rabbi Leopold Löw published his first sermon in Hungarian. Orthodox rabbis opposed against reforms. In effect of break-up and disagreement some rabbis incline to necessary reforms that gave Modern Orthodox Judaism and some, mainly in cities induce deeper changes. After 1868 the Jewish society was enough open to give place for various orientations from Ultra Orthodox and Modern Orthodox to Reformed Judaism. And what is interesting, Hungary was the country where Hassidism movement haven’t been opposed by rabbis. 

Hebrew Melodies for Sabbath and High Holidays

Beautiful musical setting of praying services were esteemed by many non-Jewish citizens. They were coming for holidays just to listen cantorial singing, sometimes even without understanding the meaning of the prayers. Hungarian Jews had a chance to remain in connection with tradition and part acculturation seemed the best way to multicultural society. This situation gave Jewish life in Austro-Hungarian Empire better position than in vast majority of European countries. This situation gave culture as a whole and for music in peculiarity, a chance to resist, even after Holocaust. 
Affirmation of its vitality can be set of Sabbath and Holidays Melodies recorded in 1977 by main Hungarian label Hungaroton (SLPX 18018). Some of them are traditional melodies basing on ancient neginot (vocalizations of Torah readings) some are melodies from 19th and 20th century. Some composers we know by name, among them Dunayevsky (Veshamru), Jakab Gottschal (Psalm 93.), Jósef Weismann of Eszék (Voal yode avadekha) and Salomon Sulzer (Uv’shophar gadol). Some are Hassidic traditional tunes, like stirring El male rahamim presented in form it was sung for hundreds of thousands martyrs of Cossacks in Ukraine during Khmelnytsky uprising 1648-1657. 
Interesting example of lively Hasidic tradition is Hamavdil,  four part choral suite based on Hasidic melodies performed in 1941 in Debrecen by Berta Konstantinova, an artist of former Yiddish Theatre in Lodz. Author of choir setting was Emil Ádám, a choirmaster who was also author of many arrangements and conductor of Goldmark Choir. Solo voices are tenor Árpád Kishegi, baritone Rezsö Feleki, cantor and author of Mi shebarakh, sopranos Zsuzsa Kéval and Anikó Fisher. Some melodies are accompanied by organ by György Kármán. This recording was success and three years later, in 1980 it was republished by Fidelio label in Netherlands.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weather Report – Sweetnighter

Among many groundbreaking recordings and concerts presented by groups of progressive rock and electric jazz in early seventies, Weather Report should be seen as quite unique phenomenon. Considering Miles Davis recordings from electric period, Weather Report become one of most recognizable modern jazz groups playing fusion jazz. And it was always much more popular than other fusion, jazz-rock formations, even these less ambitious, playing soft jazz or rock with elements of improvisation. But even these less ambitious groups in early seventies were ephemeras and didn’t play significant role in the world of music. Weather Report was highly noted from their first recording.
In the beginnings group was joint enterprise of three musicians Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitous. Zawinul and Shorter were friends since 1959 when they met playing in Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band. They knew classically trained bass virtuoso Miroslav Vitous from Miles Davis electric sessions. These three musicians became core of the group for the first three years of its history while other instrumentalists, especially drummers and percussionists were permanently changing. Third studio album of the group and last record of this lineup was Sweetnighter – almost 45 minutes of music recorded during five days session in February 1973.

Weather Report – Sweetnighter  (1973)

Weather Report personnel on Sweetnighter is diversified and varies in each track. Joe Zawinul playing keyboards – electric and acoustic piano and synthesizer – clearly catches the role of a leader. Wayne Shorter plays soprano saxophone and he is establishing the sound that became hallmark of the group and subject of thousand imitations through the whole seventies. Miroslav Vitous is playing in all tunes but last one, Wayne Shorter’s Non-Stop Home – the track can be seen as forecast of next album Mysterious Traveller. Uncomplicated, groovy ostinatos were more funky or R&B than jazz and were definitely not enough sophisticated to satisfy ambitious virtuoso. On next album Vitous is present only in one tune and these are marks of his conflict with Zawinul which nature was probably not only musical. The whole group encloses five other musicians. There are two drummers – Eric Gravatt and Herschel Dwellingham, two percussionists – Dom Um Romao and Steve „Muruga” Booker, as well one multi instrumentalist Andrew N. White III playing electric bass and English horn.
What makes Sweetnighter so exceptional is the rhythmic continuity. Trance intensity of 125th Street Congress, a 12-minutes long composition by Zawinul on B-Side brings on mind few years earlier Miles Davis electric recordings. A kind of sensation in 1973 was opening the album 13-minutes track and based on ostinatos – Boogie Woogie Waltz. Repetitions were the principle method of organizing whole material of the composition – in accompaniment as well as in solos which are series of repetitions of the same motifs. Some listeners believed the title and triple metre of this composition are associated with Zawinul’s Vienna origins, but considering characteristics of boogie woogie and waltz it is clear the idea was to connect these two into one. From the construction point of view the more traditional theme is Shorter’s Manolete, but it is still based on repeating motifs. Generally program of Sweetnighter album is the cycle of dreamy sound visions came from new possibilities of electronics and drive by repeating strong rhythmic patterns. This is what made Weather Report group of the year 1973 in Down Beat Readers Poll and their third album one of best  definitions of fusion jazz.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

It’s hard to exaggerate when speaking about weightiness of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The whole series of nine symphonies was revolutionary achievement as well as great accomplishment of late classical and pre-romantic era. And every symphony in the series is unique on its own. Nevertheless this is Symphony C Minor op. 67 which was the exceptional and most shaking one from the very beginning. It marks top moment in Beethoven’s career. Developed from simple 4-note motif, build upon mathematically perfect process, Fifth Symphony invokes deepest motions of human consciousness. Maybe this is the reason for such favorable reception of this work. But maybe the direct cause is Fifth’s flexibility and receptivity, even for extreme interpreting ideas. This could explain why it has highlighted position in repertoire of every symphonic orchestra and conductor. 
Herbert von Karajan recorded Beethoven’s Fifth many times. The first internationally recognized recording was 1948 album with Wiener Philharmoniker. But there is no doubt the best results Herbert von Karajan had achieved with Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra he was resident conductor for the 35 years. For the first time, the nine Beethoven’s symphonies Karajan recorded with Berliner Philharmoniker in 1961 and 1962 and it was probably most esteemed rendition of the complete set in next two decades. In 1976-1977 he again seized up with symphonies, this time in new technology of multidimensional sound. Third time he recorded Beethoven’s symphonies in eighties, on a series of digitally mastered soundtracks from video production.

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven's Symphony No 5 (1977)

Every edition of the Beethoven’s set was sensational and became a milestone in growing fame of Karajan and his orchestra and every edition has it’s own place in recording history. The 1977 recording of the Fifth Symphony is brilliant example of conductor’s creative intensity. Karajan averts traditional interpreting pattern. Against solemn and sometimes gloomy interpretations of introduction with fate knocking motif, he opens this symphony with warm passion like he was going to say there’s no fate but our will. He is building Allegro con brio like he was first who knew the meaning of con brio indication. Basing on strong contrasts first movement is enough lively and stormy to create narrative dominant and to open in recapitulation the whole space we can see as affirmation of composers conviction about the idea of indeterminate human freedom.
After such exposure, second movement begins in elegiac mood which is clearly turned against the first part disposition. Nostalgia alters into determined, self-convicted remembrance of first episode, connected by the same motif of four notes with accent on fourth. And in the end of Andante con moto it carries the solemn certainty of ideas catch in previous movement. Third movement is brilliant continuation of narrative premises. Dramatically determined, rhythmic motif and contrasting fugato with joyous, almost rustic chase of strings are two episodes marking base for scherzo developing into final Allegro. Which balanced relief and triumphant fanfare. It is really hard to find rendition with such mighty strings. String quintet sound is huge and this makes Karajan’s Fifth even more powerful and alive than many other interpretations.