Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gustav Mahler – Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Des Knaben Wunderhorn is wide collection of folk poems edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in Heidelberg during first decade of nineteenth century, became the foundation of German romantic folklore idealizations and vivid movement creating new national identity for people divided by borders between many German countries. The edition quickly took prominent position in cultural heritage of German language societies. Great importance of the collection has its musical impact – among composers writing songs with texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn are Johannes Brahms, Carl Loewe, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Robert Schumann, Carl Maria von Weber, Alexander Zemlinski and most consistent and magnificent Gustav Mahler.
Mahler come up to Des Knaben Wunderhorn many times and always with great creative effect. For the very first time in 1884 he took only inspiration from the poem Wann mein Schatz and composed narrative song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Travelling Journeyman). Then he has elaborated settings of nine songs chosen from the Wunderhorn collection. Mahler composed these songs after 1887 and closed in 2nd and 3rd Volumes of Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit (Songs and Airs from Days of Youth) – three-volume collection of solo songs with piano.

Gustav Mahler – Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Next 12 songs collection, known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Gustav Mahler composed in years 1892 to 1895. Originally songs was composed for voice and piano. Made out of Des Knaben Wunderhorn selection has been dynamically changed in years of creation and after. First five songs he composed in 1892 and next year three more songs. Then he slow down and completed the cycle in 1998. Some songs from this set he used his symphonies in instrumental extended setup or as vocal movements like Urlicht in Second Symphony and Es sungen drei Engel in Third Symphony. In 1901 he removed these two songs from Wunderhorn collection and replaced them with another two newly composed songs – Revelge and Der Tamboursg'sell both composed in 1901. After his death Universal Edition replaced piano accompaniments with piano reductions of orchestral score.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn is probably one of best known song cycles with orchestra. Some songs are lighter than other works and for sure it’s not as much difficult as Kindertotenlieder or any other of Mahler’s ten symphonies. In 1980 recording of this work was published by Hungaroton label (SLPX 12043). Complete collection of 12 songs sung by soloists of Budapest Opera soprano Éva Andor and baritone István Gáti with accompany of Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by György Lehel. Andor sung with precision and with perfect emotions her soprano sounds with some operatic touch. Gáti shapes his phrases in more emotional way, building good connections with instruments. Testing his expressive possibilities he gave great rendition of the song Des Antonius von Padua Fishpredigt and Revelge, and he sings perfectly in style  these two songs are examples of narrative, highly dramatic song. In Der Schildwache Nachtlied soprano parts are profoundly emotional and mysteriously gentle. Orchestra plays precisely and with rich sound. Both singers and the orchestra gave exact, professional performance and clear, well planned interpretation of whole collection.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Godfather – Part II – Soundtrack

After more than half of the century of sound film there can be no doubts about music is meaningful element of the movie. After technology let the synchronization of moving pictures with realistic sound it became quite challenge for composers to create music enough good to lasts as long as movie will be in public circuit. In first period most of soundtracks were orchestral compositions, sometimes created by renowned composers like Hanns Eisler or Sergei Prokofiev who wrote famous scores for Sergei Eisenstein’s pictures Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible. In sixties great popularity gained new kind of soundtracks made as a collection of popular songs. But still the best music for the movie was composed in traditional manner. Sometimes these two attitudes were combined with great effects by combining original parts with previous melodies, often in new arrangement. Most ambitious attitude was to compose original music stylized as including external, folk or popular parts. Certainly such case was the music by Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola for The Godfather II which was awarded by 1974 Academy Award for Best Original Score.

The Godfather – Part II – Soundtrack (1974)

The program of The Godfather Part II soundtrack is more than impressive. Brilliant original score partly stylized as folk songs from Sicilian and American-Italian tradition or even popular dance melodies have been skillfully interweaved to create epic musical narration. All this material was connected on the level of illustrative and acting functions of music. And it was done in best manner of romantic music. In this score dramatic and characteristic orchestral illustrations known as essential element of every great movie narration base on few themes working sometimes in a way as a leitmotivs in opera. For example Kay has her own musical motive. Main theme can be connected to various situations, generally it illustrates immigrant’s uncertainty, nostalgic and hope. It is interesting how music valuate past and present day scenes. The two layers of narration showing alternately conclusions for similar questions and music is clearly connected to this opinions. 
Nino Rota scored the music and composed more than half of material. Second composer and director was Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. Inter alia he composed one of the best example of stylized music – Marcia Stilo Italiano. Family connections gave this movie unique characteristics – it’s both dramatic and warm. Two additional songs have been written by Francesco Pennino, grandfather of the movie director and one by Italia Pennino, director’s mother.  Especially Francesco Pennino's Senza mamma sung by Livio Giorgi makes an impression of early twentieth century original vaudeville song. Great original themes set as stylized popular and dance music fragments and then put into use as illustrations of presented reality made together a stylish cycle of tasty pieces. Such choice has it’s close connections with form of baroque suite but giving listener satisfaction it also points the past was way much benevolent than the future.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oleg Kagan and Svyatoslav Richter – Mozart Sonatas for Violin and Piano

Among greatest Russian violinists of the eighties, Oleg Kagan was one with best chances for playing leading role in world of violin, person of great possibilities. He died in 1990, before his 44, in very moment his career became flourished. His live recordings are the testimony of interpreting talent and great artistic consciousness. He was born in 1946 on Sakhalin, learned in Ryga and since he was thirteen in Moscow Conservatory in classes of Boris Kuznetsov and David Oistrakh. In seventies he became playing chamber music with Natalia Gutman and Svyatoslav Richter and this partnership gives him chance for developing of worldwide career.
There are many good records documenting interpreting art of Oleg Kagan. One of them is great is double album with Franz Schubert’s Octet and Two Trios recorded in 1979 and published in 1983. Special position in artist’s discography have live recordings of chamber concertos he took part. One of them is published in 1987 by Melodya recording of the Mozart recital during December Evenings at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow. Oleg Kagan and Svyatoslav Richter played two sonatas for violin and piano of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Sonata B-flat Major KV 378 and Sonata G Major KV 379.

Kagan and Richter – Mozart Sonatas

Notability of this recording is contribution of both members of the duo – Kagan and Richter. Mozart wrote his Sonata B-flat Major as 23-years-old but yet quite mature composer. Two years later it was published as number 4 in set of 6 Sonatas op. 2. And great composer’s stylistic achievement in this compositions is creating musical narration as the bound between instruments. He gave no chance to play this work by one an musicians has to think about both instruments simultaneously, what means listener have to hear their joint appearance the same way. Svyatoslav Richter was one of greatest pianists of 20th century and great interpreter of chamber music. He was genius of musical thinking, legendary performer of hours of orchestral music on piano without previously prepared transcriptions. His solo piano recordings demand the highest attention and in short time I am going to write about this genius again.
This is about Oleg Kagan, great violinist who passed too early, to show what were his real possibilities. His tone, sometimes with strong vibration and firmly drawn phrasing was in a way belonging to post-romantic school. Such strong shaping of Mozart phrases makes its emotional content more expressive and understandable. In Brezhnev era it was compliant to Soviet Union official esthetics – such strongly accented interpretations were better readable for working class and whole society. Sometimes it seamed like he was missing the past of violin glory, trying to renew the style of nineteenth century masters. But while listening his recordings of modern music and 18th century compositions it becomes clear, he is more like romantic virtuoso who is moving towards reconciliation of emotional violin school with modern expectations of intellectual distance and emotional calm. There’s no need to add the performance of Mozart’s Sonatas is great, it’s clear itself.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Chassidic and Shabbat Songs

The moment of changing the political and economic system of formerly socialistic countries in central Europe, was also the time of turning back and digging for individual and cultural roots. Uncovering the history in private perspective was the process of social awakening. It was also the crucial moment in building the modern identity. And special place was occupied both by remnants of Jewish culture and missing parts of social memory. After two records of Effi Netzer's Hava Nagila and Yaacov Shapiro’s The 18 Pearls of Yiddish Songs, Polish Jazz Federation published under POLJAZZ label next album called Chassidic and Shabath Songs (PSJ 260). Cover design connects these albums but third album is distant in serial number and in time from prior albums. And even if it was only two or three years, this time it could be the real distance.

Chassidic and Shabbat Songs

As it was announced in back cover commentary „this is a unique record”. And it really is. It is hard to find almost any information about recorded artists, time and place of recording, even the year of production of the album. Only information is the name of the producer Dov Zeira and small note about historic background of Chassidism. But most important is listing of 16 songs titles. There are many popular Shabbat songs in simple and easy to sing along arrangements – Hineh Lo Yanum, Yedid Nefesh, Yismechu Hashamaim, Tzam'a Nafshi, Ivdu et Adonai, Mi Ha’Ish, Esa Einai and Od Yishama.
Performers assembled on this album are very close in style and professional level – sometimes it’s hard to see the difference between various artists. Among performers we can hear Ami Shavit (Sisu Ve’Simchu mistakenly noticed on cover as Sissu Yesimchu), Effi Netzer Singers (She’yibane Beit Hamikdash, Sisu Et Yerushalayim, Tzam'a Nafshi) David And The High Spirit (Yismechu Hashamaim, Od Yishama), HaGevatron (Mi Ha’Ish), Batya Segal and Bary Segal (Esa Einai). Vocal arrangements sometimes sung in unison by whole group of singers are intentionally nonprofessional like. But  with joyous spirits and festive mood can be the great background for learning of Shabbat Songs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rubinstein – Beethoven: 5 Piano Concertos

Artur Rubinstein, legendary interpreter of nineteenth century music recorded complete of five Beethoven’s piano concertos three times. And every time for RCA Victor Company. First complete set of Beethoven’s concerti artist recorded in 1958 with Symphony of the Air conducted by Joseph Krips became great artistic success. Second rendition of Beethoven’s concerti cycle artist recorded in 1970 with Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. For the last time complete of five concerti Artur Rubinstein performed five years later, in 1975 with London Philharmonic Orchestra lead by Daniel Barenboim. He also recorded some piano sonatas and violin sonatas with Henryk Szeryng. 
Artur Rubinstein’s connection with Beethoven’s piano works has its reasons. He studied at the turn of the century. These times Beethoven was valued as musical genius beyond every compare. And this was main reason for regular presence of his music in concert programs where it was played with romantic touch and emphasized emotions. Just the same as music of romantic composers, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Rubinstein was naturally the type of romantic virtuoso focused on dramatic and visionary elements of musical work.

Rubinstein – Beethoven: 5 Piano Concertos (1970)

Cycle recorded in 1970 is quite different from earlier pianist renditions. Great success of more than decade earlier recordings indicate Rubinstein as best interpreter when RCA projected this monumental edition. Boston Symphony Orchestra and Erich Leinsdorf, resident conductor of the orchestra in sixties also were the meaningful choice. Soloist and orchestra sound surprisingly solemn and profound. According to well grounded cliché Boston Symphony was most classical orchestra in America. And this 4 LP set is next prove of versatility and emotional capacity of classical style.
Such attitude was understandable in 1970 – during recording sessions to commemorate internationally celebrated Beethoven Year in 200 anniversary of composer’s birthday. Complete five concerti are diversified, first two have more classical touch, what sometimes lead to playing them in typical Mozart concerti manner. In this performance Concerto C Major is more like forecast of closing whole cycle Concerto E-flat Major. Artists build stable construction of exact phrasing, in some points more symphonic than concertante. Second Concerto has more classical touch, especially in Rondo, what means softly and more precisely finished phrases and harmonic passages, but is still enough distant from Mozart’s style.
Third concerto is dramatically determined. There were some connections with light brilliant style Rubinstein showed in his 12 years earlier recording. In 1970 recording such stylistic tendencies are hard to find. Erich Leinsdorf, who in the same time recorded complete Beethoven’s symphonies, in concerti sized up with symphonic tradition of great Vienna composer. The effect are astonishingly profound and intellectually proved performances. In Piano Concerto No 4 G Major this symphonic manner is even more readable. Conductor is leading orchestra consequently to objective rendition and this attitude gives soloist almost unlimited interpretative possibilities. Emotions of Concerto G Major op. 58 are related to Fourth Symphony B-flat Major op. 60 which was premiered at the same evening at Prinz Franz Joseph von Lobkovitz home. Closing whole cycle Concerto E-flat Major op. 73 is once again a serious dealing with classical form and romantic impressionability. This performance is the master interpretation for perfect concerto. And Emperor Concerto is undoubtedly one of very few of this kind in the history of music.