Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anna Moffo – Coloratura Arias

Anna Moffo, famous Italian-American soprano was one of best female voices of LP recording era and phenomenal interpreter of bel canto music. She was benefited by the great popularity in sixties and seventies as lyric-coloratura soprano. She was also beautiful woman and gifted actress. Her signature roles with coloratura passages are remembered both for great stage appearances and musical performances. In her wide discography there are many complete opera performances, mainly for RCA. Interesting presentation from the period of her early career are two albums recorded for EMI with The Philharmonia Orchestra - Mozart Arias (from Mozart's operas but also from Mess C Minor and Exsultate, Jubilate) and Coloratura Arias (from operas by Donizetti, Rossini, Bellini and Verdi). Record sessions for Mozart Arias took place in Abbey Road Studios in May 1958 and for Coloratura Arias in December 1959. During Mozart session orchestra was conducted by Alceo Galliera. In USA where it was mastered by Columbia and published by Seraphim (EMI-Angel label) these recordings became the great introduction to her triumphal years as a star in Metropolitan Opera.

Anna Moffo – Coloratura Arias

Coloratura Arias was last album Anna Moffo recorded for EMI. She appeared with The Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis. The program was carefully and well chosen. Arias and scenes with strong emotional impact from doubts and despair to joy and hope - the whole range of emotions connected with love. On the A-side great two tracks - madness scene from Second Act of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and aria Una voce poco fa from Act I of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Opposite side contains arias by Bellini and Verdi - from I Puritani (Act II) scene with Elvira's lament and joyous finale aria of Amina from La sonnambula. Giuseppe Verdi is represented by two arias of women in love - Gilda's confession Caro nome from Rigoletto and full of doubts, sad monologue of Violetta from 1st Act of La Traviata. Idea of this set is readable, the exemplary vocal performances have deeper meaning, showing different degrees of love and the dramatic motives of coloratura.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anda and Kubelik – Schumann and Grieg – Piano Concerti

Two piano concertos in A Minor by two composers Robert Schumann and Edvard Grieg are often placed together. Both are very popular works of romantic period, both are in the same key, both are the only finished concertos in composers’ oeuvres but this is still not enough explanation to understand why so many listeners love to connect these two concertos. Although these two composers were parted by interval of a whole generation and so these concertos were written 27 years one after another, both are highlights of the same romantic style and both are extremely attractive as philharmonic evening events.
From constructional point of view both base on the same idea. After orchestral strike, piano bursts with descending passage and this creates space for theme in orchestra. The construction idea of both concertos is generally the same. Both are nominally in three parts and both have second and third parts ordered to play attacca. And this makes them closer to the rhapsody in two parts than to Mozart or Beethoven type of three-part piano concerto. Consequently in  place of the development traditionally dominating in first parts composers show many casual themes and ideas. These two are similar in basic ideas probably because 25 years old composer followed some creative directions of Schumann whom he really admired. This is most probable cause for some construction and main idea similarities but considering the final effect, these two concertos are still quite different in style and personal character.

Anda in Schumann and Grieg's Concerti (1964)

Basic differences between these two concertos could be derived from historic circumstances and creative attitude of both composers. The Schumann’s work was the milestone of romantic concerto formal development. It was set up against traditional form by composer who was trying to restore the spirit of improvised virtuoso music and reform old idea of concerto. After quarter of the century subversive formal ideas of first romantics became common way of composing. Edvard Grieg, who was great admirer of Schumann’s work, was also determined to create national style of Norway music, which was in line with the spirit of the era. He used national Norwegian folklore, melodies and rhythms of folk dances and transform them into elements of European musical tradition. And this is probably the hallmark of Grieg’s Piano Concerto A Minor which resulted this very work became beloved piece of nineteenth and twentieth century audience.
Géza Anda plays Schumann’s Concerto with a kind of classical standoff, building emotional pressure through standard dynamics and precise articulation. Orchestra creates highly suggestive emotional support for pianist. In Grieg’s Piano Concerto artists follow the rhythmic and melodic intensity with vigor and pathos driving to more emotional or even sentimental moods. Pianist, orchestra and conductor are perfect team for this works. The set of two concertos recorded for Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft in 1964 was out of stock and highly priced recording, so twenty years later it has been digitally mastered and republished with new cover design in DGG „Galleria” series. Is there any better review than second edition of the work?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weather Report – I Sing the Body Electric

There are only few jazz ensembles being as much popular among jazz fans and those, who have never switched to jazz. Even comparing to all fusion groups, Weather Report was always more recognizable than Herbie Hancock’s „Head Hunters”, Chick Corea’s „Return to Forever” or John McLaughlin’s „Mahavishnu Orchestra”. The great audience appreciation was not instantly the effect of musicians work. Also the connection between group’s style and the idea of fusion jazz was not automatic. After success of their first record, musicians were trying to expand their sound possibilities. The core of the group was still constituted by the same three artists – Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitouš. In effect of disagreements during European tour promoting first album of Weather Report group stop their cooperation with Alphonse Mouzon. For live gigs and later recordings they had engaged Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romão and after parting with Mouzon they incorporated new drummer Eric Gravatt.
After great success of Weather Reports debut which was chose an album of the year in Down Beat readers poll, after series of successful tours all over the world, in 1972 fusion super group published their second album. Opening with Zawinul’s spatial and ambient composition Unknown Soldier, first part of this record is full of brilliant ideas, surprising turns of musical narration and freely impressions. The way musicians are organizing the contents of this album means group withdrawal from collective improvisation and basing on intuition creation. Predominant model of musical material organization is composition, form improvisations is dialoguing between Shorter playing saxophones and Zawinul on electronic keyboards or between Shorter and Vitouš who was playing his own acoustic version of funk. Like in Miles Davis’ fusion recordings, rhythmic intensity is the driving force of Weather Report sound. Drummers and percussion players were changing, but still this feature applies to all records by the band.

Weather Report – I Sing the Body Electric (1972)

The second album from the band Weather Report was an attempt to link the various tendencies and the result of seeking a new balance between the elements of arrangements and improvisation. It has been assumed two different points of view, one option was studio recording in part one and different one was live recording in the second part. The A-Side was recorded in New York CBS Studios – first two selections in November 1971, next two in January 1972. In Unknown Soldier group was augmented by Andrew White playing English horn, flutist Hubert Laws Jr., trumpeter Wilmer Wise and voices of Joshie Armstrong, Yolande Bavan and Chapman Roberts. And The Moors is developing from solo played by Ralph Towner on 12-string guitar. All B-Side selections were recorded January 13th, 1972 in Tokyo concert performance. And here construction of the pieces is no longer the matter of composition. Dialogues between Zawinul and Shorter tend to collective improvisation, which at the start recalls the style of Miles Davis’ band during the In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew period, however, is much denser. In Surucucú and Directions returning echoes of free jazz and late sixties modern jazz.
The rich, dense structure of the album has been extended by semantic context of the title. The phrase I Sing the Body Electric is taken probably from the Ray Bradbury short story collection with the same tittle. But it is also the tittle of very well known poem by Walt Whitman, where he is saying about the sensual human body. Whitman is idealizing human body, sanctifying women and men bodies and giving them sacred dimension. Agatha, the heroine of Bradbury’s story, is a child with doubts about a surrogate of her dead mother – she rejects Electrical Grandmother until she realizes the surrogate is immortal. The title of Weather Report album corresponds with the cover by Ed Lee, with art by Jack Trompeter and Fred Swanson. The designers have focused their attention on the futuristic references to electronic instrumentation and spatial sound of this music.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Patti Smith – Horses

Patti Smith, singer and video artist was an icon of New York avant-garde since seventies. She wrote poetry and drama, play on stage, even wrote rock critics. In 1974 he started to perform as rock singer with her own Patti Smith Group. As the most influential person of this time, she was called „Godmother of Punk”.  In next decades her songs became classics and were presented in many cover versions. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010 she received National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. She is known as artist and activist. In last years she was touring supporting protests against war in Iraq and calls for the impeachment of George W. Bush. 
Back to seventies, she was one of strongest and brightest personalities in New York scene. With her band she was creating the new radical vision of rock and roll music, that shortly grew into the whole wave of punk music. Later this direction was called protopunk and this retrospectively added labelling span various styles and artists from Captain Beefheart to Lou Reed. And there was as many rock as blues roots in this stream only common quality was rebellion against disco and pop music. What Patti Smith did in her first album became inspiration for many rock singers in next two decades.

Patti Smith – Horses

The legendary debut album Horses, released November 1975 by Arista, established strong position for Patti Smith as a rebel. And it was a real strike against mainstream culture, politics and religion. Grown in rigid religious home as Jehovah’s Witnesses she has opened her first album with the line „Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”. This clash gives a ray of light to some of her odds. Maybe most consistent quality of her attitude is protest, but in some cases expulsion would be better word. What she is denying in the world of constant permission? Maybe anything she protest is just a rhetoric figure.
When protest song lost its context, it is no longer protest, even if it is still a song. Modern culture gives many subjects for protesting, and many of them are probably only a pretext for obscure denial. Some listeners have to confront with sexuality of songs subject. For some other the main problem is the information concerning her live with Robert Mapplethorpe’s – b.t.w. the photo of Smith on the album cover Mapplethorpe made in their Greenwich Village apartment. Afternoon sun light up the triangle part of the wall behind her back. Cover design for Horses is one of best in history of rock and roll, the sun reflects on the wall painting with every color, and Patti Smith is still rebellious poet.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky – Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4 F Minor op.36

Among many great works of Pyotr Tchaikovsky special position has Symphony No. 4 in F Minor op. 36. It was turning point in composer’s oeuvre, the moment he became enough independent, he was able to reject some intellectual principles and very conscious to search for deeper context of his music. Symphony was written in winter of 1876-1877. Working on this composition Tchaikovsky wrote to Taneyev, that „there is no line in this symphony that is not the result of deep emotions, not a reflection of sincere movements of my soul”.  Work has been finished in Italy and premiered February 10th, 1978 at concert of Moscov section of the Russian Musical Society conducted by Nicolai Rubinstein.
There are few explanations of composers ideas put into this symphony. Very first were descriptions Tchaikovsky gave in letters to his friends. And longest one was addressed to Nadezhda von Meck, whom he characterized in details every part the work. This interpretation shows composer’s formal thinking on the level of associations and emotional connections of the work and personal needs. In letter to Taneyev composer wrote: „Actually my symphony is imitative of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, that is, I did not imitate its musical thoughts, but it’s main idea”. It is founded on classical four-part scheme, but even though, this work is reaching the heights of romantic style.

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4 

Many performances show Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony as much classical, disciplined and predictable as it was only a kind of intellectual game. And this is what makes some performances faulty in their assumptions. Reading this music as a traditional formal routine is in adversity to whole composer’s intention. Sometimes even very good renditions are keeping too much distance to emotional profundity of this music. And only best performances are able to establish equilibrium between intellectual capacity of symphonic form and individual work’s expression. Interesting recording of this symphony and came from Moscow Radio Orchestra conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. For two decades it was seen as in new trend but still reliable model of interpreting Symphony F Minor.
Rozhdestvensky recorded complete symphonies by Tchaikovsky with Moscow Radio Great Symphony Orchestra in early seventies when he was principal conductor of the orchestra. It was one of best recordings in his early career. The series of recordings was published by Melodia in 1973 and republished in second half of the eighties in export edition with English and French linear notes. The time of second edition he was prominent conductor of USSR Ministry of Culture Great Symphony Orchestra, achieving lots of successes with orchestras all over the world. And four decades later this rendition is still fresh and clear, even if too much unambiguous or authoritative.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weather Report – Weather Report

Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter were friends since 1959 when they played in Maynard Ferguson Big Band. Next time they met in one ensemble when working together with Miles Davis during recording sessions for his avant-garde fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Shorter was tenor and soprano saxophonist in Davis’ quintets since 1964. It is interresting, John Coltrane proposed Shorter as his replacement in 1960, but this time he found his engagement in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Playing with famous lineup of Davis’ quintet since 1964, Wayne Shorter was one of very few artists with so long onstage experience with Miles Davis. But in 1970 he was ready to go off the quintet for more artistic freedom and autonomy. Zawinul was in much the same situation after parting the Julian Cannonball Adderly’s Quintet where he played through the whole decade. He was composer of some well known themes as Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Walk Tall or Country Preacher.
Working in shadow of famous leaders Zawinul and Shorter successfully achieved their featured positions as composers, musicians and improvisers. Few months after parting with Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley quintets, Shorter and Zawinul begun working together with brilliant Czech bass virtuoso Miroslav Vitouš. They founded a new group called Weather Report which was vehicle for developing the idea of fusion in more collective direction. Three musicians were three pillars of musical style and work’s construction but complete lineup included also drummer Alphonse Mouzon and percussionist Airto Moreira. In February 1971 they recorded their debut album named the same as the name of the group – Weather Report.

Weather Report – Weather Report (1971)

As a contradiction to previous recordings with Miles Davis, new group moved towards more popular idea of fusion music. In place of long trance compositions, Weather Report album includes eight compositions, four on every side what can evoke standard rock songs. Also sound and construction ideas can be connected with some progressive rock experiences like Soft Machine. Later development of Weather Report’s music drove to more complex sound and strong rhythmic continuity, but on their first album musicians played more ambient, more tone color and still more trance music than ever after. Weather Report’s debut is more conceptual than Davis’ fusion recordings but it’s quite enough jazz in rhythmic, harmonic and melodic sense.
After all Weather Report album was warmly received by listeners and critics. In Down Beat Readers Poll this record has been chosen as a jazz album of the year. This success has its basis in searching modern sound. Of course many listeners were concerned of Joe Zawinul and his electronic keyboards, but in fact not smaller contribution to the sound of this compositions has soprano saxophone of Wayne Shorter. It was quite a revelation, pure soprano sounds like trails of light in thick rhythmic structures. This could be the material for next (but never happened) revolution in jazz. Some ideas were later presented by other saxophonists. Some other had been developed in music of Weather Report and whole generation of fusion artists.