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.