Monday, December 31, 2012

Zappa in New York

★★★★★

   Live record from New York was moot point in the crisis between Frank Zappa and his manager. The imbroglio became Zappa’s victory, leading to full artistic and business independence and forming phenomenon of mature Zappa’s live performances. In December 1976, between Christmas and New Year Frank Zappa and his band had played in Palladium four shows for 14 000 listeners. In 1977 he edited some material for double LP which was released the same year in UK by DiscReet Records label. Album has been immediately withdrawn and reedited by DiscReet distributor Warner Bros. This was the moment small Zappa’s company has been losing its independence. The original idea became the part of 3CD album Läther, the project realized in 1996. Censored and shortened version of the album has been published in March 1978. Despite these manipulations album has won commercial success and in Billboard 200 albums chart Zappa in New York it took 57th position.
   Even in such form Zappa in New York was the album setting new trends. Totally renewed band was not the straight continuation of the idea of consecutive Mothers of Invention lineups. New faces were singer and guitarist Ray White, bass guitarist and singer Patrick O’Hearn and both were active in next years. From Saturday Night Live band came strong wind and brass section with Brecker brothers Randy (tp) and Mike (ts), Lou Marini (as), Ronnie Cuber (bs, cl) and Tom Malone (tb). It was like new incarnation of Hot Rats band. And musicians known from Mothers of Invention, Ruth Underwood and Terry Bozzio who was also singing, were the core of the band. Interesting member of this lineup was Eddie Jobson, singer, keyboardist and violinist, a legend of British progressive rock playing with Frank Zappa for short period only.

Zappa in New York (1978)

   Due to corporation censorship, album was shorter than usual. Side one was 11 minutes only, side two 15 minutes and side three and side four were 17 minutes each. It was easy to figure out that something was missing. Opening Titties and Beer has been shortened to 5:31 omitting long fragments of improvising dialogue with the devil played by Terry Bozzio. Another intended for this album narrative with Terry Bozzio acting one of Warner Bros. stars Punky’s Whips was excluded and published five years later, when Zappa has regained full rights to his own material. Other great narrative songs were two songs filling the entire side three – sung by Zappa satirical ballad defined as “just another love song”, Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me? and blues ballad The Illinois Enema Bandit, based on a true story on criminal activity of Michael H. Kenyon a great performance of Ray White opening his long stage with Frank Zappa’s bands.
   Narrative, satirical songs and even improvised sketches were always extremely popular part of Zappa’s public performances. But Zappa in New York was composed as contrasting juxtaposition of quite easy popular songs and pieces of highest complexity level. In such compositions as Manx Needs Women and Black Page Zappa was using techniques and ideas taken from serialism and other conceptions of composition. Thanks to some citations and references to masters of contemporary music like Igor Stravinsky, Edgar Varese and many others, he made outstanding chance of intellectual adventure, bridging the gap between listeners with different experiences and levels of musical knowledge. As I can say observing my friends listening to Frank Zappa’s records, this idea was quite effective way to promote language of new music.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Baroque highlights by Maurice André and Hedwig Bilgram

   Trumpet and organ is unusual but possible connection. Especially in baroque music where setup was always result of possibilities and expected aims, one can find many unusual configurations of musical means. Even though there are not too many such compositions, artists like to play most moving works and constantly searching for highlights capable to astonish listeners. Sometimes, like in the set of trumpet with organ, repertoire is too small and insignificant and the only chance is to re-arrange some orchestral parts for organ or some other soloist part for trumpet. Interesting propositions of establishing such repertoire has been recorded twice by master of baroque trumpet Maurice André with arranger and organ player Hedwig Bilgram. Artists establish the duo already in 1968 with great results. Clear and open trumpet sound and stable base of organ voices worked together in the complementary whole. They made these projects for EMI label, first time in 1971 recorded in the St. Pierre le Jeune Kirche in Straßburg on Mühleisen-Kern-Organ, second time on May 16, 1985 in church of Ebbs in Tirol.

Maurice André and Hedwig Bilgram – Trumpet & Orgel (1989)

   Despite the many similarities, these albums are quite different collections. The program of first album was seventeenth century music of Henry Purcell and Georg Böhm baroque suites and pre-classical sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Jean Baptiste Loeillet. The second album was fixed mainly on measures of late baroque concerto style. Opening the album with Concerto grosso B-flat major by Georg Frederic Handel musicians show the direction of whole program. Obligatory reference to the greatest composer Johann Sebastian Bach was arrangement of the choral Jesus bleibet meine Freunde. Central part of the program are two concertos of Italian masters, Concerto D minor Op. 9 No. 2 by Tommaso Albinoni and Concerto D minor by Alessandro Marcello and between them Sonata C major by Jean Baptiste Loeillet. And the closing part is Concerto B-flat major by Georg Philipp Telemann.
   Phenomenon of Maurice André (1933-2012) trumpet sound and virtuoso perfection is legendary from late 60’s and early 70’s when he conquered the world stages. Son of mining family thanks to his unbelievable talent and diligence, after six month won conservatory’s first prize. In 1955 he won Geneva International Music Competition. He specialized in playing baroque music on piccolo trumpet. Since the repertoire for trumpet was not enough and his virtuoso possibilities were higher than usual, Maurice André often performed and recorded transcriptions of compositions written originally for other instruments or for solo voice.

Václav Neumann – Smetana – Má vlast

   In the great tradition of Czech composers romanticism has special meaning. In contrast to earlier eras when Czech composers were part of the European multicultural tradition, in the nineteenth century, it became clear that the Czech music has the ambition and power to determine their own style. This was a period of awakening consciousness of European nations and in many countries these processes are carried out with varying degrees of advancement. Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), who was comprehensive composer of concert and dramatic music, became famous as Czech national opera composer. From his nine operas especially his second The Bartered Bride (Prodaná nevěsta) became famous internationally.
   Most of his instrumental music output has a historic meaning and only rarely becomes a part of concert repertoire. Valuable exception is the famous cycle of six symphonic poems Má vlast (My Country), composed during five years (1974-1879). Sometimes considered as one six-part composition in fact it is collection of six individual poems written under strong impression of Liszt’s symphonic poems. The six Smetana’s poems are linked by a clearly defined style and thematic content. Composer using the romantic means of expression, referring to the Czech melodic idiom, devoted his poems to reflect the images, history and legends of his homeland.

Václav Neumann – Smetana – Má vlast (1968)

   Born in Prague Václav Neumann (1920-1995) recorded perfect performance of Smetana’s cycle with Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. Before he had a chance to lead the orchestra he was violin and viola player in chamber groups and in Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. After Raphael Kubelik’s resignation in 1948 he had a chance to start his career but he did not accept the proposal. In 1956 he became conductor of Komishe Oper in Berlin. As a conductor Neumann was highly noted for his interpretations of Czech music. From 1964 to 1968 he was conductor of Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. In 1968 he recorded complete cycle of Smetana’s symphonic poems Má vlast. Double LP album published by Telefunken-Decca is one of the best renditions of Smetana’s poems ever recorded.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lost in the Stars – The Music of Kurt Weill

   Born in Berlin in 1900, Kurt Weill was especially famous for his avant-garde works in 1920’s. He was well trained and versatile composer, writing concert music and theatrical stage music. As many avant-garde composers of this years, Weill was socialist and believed all kinds of art should serve the social development. His compositions for orchestra and for choir, songs and cameral music were well received but his great success came with his cooperation with Bertold Brecht. The greatest achievement of Weill and Brecht were The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) composed in 1928 and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny) from 1930. In March 1933 he has left Germany.
   The series of tribute albums produced in 1980’s by Hal Willner was quite a succesive story of establishing some new promotional mechanisms ahead of the times. The main idea was to join different stylistic idioms and one composers output and to generate wide monographic vision of contemporary creative music. After great commercial success of first two tribute albums with music of Nino Rota and That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk, Willner continued the idea with subsequent albums. Both have enthusiastic reviews and such warm critical response gave producer some more heart for selection of artists. Third album was Lost in the Stars with music of Kurt Weill which was likewise previously issued records, a nicely done introduction of Weill’s music and a wide exposure of artists breaking schematic modes and creating new sound in mid-eighties. The main title is also the title of his last musical composed in 1949 for Broadway with book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. It was last  Kurt Weil’s creative achievement before he died April 3rd, 1950.

Lost in the Stars – The Music of Kurt Weill (1985)

   As another Hal Willner’s productions, Lost in the Stars is perfectly balanced assortment of most understandable avant-garde jazz musicians and most creative pop music artists. Well known voices of Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren and Sting, saxophones by Phil Woods and Gary Windo, beautiful bass solo by Charlie Haden, Armadillo String Quartet and unconventional musical narration by Johan Zorn with Boby Previte, Guy Klucevsek and Fred Frith. Arrangements by Carla Bley, Steve Weinberg, Sharon Freeman, Bruce Fowler and Van Dyke Parks – every part of this set is perfect and opens new perspective, while all together make complete vision. The quality of these performances shows real temperature of artistic life in 1980’s. In Reagan’s America there were still great open spaces for human creativity. And the history was not even close to an end.

Der kleine Leutnant des lieben Gottes – John Zorn

   Few dozens of musicians in 16 songs give a chance for everyday disclosure of another great interpreting idea. It can be any of songs, and everywhere one can find the best musicians and perfect performances. Like in The Ballad of Mac the Knife sung by Sting, where in Dominic Muldowney arrangement took part Mike Zwerin (bass trumpet, trombone), Branford Marsalis (soprano sax), John Marle (tenor sax), David Roach (alto and baritone saxophones) and Kenny Kirkland (piano). It can be as well The Cannon Song from The Threepenny Opera perfectly played by The Fowler Brothers with Stanard Ridgway – a rare occasion to hear the five Fowlers brothers – Walt Fowler (trumpet), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Steve Fowler (alto sax, flute), Ed Fowler (piano) and Tom Fowler (bass). It comes with a great sound and clear idea of how radical music should be.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Porgy and Bess Original Broadway Cast

   First album offered out as original Broadway cast of Porgy and Bess was recorded in October 1935, just days after stage opening on Alvin Stage Theatre. It was not even close to the original cast. Album of four 78 rpm shellac records labeled by Victor Records was a moderate success. This was due to the fact that in contrast to the stage cast with African American actors, studio recording was made with white opera singers pretending to sing Gullah-influenced language. In 1940 and in 1942 Decca Records released two sets of 78 rpm vinyl discs. First set was 4, second 3-recording and both were marked by one title – Decca Presents Selections from George Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess. And these recordings were made with original stage cast members participation.
   Although these recordings are closest to the shape accepted by composer and to the production giving this work prominent position in history of American culture, this was not exact the original cast. Featured artists from original cast were Todd Duncan (Porgy), Anne Brown (Bess), Georgette Harvey (Maria), The Eva Jessye Choir and conductor Alexander Smallens. Avon Long sung Sportin’ Life in 1942 Broadway revival. The Decca Symphony Orchestra was hired specially for this recording. Combination of this material was re-edited on one LP record in 1950 by Decca as Selections from Porgy and Bess (DL 7006). After merging Decca with MCA in 1962, this record was reissuing just as Porgy and Bess (Original Cast) (DL7-9024) and in 1972 as George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with headline Original Broadway Cast Album (MCA-2035).

Porgy and Bess Original Broadway Cast Album (1972)

   The star of this record is without fail Todd Duncan, who sings Porgy and Sportin’ Life’s  song It Ain’t Necessarily So. His perfectly trained baritone has a strong operatic background. His achievements, including his debut in Cavalleria Rusticana with Aeolian Opera and his later career made him prominent personality of American music. Anne Brown sung with nice, clear voice and in many fragments one can look for George Gershwin’s influences, because it is known fact the composer hired Anne Brown for the role. Although today her performance looks weak in expression and marked by old fashion mannerisms, it still can be valuable document of the style of early performances. The fragments with original cast members are the best parts of the recorded material. Prior performing routine could be helpful. Better understanding the place of the fragment in the whole narration once more gave artists a chance to find quite a relevant interpretative idea.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Carlo Maria Giulini & Itzhak Perlman – Brahms – Violin Concerto D Major op. 77

   Carlo Maria Giulini debuted as a conductor one month after liberation of the Rome. Hiding nine months, threatened with death by German occupants, he was studying Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. This work became culminating position in the program of his long awaited debut after liberation of Rome in 1944. His devotion to Brahms’ music has the rank of the symbolic redemption of German culture. Consecutive interpretations of composer’s work became Giulini’s specialty, and the Symphony No. 4 he conducted later up to 180 performances.
   Giulini was early recognized as opera conductor when thank to the recommendation by Arturo Toscanini, in 1953 he took the directorship of La Scala. In 1955 he made his American debut with Chicago Symphony Orchestra which became the beginning of a long term cooperation leading to the moment when in 1969 he was honored with the nomination to the post of Principal Guest Conductor. This position has been established especially for him during the time Music Director of The Chicago Symphony was nominated Sir Georg Solti. Carlo Maria Giulini as the first artist occupying post of Principal Guest Conductor remained on it from 1969 to 1972, when he came back to Europe to take the post of Chief Conductor of Vienna Symphony Orchestra (1973-1976). After his resignation the post of Principal Guest Conductor in Chicago Symphony was empty to 1982 when the title has been taken by Claudio Abbado.

Brahms – Violin Concerto – Itzhak Perlman, Carlo Maria Giulini (1977)

   Archive recordings with Chicago Symphony Giulini were made since the moment of conductor’s American debut (Rossini’s Overture “L’italienne à Alger” recorded November 9th, 1955). First commercial recording was Schumann’s Piano concerto with Arthur Rubinstein for RCA (1967). His cooperation with the orchestra was most prolific after the period of his employment, spanning the years 1975-1978. One of the best was 1977 EMI (1C 063-02 899) quadraphonic production of Johannes Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra D major op. 77 with Itzhak Perlman. Recorded in Nov. 30th and Dec. 1st 1976, published in 1977 this record won Grammy Award for Best Engineered Classical Album in 1979. It is certainly one the best performances of Brahms' Concerto. Each of three parts can be seen as different in its own kind and perfect as complete piece. And all together are consisting greater artistic entirety.

Brahms' Concerto, Adagio – I. Perlman, C. M. Giulini, Chicago SO

   No doubt this is perfect performance, perhaps because it is joining three great names Carlo Maria Giulini, Itzhak Perlman and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Itzhak Perlman is one of the best violinists born after the war – he was born August 31st, 1945 in Tel Aviv. In dozens of phonographic recordings he is clearly more melodious than any other violin virtuoso. In most difficult, spectacular pieces he uses very own style of building the structure of the composition he interprets. The most original qualities of his art are subtle, nuanced differences between every element of the phrase. Even contrasting elements are connected as parts of one work. Perlman’s possibilities are unbelievably wide, he can be smooth and expressive, mellow and dramatic, and his emotionalism is much higher than most of violin masters, but he is still intellectually advanced and technically balanced.
   The Giulini/Perlman interpretation of Brahms’ Concerto is phenomenal. First part Allegro non troppo is less dramatic and more balanced than usual performances. Joachim’s cadenza is played more as musical art piece than as virtuoso exhibition. In central movement Adagio violin and orchestra create an organic unity to build wide spread and condensed utterance. In conclusive part – Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto – artists decided to diminish a valiant effect for more poetic and melodious depth what gave them a chance to elicit more ambiguous, maybe even more abstractive meaning of the composition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Carlo Maria Giulini – Schumann – Symphony No. 3 “Rheinish” & Overture “Manfred”

   It’s an interesting coincidence of how many great conductors were primarily orchestral viola players. Of course not as many as conductors who started as piano players. Piano is the best instrument for starting the study of scores and formal structures, but still from the group of viola players come a nice group of successful conductors. Maybe the center position of violas in standard sitting of symphonic orchestra gives the best chance to observe directly the art of conducting. Especially conductor’s face expressions being the essence of communication with the orchestra are a condition of success. Maybe there is also a syndrome of the first desk, where students are remembering more part of the lesson just because they have shorter perspective and have to be more attentive. Unfortunately I do not have statistical data to prove this opinion.
   One of the greatest conductors of viola players was Carlo Maria Giulini. In fact he was one of the best at all. He started playing viola in the orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia when he was 18 and eight years later he won the Accademia competition giving him chance to become the orchestra conductor. But before he had chance to start, he was drafted and sent to the Croatia as a soldier. Italian army occupied the Balkans as allies of the Nazis. As an declared antifascist and pacifist Giulini had never shoot to human targets and later he refused to take part in further events. In last nine months of the war he was back to Rome and has been hiding because of nazist street posters showing his face instructed he should be shot of sight.

Giulini - Schumann - Rheinish Symphony, Manfred-Overture (1982)

   After postwar Rome debut and short period of directorship in La Scala, in 1956 he started his long time association with Philharmonia Orchestra and Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Later years he was developing series of widely acclaimed performances and cooperation with the best orchestras all over the world. One of the bands he achieved his greatest successes was Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, where in years 1978-1984 he was working as Musical Director. This was the moment in Giulini’s artistic biography when he focused on symphonic music and resigned of the opera performances. He made one exception with Verdi’s last opera Falstaff. Although this setup both as stage performances and recorded Deutsche Grammophon album aroused wide acceptance, Giulini recorded mainly symphonic works. This was even not numerous discography, only a dozen of albums, but what a renditions these recordings are!
   Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was always playing with the kind of sound which is full of harmonics in every dynamic range and with perfect articulation making the whole sections sound like one musician – the same time powerful and subtle. This was why this orchestra gave so many possibilities for Giulini. The 1981 digital recording of two Robert Schumann’s symphonic works became a great success. The program of the Deutsche Grammophon 1982 album (Club-edition 46 373 7) are Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish” in E-flat major, op. 97 and Overture “Manfred”. Both performances are perfectly executed visionary interpretations.

Giulini - Schumann - Rheinish Symphony - Lebhaft 

   Marvelous sound and perfect proportions of orchestral sections give a chance for almost unlimited creativity. Giulini was always a creative personality and wise interpreter. In his interpretations he melted emotional contents with deep concern of musical tradition. Also these renditions of Schumann’s music are deeply serious and intellectual. In fourth movement of the Symphony, Feierlich he enhances polyphonic structures giving it more tragic tension which will be surprisingly solved in final part Lebhaft. Soft but precise articulation, full dynamic range and warm sound make this music captivating in deeper level of its symphonic narration. It was strikingly apparent then as so it is still, thirty years after publishing this famous album.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Captain Beefheart – Translucent Fresnel

   Captain Beefheart is one of greatest personalities in psychedelic and early progressive rock movement. His best years in late sixties and early seventies passed under the sign of the series of great progressive recordings with Trout Mask Replica. He was also famous as stage personality and his European concert tours were legendary. In this very moment shows John Peel, a famous BBC Radio 1 disc jockey. He was a private collector of live recordings of public concerts of his favorite artists. He did a lot for Beefheart’s public recognition as well as for many other musicians. From his tapes and bail was made bootleg album of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band Translucent Fresnel. The title of this bootleg is a reference to the Clear Spot album. Fresnel lantern producing soft-edge, translucent beam of light is a good metaphor for the content of double LP 180 gram black vinyl pressing which is subtittled as volume one of The Nan True’s Hole Tapes. The double LP album was published in gatefold sleeve and translucent plastic jacket by Dandelion Records and Ozit Records in 2011. It was released about a month after that as Captain Beefheart died. 
   Whole program is composed of materials recorded during different shows in Manchester April 1st, 1972, Leicester University May 1st, 1973 and Stevenage Locarno May 22nd, 1973. And the lineup is a stable The Magic Band with Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) singing and playing harmonica. The core of the band was pretty much the same as in Clear Spot studio recordings Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) playing guitar and slide guitar, Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) on bass guitar and guitar and Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) playing drums and percussion instruments. There were also two old Beefheart friends and members of The Magic Band, playing a slide guitar Alex St Clair (Alex Snouffer) – in fact he was the one who founded The Magic Band in 1965 – and Orejon (Roy Estrada) playing bass guitar.

Captain Beefheart – Translucent Fresnel (2011)

   Poor technical quality of this material is a fact but it has nothing to do with musical and documentarian value of this edition. Recordings include mainly musical material of Clear Spot promotional tour, but also some songs from earlier albums Safe as Milk (Electricity), Trout Mask Replica (Sugar’n’Spikes), Lick My Decals Off, Baby (Peon), Mirror Man (Mirrorman) and The Spotlight Kid (great trance version of I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby). There is also one instrumental piece published later in 1978 on Shiny Beast (Suction Prints). These songs, so well known from studio recordings are quite different when played during public performances. And there’s a big gap between Beefheart’s studio recordings and live gigs. While in studio musicians were precise like Swiss watch mechanism, what they did on stage was closer to happenings than typical concert event. 
   Does it mean they weren’t playing with precision? Of course not! They rather did it more jazzy way, with extra power and expressive means. This special attitude was mutual characteristic for many bands in late 60’s and early 70’s with the closest Beefheart’s friend Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention. Beefheart was always more radical even if he endeavor to the commercial success. Raw blues with some surrealistic sense of humor, expanded jamming with harmonica riffs make these recordings closer to trance. Some more orderly played songs Good example is opening Side Three fragment of Leicaster University show – first the song Low Yo Yo Stuff and then following jam in Mirrorman and Peon 2. Captain is howling, growling and improvising at the end of Mirrorman and this is completely magic moment with The Magic Band.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fritz Reiner, Risë Stevens and Jan Peerce Carmen by Bizet

   Fritz Reiner is one of these great conductors who became legendary performers before the era of long playing phonographic recordings. He was born in Budapest in 1988, a year before Emile Berliner started marketing of disc records, which can be considered as the date of phonographic record has born. He was studied in his native city in Ferenc Liszt Academy, where during last years he was student of Béla Bartók. He was working with Richard Strauss in Dresden Semper Opera and with Opera House in Budapest. In 1922 he immigrated to United States where he took post of principal conductor of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
   In 1928 he became naturalized citizen what gave him chance to work as a teacher in Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of his students was Leonard Bernstein. In 1938 he became conductor of Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra, recording with this orchestra some early records. His career as recording artist started to grow after 1948 when he became conductor in Metropolitan Opera. In this period he recorded two renditions of Carmen, in 1951 with RCA Victor Orchestra for RCA Victor Red Seal label and in 1952 with Metropolitan Opera for Columbia Company. Both castings share the voice of Risë Stevens singing the role of Carmen. Although Columbia recording has in collective memory the position of legendary masterpiece, one year earlier RCA edition is still worthy of discovery.

Georges Bizet - Carmen - Fritz Reiner (1951, ed. 1974)

   This monophonic recording has unbelievably good space. It was republished in 1974 in original mono version and this pressing shows full master range of 1951 performance and recording mastery. Orchestra sound is clear, perfect in articulation, tempos are the best one can dream on. No effort at the uniqueness or pretending towards the originality – this performance is as clear in intentions as attractive in sound. Silence between the notes just can be heard what makes the energy of the orchestra just tangible. RCA Orchestra and The Robert Show Chorale merge into a spectacular narrative. Perfect articulation gives crowd scenes tremendous power. The sound of choral scenes is huge and in top of dynamic range sounds distorted but this may be my copy failure. Balanced solo voices in ensembles and perfectly directed solo arias drawing reliable pictures of different characters.
   Every Carmen performance demands at least four soloists to be stars. And in this recording all four are brightly shining. Risë Stevens as Carmen is great. Nothing new – she sung Carmen in years 1945-1961 with many conductors and singers. And her Carmen was one of most acclaimed in the history of Bizet’s masterpiece renditions. Her mezzo-soprano is deep and powerful, firmly positioned, warm and rich in sound and free of mannerisms what gives listener esthetic pleasure and full emotional satisfaction. This Carmen is warm blooded woman and strong believer. It’s one of best Carmen ever and really hard to stop listening.


   In RCA recording partners of Risë Stevens are Jan Peerce as Don José and Robert Merrill in the role of toreador Escamillo. Both are daring and brave. Jan Peerce sings with great culture, his tenor sounds little bit darker than average and dramatic skills give the character more depth than usual. Of course Don José character is a way more complicated than Escamillo. Toreador is in fact second plan role although his famous narration is one of iconic triumphal opera scenes. Robert Merrill in 50’s and early 60’s he was number one for baritone dramatic roles what can be perfectly clear considering this recording. Singing and playing the role of Micaela is important in the production. Licia Albanese, owes great fame her lyric soprano especially roles in Puccini operas as Cio-Cio San, Mimì, Liù and Manon Lescaut. Nice, smooth voice sounds as much different from Risë Stevens as Micaela differs of Carmen. Fritz Reiner’s 1951 rendition of Carmen despite the past 60 years is still engaging and worth to remember.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk

   Between masters of jazz, exact as it is in any other creative discipline, there are two opposite positions – first is occupied by master teachers and second by inspired visionaries. Teachers show the way to mastery, visionaries points the possible directions of development. Many artists are between these extremes, trying to find necessary balance. Some are unable to find this point, which is usually leading to the fiasco – frustrating lack of passion or excessive creativity leading even to autodestruction. But in the case of geniuses these dangerous attitudes are somehow connected not as balancing factors but in more complex way. One of such artists is Thelonious Monk, who was one of most unorthodox musicians in so rebellious generation. No surprise he is second most recorded  jazz composer after Ellington.
   The 80’s were hard times for jazz, the era of punk and rap melted in disco products, the AIDS epidemic, the Reagan Star Wars and rough economic policy reshape the perspectives of American culture. Jazz musicians tried to connect different genres and styles into one current of complex and creative music. Probably the best series of multistyle albums of the 80’s was Hal Willner’s productions of tribute albums. First was Amarcord Nino Rota (1981), then That’s the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984), Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (1985) and series of consecutive albums with music from Vintage Disney Films, Charles Mingus, once again Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Leonard Cohen, Sea Songs, Chanteys and American Folk Music. Second album with Monk’s themes and inspirations was real hit. Thank to carefully selected and diverse lineups all of included productions are unbelievably creative. This is what makes the undertaking the best chance for contemporary exposure of Monk’s ideas. Double LP comprises 23 pieces in renditions of avant-garde and most creative musicians available in 1984.

That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk (1984)

   In various lineups Willner collected great company of most creative artists from modern jazz veterans to new radicals, from avant-garde to rock and pop artists. Exploding Thelonious for overdubbing trombones by Bruce Fowler and Phil Teele with bassist Tom Fowler and unbelievably driving drummer Chester Thompson is probably shortest, most dense performance of Monk’s tune ever. But this is only the beginning of surprising events. Donald Fagen belongs to the few super professional musicians from pop side of the scene. He is playing synthesizers in Reflections with Steve Khan on guitars. Others are Peter Frampton solo in Work and Todd Rundgren in Four in One. Bounds with tradition are clear foundations to Dr. John’s solo piano Blue Monk performance which is so naturally enchanting and so close to blues or even zydeco. 
   Old jazz school is presented by duo of Monk’s comrades, Steve Lacy and Charlie Rouse performing Ask Me Now on unaccompanied saxophones and Sharon Freeman version of Monk’s Mood for 5 French horns with section – the first side of this album shows it is full of surprises. Steve Lacy is featured artist. In duo with Elvin Jones in Evidence they show pure understanding for the Monk tradition. Elvin Jones is playing with such power even 30 years after it gives goose-flesh. And again Steve Lacy solo Gallop’s Gallop and in closing piece Bemsha Swing with Gil Evans – both owe Monk a lot. The perfect tenor solo played in Misterioso as a special guest Johnny Griffin. There are some nice pieces of poetic tranquility and meditation, like in nostalgic tack piano rendition of Pannonica by Barry Harris or in Functional played by Randy Weston. 
   There is beautiful Joe Jackson’s chamber arrangement of ‘Round Midnight played under direction of Sharon Freeman and perfect Misterioso in The Carla Bley Band performance.  Vocal jazz presented in Friday the Thirteenth by duo with great sense of humor Bobby McFerrin and Bob Dorough with Dave Samuels on vibes, marimba and percussions. Phenomenal avant-garde musicians with saxophonist John Zorn, guitarist Arte Lindsay, pianist Wayne Horvitz and drummer M. E. Miller testing our flexibility in Shuffle Boil. Interesting esthetical work has been done in 3-guitars Brilliant Corners with Steve Swallow and Joey Barron and then the Jackie-Ing with additional horns section. Various renditions show how versatile and carrying are Monk’s ideas. They are present in every smaller or bigger band productions and this is the victory of all musicians engaged in this project and especially Thelonious Monk creating alternative world of modern music.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cabaret – Original Broadway Cast Recording

   Telling the story about romance between young writer and Sally Bowles, an American girl in Berlin in the beginning of nazi-regime has quite a long staging tradition. First was Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 short novel Goodbye to Berlin. The first stage production in 1951 was a play by John Van Druten I am a Camera in 1951. It was written on the basis of Christopher Isherwood’s story. Then in 1955 it was captured for the cinema after the script by John Collier and directed by Henry Cornelius. The plot was more complicated than in Van Druten’s play but still following The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood. Author of the stories was also one of main movie characters. Movie was received by critics rather coldly but many saw it as inspiring.
   The story by Joe Masteroff, with lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kinder created musical called Cabaret. In 1966 it become the instant hit on Broadway reaching in next years the total number of 1165 performances. This cast won eight Tony Awards of 11 nominations in 1967. Two years later it was transferred to West End, where it runs to 336 performances. In 1972 musical Cabaret went to cinemas in movie version directed by Bob Fosse with Lisa Minelli, Michael York and Joel Grey. Fosse, Minelli and Grey won Academy Awards – the three of total ten nominees and eight Oscars won by the movie. Joel Grey has Tony for Broadway performance and Oscar for movie role of Master of Ceremonies. Success of the movie made possible the triumphant march of the musical through the world scenes.

Cabaret – Original Broadway Cast Recording (1966)

   An important role in promotion of the musical played the album with original cast recording published by Columbia Masterworks in mono (KOL 6640) and in stereo (KOS 3040). Original Broadway production gave twenty years-old Jill Haworth immediate position of a star. She played the role of Sally Bowles with great ease and imitating skills giving great acting opportunities for her partner Bert Canvoy who is playing an Englishman in Berlin. Most famous actress in this cast was Lotte Lenya, wife of legendary Kurt Weill, singer known for many songs defining the musical associations with pre-war Berlin. She played the role of Fräulein Schneider. But real revelation was Joel Grey, who connected professional acting with great personality perfectly fitting to the role of Master of Ceremonies, the host making the cabaret works.
   Great job made composer John Kander and arranger Dan Walker who made this orchestrations fitting to musical sensitivity of the 60’s and still mimic cabaret small orchestra with a little bit of jazzy taste. The Money Song is in its prior shape, with refrain sounding like diction exercise. Despite Joel Grey is great, this song was recomposed for movie version and in new shape became great hit. Imitating possibilities helped to create song Tomorrow Belongs to Me which is so close to German folk tunes, it’s hard to believe it was composed in 60’s. In movie this fragment was given the additional task, joint singing attracts new singers and develops into manifestation. From today some parts look like having too much orchestral power, but this is specific problem with strings in time this musical was created. When Jill Haworth sings title song Cabaret, the great hit of these years, it’s hard to believe how complete her identification with the 30’s style is.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Otto Klemperer – Gustav Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde, Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”

   Otto Klemperer was a brilliant artist, the multitalented conductor and composer. He was one of most acclaimed conductors in 20th century. The fame of his phenomenal interpretations and conducting skills was as great so his compositions are almost completely forgotten. He was born in Breslau (now Wrocław in Poland). In 1905, shortly after his debut in Berlin, twenty years old conductor met Gustav Mahler. He was conducting the off-stage brass section in Symphony No. 2 performance led by Mahler. Then Klemperer visited Mahler in Vienna where he impressed composer playing by memory the Scherzo. As composer’s assistant, Klemperer made piano reduction of whole Resurrection Symphony. In 1910 he assisted Mahler in preparing premiere of Symphony of a Thousand. Later Symphony No. 2 C Minor “Resurrection” has become Klemperer’s highlight and one of the most important positions in his repertoire. He worked with many orchestras in Germany and gained the fame of the artist performing a new music. In fact he was paving the way for successes of Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky along many others.
   In 1933, when nazi-regime came to power in Germany, he fled to USA, but he has many troubles with a domestication in a new realm. Situation of an exile and various devastating experiences entailed setbacks in the professional life and the personal health. Klemperer had an operation of removing the brain tumor and suffered depression. His misfortune across the pond led him back to Europe after the war. The third stage of conductor's career came with recordings. First time he was recorded took place in 1924, but the technology of long playing records gave him a new chance for exposing interpretations of the greatest symphonic works. Since fifties his position gradually improved. He started series of recordings with Philharmonia Orchestra where he became first principal conductor in 1959. In this period Klemperer worked also at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. In 1971 artist retired and he was living in Zurich where he died in 1973.

Klemperer – Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde, Symphony No. 2 (1960)

   The conductor’s discography comprises long list of Mahler’s symphonic works recorded with various orchestras. Only in 1951 Otto Klemperer has recorded Symphony No. 2 twice with Vienna Symphony and with Concertgebouw Orchestra. To the famous Klemperer’s recordings of this work belongs also the one made with Philharmonia Orchestra in 1968. In 1951 Vox Records released two albums including Otto Klemperer’s interpretations of Gustav Mahler’s great works. Both were recorded in Vienna and later reproduced in many license editions. In 1960 Vox republished these legendary recordings as one three-disc album (VBX 115) in monophonic sound reproduction system but in the Ultra High Fidelity system. Despite the advanced pressing technology, the quality of these recordings is not always corresponding to the contemporary standards.
   Both recordings were played by Vienna Symphony Orchestra. These years the chief conductor for this orchestra was Herbert von Karajan, who later was admirer of older conductor’s artistry. And the main directions of their esthetical ideas were always close, so we can assume the orchestra met the needs. The recordings are also a valuable documentary capturing an image of the 1951 Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s sound. The historic sound of Vienna Symphony came with strong tutti, massive strings with pronounced slow vibrato, then the balanced wind and brass sections and contrasted dynamics. The orchestra sounds better in performance of Das Lied von der Erde than Symphony No. 2 where tone is unstable and sometimes annoying. Probably the most of floating sounds came out of the recording technology.
   There are some mannerisms typical for the pre-phonographic era and the orchestral sound sometimes is just not modern. Some mannerisms one can find in Elsa Cavelti (mezzo-soprano) performance in Das Lied von der Erde. Her partner was Anton Dermota (tenor) singing with nice lyric voice and natural ease. Symphony No. 2 has been recorded with joint choirs Akademie Kammerchor and Singverein der Musikfreunde and singers were Ilona Steingruber (soprano) and Hilde Rössl-Majdan (alto). Also parts of this recording show how even the beautiful voices can be spoiled with mannerisms and lack of technical excellence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 B-flat major op. 60

   Symphonic oeuvres by Ludwig van Beethoven provoke listeners to an interesting alternation of meaning. While odd symphonies are considered to be rather revolutionary and unique, even are seen as predominantly more conservative and stable. Among four even symphonies only Pastoral Symphony is clearly a rebellious in idea and construction. But three others, 2nd, 4th and 8th are seen as more balanced and in fact less meaningful. Of course this deeply unfair assumption comes more likely from the way these symphonies are interpreted, than from their actual contents. For example many renditions of Symphony no. 4 are basing the presumption there are no tragic fragments in this work. In this context any different rendition can be seen as revealing, but when reinterpretation is made by Herbert von Karajan, it is insightful by definition.
   Two years after Eroica and two years before famous Fifth in the summer 1806 Beethoven composed Symphony No. 4 B-flat major op. 60. It was premiered in March 1807 at a private prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz’s home concert. The same evening premieres were Coriolan Overture op.62 and Piano Concerto G major op. 58. The form of this symphony is almost perfect medium of mature classical style. First and last parts are in sonata form and in the key of B-flat major. Dialogues between instruments in the development section of first movement Allegro vivace are indicating the real aim of this symphony could be a kind of discourse on relations between form and meaning. This is confirmed by resonating violins theme augmented with great symphonic setting in second movement Adagio in E-flat major key. Last movement  Allegro ma non troppo with its erupting enthusiasm confirms discursive idea of Fourth Symphony.

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 (1977)

   Herbert von Karajan recording in 70’s his second complete set of Beethoven’s symphonies made interpretation of every one like it was separate attainment. This approach is justified because this symphony is separated by two-year gaps from previous and next symphony – the Third was written in 1804 and the Fifth was finished in 1808. These years were the time of political and health troubles, developing deafness and emotional complications in his personal life. And one more time Karajan has proven how great interpreter of Beethoven he was. Trying to grasp the meaning of symphony being for many conductors just consolation between tragic symphonies of this period, Karajan strengthened fragments of dramatic tension giving them a kind of sinister feeling and foreboding of active evil. Even in scherzo Allegro vivace he found characteristic traces of an obsessive anxiety.
   As it was mentioned, comparing to other symphonies, especially dramatically determined 3rd and 5th, Symphony B-flat major op. 60 is usually read as more sustainable, gentle and subtle. Not this time – the inner energy of this rendition is hard to believe. Berliner Philharmoniker working with Karajan as principal conductor from 1954 to 1989 was consistently one of the best symphonic orchestras worldwide. In 1970’s, and later on, its characteristic quality was beautiful sound in every moment of extremely wide dynamic range. This gave conductor possibility for creating interpretation virtually without limitations. And in Beethoven’s symphonys as well as in many other of his recordings Herbert von Karajan make great use of this features. Having at his disposal the orchestra of phenomenally beautiful sound, Karajan strengthened dynamic contrasts and with perfect articulation augmented dramatic qualities of symphonic narration. This vision of Symphony B-flat is as much dramatic as classically balanced. Finale Allegro ma non troppo and especially turbulent transformations in central part makes it the key movement carrying out the idea of this performance. Here is also the place and time for more dramatic effects than might have been expected.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Steve Howe – Beginnings

   Steve Howe is one of legendary rock guitar masters, very famous in seventies, then taking his place in losing its popularity rock scene. His high position he established in seventies when he was one of highly respected guitarists and one of the most influencing artists of progressive rock, and one of leading personalities involved in the development of progrock subgenres like art rock and symphonic rock. Playing with Yes group since The Yes Album, he made a significant contribution to the bands characteristic sound. Also his later career with such bands as Asia and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe can be seen as natural consequence of his possibilities and realization of his earlier plans.
   In 1975, when Yes and many other groups were in stagnation, progressive rock fans were ready to buy any album connected to the current. This moment Atlantic label has published Yes’ compilation album Yesterdays and became publishing the series of solo albums by each member of the band. Steve Howe’s first solo album has been called Beginnings. It was the part of promotional strategy, the same label and the same style of Roger Dean’s cover design gave this edition characteristics of being the part of the Yes’ albums series. And this was kind of message the fans and records collectors never missed.
   It’s not easy to explain why this record became a failure. Maybe there were too much ambitions or not enough time, nor self-criticism, the result could be disappointing even for the most loyal fans. To be quite fair, the instrumental parts are perfectly played and mastered into the one complementary whole. Guitar solos and riffs are original, creative, in many parts are just catching. Vocal parts make listener feel uncomfortable. He sings with weak, humdrum voice with lack of vocal technique giving tiring impression Howe fights with higher notes and tightens the throat. This was aggravated by the fact, he was trying to sing like Jon Anderson, in too high register. Vocal performances are better in the low register choirs, the best example one can find in Lost Symphony, where low register vocals are corresponding with saxophones by Bud Beadle and Mick Eve.

Steve Howe – Beginnings (1975)

   The program of this album has been set as if the main idea was to demonstrate the originality and versatility of the artist. After many recordings with various bands in sixties, after hit records with Yes, Beginnings was Steve Howe’s debut under his own name. No wonder young artist was trying to build possibly complex vision of his music. If he had given up singing, this album would be much better. The interesting feature of this album is almost absolute lack of jamming, composed solos were connected with arrangements joining with them.
   Two of three instrumental pieces are better realization of art rock idea. Symphonic rock style was basis for idea of eponymous composition opening B-Side. Eight members of Philomusica (string quintet, flutes, oboe and bassoon) gave basic orchestral sound for three Yes’ musicians, Steve Howe on guitars, Patrick Moraz playing harpsichord, piano and moog, who was also author of this arrangement. In final part of Beginnings, the band is augmented by drummer Alan White, who played in most songs of this album. There were also David Oberle playing drums in Australia and Bill Bruford playing in last two songs. Third composition Ram is quite interesting sound sample, but showing only technical precision, it says nothing new about music.
   On a side note, it is worth considering what elements are creating the group’s achievements where every musician is different personality and final effect is much higher than result of adding its elements. Sometimes these influences are really hard to trace. Recorded after the greatest Yes’ albums of early 70’s Steve Howe’s Beginnings tells a lot about professional achievements and artistic possibilities of Yes’ guitarist. It also shows some lacks of his vocal technique. If not the weak voice and orchestral arrangements remaining in some fragments cartoon soundtracks, this album could get more power for Howe’s career. But it still gives some satisfaction for fans of Yes’ guitarist.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lenny White – Venusian Summer

   Many drummers are playing strong patterns with broken rhythms while others look for more melodic way of using percussion sounds. Some are trying to find balance between these options and one of them is Lenny White who made a great opening in legendary Bitches Brew album. He is one of most versatile artists and one of best drummers of fusion music. He became legendary drummer of second Return to Forever lineup, recording four albums in 1970’s and the reunion live album Returns in 2009. He played also with fusion band Azteca and as sideman with jazz giants Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Larry Coryell, Jaco Pastorius, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Don Cherry. 
   Lenny White is also the leader of his own bands and projects. Since 1975 to 1983 he recorded 10 albums under his own name. After seven years of silence, he comes back with The Manhattan Project in 1990 and with Michel Petrucciani, Marcus Miller, Biréli Lagrène and Kenny Garrett in 1994. Recording next albums he took part in many artistic undertakings like Vertú with Stanley Clarke, Karen Briggs, Rachel Z and Richie Kotzen from 1999. He played with Michal Urbaniak’s Urbanator and in numerous projects featuring various funky jazz artists. During decades after his debut recording has been published, his position on jazz scene became as solid as influential but Venusian Summer released by Nemperor Records (NE 435) still remains his creative and well established achievement.

Lenny White – Venusian Summer (1975)

   Program of this album comprises six compositions in various arrangements. It was recorded in June and August 1975 in famous Electric Lady Studios in New York. The group of accompanying musicians is carefully selected band of artists. Main counterweight is mainly electronic keyboard instruments, organs, electric pianos and synthesizers with three masters of Hammond’s organ Jimmy Smith, Larry Young. Others were David Sancious, Weldon Irvine, and Onaje Allan Gumbs. Some electronics were in 1975 state of the art equipment. In eponymous suite Patrick Gleeson was playing various synthesizers like Oberheim Digital Sequencer and others. Lenny White in this suite played also non percussive instruments, Minimoog, Eμ synthesizer, ARP 2600 and acoustic piano and snap bass. Important part of the group were guitarists Larry Coryell, Al DiMeola, Doug Rodrigues and Raymond Gomez. Fixed part of the band was bass player Doug Rauch. There are only two parts with wind and brass – flutist Hubert Laws is playing in 2nd part of Venusian Summer and Tom Harrel playing flugelhorn took part in Prince of the Sea.
   Most of the material was composed and arranged by the leader. The style of this music is a variant of fusion esthetics with some electronic reinforcements. Sound is rich but still lucid with clear tendency to funky articulations and thick dancing sound. It looks like own Lenny White’s vision of jazz and rock fusion. He is very convincing as a creator of musical constructions and forms, drawing moods and building landscapes out of the ambient sound. The vision of Venusian Summer has been catched in the cover illustration by Larry Kresek, recognized painter and illustrator. Very good record, four stars for perfect realization and pure musical instinct. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mozart – Requiem – Daniel Barenboim

   In the history of music many masterpieces are clearly unappreciated while many are just over-valued. Some works are more significant in public memory than it’s justified by their technical and artistic importance. Some of these works are even not finished. Most famous work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the legendary Requiem can be seen as a kind of failure. Composer started work with ambitious solutions exceeding stylistic formulas of this time. He probably stopped composing his missa pro defunctis few months before his death. Maybe the romantic legend of Mozart composing Requiem on deathbed has contributed to the consolidation of the myth of the last masterpiece and artistic testament of genius composer. Any of his last concertos, symphonies or operas is finished masterpiece. The fact Requiem is legendary reveals the rules that govern public awareness.
   Only half of musical material for whole requiem mass cycle was completed by Mozart himself. The task of the completion Constance entrusted to his deceased husband’s disciple and friend Franz Xaver Süssmayr who made every effort to finish the work in Mozart’s style. The widow forced Süssmayr to swear, he will not disclose who completed the work. The reason was common. Constance wanted to receive the remaining portion of the agreed remuneration from Count Franz von Walsegg. Although Süssmayr was proficient composer, he was not even close to Mozart’s musical invention and in place of missing fragments he inserted the repetitions of some other fragments. In fact he did the best he could preserve as much of Mozart without destroying his ideas.

Daniel Barenboim – Requiem by W. A. Mozart (1972)

   The effect of Süssmayr’s straight repetitions is weak dramatic tension in later parts of the cycle. The apprentice sacrificed his own ambitions to save the clarity of master’s invention. Such operation gives him a chance to save Mozart’s work. Nonetheless, the best performers can create the balance and develop the deeper dramatics of musical form. There are many internationally acclaimed recordings of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem D minor KV 626, but the one recorded by Daniel Barenboim with English Chamber Orchestra and John Alldis Choir is the rendition perfectly catching best proportions. Released by EMI His Master’s Voice label in 1972 (C 065-02 246), this is one of most emotionally engaging performances, and probably the one closest to stylistic paradigm of mature classicism of 1790’s.
   Featured part of artistic team in Requiem is choir. Mozart gave choral parts even more weight than Handel whose oratorios were the model for classical composers. Also Chorus lead by John Alldis gives conductor full volume of vocal expression and Daniel Barenboim knows how to use it. English Chamber Orchestra played perfectly which is highly expected considering this orchestra was established to play Mozart’s music. Barenboim had also quartet of brilliant soloists – strong but subtle soprano of Sheila Armstrong, great deep mezzo-soprano of Janet Baker, clearly light tenor of Nicolai Gedda and beautiful lyrical baritone of Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau – all soloists work as one team in a rare classy performance. Every musician here is on his or her place. Barenboim leading perfect choir and perfect orchestra build this performance like it was completed by Mozart himself. The idea of taking the composition as a complete piece of art is good starting point but the way he made this mass sounds so much coherent is the secret of his great artistry.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mozart – Concertos for 3 and 2 Pianos – Eschenbach, Franz & Schmidt

   Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote two piano concertos for three and for two soloists, both in his early period, before he left Salzburg. First was Piano Concerto No. 7 in F major KV 242 for three pianos and orchestra, second was Piano Concerto No. 10 in E-flat major KV 365. It’s interesting, both were intended for playing by family connected soloists. Piano Concerto No. 7 has been commissioned by Countess Antonia Lodron who was looking for a concerto she was able to play with her two daughters Aloysia and Giuseppa. Mozart finished this concerto in February 1776, but there is also another version for two pianos – the one Mozart rearranged for his own performances in 1780. Piano Concerto No. 10 has been composed for performing by composer himself and his sister Nanerl.
   In whole collection of 27 Mozart’s Piano Concertos, these two sometimes are treated more as curiosity than the works of fully importance. But these are also brilliant, stylish compositions and interesting concert pieces for soloists and for orchestras, even if some parts are clearly showing the intention of creating the work for dilettante taking the first steps on public performances. Maybe both concertos are not the best parts of Mozart’s creative output, even if these works have some popularity, it’s a fact worth to remember. Maybe this is a kind of curiosity, maybe less ambitious works are more popular because of lacking doubtful passages. Maybe it’s just the fact three pianists together are consisting unusual view on philharmonic stage. Whatsoever the reason, these concertos are quite frequently played and recorded.

Eschenbach, Franz, Schmidt – Mozart’s Concertos Nos 7 and 10 (1982)

   Among many recordings of these concertos one is extraordinary as artistic achievement and very interesting as cultural project. This is album released by EMI in 1982 featuring London Philharmonic Orchestra and three German pianists – Christoph Eschenbach, Justus Frantz and Helmut Schmidt. The trio of soloists is as much perfect as it can be. Christoph Eschenbach conducting the orchestra is prominent personality of these renditions. He is multitalented and versatile musician; he’s excellent pianist as well as very good conductor. Eschenbech is great artist known for numerous achievements and various performances as solo and chamber pianist and as successful conductor of most complex symphonic works. Recordings of complete Mahler’s Symphonies he made with Orchestre de Paris in the Mahler’s anniversary years 2010 and 2011 are the perfect example of great artistic ideas and pure creative talent. As conductor and one of soloists Eschenbach joints creative approach with great respect to Mozart’s style. 
   Second person moving these performances is Justus Frantz, artist, teacher, professor in Hamburg Musikhochschule, television personality and well known personage of German music culture. He played many performances of music for two pianos with Christoph Eschenbach. There is strong connection between these two. Christoph Eschenbach was born in 1940 in Breslau (today Wrocław in Poland), Justus Frantz was born 1944 in Inowrocław (then Hohensalza), also in Poland – both born in bad moment and in unhappy places. Hard to say if it is only coincidence, or meaningful historical pattern, but their participation in musical life gives hope for overpassing old partitioning. The chances for cultural development are visible when politics are acting like artists. Even as nonprofessional pianist Helmut Schmidt shows real advance in musical culture. There were many politics playing musical instruments. One of best was Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, patriotic activist, statesman, composer and virtuoso famous all over the world. But there are still an army of minor politics playing instruments, writing poems and painting while devastating culture with their political decisions. This is why Helmut Schmidt has rightful place here although this blog definitely is not about politics.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yes – Close to the Edge

   In the history of progressive rock Yes belongs to the group of most remarkable bands. In early 1970’s they achieved success which was connected with characteristic features of Yes music, complicated formal structures basing on harmonic and rhythmic contrast and complex arrangements. And this is the moment of some best albums of the group. Formed in 1968, in the current of fading psychedelic rock, band soon has won the recognition of critics and the audience as intellectual, creative and hard-shell artistic project. Yes was always classified as one of progressive groups, in fact in its early years it was the term related with few most experimenting bands. This is why for a huge number of listeners it was the band defining the style of progressive rock, and then symphonic rock and art rock. Musicians forming the band had this characteristic attitude of artists modest in their attitude to developing of their possibilities but uncompromising in aspirations. And their contribution in the development of these trends is indisputable until today.
   Yes was always playing like everything what make sense in creative music was an intellectual challenge, their compositions were meticulously constructed by the assumption. Especially after 1971, when lineup of the group has significantly changed. The three musicians playing in the band from the beginning, singer Jon Anderson, singer and bassist Chris Squire and drummer Bill Bruford were joined by guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. This quintet became legendary, recording in 1971 Fragile and one year later Close to the Edge which turned to be the best Yes album ever and one of best realizations of the genre.

Yes – Close to the Edge (1972)

   This Yes’ lineup made something unusual in the history of rock music. The discipline of musical construction and sound expressing all kinds of emotions, rhythmic manipulations and ambient soundscapes, heavy rock riffs, jamming keyboards and guitars, soft and heavy bass lines with high range vocals and poetic lyrics. A poetic content of Close to the Edge has some features revealing the visionary layer of Yes’ creations. It is basing on Hindu mysticism and Hermann Hesse’s book Siddhartha – filling A-Side four-part eponymous suite shows the moments of awakening Hesse’s character “close to the edge” of the bank of the river. The four episodes are also consecutive moments of awakening the consciousness and the spiritual self.
   During the Close to the Edge sessions in second quarter of 1972, the band was in perfect shape. Whole five was heterogeneous. Yes was like pentagonal rock Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Bill Brufford, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, every one of them has his own point of view and artistic ambitions. This can be heard but what is interesting, the so much clear differences between five personalities did not interfered with the integrity of their music. It’s also interesting feature how Yes’ intellectually advanced constructions comprise folk references in smooth ballade type vocal lines and in guitar riffs. Many Yes’ aficionados are declaring their love to this record. For many others this is one of legends of 1970’s progressive rock current. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most important albums of the genre and one of the biggest 1972 events.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Frank Zappa • Zoot Allures

★★★★★

   Frank Zappa was not only the legend of progressive rock. After his early productions he was seen predominantly as avant-garde composer, fusion big bands leader and experimental movie maker. When Apostrophe and Bongo Fury became hits of progressive rock in common memory of mid 70’s he was already associated with Discreet label. This company was joint undertaking of both Zappa and manager herb Cohen. They were connected for years. With Herb Cohen who was Zappa’s manager and business partner, they run together Straight/Bizarre Records and Discreet Records. In early 1976 they parted due to disagreements on artistic ideas of Zappa and pro-corporation politics of the manager. In effect Herb Cohen took total control over Discreet label and demanded new Zappa’s albums for release. The contract was temporarily re-assigned to Warner Bros and the first of the series of Zappa's records was album Zoot Allures published in October 1976.
   It was the first and only Zappa’s record published under the Warner Bros label. And many listeners rated this album as more mainstream and popular than any of Zappa’s records before. The frame for A-Side was two songs in style of satirical rock – criticizing system of education Wind up Working in a Gas Station and Ms. Pinky. First with vocals by Davey Moire, second with Zappa lead and Roy Estrada background vocals. The impression of the popular character of the music was superficial. Second and third songs were instrumental Black Napkins beautiful guitar solo recorded in Osaka on February 1976 and Torture Never Stops which was recorded in duo by drummer Terry Bozzio and Frank Zappa playing guitar, bass, keyboards, vocal and directing recreational activities. This became a favorite song for many tours live performances and different versions have been published on various official albums and bootlegs.

Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures (1976)

   Songs filling B-side are even more specific. After Find Her Finer where Zappa and Bozzio play with Captain Beefheart’s harmonica (credited as Donnie Vliet) and background vocals of Andre Lewis, Roy Estrada and Ruben Ladron de Guevara, Frank Zappa is jamming with Terry Bozzio and Ruth Underwood in Friendly Little Finger. Next song is written by Jeff Simmons and Frank Zappa Wonderful Wino. This old song of 1970 gives the album straight connection to the Zappa’s older style. Recorded by Zappa and Bozzio in progressive way still sounds somehow familiar but it is a real good chance to observe the change. And then comes phenomenal piece opening the way to Zappa’s guitar frenzy known from Shut Up and Guitar albums. This is guitar solo Zoot Allures with Terry Bozzio on drums, Dave Parlato on bass, Ruth Underwood on marimba and Lu Ann Neil on harp. As instrumental composition Zoot Allures has indications of improvisational origins. But here it can be seen as a kind of answer for Black Napkins. The intended hit Disco Boy, has closed whole album with jester’s wry face.
   The sound of Zoot Allures is innovative and recognizable. Deeply resonating bass lines, clear guitar sound and drums tracks exploding with energy – this was the readable sign of the basic change in Zappa’s musical experiments. The lineups of his band were changing faster than recordings sessions. On front and rear side of the cover for Zoot Allures there are photos of four musicians. Frank Zappa and Terry Bozzio posed in white pants and with them the two new musicians who during recording sessions were not present yet. These two were Eddie Jobson sitting on the chair and bass player Patrick O’Hearn. Both became good support for Zappa’s band and both made lots of good music also in later bands. Zoot Allures was not immediately and not completely accepted, for many Zappa’s followers it looks too easy, but in longer time perspective this unpretentious album gives even more creative incentives than some more complex and ultimate releases.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Friedrich Gulda plays Beethoven’s Complete Sonatas

   When choosing the interpretation of the great composition cycles the great caution is highly advisable. Such cycles are sometimes piece of work spanning whole composer’s life. In many cases an artist owes the fame to his past achievements or to accurate performance of some part of the cycle. In such case it's easy to overlook the differences between the works and even fall into the stereotypical reading. Cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas is an example of such challenge. Of course, every great pianist, gaining freedom in determining the sonata form rendition and artistic self-consciousness, attempts to deal with this task. One of those who made it with great success is Friedrich Gulda. Personally I think he made it with best known artistic quality.
   Friedrich Gulda was one of most reliable and creative piano masters of 20th century. Born in 1930, in age of seven he started to study in Vienna conservatory and as 12 year old he entered Music Academy. In 1946 he won the Geneva International Competition, and before he reached his twenty, he played worldwide. His basic repertoire span includes late baroque, classicism, romanticism and modernity, although the best results he achieved in classical piano forms, concertos and sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven. Furthermore he was highly unorthodox artist, opened for different genres and styles. He played jazz, recording with Chick Corea, composing such music as Variations on The Doors ‘Light My Fire’ and organizing rave parties. He was also playing baritone sax and giving public performances in unconventional clothes.

Friedrich Gulda – Beethoven's Complete Sonatas (1967)

   Friedrich Gulda was an artist of strong background in tradition of Western music and personality whose creative ideas pushed him to explore alternative traditions as well as new ideas. Some officials were unable to understand his esthetical and philosophical views. When in 1988 council of Salzburg Festival express some doubts about inviting jazz pianist Joe Zawinul, Gulda in protest cancelled all appointed performances. This attitude gave him nickname “terrorist pianist”. But he was just the artist who was not submissive to authorities. In his recordings this point of view has been clearly expressed. And there is no better composer for emphasizing performer’s defiance than Ludwig van Beethoven. In his large-scale, multi-movement forms depths of ideas and intensity of feeling reached the limits of musical meaning.
   It is open question, if one pianist can perform whole set of Beethoven’s sonatas. Differences between early and late of 32 sonatas, the set comprising forty years (1782-1822) of composer’s development are profound. Beethoven’s personality change, historical and intellectual breakthroughs increased the stylistic distance between first and last works. No wonder for pianists Beethoven’s Sonatas are Himalayas of artistic challenge. Every artist dreams about performing complete set, but only some achieve complete success. One of them is Friedrich Gulda who recorded this 11 LP set for famous 1967 edition by Amadeo – Viennese label focused mainly on jazz (active 1956-1974). This legendary series is one of best renditions ever. Comparing to earlier recordings by Schnabel and Kempff, Gulda is more open, more polyphonic. He left more space for listener’s individual experience. His brilliant technique gives clear picture of both musical structures and emotional depths. Five star recording, maybe the best ever complete of Beethoven's sonatas and excellent candidate for personal favorite.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ofra Haza – Shaday

   As a cultural mosaic Israeli society is successful experiment. Many groups of Israeli citizens keep their traditions, differentiating and enriching the resultant cultural life. Jews from Yemen belong to the most unique and distant communities living in Israel. In 1964 Ephraim Kishon and Menachem Golan’s comedy Sallah Shabati, the brilliant movie debut of Chaim Topol, the situation of Yemenite Jews becomes part of bitter social satire. For years while many ethnic and cultural groups gained positions in various areas of life this part of society was often marginalized one. Living in poorer conditions, taking part in organized work and education but with no apparent effect on quality of life, Yemenites with their own music, art and traditions remain a cultural niche for decades. 
   In popular Israeli culture Yemenites, sometimes mistakenly identified with Mizrahi Jews, were on a narrow marigin for many years. Specific melodic and rhytmic patterns, ethnic instruments, ancient vocal techniques, connections with Arabic music in scales and pitch were characteristic qualities of this sound which was so distant of European Jewish tradition. In 1980's the waves of world music and basing on folk rhythms electronic pop give great popularity for the 1984 album Shirei Teiman (שירי תימן  Yemenite Songs) by Israeli singer Ofra Haza. The album of songs to poetry of 16th century Rabbi Shalom Shabazi became first success, and first of the songs, a’cappella vacalise of Im Nin’Alu was frequently used in various remixes. In 1988 on the basis of this recording were released many remixes on 7-inch and 12-inch singles featuring original Hebrew and new English versions of Ofra Haza’s vacalise.

Ofra Haza – Shaday (1988)

   Next album Shaday has been recorded in Israel and in England and published in December 1988. The record became Ofra Haza’s biggest success, peaking position 130th on the year Billboard 200. This achievement was based on the popularity of previous singles. English version of Im Nin’Alu recorded with electronic instruments published in many versions on singles in 1988 became commercial success, giving singer the real base for international career. General part of the album has been recorded by multi-instrumentalist Izhar Ashdot. Other two Israeli musicians were Iki Levy and Alon Oleartchik. The group of artists has been completed by keyboard programmer Dani Ali, saxophonist Gilad Atsmon and a list of ten English session musicians.
   The program of the album is well balanced set of nine popular songs in synthpop style and world music. Some songs, like the opening B-Side Galbi or ending this selection Shaday are more ambitious. Some are rather progressive electronic compositions than synthpop and some vocal performances are more complex. Most interesting parts of this album are these vocal performances, some with strong religious background – good example is Love Song being a fragment of Biblical Song of Songs (incipit Simeni Kahotam Al Libecha). Opening the Shaday A-Side with hit song, giving some compromise between popular and traditional culture, this album was first of all a great opportunity to give the chance the Yemenite culture can be heard worldwide. And as shown by the time, this was the real breakthrough in the way Yemenite Jews have been seen and even bigger breakthrough in the way they perceive themselves.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Polish Song and Dance Ensemble Śląsk vol. 3

   In first decades after war there was a lot of pressure toward subordinating popular music to the national Polish traditions. This was of course a political gesture against American and West European popular culture and to support national pride. In first decades after war the basis for popular music became folk melodies and rhythms so in traditional songs as well in early rock and roll. Most popular form of such groups were ensembles creating the stream of stylised folklore, what means the style of popular music based on elements of national folklore.  There were hundreds of such ensembles in schools and other institutions, supported and maintained by ministry of culture and propaganda officials. Most of these groups were just amateur undertakes and very few achieved valuable artistic results. One of such phenomena was The Polish Song and Dance Ensemble “Śląsk”.
   After great success of first two albums, published in 1964, next two sets of songs recorded by Śląsk Ensemble were published two years later in 1966 on two albums. One was Christmas Carols (XL 0347) and one numbered as consecutive volume three (XL 0348). This became permanent procedure. Radio and phonographic recordings were made in regular manner as a way of ensemble’s working routine.  Most sufficient way to promote the band and singers was to play these recordings in radio programs. With dozens of Śląsk recordings in archives, the process of setting next albums could be as easy as it only can be. The only problem was the choice of songs and the title of the album. And the level of difficulty was even higher because redactors of albums were trying to contain everything interesting thus syncretic character of numbered volumes.

Śląsk – The Polish Song and Dance Ensemble – vol. 3 (1966)

   In sixties the popularity of Śląsk Ensemble was reaching the highest possible level. Thank to the highest budget it was one of two most active folk song and dance ensembles of the country. Both were active in the field of folklore and both took part in creating great scale pageants. Arrangements made by Stanisław Hadyna were perfect and valuable examples of folkloristic stylization in popular song. Not only music was changed to meet standards of popular music. Also words were partly edited to meet the requirements of popular agenda.
   Because of folk music was not the best medium for socialist propaganda issues, the aim of some influences was leading to universal values. Best example is opening this record song Pije Kuba do Jakuba (Kuba Drinks to Jacob). It was based on popular folk banquet song. In version recorded by Śląsk this popular song was modified to convince to moderate drinking, but also to omit some nationalistic fragments. The satiric criticism against alcohol abuse and the idea of modesty in drinking were the part of the song W poniedziałek rano (On Monday Morning). This folk criticism is somehow close to the one of Carl Orff’s Carmina burana famous In taberna quando sumus. Interesting elements were also elements of folklore of urban areas present in many songs. Most peculiar one is Walczyk górniczy (The Miner’s Waltz) with frequent transitions between minor and major modes. Last part of the album are the songs of the highlanders – Hej te nasze góry (Our Mountains), Gronie, nasze gronie (Our Mountain Peaks) or Idzie baca groniem (A Shepherd Walks along the Ridge). The folk songs of mountain regions were second after Silesia songs in the repertoire of the group. These songs correspond with cover photo capturing dance of the mountaineer program.