Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Sound of Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz was one of greatest artists of the twentieth century. His legendary reluctance to public appearances made the recordings were main factor deciding on his artistic development. As gramophone recording artist, Vladimir Horowitz was active since 1928, when he for the first time was recorded by RCA Victor. Earlier, in 1926, his performances were registered on many piano rolls by Welte-Mignon. In time of Great Depression he recorded for His Masters Voice, it was European RCA’s affiliate, and then till the end of fifties his recordings were published by this company. Since 1953 it was continued second period of withdrawal in the artist career. In 1962 Horowitz begun studio sessions for CBS. The Sound of Horowitz is one of his early recitals recorded in CBS studios during four sessions on 6, 13 & 29 of November and December 18th, 1962. 
Although he was already well-known virtuoso, CBS tittled first Horowitz recitals as he was new on the music market.  The Sound of Horowitz was his second recital recorded for CBS. First was recorded in April and May 1962 and published in 1962 by Columbia Masterworks label under the tittle Columbia Records Presents Vladimir Horowitz and comprised Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, Rachmaninoff’s Etudes Tableaux, Schumann’s Arabesque and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19. For this album in 1963 pianist received two Grammy Awards (for Best Solo Performance and Best Classical Album). Next year The Sound of Horowitz was awarded with Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance without orchestra. In this category Vladimir Horowitz was awarded also in 1965 and 1966.

The Sound of Horowitz (1963)

The recital comprised by the frame of The Sound of Horowitz album became reference point for pianistic artistry. Whole program has been constructed with precision and main idea behind. It starts with full cycle of thirteen Scenes of Childhood by Robert Schumann. Treated by assumption as being not difficult, miniatures were not composed for children. Small, sometimes episodic but mostly composed in binary form, miniatures of strong imaginary potential became Horowitz specialty. Rich and constantly changing Kinderszenen op. 15 and emotionally powerful Toccata op. 7 shows two opposite sides of Schumann’s works, deep sensitiveness and vivid expression are like two sides of composer personality. This contrast is getting even bigger considering relations between Schumann works and three of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonatas beginning next side of the record. Repetitions in Sonata in G (L. 209) can be seen as a culmination of virtuoso technical display. And once again Horowitz shows brilliant technique just to reverse and strengthen melodious factor of piano music.
This is Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat op. 90 nr 3 showing how intensively and lyrically he can carry the melody. And Schubert’s musical language was always based on melody and imagination. Inner beauty of this music is making the phenomenal context for three compositions by Alexander Scriabin: Poem op. 32 nr 1, Etude in C-sharp Minor op. 2 nr 1 and Etude in D-sharp Minor op. 8 nr 12. Especially recorded by Vladimir Horowitz renditions of Scriabin’s Etudes have historical meaning as perfect interpretations and the result of extraordinary inventiveness and philosophical inspirations. The same can be said on every piece of The Sound of Horowitz recital. Beginning with romantic miniatures and virtuoso Toccata, jumping to early sonata form, then going to loosy romantic and postromantic forms Vladimir Horowitz shows piano as perfect singing instrument. This is the recital no piano admirer can miss.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Genesis – Nursery Cryme

The searching for style is often the most creative period in the life of an artist. Similarly with the searching for methods in the work of the researcher, both are trying to find the most reliable path to goal. Those two areas of activity are not significantly different, because both regards the truth and for both beauty is the result of the truth had been attained. Before English progressive rock group Genesis started to play in its best lineup, style of the group was changing even more frequently than the band itself. Starting from the positions of baroque pop, through folk and historic stylizations group found the way to their own vision of progressive rock. Breaking point and definition of new style was Nursery Cryme, the third album of the group recorded in August 1971 in Trident Studios – the same place as earlier Trespass – this time it was the only studio in Great Britain working with 16-track recorder. And this gave more space for building complicated harmonic and rhythmic structures. anksCreating complicated compositions, experimenting with various ideas and methods for building narration in rock song, musicians of progressive rock genre were primarily afraid of the simplicity. Progrock of this era couldn’t be too much complex or difficult. 
The moment for recording the new album was high. After last personnel change passed more than half of a year. From first lineup still were present three musicians, Peter Gabriel singing and playing flute, keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist and guitarist Mike Rutherford. The quintet was augmented with two new musicians. In August 1970 band started new drummer Phil Collins and in January 1971 Genesis hired new guitarist Steve Hackett. Both were gifted musicians and both had great expectations to play challenging music. This was the moment Genesis has full possibilities to create every style they want. They focused on progressive rock and shortly became classical group sharing the scene with King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant and Pink Floyd. Group was not a monolith and every musician has his own vision of music. This became clear when Gabriel and Hackett leave the band and started solo careers. 

Genesis – Nursery Cryme (1971)

First song of the album, The Musical Box is extended narrative composition with instrumental episodes in the middle parts of composition and in the coda. They were made in different way than in earlier Genesis’ songs. The idea was based on Victorian fairy tale about girl and boy in country house. Playing croquet Cynthia removed Henry’s head with the mallet. After two weeks she found Henry’s musical box. Running it to play Old King Cole melody she made Henry reappeared. Small boy figure began rapidly ageing and feeling desire Henry tried to persuade Cynthia sexual intercourse. At this point nurse came and seeing small bearded figure throws instinctualy a music box killing both. In Gabriel’s lyrics songs starts in the moment Henry asks Cynthia to play the song so he can join with her. Instrumental solos doesn’t seem too bright at first sight but this is not jazz kind of soloing and musicians have no intention to display their creative potential but making corresponding background for the story.
First song was clearly the exposition of bands esthetics. Cover of the album shows girl with crocquet mallet, nurse speeding on Victorian roller scates and children’s heads scattered over the cricket playground. Peter Gabriel, who sung lead vocals on Nursery Cryme, is perfect as well as an actor and dramatic texts interpreter as musician. Elegiac song For Absent Friends has been sung by Gabriel backing by Phil Collins for whom it was his singing debut. Second exposure was The Return of the Giant Hogweed – song which is the apocalyptic vision of the expansion of plants imported by Victorian naturalists from Russia to Royal Gardens of Kew. This piece shows specific sense of humour and the will to express much more than it was announced on Genesis’ first two albums. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bernard Haitink conducts the Slavic highlights

One of world’s best conductors in last decades and one of most prolific recording artists is Bernard Haitink. Born in Amsterdam, he studied in Conservatorium van Amsterdam and start career as violinist in orchestra. His rapid career became in 1954 when he started studies under direction of Ferdinand Leitner. Next year he took the post of second conductor of Netherlands Radio Union Orchestra. One year later, November 7th 1956, he made his debut with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Koningklijk Concertgebouworkest). Three years later, after death of Eduard van Beinum on September 1st, 1959  he took the position of first conductor then in 1961 post of principal conductor which he shared with Eugen Jochum until 1963, when he took this post exclusively. He continued working on this position until 1988. In 1999 he was appointed as honorary conductor of Concertgebouw. In years he work with his primary orchestra, he was associated with many orchestras as a guest artist or contracted principal conductor. He was working as principal conductor with London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  
In many respects Bernard Haitink is the conductor of extraordinary features. Vast majority of great conductors are individualists of extremely high self-esteem and charisma. Haitink’s charisma comes from his professionalism and diligence. Also his effictiveness was phenomenal and legendary. For this reason he’s been often drawn for most challenging performances of late romantic massive works and twentieth century symphonic music. He was widely appreciated as interpreter of nineteenth century symphonies by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and operas including operas by Igor Stravinsky he performed in Glyndebourne Opera and complete Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.  

Bernard Haitink with Concertgebouw Orchestra

The works of three Slavic composers constitute the program for the very special album of Concertgebouw orchestra and Haitink repertoire milestones - Bedřich Smetana’s Symphonic Poem No. 2 "Vltava" (The Moldau) from the cycle Ma vlást (My Fatherland), Mikhail Glinka’s Ouvertüre from the opera Ruslan and Lyudmila and Antonin Dvořak’s first five pieces from first cycle of Slavic Dances op.46. It is highly interesting album highlighting music always appreciated by public and requiring full range of both orchestra and conductor’s artistic possibilities. I guess for Bernard Haitink it was not only the matter of professional proficiency. Slavic music is not really close to musical sensitivity of artists from West Europe so he was not only the one who needs to interpret the music but also conductor creating orchestra’s style and attitude. 
The situation was even more complicated. Album was not recorded as one project. Recorded with Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and published by Philips (6566 012) somewhere around 1970, these recordings were taken at different occasions and published before – Smetana’s Vltava in 1962, Glinka’s Overture in 1969 and Dvořak’s five parts from Slavonic dances op.46 were recorded between 1959 and 1967 – No. 1 Furiant and No. 3 Polka were recorded in 1959, No. 2 Dumka and No. 4 Sousedská were performed in 1963 and No. 5 Skočná was recorded in 1967. And it is really hard to believe these pieces were recorded in span of a decade. The rich sound of the orchestra, perfect phrasing and dramatic expression demonstrate excellent understanding of conductor’s intentions and enough good taste to catch the Slavic idiom in the perspective as it was present in romantic music.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Genesis – Trespass

When in 1967 Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks, still students of Charterhouse School in Godalming, formed group, their aim was just a partnership for authoring songs. No one could suppose this was the starting moment of the new group which will last for decades under name Genesis. Five years later the band became famous as art rock and progressive rock avant-garde. Their music does not immediately have gained this concept momentum. On their early recordings musicians were trying to create music in the way of many progressive bands but technical possibilities of musicians were not enough to play in the same league as King Crimson. Characteristic feature was all members of the group were participating in creating new songs. This kind of colloquial writing sometimes gave good results, especially in art rock where symphonic sound was created not like in classical music in the way of orchestration but as an effect of cooperation between group members.
Changes of lineup in particular on drummer place made group’s abilities enough to carry artistic ideas and to develop new sound of the band. First half of seventies was definitely advantageous with such great records as Nursery Cryme in 1971, Foxtrot in 1972, Selling England by the Pound in 1973 and A Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in 1974. After few best years of Genesis’ progressive achievements, after in 1975 Peter Gabriel left the band and after the departure of Steve Hackett two years later, the trio withdrew from the radical approaching to the music style, coming closer to the classic rock and after 1980 even to pop rock mainstream. Before this had happened, group released very interesting though not perfect album Trespass, where artists tried to define their own style of progressive music.

Genesis - Trespass (1970) 

Recorded in June and July 1970 and released October 23 the same year, Trespass was second album in history of the band and in fact the one opening whole sequence of records giving Genesis position of leading progressive band. Lineup of the group featured Peter Gabriel singing and playing flutes and accordion, Anthony Philips playing guitars, bassist Mike Rutherford, organ and piano player Tony Banks and drummer John Mayhew. The set of the group recording Trespass was almost duplication of first Genesis lineup, except drummer changing previously playing John Silver. Mayhew played in Genesis only one year and shortly after band finished recording of this album, in August 1970 he was replaced by Phil Collins. And this was change that affected quintet’s sound and style in next four years.
The program of this record is six songs; each based on the lyrics of rich imagery and expanded musical setup.  Ties between these pieces are evidently intended and are clear exposition of group’s artistic ambitions. In White Mountain Peter Gabriel sings about wolf pack and lonely outlaw Fang: Outcast he trespassed where no wolf may tread, the last sacred haunt of the dead. Closing the album The Knife is dedicated for those that trespass against us. Dark, stylized for fables, sometimes enriched by subtle joke, songs by Genesis were perfectly fitted into its time. Many past ideas and future trends were presented here in this highly creative work. This makes Trespass so significant, though many critics and listeners didn’t notice this album when it was published by Charisma Records. Maybe intellectual content was too extensive; maybe the message was not sufficiently clear. Shortly after it was released, discouraged and frustrated group was almost ready to break down. In effect of some personal changes group recovered its position and published series of great achievements for which 1970 album Trespass was the stepping stone.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Boulez – Mahler – Waldmärchen

Gustav Mahler, born in 1860 was undeniably one of greatest composers in history of symphonic music. But he was also artist immersed in the historical process who concluded romanticism with great works being both recapitulation of romantic ideas and opening to forthcoming modern music. His first full range composition which he called his “first opus” was composed between 1878 and 1880 and it was cantata called Das klagende Lied (Song of Lamentation) – huge three-movement, nearly 70 minutes long romantic cantata, composed to his own lyrics. These early Mahler’s visions were close to the canonic themes in German romantic literature and visual arts. The main idea has been taken directly from fairytale Das klagende Lied by Ludwig Bechstein but the plot has been written by Mahler in his own poem.
The plot of Das klagende Lied is derived from popular in romantic culture story about the queen, who promised marriage to someone who will go to the deep forest and will find a very rare red flower. Two brothers set off in search of plant – one fair and noble, the other an unscrupulous opportunist. When honest finds the flower, the consequence is a treacherous death from the hands of dishonest and jealous brother. Following the crime he takes the brother’s prize and marries the queen. However, the wandering minstrel finds bones of the murdered brother and is making the pipe singing whole tragic story. Minstrel goes to the castle and interrupts the wedding ceremony. Scene breaks out, all quarrel and in this pandemonium the castle collapses into the ground. 

Boulez – Mahler – Waldmärchen (1970) 

The first version of Mahler's cantata was composition in three parts, but soon he began to perform it without the first and most extensive movement. First part takes 30 minutes what takes almost half of whole cantata duration. The reason was not only the scale of the first episode. Whole story was still readable when told after hideous act of fratricide, maybe even more mysterious, and this is what always has given a chance for more general associations.  Author’s decision of reduction the work to second and third movements can be understand but still Waldmärchen is great work, even as standalone piece. Comparing to the other two movements, first part shows more ease narrative style where elegiac and lyric elements interlace with dramatic and emotional episodes. 
When tenor Ernst Haefliger chants the first line of cantata text – “Es war ein stolze Königin” – it’s just like an invitation to recall mystery feelings of a child hearing a tale about proud queen and her strange request. Originl idea is to arrange vocal parts in instrumental way. Text of Mahler’s poem has been divided to small particles sung by various sets of vocal staff. Narration about queen is sung by male voices, after tenor and choir comes bass Gerd Nienstedt. Then history of finding the flower and murder is told by soprano Elisabeth Soederstroem, mezzo-soprano Grace Hoffman and choir. 
Illustrative resources are so much diverse as far from literality. In many stylistic solutions this music is close to Richard Wagner’s style. No wonder. In his student years Mahler was clearly influenced by Wagner’s ideas of music and narration. Later, when he became famous conductor, director of Viennese Hofoper and Vienna Philharmonic, Gustav Mahler remained faithful to his esthetic choices and one of best interpreters of Wagner’s works. In his mature works he became more polyphonic and spectrum of his expression was much wider but he was still close to the idea of narrative music. Wagnerian inspirations were clearly dominating over young Mahler’s style. This relationship can be observed on many levels from formation of lyrics, through characteristic references like leitmotiv technique and totality of orchestration, to the precedent idea of whole composition’s narratives reflecting in work’s structure. 
It was good idea to collate Mahler’s first and early works on opposite sides of one album. Waldmärchen from Das klagende Lied and Adagio from his final 10th Symphony are frame closing one of most original visions of romantic symphonic music and despite composers untimely death it shows how consistently he was developing his music. In Pierre Boulez interpretation both works are sparkling like a precious stones. London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus sound perfectly clear and massive. Great solo voices gave this part of cantata an additional dimension of narrative contents. It’s worth to notice this was premiere recording of Waldmärchen in the history and unlike many premiere recordings, this one is probably the best.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Love Sax as played by David Roach

Musicians love their instruments. No wonder, spending huge part of life working with instrument, building its sound and serving its body, they have no other chance as fall in love with. Or they never become artists. But the trouble with love is, everyone express it in its own way. Among many instruments one is associated with love almost automatically. And nobody knows why it is saxophone. There’s no matter which one from the family it is. Soprano, alto, tenor, sometimes baritone are most popular but there are many more in higher or lower and even in other pitch than B-flat and E-flat, for example C soprano or rare C contralto. This were remnants of older saxophone constructions – the concert pitch which was basic for half of versions designed and patented by Adolphe Sax in 1846. There are curved and straight saxophones, some popular like curved tenor saxophone, some unusual like straight baritone, and saxello family. 
Haunting sound of this woodwind instrument is unsolved mystery. There are many legends trying to find a clue. One of them tries to explain why Selmer saxophones in the 50s and 60s have become the favorite instruments of the greatest artists. It says during world war bronze bells from churches were taken for producing the cannon shells. Legend is based on the presumption that after the war Selmer factory bought as a scrap used brass shells and this way old church bells are heard in Selmer saxophone tones. It’s not true bronze and brass are different alloys, bronze is made by melting copper with tin and brass is made of copper and zinc. Also many saxophones of prewar era had very rich sound. What made Selmers so popular was its pitch precision and perfect ergonomics giving musicians chance to play faster and clearer phrases and articulating notes beyond possibilities of earlier constructions. Well, nice legend. The truth is church bells never sounded so sexy as the Selmer Mark VI saxophone did.

David Roach's I Love Sax (1983)

There are many albums featuring saxophone as solo instrument. It’s really meaningful, how many are successful. One of examples is I Love Sax. In 1983 British label Nouveau Music published record of classical saxophonist David Roach. Young, still in his twenties and perfectly professional in style and in the beautiful tone of soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, artist made great input for establishing position of the saxophone as solo instrument in popular music. Twenty tracks are generally great hits of popular music, as publisher noted “carefully selected” for “late night album for late night Lovers”. And it’s really hard to point the best because there are no weaker ones. The one exceptionally pretty is Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters which in this rendition shows its pure beauty. Roach recorded this songs with perfect accompaniment of guitarist Paul Keogh, keyboardist John Mealing, bassist John G. Perry and drummer Tom Nichol. The record was successful. In April 1984 this album reached 73rd position on UK Albums Chart. 
The tunes are surely “for lovers” and sound of saxophone is really “sultry”, so this record after almost 30 years is carrying bunch of emotions you can give with love for every woman. Quite good occasion can be The International Women's Day – maybe even better than St. Valentine’s Day. Love for saxophone is frequently observed phenomenon not only in the group of musicians. We can’t answer why saxophone sound most people associate with love. Maybe we should ask why love is so close to the sound of this instrument.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Frank Zappa • Orchestral Favorites


   The 1979 with five new albums was record year in Frank Zappa’s discography. Warner Bros. has released two further albums from material provided by Zappa as a consequence of a contract – Sleep Dirt in January and Orchestral Favorites in May. And in March launching new label, Zappa Records opened with Sheik Yerbouti double album and continued in September and November with two albums of Joe’s Garage Act I and double Joe’s Garage Act II & III. This year was also record for the number of three singles – Dancing Fool, Bobby Brown Goes Down and Joe’s Garage. Every 1979 album is different in style which is one of great features of Zappa’s works. Publication of two albums with instrumental music proved to be fortunate event. The 1979 edition was published by Warner Bros under DiscReet label without permission from the author. And even with the tracks which had not been edited, issued hastily and without the participation of artists, the compositions are able to defend itself.
   Material for this album was recorded in Royce Hall, Los Angeles in September 1975 with large group of more than three dozen artists. The core of the orchestra were Terry Bozzio on drums, Dave Parlato on bass, Emil Richards playing percussions and playing guitar and keyboards Frank Zappa who was leader, composer and producer. Many musicians involved in this project were known as members of Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra & Chorus from Lumpy Gravy album. Zappologists separate the existence of this bands as – first Lumpy Gravy 1967 incarnation and second Orchestral Favorites 1975 incarnation. Many musicians were hired just for September 17 and 18, 1975 concerts in Royce Hall.  From 1967’ AEESOC incarnation there were keyboardist Mike Lang, playing french horn David Duke, cellist Jerry Kessler and percussionist Emil Richards. Some musicians came to Zappa’s bands after Lumpy Gravy. From The Grand Wazoo trumpeter Malcolm McNabb, oboist Earle Dumler, flutist, clarinetist and saxophonist Mike Altschul, from latest Mothers lineup Bruce Fawler, Terry Bozzio. New musicians in AEESOC were John Wittenberg, Bobby Dubow (violin) Pamela Goldsmith (viola), Dana Hughes (bass trombone), Ray Reed (flute), David Shostak (flute) and Tommy Morgan (harmonica). The conductors of the orchestra in Royce concerts were Frank Zappa and Michael Zearott.

Frank Zappa – Orchestral Favorites (1979)

   First and last works are instrumental versions of 200 Motels compositions. Opening A-Side Strictly Genteel was published as vocal finale of 1971 soundtrack and later in orchestral form with London Symphony Orchestra and in rock band version from October 31, 1981 concert in Palladium, NYC on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore vol. 6. Next two compositions were new works and like many other were later reworked and republished – Pedro’s Dowry in January 1983 recorded London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano and Naval Aviation in Art in January 1984 recorded Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Pierre Boulez.
   Opening B-Side Duke of Prunes later known as The Orchestral Duke of Prunes is instrumental version of 1966 song published on Absolutely Free and Mothermania albums. Zappa called it „surrealistic love song” and this tune was frequently played during Mothers of Invention gigs in sixties. The last piece of this set Bogus Pomp comes from 1968 whet it was played as a prologue to the concert on October 25. The musical material of this composition was base for Sealed Tuna Sandwich suite in 200 Motels soundtrack and then reworked and published as Bogus Pomp on Orchestral Favorites (13:29) and in much wider form on London Symphony Orchestra album (24:31).
Closing series of three Warner Bros’ editions, the Orchestral Favorites album was a kind of conclusion for this exposure. Three records giving balanced picture of Zappa’s creative works with very little rock songs, well developed narrative work and various instrumental compositions pointing directions of future developments. Many evil can be said about the policies of big corporations towards artists. Many talented people never fully developed their talents. Frank Zappa had a sufficiently strong position to fight for freedom of his artistic expression. Reduced to the status of the product, art defended itself once more. This series was like cuckoo egg in the nest of corporative governance, a formation of independent post in the world of supermarkets. It was in fact enough anti-system to provoke a series of furious attacks of the Washington generals' wives so much politically involved in the coming era of Reaganite neo-conservatism.