Friday, August 31, 2012

Tullio Serafin conducts Rossini

   Gioacchino Rossini lived in turbulent times of expiration of old aristocratic order and establishing new era of romanticism. As composer he is known predominantly for 39 operas, while other works are quite significant catalogue of cantatas and instrumental music, sacred and secular vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. Much part of his works remains in limbo. Outside operatic scenes he is known for accidental performances of few most popular works as Stabat Mater (1841) or Petite messe solennelle (1967). But overtures are probably biggest part of his output presented most frequently in philharmonic programs. Some of this pieces beside accompanying the operas became famous as standalone compositions. Sometimes such instrumental instroduction can be more famous than the main work itself. 
   Rossini’s overtures display characteristic attributes of his musical style. He has light pen, composing fast and easy, no wonder he sometimes used schematic solutions. What really matters in Rossini’s oeuvre is his melodic talent. He had the rare ability to transmit emotions with a single melody. And no matter how much simple or complicated this melody was, message was always clear. Creating in romantic period, Rossini in most of his works was representing classical style with great attention to the style of Mozart, who was idealized by Rossini as absolute musical genius. Following his ideal, Rossini was using creative means restrainedly and in balance with semantics. Scarcely in his late works reflected trends of new era. In his overtures this breakthrough is clear.

Tullio Serafin - Rossini - Overtures (1964)

   Some contrasts between Overture “La scala di seta” (The Silken Ladder) from 1812 and overture to William Tell from August 1829 don’t show the real span of changes. In his late operas Rossini was romantic more in intellectual and emotional content than in style. These two are very popular pieces in repertoire of every orchestra, just as symphonic overture to Semiramide from 1823. But two of his overtures are known as classical evergreens and whistled even by those persons who do not even know the name of Rossini. First is Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), second La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). Both were composed during the period of his peak form in 1815 and 1917, both are representing best features of Rossini’s style and melodic talent.
   There are dozens of albums presenting Rossini’s overtures with almost every orchestra and almost most of mainstream conductors. In most cases it is just the element of promotion. This is especially clear when orchestras and conductors known for their achievements in most demanding repertoire are recording music written for small orchestra in theatrical pit. This can be fancy but it is little bit out of its primary assignment. This point of view makes 1964 album of Tullio Serafin so much valid. He is the legend of opera conducting, Toscanini’s assistant and successor, long time leader of La Scala in Milano, patron of many great singers with famous Maria Callas ahead. This time great Italian opera conductor recorded Rossini’s overtures with Rome Opera Orchestra. Italian opera is background of great orchestras. And even though, this is recording of unusually beautiful orchestra sound. Warm strings, clear wind instruments, colorful percussion and interpretations giving chances to sustain the perfectly balanced tones are marks of great work. The set of listed above overtures was augmented by Storm Music from The Barber of Seville. And this is another good example of symphonic techniques by Rossini and precious sound of the Rome Opera Orchestra.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Eugene Ormandy conducts Schubert and Mozart

   Eugene Ormandy was one of most active conductors of 20th century. He recorded almost complete of great symphonic repertoire with many most popular works doubled or tripled. Interesting attribute of his discography was unusual interesting towards contemporary symphonic music. For obvious reasons he presented more romantic repertoire than new music, but with superiority of late 19th and 20th century neo romanticism. He was specially priced as interpreter of great symphonic works by Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Strauss, Mahler and Rachmaninoff. 20th century music was represented inter alia by compositions of Ravel, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Orff, Nielsen, Sibelius, Hindemith, Webern, Schoenberg. He also gave his rendition of Utrenya by Krzysztof Penderecki. Thank to his sensitivity and musical competences he was also one of most favorite partner for concert soloists. No wonder Ormandy performed and recorded with almost complete list of best piano, violin and cello masters active during half century of his career.
   Many of his performances Ormandy was conducting from memory because he was able to learning fast even most complicated scores. And he didn’t use the baton, making individual contact with every musician the weighty element of his professionalism. As music director of Philadelphia Orchestra, he was conductor of absolute outstanding artistic possibilities and best manners, with indispensable distance and leadership skills. In general in his artistic attitude he was occupying the same positions as Arturo Toscanini who was his friend and most admired master. Opulent sound and gently formed phrases, care for the orchestral sound which has priority over individual expression in opinions of many listeners makes Philadelphia an orchestra of richest sound.

Eugene Ormandy conducts Schubert and Mozart (1968)

   In 1968 Ormandy renewed recording contract with RCA Red Seal label. Recording sessions started immediately. In long series of renditions immortalized on records one can find almost complete history of symphonic music. He recorded very quickly, through excellent preparation and serious accountability. In May 27th and 28th 1968 The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy recorded Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”. These renditions are highly inspired, subordinated to the concept of dramatic development of symphonic form. In this reading Unfinished Symphony shows itself as musical discourse about most dramatic human questions. And there can be no doubts, it is finished as well as Jupiter Symphony.
   The same kind of musical drama is shown in Mozart’s last known symphony. Contrasts between movements, expression and rhythmic differences create sequence of tensions leading to final Allegro molto which is balancing between heroic pathos and dramatic feeling of uncertainty and irrevocable fate. Almost 45 years after it was recorded, these symphonies sound as fresh as if it were recorded at present. Some passages evoke strong impression, the artists were able to capture in these renditions the essence of symphonic form.

Monday, August 27, 2012

King Crimson – In the Wake of Poseidon

   Shortly after their 1969 debut, in January 1970 at the very same Wessex Sound Studios in London where they made up their first, King Crimson started recording sessions for the second album. It took nearly four months in studio and in May 15th, 1970 new album was released by Island label in UK and Atlantic in US. This was quite tough moment for the band. There were different  and contradictory tendencies among musicians. After only one year the band became unstable and begin constantly rebuilding its line-up with frequent broke-ups. The situation lasts from the December 1969, when Ian McDonald and Michael Giles left the band to the middle of 1971. But since later line-ups were changing rapidly and musicians were playing in different configurations, you can tell this is constant problem with this band. But even taking into account artistic disagreements, in Spring 1970 there was still great atmosphere for experimenting with rock and crossing it virtually with every genre.
   On second album, called In the Wake of Poseidon basic line-up of the band has been reduced to Robert Fripp playing guitar, mellotron & devices, lyricist Peter Sinfield, singer Greg Lake and drummer Michael Giles who appeared only on studio recordings. Greg Lake was at the moment involving in Keith Emerson’s new project which has to be Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Robert Fripp invited to the studio friends he recorded and played before, Mel Collins playing saxophones and flute, bassist Peter Giles, pianist Keith Tippett and Gordon Haskell singing in Cadence and Cascade. Also these musicians were presenting various aspirations. Brothers Giles were open for Fripp’s ideas, but didn’t ready for touring, Keith Tippett was jazz musician and composer on his own and Gordon Haskell, who was Robert Fripp’s friend but wasn’t convinced of his ideas. Mel Collins occurred to be important member of the band with strong influence on directions of the band’s progress.

King Crimson – In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)

   Cover of second King Crimson’s album is displaying 1967 painting by Tammo De Jongh called The 12 Archetypes or The 12 Faces of Humankind. Psychedelic, dark and mysterious visions in Sinfield’s lyrics, music build on obsessive repetitions, citations and sound of the band. In The Devil’s Triangle dominate citations of Mars: Bringer of War from suite The Planets by Gustav Holst. This setting was played during band’s concerts in 1969 under title Mars, but in time of editing the album this title was forbidden by the legal estate of the composer. Construction of the album has a concentric pattern. The axis is Fripp’s theme Peace in vocal version in the opening, solo guitar theme in the center episode and vocal in the ending one. Just like in first album different trends are reflected in varying compositions. Second album designates the moment when Robert Fripp started to serve as the leader of the band. His ideas, not always shared by musicians of the band, but consequently realized became gradually main force of the band. This great musician and creative artist was naturally predisposed for this role. Of course, it is easier to talk about some processes from the perspective of next decades, but it is still an adventure giving you experience and helping to understand cultural mechanisms.
   Criticism against King Crimson’s second album refers usually to some repetitions of formal concepts used on previous one. It’s a strange attitude considering most of rock bands used the same concepts again and again to complete exhaustion. The fact is In the Wake of Poseidon is less radical, it sounds less chaotic and brings lots of new ideas in sound and construction. Actually this works can be seen as searching for relative stability while In the Court of the Crimson King was revolutionary piece of art. But demanding a next revolution, as some critics did only few months after the first, looks ridiculous. Compositions included on the second album of King Crimson are more compact and consequent than those known from In the Court of the Crimson King. It is also better edited in an artistic and technical meaning, with more proportional dynamics, more balance between discipline and chaos. This makes Peter Sinfield’s poetry sounds mysterious and yet more justified. And it’s a good idea to listen both even if the goal would be to track similarities between these two.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

   King Crimson is the group occupying very special place in the history of 20th century music. Just like Frank Zappa in US, who transformed rhythm and blues elements not only in rock, but into highly independent artistic creation, King Crimson created music out of elements some critics were able to reference only as the rock genre. This was a consequence and some kind of schematic thinking. Trying to advocate for such position, many used term “progressive rock” as the term defining every kind of creative music crossing the boundaries of rock style and its social function. The term “progressive” has also a deeper meaning. Rock music has always been medium for rebellion, first moral, than social and political. In late sixties rock music became a revolt against current ideology and esthetics. The whole wave of experimenting rock brought dozens of groups and the one of the best was King Crimson.
   Debut of King Crimson became groundbreaking event and almost instant success. This was the fruit of the year of 1969. Formed in the end of 1968, group started rehearsals in January and gave first public concert April 9th, 1969. The great entrance turns out to be the memorable concert July 5th in Hyde Park. This was festival where King Crimson had the chance to play for 500 thousands listeners as second band in the gig after Screw but before Alexis Korner, Roy Harper, Battered Ornaments, Family, The Ear Band and biggest stars of the evening Rolling Stones. King Crimson played seven songs in its first lineup – Robert Fripp, Greg Lake, Ian McDonald and Michael Giles. These musicians recorded also the first album of the band. Recorded in span of one month, July 21st to August 21st, and released October 10th this debut recording of King Crimson became instant success and probably most influential progressive rock  album.

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

   It is always worth asking, what gave the record such powerful position, especially when it is widely recognized as a milestone. In the Court of the Crimson King was concept album integrating music, poetry and cover design. Poetic layer of King Crimson compositions was integrated with the music so in the credits author of the lyrics was mentioned along with musicians. According first edition cover’s information the band's musicians were: Robert Fripp (guitar), Ian McDonald (reeds, woodwind, vibes, keyboards, mellotron, vocals), Greg Lake (bass guitar, lead vocals), Michael Giles (drums, percussion, vocal) and Peter Sinfield (words and illumination). It is reasonable to take into account one more person and expand this line-up by Barry Godber, the author of cover paintings, what has been done in later re-editions and publications. The paintings were the only known works of Barry Godber who died three months after album has been released. This cover gave the record strong outfit and became clear signal to buyers that this is not yet another set of hit songs.
   The force of expression and contrasts between extremely different fragments may be the most characteristic feature that distinct music of King Crimson and other progressive bands of the era. Most of material was composed as collective band’s creation. Only two of five compositions are composed in traditional rock song form. But even these two sound like breaking a taboo. Distorted voice in 21st Century Schizoid Man and symphonic pathos of Epitaph are clear indications of what the artists’ ambitions want to aim. Ballad I Talk to the Wind was extended by flute solo. Arrangements of wind instruments were more jazz than rock type. More comprehensive from formal point of view were multipart compositions on B-Side, Moonchild and The Court of the Crimson King. Partly improvised and thus connected to some jazz concepts, experimenting with space and time, opening for many directions, compositions from first album show many possible directions confusing some reviewers. Comparing to compositions played this time by the group it is clear this was the mild selection. But still the music of King Crimson was hard to define with any conceptual apparatus rock critics were able to use. Fortunately listeners have enough intuition to avoid misunderstandings.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Leon Fleisher plays Schubert

   Considering style of many composers who died in their thirties we have to remember we don’t have their mature works and what we can see is only a part of process for reaching their own expression. Many of great composers in 18th and 19th century died in the prime of life. In romantic period this was almost a rule, artists were dying early and their lives were paid for with suffering and disease. Franz Schubert is one of many who fit into the scheme. He lived in poverty, died very prematurely and yet he is one of greatest romantic composers. His songs and instrumental works define romantic style. Especially compositions from last years of his life can be seen as definition of romantic style.
   Among many Schubert’s compositions last three of his piano sonatas in C Minor, A Major and B-flat Major have great importance. Numbered decades after his death as 19th, 20th and 21st (in Deutsch’s catalogue 958, 959 and 960), these three sonatas create new formal shape of the form as more unified in its cyclic development. Tonal contrasts, expansion as main method of material modification, subordination of the various elements and means of expression to one lineage and aesthetic consistency are the features giving this works special place in the history of music.
   Especially Sonata B-flat major is legendary. The significance of this work is also related to the legend, saying composer sensing his death, wrote a farewell song. His last Piano Sonata Schubert wrote just weeks before his death. Deep sadness of second movement can be overwhelming but light, dancing scherzo and heroic drama of final movement clearly show this is not the type of funeral music. But still included in this sonata solutions can be seen as Schubert's artistic testament, even if not intended.

Leon Fleisher plays Schubert Sonata B-flat (1979)

   While live recitals are full of other Schubert’s compositions, sometimes much easier but still phenomenally attractive for listeners, last Piano Sonata is also one of most frequent recorded piano compositions. Among best interpreters of this work is Leon Fleisher, artist who recorded Sonata B-flat Major twice. He debuted in age of eight and when he played with New York Philharmonic at the age of sixteen, conductor Pierre Monteux announced him as “pianistic find of the century”. After winning Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 1952, he became one of the most appreciated pianists in US. Exclusive recording contract with Columbia Masterpieces resulted in long term collaboration with George Szell and Cleveland Orchestra and highly valued recordings of piano concerti by Mozart (25th Piano Concerto), Beethoven and Brahms, Schumann, Grieg and Rachmaninoff.
   The recording of last Schubert’s Sonata for Piano from July 1954 shows Leon Fleisher in best shape. This performance of Sonata B-flat Major D 960 charms with its freshness and openness. The perfect technique is only its initial point. The launch of the internal energy and the emotional depth of experience are its aim and destination. Fleisher’s interpretation is melodious and dramatic, rhythmic and lyrical with pronounced respect for the work, revealing a desire to reconstruct the composer’s idea. The touch of class characterizes also the cycle of 12 Deutsche Tänze (Ländler) op. 171, D. 790 recorded in May 1955. This beautiful set has been republished by CBS in 1979 (CBS 61862). One of best piano recordings – for perfect rendition and best quality of sound – it is pure magic.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Svyatoslav Richter – Schubert Piano Sonatas

   In artistic output by Franz Schubert one can find works strictly connected to classical ideas of form, however many of them are exploring new era sensitivity. As his unusual talent can be observed in almost every composed piece, 21 piano sonatas is collection of more comprehensive works, giving a chance to understand what direction and the way he was trying to experience the capacity of sonata form. Two of Schubert’s Piano Sonatas recorded by Svyatoslav Richter in 1979 show how different these works can be. First of them Piano Sonata No. 9 in B Major Op. 147, D. 575 was composed in August 1917. The formal discipline of this work, nicely balanced ideas and means give the same kind of comfort as similar early sonatas by Beethoven. Opposite position takes work with typical romantic freedom of expression and free form, Piano Sonata No. 11 in F Minor, D. 625 finished one year later in September 1918.
   First difference on construction level is switching place of Scherzo – in Sonata No. 9 it is still 3rd movement, exactly as in classical sonata form, but in Sonata No.11 it is 2nd movement. But both are still four-part works. Sonata No. 9 has four-part order: Allegro ma non troppoAndanteScherzo. AllegrettoAllegro giusto. In Sonata No. 11 parts are in sequence: AllegroScherzo. AllegrettoAdagioAllegro. Inner differences are much more substantiate. Changes of tempo and dynamic contrasts in Sonata F Minor can remind us capriccio or fantasia, what makes this romantic sonata is widely open for individual interpretations.

Svyatoslav Richter – Schubert Piano Sonatas (1981)

   In late seventies Svyatoslav Richter placed Schubert’s Sonatas No. 9 and No. 11 in many programs he played all over the world. Many of these performances were recorded and published. Sonata No. 9 in 1979 was recorded live in Tokyo for RCA Victor and in London for BBC, Sonata in F Minor in Munich in 1978 and in 1979 in Tokyo and in London – first two recordings published by RCA Victor and London performance by BBC Legend. Live performances recorded for RCA Victor in Tokyo were published in the 1981 edition of Melodiya.
   Svyatoslav Richter was one of best pianists in 20th century and perfect interpreter of Schubert’s Sonatas. Legendary technical possibilities gave his performances varied layers of musical narration obtained by colorful sound, articulation and dynamics. This made remarkable readability of construction and deep emotional contents. Both Sonatas are clearly opposite and Svyatoslav Richter’s interpretations intensify impression of these features. In his performance Schubert’s Sonata B Major is intended to compensate various layers and to reduce contradictions in single structural whole. In Sonata F Minor basis for Richter’s interpretation were contrasting episodes and thematic transformations are building strongly emotional musical narration. Dramatic tension between these two Sonatas can be seen as the moment of defining change made between classical and romantic attitude. Richter’s performance is great opportunity to perceive this change.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Franz Schubert – Octet and Two Trios

   In early nineteenth century European music as well as a whole culture became the arena of revolutionary changes. One of effect of this transformation were careers of many composers from every corner of Europe. If any of them could be seen as the quintessence of romantic style in music, it is Franz Schubert – the Viennese composer who lived in poverty, died before age of 32 and left huge number of works. It is ironical, he was born in the center of musical world but never been recognized. Although he did not achieve his success personally, his music was adored by his contemporary listeners and later generations. 
   His music was classically balanced in economics of means of expression, but his most important future was melodic talent. There were very few composers in whole history, who were able to communicate so much with a single melodic line. Catalogue of his works includes all kinds of works, from great symphonic and sacred works to chamber music and songs, which became the landmark of the whole culture formation. Among his chamber works Octet for Two Violins, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Clarinet, Bassoon and French Horn in F Major Op. 166, D. 803 is one of best known. This composition was commissioned by count Ferdinand von Treuer who was amateur clarinetist and who played the clarinet part during Octet first performance in March 1824.

Franz Schubert – Octet and Two Trios (1983)

   Perfect equilibrium of melodic expression, sound colors, construction and rhythmic ideas for releasing the dramatic tension gives Octet its place in chamber repertoire. The beautiful sound of Schubert’s arrangement for chamber ensemble has been perfectly captured in intellectual interpretation of Russian artists – violinist Oleg Kagan and Amayak Durgaryan, Mikhail Tolpygo playing viola, cellist Natalia Gutman, bass player Rifat Komachkov, clarinetist Lev Mikhailov, Valeri Popov on bassoon and Anatoli Dyomin playing French horn.
   This recording, made in 1979 were published in 1983 album under Melodiya label. The double album comprises also both trios for violin, viola and cello, both in B-flat Major. First was never completed but first movement composed in September 1816 (Trio B-flat Major, D. 471). Second trio, composed one year later in September 1817, Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello in B-flat Major, D. 581 is complete four movement construction of classical form. In Trios we can hear again Oleg Kagan, Mikhail Tolpygo and Natalia Gutman. These recordings are great example of virtuosos playing chamber music. This was great part of traditional practice in whole musical world. And as this set of records shows, in Russian music it has special impact.