Sunday, September 30, 2012

Karajan – Mozart – Symphonies No. 40 & No. 41

   The complete set of symphonic works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can serve as a lesson of classical style, covering full span of its development. Differences between early symphonic works and the output of last year of composer’s life are not only the matter of technical improvements. The changes were related to the progress of artist’s ideology, aesthetics and strengthen the artist’s personality. The last three symphonies – 39th E-flat Major KV 543, 40th G Minor KV 540 and 41st C Major “Jupiter” KV 541 – were completed in summer 1788 in short period of few weeks between July 26 and August 10. After these symphonies Mozart was very active as author of opera and instrumental music, but in following period of composer’s life for over three years there were no more symphony.
   For years many music history scholars supported the thesis Mozart wrote these symphonies without actual chance of concert performance and he has never heard them. Thus they have explained uncommon condensation of musical ideas and novel solutions. So was Alfred Einstein who called this works “appeal to eternity”. New historical works show this was more romantic legend than true. There are a lot of indirect evidences last Mozart’s symphonies were performed and even conducted by Antonio Salieri. One of performances had its place at home of Gottfried van Swieten, but it was so bad, Mozart leave the room. These symphonies were probably played a few times before Mozart’s death. In next two centuries thousands of performances made these compositions part of the core of symphonic repertoire.

Karajan - Mozart – Symphonies No. 40 & No. 41 (1978)

   There are dozens of great renditions of the last two symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One of them is as much unusual as much appreciated. It was recorded by Herbert von Karajan and Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra he was principal conductor since 1954. The recordings published in 1978 are beautiful example of Karajan’s conducting and interpreting style. His renditions were both intellectual and emotional giving many evidences for systematic attitude and personal passion. The value of his interpretations was searching for metaphysical depths of the performed works. Of course, this applies to those compositions that contain such depth. In some cases, Karajan just could not exceed too much the salon elegance of performances. But still even operetta recordings under his baton sound more profound and dramatic.
   Karajan gave here one of most readable interpretation of Mozart’s 40th Symphony. After many renditions trying to close this music in easy serenade esthetics, after some very good performances trying to capture the balance, which was classical pursuance indeed, Karajan’s vision of this work is closer to late Beethoven or romantic symphonic cycles. Only two of Mozart’s symphonies are in minor key, and both in G-minor – first composed in 1773 Symphony No. 25 KV 183, and second from 1788 Symphony No. 40 KV 550, sometimes called “Great”. This key has some special meanings, according to Einstein it was connected with ‘fate’ symbols. There are many different explanations but all include constant opinion this key evokes highly emotional content. Karajan’s interpretation reveals the depths to which these emotions go.
   In last Mozart’s Symphony C Major No. 41 KV 551 is mighty crowning of the cycle. Nicknamed Jupiter, this Symphony is a perfect example of splendid invention, deep expression and therefore it is exhibiting full possibilities of classical style. Bringing it to binary distinctions, it is usually comes to form and content, perfection and emotionalism, dramatic and consolation. Here the various oppositions are in dynamic balance and in culminate modulation in fourth movement Karajan gives so strong impact it’s hard to forget this music was composed in times bursting with the desire for revolution.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Claudio Abbado conducts The Barber of Sevilla

   Among great Italian operas of 19th century Il barbiere di Seviglia is the one occupying a place reserved for the rarest phenomena. This is much more than the perfect stage comedy or operatic work full of beautiful arias, duets and melodies. Gioacchino Rossini made this work more than a study, maybe a kind of practical treatise on borders of opera buffa. In its original version it was opéra comique for some spoken scenes. One week after premiere became failure, what was provoked by Giovanni Paisiello’s proponents, next performance became a great success. Paisiello was Rossini’s rival and composer of prior version of opera to this Pierre Beaumarchais comedy. Master qualities of Rossini’s version is unquestionable and the way he introduces some of music played on stage as a part of narration and how he comments Beaumarchais’ text can be considered as the contribution to 19th century musical esthetics.
   This was never the simple comedy as it is attempting to be. There are many layers the text and music can be understand and decoded. This is one of very few masterpieces every new generation find in new outlook, thus The Barber of Sevilla is still active in modern discourse on gender, political, social or cultural issues. Dozens of performances in various cultural and historical staging contexts show how capacious and flexible this opera still can be. Maybe most classical production of this opera is Deutsche Grammophone 1971 recording, released one year later in video version in television staging of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and in 1973 as one record cross section. This rendition became a master class for Rossini’s interpreters for several decades.

Gioacchino Rossini – Il barbiere di Siviglia (excerpts, 1973)

   Although the complete editions are much more valuable and appreciated, the album published by Deutsche Grammophone as Repräsentative Opern-auszüge (Representative opera excerpts) is perfect. One record is enough to present stars of this setting. Neatly set in title role Herman Prey showing full possibilities of his baritone. Great voice of Luigi Alva, probably best tenor leggiero of our time, exquisite in Mozart and Rossini’s operas, performs here with great culture of sound and elegant phrase. Alva is undeniably the star of this performance. Absolute success achieved here Teresa Berganza, perfect vocal technique and beautiful timbre gave Rosina the energy of young lady in love. With massive bass Paolo Montarsolo constructed Basilio’s La calunnia air.

   If featured parts were known in many great appearances, the role of Bartolo was often underestimated. This time with Enzo Dara’s voice and acting possibilities, with technical proficiency, Bartolo is one of main characters of the story. Only lack of space on this “representative excerpts” record can explain why Stefania Malagu singing role of Berta was not taken into account. She is present not with the air but in finale ensemble only. A separate place must be given to the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus. In Italian opera dynamics and emphasis are as much matter as balance of phrase and precision articulation. And Claudio Abbado conducting these ensembles has it all. The result is one of best opera renditions, a congenial performance of masterpiece.

Friday, September 28, 2012

George Gershwin – Porgy and Bess – 1959 Soundtrack

   George Gershwin was one of great musical talents of his times. For his melodic invention, his songs and melodies became popular and made him rich, but his basic ambition was to be regular composer with full symphonic possibilities. Important part of these aspirations was opera Porgy and Bess. Although Gershwin himself called this work “folk opera”, it turned out to be probably the most important opera in American history. The power of this music was based on various influences in one balanced work of art. Romantic composers created many stylized works to establish national musical basis for many European cultures. In United States cultural situation was more complicated and different influences were like a patchwork of various ingredients. This way Dvorak composed imagined American identity in his New World Symphony. This was always the problem of ideological balance between idiomatic motifs and rhythms. So Gershwin made one step further and melted elements into something overriding differences between cultures and trying to create universal American musical idiom. Although his output was not as numerous as other composers, he has strong position in collective memory. Porgy and Bess and other Gershwin works begin the process of establishing all American music.
   In 1959 Gershwin’s opera was filmed as the musical movie directed by Otto Preminger with Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge in title roles and Sammy Davis, Jr. as Sportin’ Life, Pearl Bailey as Maria and Brock Peters as Crown. It was last picture produced by Samuel Goldwyn and according to his plans it has to be a jewel in the crown. Problems begin with appointing the director and actor cast. Actors were dubbed by opera singers, but Leontyne Price refused saing “no body, no voice”. Two main characters we sung by Adele Addison and Robert McFerrin. Problems with cast was also due to rejections of playing roles actors considered as demeaning. This sheds some light on the approach to human rights in America of the fifties. Due to legal issues the movie voice of Sammy Davis, Jr. has been placed on soundtrack album by Cab Calloway.

George Gershwin – Porgy and Bess (1959)

   Making this movie was great dream of Samuel Goldwyn since he saw original Broadway stage production in 1935. But in 1959 this was already a blockbuster and every artist in the crew has private interests and ambitions.  It was also possible to hear Porgy and Bess in many different renditions, jazz, popular and symphonic. Since first recording of complete opera by Columbia Masterworks in 1951, it was recorded by Mel Thormé and Frances Faye in 1956, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in 1957, Miles Davis with Gil Evans Orchestra in 1958 and Sammy Davis, Jr. with Carmen McRae in 1959.  Movie was nominated to three Oscars but win only one Oscar and a Golden Globe, soundtrack album won Grammy award, but whole project was not enough successful in critics reception and in sales. Also Gershwin family had not accepted the picture and after 15 years licence period led to the withdrawal it off the distribution.
   Among many problems with the movie, the musical style of the score was one of issues. It was a matter of differences between producer who want to preserve original composition style and director who was against opera style and suggested a jazz style arrangement. Musical score, supervised by André Previn and Ken Darby and conducted by André Previn became an effort to satisfy both, Goldwyn and Preminger. And it is quite accurate attempt to render Gershwin’s musical ideas in a way consistent with the aesthetics of the fifties. Vocal performances by Robert McFerrin and Adele Addinson are great, sung by beautiful voices and with perfect balance between professional vocal culture and esthetics of folk opera. Also the movie appearances of Sammy Davis, Jr. as well as Cab Calloway’s recordings are phenomenal and close to primary ideas of Sportin’ Life’s character. Over half of the century after it was produced, in 2011 Samuel Goldwyn’s Porgy and Bess considered as an “overlooked masterpiece” had been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of Library of Congress as “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant”.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

   Tom Waits was always a star in the niche reserved for personalities in conflict with official structures. Of course every creative artist is against the world he found not sufficient, this discord is basic mechanism of creation in general. But sometimes it comes to be the way of life. It can be called bohemian or hipster, the terms are varying, but in the core it is always the same. One of conditions of creative attitude is not to subordinate and to have enough courage to say it loud. And Tom Waits was artist who did this in seventies, when retired heroes of seventies revolts enjoyed fame and fortune. This is the reason why his early club concerts and recordings were popular only among small group of fervent followers. In eighties he became famous and even if he made some changes, he was still in opposition to mainstream of pop, post disco, post punk music played in TV. In Waits creative biography this was the time of trilogy – Swordfishtrombones (1984), Rain Dogs (1985) and Frank’s Wild Years (1987).
   The ninth album by Tom Waits – or better, his presence – makes culture of the eighties more human and open than it really was. There’s no coincidence in times of Reagganite antisocial politics and empty gesture of anticommunist propaganda, a bunch of avant-garde musicians recorded series of albums steeped in nostalgia for the difficult times of great crisis, dark after war poetry, revolting outsiders, beatniks, crude folk and dirty but so sincere delta blues sound. It was just another answer for the same question, which set themselves counterculture artists. And in eighties it was even more troubled than any time before, because this time it was against prosperous society dreaming the republican dream in beginnings of postindustrial era. Mainstream media were focused on easy and mild version of American music that was quite different to what could be heard in Detroit, Chicago, Seattle or New Orleans. 

Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)

   Recording of Rain Dogs was crucial moment in the creative process. During sessions in RCA studios Waits was supported by 23 musicians. It is some more than personnel of average star of pop or jazz music. And this is not the orchestra but a bunch of great personalities. Ralph Carney, saxophonist with rich sound so well respondent to Waits’ timbre, working with singer for years and guest stars John Lurie on alto saxophone and Arno Hecht on tenor, long term double bass player Greg Cohen, Larry Taylor and guest Tony Levine on bass, G. E. Smith and Marc Ribot on guitars, Stephen Hodges on drums and percussionist Bobby Previte, Bob Funk on trombone and William Schimmel on accordion – many of them were regular members of Waits’ band, but in group of incidental stars it is hard to omit Keith Richards playing guitar and backing vocals. Listing could be long, even if list is only two dozen names; every musician has his own contribution to the sound of this album.
   It is a mystery of his talent how he melted all the elements together. The irony outweighs the depressive vision of loneliness in the deep night, when rain washed out streets and dogs have lost the way home. Projected title of this album had to be Evening Train Wrecks. Everything here shows the world is wretched place and everything is convincing our sensitivity can do it better – maybe even not much, but better place. Two songs from the Rain Dogs were used in movie Down by Law by Jim Jarmusch. Tom Waits played Zack one of main characters of this movie – other two actors were John Lurie as Jack and Roberto Begnini as Roberto. Opening sequence capturing New Orleans and its outskirts is clear reference to Jockey Full of Bourbon song and in a way to the whole Rain Dogs album.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

   Psychedelic rock was one of strongest trends in popular culture of the sixties. Based primarily on folk rock and poetry of drug experience, with the counter-culture explosion in sixties it has become most vivid, differentiate and eclectic phenomenon. Thus in most intense moment elements of psychedelic music are evident in rock but also in pop, soul. After LSD became illegal in 1966 and many acid driven young people pay with their lives, psychedelic culture begun its withdrawal. Some elements of psychedelic evolved and become components of progressive rock, heavy metal, jazz rock, funk, glam rock and in later decades acid house, psychedelic trance and new rave. In California the psychedelic style was rapidly developed in sixties with such bands as Grateful Dead, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company and many more groups creating the San Francisco Sound.
   After the peak years in mid-sixties, came the undertow of psychedelic rock. Some older bands withdrawn to cleaner forms of folk rock, some were experimenting with eclectic mixtures of rock, jazz and popular music. New bands of California psychedelic scene were Iron Butterfly, Spirit, Electric Prunes and Love. In close connection to this style were also some songs from early albums by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, as well as first recordings of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. With the end of sixties came the moment of separation, if ever psychedelic bands were together.

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)

   Iron Butterfly was formed in San Diego in 1966 (and shortly transferred to Los Angeles) under the name being the juxtaposition of two contradictory terms – heavy and solid iron against light and flexible butterfly. This trick was often used, for example the same year was founded in Canterbury, England progressive rock group Soft Machine (the title of the 1961 novel by William S. Borroughs). The oxymoronic name of the group has its strong background in the style of Heavy, recorded in 1967 and released January 22, next year by ATCO. The debut album melted straight, typically formed songs with easy lyrics, funky expression and loud, sometimes rude riffs. 
   Although Iron Butterfly’s first album was not a complete masterpiece, it had enough power to attract musical market and promote the band as new original phenomenon. The last track of the debut album, instrumental Iron Butterfly Theme was like real opening for new kinds of expression and the last rehearsal for the second album. In early 1968 Iron Butterfly recorded program for In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, their second album published June 14. The band recorded in new lineup. To organist Dough Ingle and drummer Ron Bushy, both known from previous album, joined two new guitarists, Erik Brann and Lee Dorman on bass guitar, both singing back vocals. The only person from San Diego band was singer and organ player Dough Ingle, who was also all songs writer and composer (with one exception – Termination written and singed by two new members). This lineup was active to 1969 and appeared also on next two albums Ball and Live.

   Recorded before the success of the first album, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was a kind of prolonged debut. Maybe this is why the A-side five songs are even more typical than the program of Heavy. But title piece, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida occurred to be the top hit of Iron Butterfly. This 17 minutes composition filling the whole B-side made the album one of turning points in the history of rock music. Although this is not the first improvised composition and long jams were traditional form of acid rock and psychedelic music behavior, this is easy to understand even for nonexperienced listeners. Based on energetic drive of ostinato theme and clear construction In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is one of most prised works in history of rock music. Peaking on 4th place on Billboard charts, it was the first record with platinum status when this level was introduced by RIAA in 1976. With the sales of more than 30 millions copies, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida has been certified as four time platinum album.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Topol in Fiddler on the Roof – Original London Cast Recording

   The history of staging Fiddler on the Roof began in 1964 at Imperial Theatre in New York. Two years after the great success of Broadway original production, the sensational musical has been produced in London. Original West End production at Her Majesty’s Theatre opened February 16, 1967 and was played in next seasons reaching more than two thousands performances. Entire production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins who hired the same crew of designers and specialists. Broadway experience made the alternative background for this production of Stein and Harnick musical. Vocal arrangements, great choir performances and whole new stage cast gave lots new powers for the superb music by Jerry Bock.
   The whole new cast was perfect, with great choir and actors starring in the company, Tevye’s daughters played by Rosemary Nichols, Linda Gardner and Caryl Little, Cynthia Grenville as matchmaker Yente, Jonathan Lynn as tailor Motel Kamzoil and Sandor Elès playing Hodel’s loving student Perchik. The great star of this production was Miriam Karlin as Golde, Tevye’s wife. But the one who made that this staging became a ground-breaking production was Israeli actor Chaim Topol. He created congenial character of unforgettable beauty inside and was the one choose for movie cast three years later. With the recording issued by Columbia Masterworks label (SX 30742) one can appreciate the quality of this 45 years old rendition of Bock’s musical.

Fieddler on the Roof - Original London Cast (1967)

   Comparing to 3 years older Fiddler on the Roof Original Broadway Cast Recording, this record has been enriched and received some arrangement improvements resulting in better quality of dramatic and musical fragments. The set of tracks has been enhanced by one significant fragment. In fact this orchestral piece consists of wedding dances featuring famous Bottle Dance. The rest of the program is repetition even though it sounds the new way.
   The brightest star of this recording is Topol. Melting his personal charm with the philosophical depth speaking by the words and doings of common man, Chaim Topol created memorable figure. He was well known before, especially for his title role in Ephraim Kishon’s comedy Sallah Shabati, but in Sholem Aleichem’s story he was congenial. Shortly he became favorite voice reciting teachings in opening Tradition and dreaming about wealth in If I were a Rich Man and recognized widely around the world as Tevye. He was also cast in the role of Tevye in two West End revivals, in 1983 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and in 1994 at the London Palladium, plus 1990 Broadway revival in George Gershwin Theatre. This prior version of Topol’s Tevye gives a chance to trace the steps of evolution of most characteristic Jewish hero in popular culture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Polish Song and Dance Ensemble Śląsk vol. 1

   Popular music all over the world has its roots in folk music. In historical and social perspective this is the folklore what is the mainstream of musical culture. The function of both is pretty the same and in most cases the more folk, the more popular music is. In 20th century every country has own way for promoting folk music with sing and dance ensembles and in many European countries such bands were extremely popular. In Poland after the war there were two state bands with the status of national culture institution – Mazowsze in central part of the country and Śląsk on south part of Poland.
   The Polish Song and Dance Ensemble “Śląsk” was founded in 1953 by Stanisław Hadyna, composer, conductor, musicologist and writer. The main idea was to present great shows of stylized folk music and dance. First covered region was Śląsk (Silesia) taking its name from native region and primarily part of repertoire. The debut of the ensemble in 1954 became great success, first in Poland, than internationally. With about ten dozens of singers, dancers and instrumentalists, Śląsk was highly efficient entertainment unit, thus estimated and warmly welcomed all over the world. International appreciation facilitated contacts so band in 60 years of artistic work gave six thousands shows for more than twenty millions of people.

Śląsk – The Polish Song and Dance Ensemble – vol. 1 (1964)

   In 1964 The Polish Song and Dance Ensemble “Śląsk” published first two records with basic song repertoire. Recordings were issued by Polskie Nagrania label. First albums were numbered as vol. 1 (XL 0182) and vol. 2 (XL 0183) and this became tradition for later vinyl recordings by Śląsk with very few exceptions they were just numbered as consecutive volumes of songs from huge ensemble’s repertoire. It is worth to remember in 1964 main domain of culture was subordinated to propaganda issues. The image of a strong rural culture thriving in the working-class society was politically correct. In the cover note somebody wrote: “The Company resides at Koszęcin. There, in the old castle, which three hundred years ago belonged to the Polish nobleman Kochcicki and then passed into the hands of German princes, now the Polish youth lives, learns, dances and sings”. In fact there was not any lie in this text – youth from Śląsk lived and work in Koszęcin made old mansion the center of vivid and radiating culture.
   The very first album of Śląsk was also first wider presentation of its artistic director Stanisław Hadyna who was composer of many popular songs and arranger for huge part of Śląsk repertoire. The songs strongly connected with national style were perfectly popular in sixties. Some like Pasała wołki (She Herded Her Oxen) have clear folkloristic character and typical folk style, while the other like Zalotnice i swat (The Young Girls and the Match-maker) have more popular and playful characteristics. Such songs as Starzyk (The Old Miner), Szła dzieweczka (A Young Girl Was Walking) or Karlik (Carl) were number one hits in the radio and ballrooms in sixties.