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.