Monday, December 31, 2012

Zappa in New York


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 Album has been immediately withdrawn and reedited by DiscReet distributor Warner Bros.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

Zappa in New York (1978)

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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Baroque highlights by Maurice André and Hedwig Bilgram

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

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

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

Václav Neumann – Smetana – Má vlast

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

Václav Neumann – Smetana – Má vlast (1968)

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

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lost in the Stars – The Music of Kurt Weill

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

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

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

Der kleine Leutnant des lieben Gottes – John Zorn

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Porgy and Bess Original Broadway Cast

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

Porgy and Bess Original Broadway Cast Album (1972)

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

Giulini - Schumann - Rheinish Symphony - Lebhaft 

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