Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper

   When in July 1968 was released Super Session album being an outcome of joint project by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, it became immediately the success. Shortly it occurred to be the precise indication of the direction toward the new era in rock music. The idea of connecting folk blues with improvised instrumental music and psychedelic rock was revolutionary and in next months it was implemented by many artists with different results. On the wave of artistic and commercial success of Super Session album, Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper played with the band series of concerts at the Fillmore West. Live recorded during September 26 to 28, 1968 material was released as double album next year.
The title of double LP life recording, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper shows the story of how it was created. The title adventures are main subjects in narration on how album was recorded. With Al Kooper playing organ, ondioline (second solo in Dear Mr. Fantasy), piano and singing, Mike Bloomfield playing guitar and singing, there were two more band members John Kahn playing bass guitar and Skip Prokop on drums. In concert performances some more musicians were engaged like Elvin Bishop and Carlos Santana on guitars. Those two were listed on album cover. But it is unclear what kind of appearance made Steve Miller and Dave Brown. What can be interesting for trivia chasers, second song on side three, called Sonny Boy Williamson is Carlos Santana’s recording debut. 

The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1969)

   In linear notes Al Kooper explained lineup changes. When after first two days of insomnia Mike Bloomfield was taken to hospital, “in an amazingly short time Elvin Bishop, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller and Dave Brown had volunteered their services and had arrived at the Fillmore”. In effect three days of San Francisco performances become the document of music seen in wide cultural aspect. Producers made it CBS feature product with cover painting by great Norman Rockwell. In 1969 Rockwell was already recognized painter, illustrator and the master of Americana, raising his voice in public discourse towards political and social issues. Wikipedia author states CBS Art Director, John Berg grab the painting to hang it on the wall, but later sold it against the Kooper’s will.
   Program of double record set is both nice artistic exposure and documentary of the project. Songs and themes iconic for the music of late sixties, like Green Onions by Booker T. Jones or Sonny Boy Williamson by Jack Bruce and Paul Jones, This gave the firm base for jamming in a new way.  Base for soloing was rather folk blues and jazz than rock and roll expressions. The same rules applied to vocals where rough style expression was more important than singing skills. In best part of recorded material this album is pith and marrow for spirit of the sixties and a foundation of modern blues-rock style. Four stars for its perfection and spirit.

UK – Danger Money

   The band U.K. became the progressive rock legend when punk was already on the run for high positions on charts and popular music was active probably more than ever. I could be the strong evidence the real greatness doesn’t need too many reasons to be recognized. Only two studio albums of the band, recorded with two lineups in 1978 and 1979, were enough reason to be remembered. The band has achieved great fame in the group of progressive rock listeners which was at those times already fast diminishing subculture. Reflections of society exhausted with depraved politics and economic recession were explicitly pronounced in many artistic and popular media. Danger Money in 1979 was the statement many considered their own. And it was not an isolated voice. In the same 1979 Pink Floyd published their anti-system manifesto The Wall and The Clash recorded London Calling.
   U.K. was absolute super group in terms of historic progrock ideas and in experience. Musicians created their own sound and new generation of musical improvements in post-disco era. The band was formed by John Wetton playing bass and singing and Eddie Jobson playing keyboards and electric violin. Wetton was known for his work with King Crimson and Uriah Heep, Jobson was remembered from Curved Air and Frank Zappa’s band. Both were playing in Roxy Music. First lineup was formed by Wetton with Bill Bruford, drummer of Yes, King Crimson and Genesis who recruited Allan Holdsworth, guitarist of Soft Machine and Gong. 

UK – Danger Money (1979)

   After self titled debut U.K. album, the quartet had split as the consequence of artistic disagreements. Allan Holdsworth parted the band and Bill Bruford shortly goes after him. John Wetton and Eddie Jobson hired Terry Bozzio, phenomenal young drummer already known for great appearances in Frank Zappa’s bands. As the trio U.K. became one most famous progrock bands, it is worth to remember the whole fame came with the one studio album Danger Money. Recording sessions took place in London AIR Studios between November 1978 and January 1979. After European tour in December 1979 trio was disbanded as a consequence of differences between Wetton and Jobson. In 2011 the band was reformed with the same trio lineup for reunion world tour.
   Between many progressive bands of late 70’s, the U.K., especially in its second embodiment, was quite exceptional project. Unlike other bands of these times, this trio was playing with some radical ideas of early progrock. With steady rock riffs and appealing melodies, close harmony vocals, harmonic coloristics and complex, changing and often odd time signatures, music of U.K. was well established in progressive style, perfectly done and enriched with expressive solos. Special place took art of Terry Bozzio who was probably most influential drummer of late seventies generation. What made this trio and it’s record so famous was the style which those times was quite unique, but even the style wouldn’t be enough if not the personalities of artists. Four stars for this album means featured position in the history of rock.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fayerlech – פריילעך זאל זיין

   Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania is the city at the crossroads of many cultures. In the history of the city its name Vilnius, Vilna, Wilno, Wilne has been changing so many times as was changing the fate of the city. In various periods Vilnius was home for many cultures and nations. As many cities in this part of Europe, the city situated on the banks of the Neris River was multinational, harboring many ethnic minorities. One of most active was strong Jewish Diaspora. In early 20th century editors in Vilnius published more books in Hebrew than in any other European city. Thus Vilnius was called Jerusalem of the North. Whole of this world has gone during holocaust, lasting in relics and in memories of only very few survivors.
   In Soviet era important position in maintaining the Jewish tradition in Vilnius took “Fayerlech” Jewish Folk Song Ensemble. At the beginning it was a band of nonprofessionals, amateurs and enthusiasts. With time the ensemble reached proficiency and many qualities, as it was led by professional instructors in music, dance and theater.  In 1981 Fayerlech Ensemble was yet quite popular band of colorful spectacles on many stages. Concerts of the Fayerlech Ensemble were safe refuge for Jewish traditions and helped to survive social memory of native Jewish culture. This was the moment for recording some positions from Fayerlech’s repertoire. Two years later it was published as one of the earliest recordings in Yiddish during the Soviet era. 

Fayerlech – פריילעך זאל זיין  

   On their debut album Ensemble Fayerlekh presented most featured soloists, actors, singers and dancers Genya Lev, Boris Landau, Yakov Magid, Galina Liebenstein, Michail Yablonsky and Chona Kab. The band working under artistic direction by Vladimir Glushkov includes also dance ensemble and instrumentalists: Grigory Kravets playing percussion, violinists Sergei Liebenstein and Lev Kaufman, clarinetists Ylya Manzhukh and Michail Yavich with Mark Rabkin playing bass. Repertoire of this album is the set of songs in secular Ashkenazi tradition. There are mainly banquet melodies (Mashkeh, A Glesele le Haim) and leisure time songs (Rabbi Eli Meilekh), while some are narrative (Kinderyorn) and occasional (Itsik), there are also scenes taken from stage plays.
   One of most valuable part of Fayerlech record is its documentary character. Actors of Vilnius theatre Genya Lev and Boris Landau in the scene of weeping for the bride (Bazetsn di Kaleh) show the folkloristic wedding custom as it was yet not forgotten. Setting together elements of folk tradition with elements of popular and alive culture characterizes performances of Ensemble Fayerlekh. Music and song are as much alive as much they are in state of constant change. Change is the only chance to be in accordance to actual consciousness. Well sung, professionally played and perfectly recorded, this album gives the rare chance to understand the past. It deserves four stars even if some voices sound amateur.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Strauss – Salome and Orchesterlieder

   At the end of 19th century, many considered the romanticism as an era gone irretrievably into the past. There were many different visions and attitudes towards music of forthcoming century. Some were ahead of their time. Others were conservative. Main style of these years called modernism was trying to reconcile different aspirations but in consequence led to expressionism. Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was one of most famous in the group of composers who transpose late 19th century music and its early modernistic meanings into full range modern style of first half of 20th century. In his works neoromantic idiom was developing into full-blown expressionism. While most famous part of his orchestral works are tone poems, and most adored operas are musical dramas Salome and Electra, there are great list of compositions between these extremes only music lovers and professionals know. Featured place on such register took songs. In Strauss’ oeuvres in total number of 180 songs, 41 were composed with symphonic orchestra.
   In vocal repertoire music by Richard Strauss is present with many features. He is popular for strongly emotional, dramatic stage music. Electra and Salome, likewise his deeply moving symphonic songs occupy the position of rich and complex artistic work. Thus many great singers performed and recorded his most popular songs as well as fragments of his dramatic music. These works in Strauss’ huge creative output are highlights being the source of pride even for the greatest stars. One of such recordings was 1978 album recorded by Leonard Bernstein with Montserrat Caballé and Orchestre National de France for Deutsche Grammophon (2530 963). Program comprises fragments from Salome: Final Song and symphonic Dance of the Seven Veils, and Five Songs for Voice and Orchestra, a choice of best known and highly appreciated songs from different opuses. 

Monserat Caballe in Richard Strauss' Salome and Orchesterlieder

   Symphonic fragment Dance of Seven Veils is the ballet scene where Salome seduces King Herod with sensual dance. King possessed by desire promises to fulfill the wish of Salome. The scene of Salome’s Final Song is one of most dramatic fragments in stage music. It is common idea in opera to give heroine last chance of expressing her attitude. Artistic and intellectual context and maybe model for this scene was final Love Death (Liebestod) scene from Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. In this composed almost 50 years earlier fragment Wagner set romantic love beyond the value of life. Strauss in accordance with play by Oscar Wilde took one step further. Salome receiving the severed head of John the Baptist kisses it and declares her love. Seeing this, King Herod ordered to kill Salome. Whole final scene called in original Schlußgesang is often performed as the concert piece.
   Lust and sensuality combined with brutal desire, authority powers and human weakness, these are the key values in the aesthetics of expressionism. In program of the album conducted by Leonard Bernstein Tanz der sieben Schleier occupies central position as a kind of interlude between dramatic Schlußgesang and songs. Performing Final Song of Salome or Strauss’ songs is quite a challenge for singer. Problem is not quite technical, although it requires a big voice and perfect technique. The real difficulties are decisions regarding interpreting frame of musical and poetic message. As most romantic composers, Strauss was writing his songs as a kind of dramatic music. Short but rich in narrative and emotional contents, these songs require deep emotionalism and full control.
   In 1978 album Montserrat Caballé performed five songs from four opuses of Richard Strauss’ songs with orchestra: Cäcille Op. 27 Nr. 2 to the poem of Heinrich Hart, Wiegendlied Op. 41 Nr. 1 with text by Richard Dehmel, Ich liebe dich Op. 37 Nr. 2 with words by Detlev von Liliencron, Morgen Op. 27 Nr. 4 to the poem by John Henry Mackay and Zueignung Op. 10 Nr. 1 with text of Hermann von Gilm. Creating lyrical, deeply emotional renditions, Montserrat Caballé shows the other side of Strauss’ music. The sound of Orchestre National de France perfectly conducted by Leonard Bernstein makes the whole program powerful and rich. To sum up, this is perfect program of great Strauss compositions in one of best renditions. Four and a half of in five star scale.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Eugene Ormandy – The Bach Album

   Johann Sebastian Bach is the one of very few genius composers. His work and personality occupy a dominant position in the discourse about the history of music, although this recognition came after almost a century of oblivion. He was in group of many baroque composers losing their position with the change of musical esthetics in 18th century. Composer was working as the cantor of St. Thomas Church and great part of his work was connected with religious services. After his death, his oldest son Carl Philipp Emanuel, a great composer himself, was trying to do some fashionable improvements in some works looking too much out of date. He was also author of first monographic book about his father. Later Bach’s music was revised and rewritten by many and in various ways. Most popular were always transcriptions for solo instruments and for orchestra.
   Among many composers, instrumentalists and conductors were reworking Bach’s compositions. Many transcriptions were made because of lacking original repertoire for new performing meanings. Probably the first transcriber was composer himself. He made number of alternative versions for other composers and some of his own works. The long list of Bach’s rearrangements starts with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart transcribing some Bach’s fugues for Gottfried van Swieten who was famous collector of Bach’s and Handel’s manuscripts. Later in romantic era most active transcriber was Franz Liszt, but some Bach’s works were reworked by Johannes Brahms, Charles Gounod, Ferrucio Busoni and Francisco Tarrega. Later, in modern music of 20th century, Bach’s works were transcribed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Edward Elgar, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern and many others.

Eugene Ormandy – The Bach Album

   Transcriptions for symphony orchestra have significant position in philharmonic repertoire. Most famous conductors transcribing Bach’s music were Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. In 1970 Columbia Records published The Bach Album included Ormandy recordings with The Philadelphia Orchestra. The program of this album comprises set of other artists arrangements William Smith (Arioso, Fugues in G MinorThe Little and The Great, Preludium in E Major), Lucien Cailliet (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring), Arthur Harris (A Mighty Fortress is Our God), William Walton (Sheep May Safely Graze), Jesse Taynton (Come, Sweet Death) and Little Suite from Anna Magdalena Notebook by Thomas Frost who was also producer of the album. One fragment Air on the G String (Air from Suite No. 3) was played in its original set.
   More advanced parts of the program are arrangements by Eugene Ormandy: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, Sleepers Awake and Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major. Massive sound of The Philadelphia Orchestra and romantic model of emotional interpretations gave these recordings the value of documentary. The fact is these recordings are not even close to what we know about baroque esthetics, but it is still music connected with culture of late sixties. Well crafted experience in what was believed Bach did for orchestral music, but it deserves no more than three out of five stars.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Leon Russell – Carney

   Leon Russell is one of most original artists at the crossroad of rock and popular music. Combining folk ballade with country and blues traditions, he created in late 1960’s and early 1970’s his own style of writing and performing songs. He was playing the piano since he was four. Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, he started his career in Tulsa as nightclub piano player when he was 14 years old. His band The Starlighters with guitarist J. J. Cale played important role in the beginnings of the Tulsa Sound, the style which founders among others were both Russell and Cale. Later they were developing in different directions. While four years older J. J. Cale was moving toward folk with elements of Cajun and swamp rock, Russell was more rock, blues and rhythm and blues depended styles. The common feature of these two artists is both have created their personal, original styles.
   Since his early years Leon Russell was active as pianist, singer and songwriter. For the great part of his career he was performing under his own name, but he was also permanently active as session and concert musician for hire and in effect, he has collected impressive list of artists he played with. His studio and stage appearances were huge in numbers and in qualities. In 1970 he debuted in Shelter Records with first album under his own name. Next year he recorded Leon Russell And The Shelter People, his first album certified gold. In 1972 Shelter released album Carney which was continuation and recapitulation of his earlier experiences. Third studio album by Leon Russell became the highest rated and the best received of all his productions, reaching 2nd position on Billboard Hot 200, and 4th position in Canadian charts. There was also a hit single with Tightrope and This Masquerade picking 11th position in Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Leon Russell – Carney (1972)

   Whole album is full of excellently written songs. From the very beginning Tight Rope arranged in style of Tulsa years this set is also perfectly varied. In second song Out in the Woods there’s a climax with choir singing in Zulu. In Manhattan Island Serenade sound effects displaying position of someone who stuck in broken van and pronunciation of Cajun Love Song is imitating more native genres of pop music. Second side is opened by two pieces which are not songs in fact. First is the only instrumental organ composition Carney, a kind of short interlude, just to mark the change of style. The second is psychedelic vocal composition without words Acid Annapolis. Composed by Don Preston it gives some rememberings of his years with Mothers of Invention. And again in the style of the sixties and again connected with Tulsa Sound If the Shoe Fits. And then My Cricket – sung with quite a country sound beautiful ballad. This style is not surprising, considering from Tulsa were most active musicians Carl Radle playing bass and drummer Jim Keltner, both were born in 1942, the same as Leon Russell. Only Don Preston playing here guitar and singing was from Detroit and 10 years older, but at this moment he was already versatile professional musician who was able to play almost any kind of music.
   Skillfully graded tension makes this album can be listen repeatedly and without weariness. Lyrical and slightly depressive This Masquerade became the greatest achievement in Russell’s songwriting career. Dozens of cover recordings made this song the standard in popular music and in jazz. Final song Magic Mirror corresponds with first song, it sounds like its expanded version, but it is worth to hear for the words. In early seventies many musicians were making last song of the record as a kind of last word. Leon Russell’s Carney is so eventful there can be no mistake Magic Mirror is not just another song, even if it programmable poses to be. Four stars for this album means it’s as good as it gets – even if “the left ones think I’m right and the right ones think I’m wrong”.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gerry Mulligan – California Concerts

   The legendary baritone saxophonist, closely associated with of cool jazz also referred as West Coast style, was one of most creative musicians of his time. While he was most famous bari player ever, Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) takes his fame evenly from mastery he achieved on every level from precise light sound, through catching compositions and inspired improvisations, to noted arrangements for Miles Davis and Stan Kenton and his artistic personality. Born in Queens Village (NY), he was raised mainly on the East Coast urban areas. Here from 1948 he was working with famous nonet run by Miles Davis, both as instrumentalist and as arranger. Compilation of recordings of nonets performances were published in 1956 as Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool album, giving the name for the whole style. 
   In spring of 1952 Gerry Mulligan moved to Los Angeles where he started to write arrangements for Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, and playing at The Haig jazz club. While jam sessions he met with young trumpeter from Oklahoma Chet Baker, with whom he established long time artistic cooperation. With drummer Chico Hamilton and Bob Whitlock on bass they created pianoless quartet. Lack of piano based chordal structures gave more space for modern polyphony in group improvisations, being both the overpassing of traditional chord changes and turn to traditional way of creating structures as an effect of concurrent improvisations. In later editions of this quartet Gerry Mulligan was sometimes switching from saxophone to piano.

Gerry Mulligan – California Concerts (1955)

   In 1953 Mulligan was arrested on charge of drug possession. After half year in prison he had to re-assemble his band, but Chet Baker was already involved in some other commitments. Mulligan sought to restore the quartet with Bob Brookmeyer playing valve trombone. Sometimes he played also with trumpeters Jon Eardley and Art Farmer, or saxophonists Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and Lee Konitz. In 1954, in California they played concerts in Jazz Goes To High School project. Fragments of two concerts were published next year by Pacific Jazz Records. After many reeditions, full recordings were published in 1987 and in 1988. First volume was San Diego Hoover High School in December 14, 1954 published by EMI – Manhattan Records (CDP 7 46860 2). Second Stockton High School in December 12, 1954 published by Pacific Jazz Records (CDP 7 46864 2). First and most significant album contained material from both concerts shortened to about one third but dense and meaty.
First side recorded in Stockton is showing Mulligan’s quartet with Jon Eardley, Chico Hamilton and Red Mitchell. Program starts with Blues Ging Up and Little Girl Blue. In Piano Blues Gerry Mulligan is playing piano and Jon Eardley is playing trumpet theme. After solos by Mulligan and Red Mitchell on bass with neat dialoguing section, trumpet with piano back with theme and piano with section closes in coda. At the end of this side Yardbird Suite is swinging and sounds pretty smooth. Second side recorded in San Diego with sextet including Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone, Bob Brookmeyer on valve trombone and piano, Jon Eardley on trumpet, Red Mitchell on bass, Larry Bunker on drums and leader Gerry Mulligan on baritone. In first part of the San Diego concert quartet was playing with the same lineup as two days earlier in Stockton, in second half Bunker changed Hamilton and Sims and Brookmeyer joined quartet. The program are three compositions Western Reunion, I Know I Don’t Know and The Red Door. It is a great recording with perfect feeling and great technique. It’s hard to believe it sounds so alive. Four and a half of the stars can shine as five.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Alexander Borodin – Prince Igor

THE 180th ANNIVERSARY OF ALEXANDER BORODIN'S BIRTH

   The interesting lineament of 19th century music in Russia was the fact most composers were simultaneously physicians or lawyers. The reason of such situation was simple – only in wealthy families children have high quality education. And although in upper class artistic success was priced, there was a strong emphasis on skills that can provide social security. Medicine was one of most popular. Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) who was illegitimate son of Georgian nobleman was educated in best possible institutions. In those times it was typical he received his name from servant, but was taken care of his real father. And as many other composers first he has made his career in practical domain. He was military surgeon and scientis in the field of chemistry. Although he has been successful chemist, authoring some revealing reactions, he was famous only as the composer. He had sometimes complained of such one-sided appreciation.
   In absolute numbers list of Borodin’s musical works is not too much impressive. Some songs and piano compositions, few chamber forks, three symphonies and one symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia. The opera works, he is most famous for, are in fact only four titles where first The Tzar’s Bride from 1868 was in sketches and lost, and next three were unfinished: second Bogatyri, third Prince Igor, and last Mlada co-authored with César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Leon Minkus. But operas, even unfinished, became his greatest achievement into Russian musical heritage. Most famous is Prince Igor (Князь Игорь) in four acts with prologue. After composer’s death, opera was completed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov and premiered in St. Petersburg in 1890.

Alexander Borodin – Prince Igor (1970)

   Opera story of 12th century prince Igor Svyatoslavich who survives Polovtsian bondage and save his homeland was based on Old Russian epic poem The Tale of Igor’s Campaign. Legends on beginnings of nations were the heart of romantic ideas and main current of romantic narratives. Thus grand historic opera Prince Igor become one of pillars in Russian romantic repertoire. 80 years after first performance full version of Borodin’s work was recorded and published by Melodia as complete of five LP records in cassette. Long list of great voices comprises Ivan Petrov in the role of title hero Prince Igor, Alexander Vedernikov as Khan Kontchak, tenor Vladimir Atlantov as Prince Igor's son, Tatiana Tougarinova in the role of Igor's wife Iaroslavna, Elena Obraztova as the daughter of Khan Kontchak. Choir and Orchestra of Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow conducted by Mark Ermler are elements of perfect ensemble. Well executed, perfectly sung, consequently set, after almost half century this recording is still considerable worthy esthetic and intellectual experience. Four stars for great musical contents.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bach by Stokowski

   In the classical period baroque and earlier music was out of favor. And there were many reasons for such disgrace. Since modern concert halls had been built for philharmonic societies and institutions established as a support for symphonic orchestras, these conditions were promoting a certain type of sound. No wonder symphonic music was the main orientation of musical life since 19th century. Big orchestras had dominated the cultural life as most significant and appreciated type of performing team. In effect music of earlier historical periods was rarely played. The fact is baroque compositions were played anyway. Romantic composers and artists found in baroque music lots of close and valuable features. Especially music by Johann Sebastian Bach was extremely universal from esthetic point of view. 
   On the other hand Johann Sebastian Bach’s discipline and almost abstractive model of polyphonic construction, decided his music was perfect for transcriptions into any instrument, ensemble or orchestra. Some original works, concertos with string orchestra or orchestral suites were already in orchestral repertoire. And in last decades of 19th century number of Bach’s works in repertoire was instantly increasing. In 20th century many composers and conductors made their own orchestrations of various Bach works, primarily written for organ, chamber ensembles, various instruments or even choir. Among many were composers Bela Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, cellist Pablo Casals, conductors Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski.

Bach by Stokowski (1977)

   Leopold Stokowski was one of most famous transcribers of Bach’s music. His orchestrations were widely played and recognized. One of best choices was album recorded by conductor with Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The collection comprises examples of perfect orchestrations of Bach’s most popular works. The great opening  of the program is orchestration of organ Toccata and Fugue D Minor BWV 565, than Prelude and Fugue E-flat Minor BWV 853 from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier and orchestral version of 48th song from Schemelli’s Gesangbuch “Mein Jesu, dem die Seraphinen” BWV 486. The second side includes Chorale Prelude No. 12 “Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott” BWV 680 from Clavierübung III, Chorale from Easter Oratorio BWV 249 and Passacaglia and Fugue C Minor BWV 582.
   Recordings with Czech Philharmonic Orchestra had been made in September 1972. Leopold Stokowski was familiar with the orchestra since his performances at Prague Spring Music Festival in 1961. During his rehearsals eleven years later, hosts had organized two days of sessions on September 7 and 8 in Supraphon Studio. Material was edited and published in co-production with DECCA – first in 1976 by Supraphon under Czech title Transkripce Skladeb J. S. Bacha, and one year later in international version as Bach by Stokowski (Supraphon 1110 1953 ZA). Very fair recording although in some parts sound of violin is not enough stable and too weak. Three stars out of five.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Herbie Hancock – V.S.O.P.

   After 15 years of intensive musical activity Herbie Hancock was as much respected artist so the program of Newport Jazz Festival contained a special evening dedicated to his music, was termed as “Retrospective of The Music of Herbie Hancock”. In the age of 36 he was already a giant of modern jazz. Concert presented by George Wein was in fact not quite a retrospective. It featured three Hancock’s bands. First was a quintet with musicians Hancock played from early days of his career. Later this band continued and was called V.S.O.P. Quintet. Second was introduced as Herbie Hancock Sextet, but in fact it was Mwandishi Band. Third was the most recent project, representing current trend in Hancock’s music. Indeed, in 1976 The Headhunters was most popular of all Hancock’s bands. On liner notes Herbie Hancock wrote himself, he concluded this concert was so much one musician tribute, but enabling bigger group of musicians to play together.
   The whole program of this evening has been recorded by CBS and published as the double album under the title V.S.O.P., but this time it was only title of the album signed by Herbie Hancock. Next Hancock’s album was titled The Quintet and signed by V.S.O.P. ensemble. So can be stated this live album gave its name to the band. Two records covering the concert performance are perfect passage through modern jazz and great documentary of Hancock’s artistic achievements. From hard bop and modal jazz quintet, through early fusion sextet to the funky, intensively rhythmic trance music of Headhunters band.

Herbie Hancock – V. S. O. P. (1976)

   Serious shape of Herbie Hancock’s music, its natural flowing connected and interwining with different traditions takes its sources from modern jazz of the 50’s. This is still significantly connected with the idea of music as most efficient language for emotional and spiritual communication. It could be observed on every moment of this recording. When after Piano Introduction Herbie Hancock is joined by Ron Carter and Tony Williams it’s like initiation into the mystery of musical value system. This way Maiden Voyage continues with series of solos by Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and the leader of the quintet called later V.S.O.P. Next theme Nefertiti is like small jazz interlude before filling the entire second side Eye of the Hurricane.
   The same serious attitude one can find in funk recordings. Opening 4th side Hang Up Your Hang Ups with modal solos of Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone and Herbie Hancock on electric piano is nothing else than modal jazz amplified with new rhythmic intensity. Power of rhythmic funk continuity based on section Paul Jackson (bg), James Levi (dr), Kenneth Nash (perc.) and two guitarists: Ray Parker jr. and Wah Wah Watson, shows new trance idea of modal jazz. Second record of the album was also the second part of the show. The idea was to show the newer trends in Hancock’s music. But it was the revival of oldest band and the Eye of the Hurricane, what became the start of a real new chapter of Herbie Hancock’s career. After the first fascination with the sound and rhythm of funk, in second half of the decade there was high time for the return of well known forms of jazz expression.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

André Previn Plays

   Any attempt to comprehend his achievements at a glance leads to the conclusion, André Previn is a rare phenomenon. As the one of most versatile musicians ever, André Previn is a perfect example of an artist combining creativity and great competence in remote areas of musical activity. He is perfect crossover artist. As a pianist, conductor and composer he achieved successes on many fields of artistic and popular music. He was awarded 4 times with Academy Award for movie scores and 11 times with Grammy Awards including 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
   André Previn was born in Berlin in the family of lawyers and musicians in 1929 or 1930. The year of his birth is unsure.  There are also unconfirmed reports he is distant relative of Gustav Mahler. In 1939 his family fled from Germany and settled in Los Angeles where five years later he became naturalized US citizen. He completed his education in Beverly Hills and taking private lessons of conducting from Pierre Monteux. In mid 50’s he became his career as a jazz pianist, performing and recording successfully with many popular musicians. The same time he started writing music for cinema. As he started to compose as a student one decade earlier, his pieces were astonishingly fresh and mature. 

André Previn Plays (1970)

   In his twentieths André Previn was active as performing and recording jazz pianist. He was active in West Coast area and this milieu gave his music special, smooth characteristic. Easy listening kind of jazz became popular yet before the be-bop era. It was not defined as the style, it was rather the answer for demands of wide circle of listeners. The hotter was dominant style; more listeners were tended to buy jazz with popular music touch. Reaction for be-bop was cool jazz style, so after free jazz and hard-bop came fusion and funky was balanced by soul music. And when fusion became too hot, smooth jazz was the rest for many. This process made Previn’s old recordings re-editions almost permanently alive.
   In June 24, 1953 André Previn recorded some pieces of Fats Waller. Pianist was performing in trio with Buddy Clark on double-bass and Shelly Manne on drums. These recordings were published in 1958 by Tops Records (L 1593). Probably material of 1953 sessions was joined together with pieces recorded in other terms and locations. This is probably why there are no informations on musicians, time and places. Only in liner notes it was closed in one statement: “Supported by an excellent bassist and drummer in this swinging tribute to Fats Waller, Previn is wholly at ease with the songs of the master”.
   In 1964 album was reedit and published as André Previn Plays by Fidelio label (ATL 4118). Sequence of songs was the same with only one piece withdrawn – Steeling Apples. Fat Waller’s name was omitted in title and in credits. Six years later in 1970, this album was republished by Crown label (CRS 2004). Complete set of Previn’s Waller recordings was published in 1982 on compact cassette by Orchid Music. The performance is perfect, worth more than four stars and the whole album is nice to listen. Although these recordings didn’t push jazz to a new direction, it is still worth to remember. Overall I’m giving three and a half star.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stokowski conducts Handel and Bach

   During the early music period conductor was not a necessary person. Some gestures needed to start and finish together were given by the leader of the ensemble, who often was also the composer of a work and musical entrepreneur. Conductor became common person in classical music, after transition from baroque orchestra to classical symphonic orchestra. Substantial difference was not in set of instruments, but in the musical texture. Since in Mannheim school musical sentences were divided into small motifs and performed by different instruments, there was someone needed for every such moment, especially in symphonic forms. The result was the emergence of further opportunities and the development of massive symphonic sound in late romantic music. Performance of romantic music without a conductor was unthinkable, and for most symphonic music since Beethoven it would be a catastrophe. And these were circumstances of raising the role of conductors in modern concert life, up to the rank of the creator equal to composer.
   Among legendary conductors of 20th century one of most respected artists was Leopold Stokowski. He was born in 19th century, most probably in 1882, but he himself was giving different dates and places of his birth – from Cracow to Pomerania. However there are documentary evidences he was born in London. He studied in Royal College of Music since he was thirteen. After receiving Bachelor of Music degree in 1903, he immigrated to New York in 1905 and three years later he started conducting Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He was thirty years old when in 1912 he became director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Four years later he led Philadelphia Orchestra and Choruses during sensational American premiere of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand.

Leopold Stokowski conducts Handel and Bach (1977)

   Most striking feature of the Stokowski’s craft was conducting without a baton, in the choirmaster manner. He was explaining this way he is able to shape the sound more effectively. Indeed, his interpretations were famous for superior sound quality. Starting from positions of English romanticism, he was one of the most important conductors giving baroque music its modern quality. In fact he was under the strong influence of English performing tradition. In opposite to other countries, in England baroque music was alive, and compositions of Georg Frederic Handel were constantly in school teaching and in concert repertoire. This was great basis for Stokowski’s artistic development. And recordings of Handel’s most popular compositions belong to his great achievements.
   Georg Frederic Handel’s suites were always Stokowski’s showpiece. First recordings of these works he made on shellac discs in 1934. In 1962 with RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra he recorded the two Handel’s suites and album published by RCA became one of best sellers. In 1977 RCA label published double album of two baroque giants in series titled “Meister spielen Meister”. First record is Georg Friedrich Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks and Water Music Suite. Perfect renditions with clearly stable strings and bright brass were exemplary orchestral performance. The same with second part of 1977 album, it was 1975 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach transcriptions: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 D Minor, Preludio from Partita No. 3 E Major, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 D Major, Fuge G Minor (Kleine) BWV 578, Sinfonia from Kantate Ich steh’ mit einem Fuß im Grabe BWV 156, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645, Komm sel’ge Ruh BWV 478. This time perfect sound was receoived from London Symphony Orchestra. The same 1977 was the year great conductor passed by. Transcribing baroque music for symphony orchestra was one of Stokowski’s achievements, but this demands at least new post.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Albert Schweitzer spielt Bach

   Intuition tells, beauty, goodness and truth are the values that are interrelated. However, they are irreducible and specific, which makes it difficult to find the characteristics that bind them together. Connection between beauty, truth and goodness is the question of believing, not the matter of rational inquiry. However, such belief in the ethical dimension of beauty is present in the judgments of many artists, including the quotes posted on this blog. This compound was confirmed by many people. One of perfect exemplification of dedication for basic values was life of Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), who was musician, philosopher, theologist, priest, teacher and medical missionary in Africa.
   Since he withdrawn from earlier activities, his great achievements in music, musicological books and great performances of organ music were sometimes underestimated. In fact he was still giving organ concerts and musicological readings just to collect money for the hospital in Lambarene. Many of his recordings were re-published in various choices. One of such reedited recordings was published by East Germany label Eterna in 1980. Recordings show performances on organ in Günsbach. Albert Schweitzer played program of four preludes and fugues E Minor BWV 533, A Minor BWV 543, C Minor BWV 546 and C Major BWV 547. The featured Bach’s composition is Toccata and Fugue D Minor BWV 565. Whole program was recorded with greatest respect for the natural style, the same Albert Schweitzer was known as its first proponent.

Albert Schweitzer spielt Bach (1980)

   Schweitzer’s life can be seen as the process of ultimate connection of all these values. Observing his story from intellectual positions, it is really hard to understand some of his decisions, his determination and attitude. But considering it as the process of developing complete and comprehensive personality, his vision of meaning in all possible aspects are the one worth of study. Maybe this is the only way to show there is no need to reduce or to analyze any values, maybe in the center is always human being and all values are only aspects of his attitude. In this case, different values would be just different exemplifications of choices oriented for altruistic achievements or selfish benefits.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marcel Cellier – Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares

   Music was always memorized as a part of cultural tradition. Since migrations and culture clashes start threatized the preserving abilities of social memory, in different cultures musicians and scholars tried to find the way to perpetuate the endangered part of the heritage. Traditional music notation as we know it was only one of many possible systems. It was build during centuries and than it was shaping the way of musical thinking. This was one of processes divising and differentiating musical culture into official, professional music and folk, pop, unprofessional but living musical element. The invention of phonographic recording had revolutionary consequences. Since this moment music could be recorded in full of its complexity. One of pioneers of comparative ethnomusicology Erich von Hornbostel was using recorded material in his research, using modified notation and working on transcriptions of recorded music.
   Phonographic recordings gave researchers new possibilities. Preserved performances were subjects of multilateral analysis and comparisons. One of them was Marcel Cellier, Swiss organist and ethnomusicologist. He extensively researched and recorded Romanian music. He discovered Gheorghe Zamfir giving him chance to start his international creer. The next field of Cellier’s research was Bulgaria. In 1975 small record label Disques Cellier published first collection of recordings made by its founder and owner. It was the first presentation of Bulgarian folk singing outside Bulgaria and in very short time it become an international success, giving Marcel Cellier Grammy Award and Academie Charles Cros Grand prix international du disque.

Marcel Cellier – Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (1988)

   First album of Marcel Cellier’s recordings was released in 1975. The program contained 13 folk songs recorded by Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir with soloists Yanka Rupkina, Kalinka Valcheva and Stefka Sabotinova. His second collection released in 1988 was effect of 15 years of research of Marcel Cellier. After great success of this choice, Swiss ethnomusicologist started collecting next album. This time the album program was set of various recordings. Marcel Cellier took songs mainly from Bulgarian Radio archives, recordings were made in 50’s to 80’s. For these listeners who didn’t bought first album, the same year Discques Cellier had published double album. Cover was the copy of first album design but inside were two records set of 29 Bulgarian folk songs.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Giuseppe Verdi Festival

THE 200th ANNIVERSARY OF GIUSEPPE VERDI'S BIRTH

   Among many musical theatre composers the two dominated the opera scene in 19th century were Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner – both were born the same year and this was the only common point of these two. Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) was a child of the era. He was composer of extended romantic style with tendencies to popular music and in later works to the post-romantic ideas, partly as reaction to Wagner’s drama. He is probably most celebrated composer of the century. Main part of his work consists of nearly three dozens of operas and revisions. He has written also some songs and sacred works with highly valued Requiem. Although shortly after his death he was detronised by Giacomo Puccini, he should be remembered as the greatest opera composer of opulent era. 
   There are thousands of Verdi recordings, from life performances and complete opera albums to fragments in recitals of many composers and performers. And it’s negligible if there is full Verdi’s work or only short fragment. One of features of composers output is this simple fact, every work has highlights playing the role of hits in romantic music culture. No wonder there are many concert programs and records showing only these fragments. One of such was Verdi Festival published as the Capriccio Club Edition in 1985 with fragment of Giovanni Boldini’s famous portrait of 71 year old Verdi. This is very well pressed, introducing quite good performances and well edited choice, so it deserves three and a half of the five star scale.

Giuseppe Verdi Festival (1985)

   The Capriccio Verdi album is very good starting point for somebody who needs short introduction to best achievements of Giuseppe Verdi. It’s opened with La forza del destino overture in nice rendition of Budapest State Opera Orchestra conducted by Trikolidisz Karolosz. Than come full version of Va pensiero choir from Nabucco and ballet scene from Aida performed by London Symphony Orchestra with Laurence Siegel and Di quella pira from Il trovatore sung with brave by Ludovic Spiess. Second side comprises Intermezzo from La Traviata again with Budapest Opera and Karolosz, gypsy chorus from Il trovatore performed by Chor und Orchester Der Staatsoper Berlin conducted by Otmar Suitner and two fragments from Don Carlos – duet of Don Carlos and Rodrigo Carlo Bergonzi and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, air Ella giammai m’amo sung by Nicola Rossi.
   Second record of the album starts with Triumphal March from Aida continued with Zitti, zitti, noviamo a vendetta from Rigoletto and soldiers chorus from Il trovatore. These fragments were recorded by ensemble of Staatsoper Berlin under Otmar Suitner. In this choice there have to be some arias and great vocal performances. Nicola Herlea in Di provenza il mar from La Traviata, Eva Marton sings Pace, pace from La forza del destino and Sylvia Sass with Giorgio Lamberti duet from Ernani. The fourth part concluding the choice comprises three spectacular arias: Cortigiani from Rigoletto sung by Nicola Herlea, Mia madre aveva una povera ancella from Othello perfectly exposed by Anna Tomova-Sintov, and Studia il passo from Macbeth performed by Boris Christoff. These fragments are framed by Prelude to 3rd Act of Aida (Staatsoper Berlin, C. Litvin) and Matador Choir from La Traviata (Opera Bukarest, J.Bobescu). I have to admit it's quite a nice program for birthday celebration.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage

   Herbie Hancock is one of most restless spirits, constantly changing bands, styles, even genres. He is constantly alternating, trying different strategies and playing with various lineups. Sometimes he is playing popular dance music, sometimes mainstream and in fact all this comes from ultra modern attitude. And in contrary, his place on the jazz scene as the pianist, arranger and composer is perfectly steady, which is side effect of quite traditional mastery. In fact artist established his position in his twentieth and since these times all possible critics and listeners reactions are just repeating all over the same lists of compliments and doubts. He is the kind of musician who is taking seriously all kinds of music, even those which most listeners see as nothing but dance music. For half of the century he was featured artist on many directions of jazz and popular music.
   Herbie Hancock’s ideas were one of strongest factors during construction of the post-bop style. His intuition and technique were legendary. In effect his compositions with its coloristic use of harmonics and sound sensitive arrangements became famous and many pianists were just copied his style in arranging and improvising. As always the quintessence of great artist’s personal style is unmistakable, although during passing years he has more and more followers. What could be the trademark of this artist is his modernity and restraint. He was never too much radical, always remembering there is also a mainstream jazz with choruses and harmonic changes. This attitude has its root in early recordings of Herbie Hancock as a leader. One of them is fifth Hancock’s album Maiden Voyage. It has been released by Blue Note (BST 84195) in 1965 and became an instant classic.

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1984)

   There are many reasons for the Maiden Voyage should be considered as an album of rare quality both in Herbie Hancock’s discography and in best achievements of the whole genre. First of all, this is concept album what makes it a quite unique phenomenon. Although it can be considered as clear instrumental jazz, five compositions are thematically homogeneous, telling about the sea voyage, playful dolphins, struggle for survival and trying to catch impression of the sea in its continuing change. Composition of this album is connected to the idea of historic illustrative, programmatic music and probably closest references for Hancock’s music are Debussy’s piano pieces with impressionistic harmonics. Author of all compositions was Herbie Hancock. On first side including Maiden Voyage, The Eye of the Hurricane and Little One, improvisational fervor is still in the frames of hard bop style. Hancock mitigates Hubbard’s expression and Coleman is usually closer to mainstream than others. In The Eye of the Hurricane he played beautiful Coltranean solo.
   Freddie Hubbard played with bravely expressive sound and harmonic freedom. His trumpet sounds closer to free jazz than George Coleman’s tenor saxophone. While Hubbard is explicitly avant-garde, Coleman is playing post-cool soft phrases with mild sound. Tony Williams is doing best drumming ever. His work should be listening as teaching project for jazz and orchestral drummer. And with Ron Carter he created best section ever. Most progressive piece of the album is opening second side Survival of the Fittest – the rare example of breaking barriers. In Dolphin Dance Hancock is back to his jazz style with distance and graciousness. His solo is just like new definition of jazz. There can be no doubts, this record deserves full set of stars. It could be listen again and again.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Zubin Mehta Conducts Arnold Schoenberg

   On turning of 19th century the idea of progress in music lead to complication of meanings and increasing difficulty. Like in science and technology value in music was observed as the effect of innovation and originality. Approaching final exhaustion of functional gravitation in modern music, in first half of 20th century composers were trying different scales and systems to find new space for their creativity.  In Arnold Schoenberg’s music earlier atonality became in 1920’s the whole new system basing on chromatic scale and the idea of series. It is commonly known as one of most intellectual ideas of 20th century music. But considering energy of Schoenberg’s music composed with twelve-tone technique, it looks to be relatively insignificant issue whether it was intellectual or not. As always in the history in the center of meaning of music is its emotional potential and possibilities of performing artists.
   Arnold Schoenberg’s idea of serial music was influential invention and made him one of most recognizable figures of 20th century culture. Such theoretical solution of the material organization was continued and developed by Schoenberg’s students Alban Berg, Hans Eisler, Anton Webern and by next generations of composers: Milton Babbit, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Dallapiccola, Hans Werner Henze, Ernst Krenek, Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, Henri Pousseur, Karlheinz Stockhausen, La Monte Young and many others. Schoenberg’s idea influenced philosophers and music writers, especially Theodor W. Adorno who set together Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky in his Philosophy of New Music. Also Thomas Mann, who in novel Doctor Faustus made dodecaphonic method the base of the hero creative efforts, was strongly encouraged by Adorno.

Arnold Schoenberg - Kammersinfonie and Variations (1969) 

   The concert repertoire comprises numerous works of Arnold Schoenberg. Great part are chamber compositions, operas and vocal music. In orchestral music most famous are Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op. 4, Chamber Symphony No. 1 Op. 9, Chamber Symphony No. 2 Op. 38, Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 16, Variations for Orchestra Op. 31, two concertos for piano and violin and some famous works like using ‘Sprechstimme’ (melodramatically-spoken-recitations) the cycle of 21 melodramas Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 (1912) and cantata A Survivor from Warsaw Op. 46 for recitation, choir and orchestra. Chamber Symphony No. 1 Op. 9 is work of great significance for the new music. It was composed in E Major yet, but in perfect discipline for chamber orchestra, renewing symphonic form in modern context. It was clear breach in post romantic form of symphony in massive orchestration and augmented construction, giving instead great palette of new sound possibilities.
   22 years later, in September 1928 Schoenberg finished the first dodecaphonic orchestral composition, Variations for Orchestra Op. 31. This is perfect form for repeating series and changing its parameters. Polyphonic mastery and natural emotionalism are working together as in classical music. No wonder Schoenberg and his students, Berg and Webern were called the second Viennese school. These two remarkable works of great composer were recorded in 1969 by Zubin Mehta conducting Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and published by London Records (CS 6612). The rare, hard to find album was reedited and published with new cover in 1985 by London Enterprise (414 440-1). Both performances are worth to be remembered as model renditions of these works. The album gives full vision of Schoenberg’s works, intellectually and emotionally balanced interpretations, perfect sound and proportions make this recording great chance to discover Schoenberg’s music. It surely deserves four and half of star.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Andrés Segovia and Edith Weiss-Mann Play Bach

   Andrés Segovia who was first master of modern guitar, was also the teacher of virtually every virtuoso in second half of 20th century. And who was not one of his students, has to be student of one of Segovia’s pupils. His significance as the artist who established position of classical guitar as the concert instrument was absolutely crucial. He created for this instrument whole space of sound and interpretative possibilities. His attitude to traditional guitar techniques, to elements of folk guitar techniques and repertoire choices paved the way for the guitar in contemporary musical culture. Segovia was guitar virtuoso continuing tradition of Spanish guitar. Pieces of Fernando Sor and Francisco Tarrega were in his repertoire as much  as other works by Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados whose works he transcribed for guitar himself and original works for guitar by Federico Mompou, Joaquin Rodrigo, Federico Moreno Torroba. He was also author of many transcriptions for guitar of many other composers, especially works by Johann Sebastian Bach.
   Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña, distinguished master of classical guitar has played many Bach recitals with works he transcribed himself. The one published by Allegro Records (ALL 750) included fragments from Lute Sonata E Major BWV 996, Lute Sonata C Major BWV 999 and Lute Sonata G Major BWV 1000, Cello Sonata No. 6 BWV 1012. After Prelude from 3rd Violin Partita E Major BWV 1006 is culminate work Chaconne from 2nd Violin Partita D Major BWV 1004. Since premiere of Bach’s Chaconne in 1935 this transcription was one of most acclaimed pieces in Segovia’s repertoire. His performances of the work were always phenomenal in its emotional suspense, motoric and yet undecided, stable and quivering. Maybe it’s temperature of public performance, maybe esthetic choice of historic moment, whatever it was, these recordings are still worth to feel and understand.

Andres Segovia and Edith Weiss-Mann Play J. S. Bach (1964)

   The record label states both sides were recorded during public performance in 1964. This false information was contained on record label, but there are no signs of presence of the audience and considering other circumstances in 1964 this recording was not possible. Both labels and cover are reliable at the level of used car sale notice. Probably the date 1964 is the year recitals were published by Allegro Records. Because these two different recitals. As it was standard for smaller record companies in sixties, great name on front cover was only first side artist, and second side was filled with recording by any other artist. It was even justified since those times musical market was just creating standards for long playing records. And on this level of recorded music expansion ideas of taking advantages of technology were sometimes very naïve. This can be seen also as the continuation of rules for customary space on posters.
   On the second side of the record, there are two Bach’s Concertos played by Edith Weiss-Mann – Italian Concerto F Major BWV 971 and Concerto No. 3 in D Major after Benedetto Marcello BWV 974. Born in Hamburg in 1885, since 1939 she was living in New York where she debuted with recital in 1949. Two years later she died in Westfield, New Jersey. Understanding her achievements in early music and period musical instruments revival, considering this is rare chance to listen her interpretations, she should be featured as the main personality of the album, and if together with Segovia, only on an equal footing. It would be reasonable. As performing artist and as the teacher she was doing for the harpsichord the same work as Segovia did for guitar. Rarities on this album have considerable value although non-professional level of the edition makes them hard to reach. Great musical stuff but in bad edition deserves two and half star only.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Michel Legrand – Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

   He is the one of most famous French popular music composers. He became popular in first decade after war but his real position was establishing through all the years until today. He was praised at his start. In 1954 when he presented his first record I Love Paris, he was 22 years old and already active as an arranger, composer and pianist. Over a hundred albums and hundreds of public performances with different orchestras all over the world was consequence of his ability to write music in clear style, with no odd complexity or annoying easiness. His melodies are surprisingly fresh and enough simple to catch listener’s sympathy at once. His style was a mixture of clear and elegant, almost classically transparent texture and sublime harmonic modulations with some late romantic or even impressionistic ideas of orchestral colors.
   It’s interesting Legrand who was performing and recording with greatest stars of pop music and with classic opera divas, with singing actors and jazz giants, never became a star himself. Among artists he was working with were Ella Fitzgerald and Jessye Norman, Sarah Vaughan and Kiri Te Kanawa, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand and Lena Horne, Diana Ross and Shirley Bassey. He was prolific jazz composer, arranger and pianist working with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Phil Woods, Art Farmer, Bill Evans and many more. He recorded also classical piano repertoire, publishing albums with music of Erik Satie, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow. But his first title to fame was always music for films.

Michel Legrand – Les Parapluies de Cherbourg Suite (1979)

   Over a hundred and fifty films with music of Michel Legrand are the most celebrated part of his achievements. Some of them are musicals with many great songs becoming hits and jazz standards. Revolutionary concept was Jacques Demy 1964 musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) with all dialogues sung like in traditional opera. Romantic love story with Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo was also best selling and well received movie, prized with Palme d’or in Cannes and nominated to three Academy Awards – among others for best music. This was very touchy one of most significant movies in the sixties, known also for perfectly composed, obsessive music augmenting emotional powers.
   The problem with publishing cinematic music is it’s complication for copyright issues. Movie is complexe work of art with rights of many artists and producers. For such reason publishing of soundtrack albums are limited to main company. But this can be very unjust for composer who still owns his musical ideas. It’s natural tendency to allow performances in many places and circumstances, especially when work has potential to be a big hit. This is why best composers arrange concert pieces shortening theatrical works to about half hour symphonic suites. Michel Legrand created such suite out of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg music and another concert piece Theme & Variations for Two Pianos & Orchestra. Theme was from The Go-between, a 1970 romantic drama written by Harold Pinter and directed by Joseph Losey.
   These two symphonic works has been recorded in London EMI studios (May 21-24, 1979). The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by composer who also played piano in Theme & Variations. The second pianist was Robert Noble, musician working with LSO, recording as session man for movies. His piano and celesta can be heard on Frank Zappa’s The London Symphony Orchestra album. He was also working with John Williams (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark), Charles Mackerras, John Lord and Claus Ogerman. Well written, well recorded and nicely produced, this record can be very good invitation to Michel Legrand’s music. Three and half on five stars scale.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Modern Jazz Quartet – Porgy and Bess

   The pure melodic genius of songwriting and ambition to tell complex, meaningful story gives George Gershwin and his only opera place of crucial importance. The unquestionably position of Porgy and Bess takes its strength from crossover qualities of the work. The work noted as first American national opera was the work based on jazz and Afro-American folk music, perfectly filling the old form with a new soul. It’s difficult to count all performances in original version and in various orchestrations and transcriptions. In 50’s and 60’s virtually every jazz musician played melodies from Gershwin’s opera as standards or set own suite of most popular themes taken from the work. Among many Porgy and Bess versions the one of special power was album signed by Modern Jazz Quartet.
   In history of jazz the instant success and sustained position of Modern Jazz Quartet is rare phenomenon. Starting in 1946 as the side project of musicians playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Orchestra, then as Milt Jackson Quartet in 1951, and then changed into MJQ, this ensemble was initially be-bop combo. Pianist and composer John Lewis and Milt Jackson playing vibraphone started it as a pure jazz project and after 1952, with Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums, Modern Jazz Quartet started their own style merging cool jazz and be-bop with elegant third stream with elements of classical music, especially polyphonic ideas of baroque music. 

Modern Jazz Quartet – Porgy and Bess (1965) 

   The instrumental version of Gershwin’s opera in MJQ characteristic cool jazz style was recorded during three days, July 23 and 26 1964 and April 26, 1965. The producer of this album was Nesuhi Ertegun, one of most influential producer in jazz world. Recording session took place in RCA Webster Hall in New York City. Album was published in 1965 in US and Philips label in UK and Netherlands. Next year album republished in US and in Austria. All American editions were pressed under Atlantic label and all European were published by Philips. There was also different title: American album was titled The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, while European edition was The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays the Music from Porgy and Bess. Just like there were two different albums.
   The interesting characteristic of Modern Jazz Quartet was the style of the ensemble. From the very beginning musicians of the quartet tend to create clear and stable sound structures with lots of space for vibraphone chamber sound and minimalistic phrases. Pianist John Lewis was also the composer and musical director, the gray eminence of the quartet. As a front man was sometimes seen Milt Jackson, who was playing the vibraphone or vibraharp as this instrument was called sometime ago. His style of playing was two-mallet grip so he was playing mainly melodic lines with no harmonization, but with precision and elegant touch. Light and transparent structures are also the merit of perfect rhythm section of Percy Heath playing the upper bass and drummer Connie Kay.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bernstein in The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky

   It is really hard to say how much of his fame Igor Stravinsky owes to his ballets. His works were as much different as creative and the best part of his creativity was constant variability. He was programmatically syncretic, aiming to synthesis of all genres and ideas of artistic music. Using all kinds of formal and performing meanings, building of elements taken from diverse sources are Stravinsky’s peculiarity. This is the simple fact he was most original composer of his generation. Even though he became world famous thank to his cooperation with Sergei Diaghilev and his company Ballets Russes. First two ballets, The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) made for the company were successful and composing his third ballet Stravinsky was more experienced and radical than before. The Rite of Spring (Весна священная) was finished in 1913 and premiered in Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreographic embodiment May 29th, 1913. And the scandal becomes the real success. And the scandal in the theatre was the start to real success of music alone.
   The ballet was subtitled as Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts and thank to Stravinsky’s music, Nijinsky’s choreography and Nicholas Roerich’s costumes it was virtually a manifesto of new musical, ballet and theatre esthetics. The Rite of Spring became the legend, ballet featured in the history of 20th century music as the example of new esthetics and foundation of many different “isms”. Indeed, Igor Stravinsky was polystylistic, constantly moving between different orientations since his aspiration was to make synthesis of all creative tendencies in concert, stage, religious and even popular music. Considering The Rite of Spring was turning point of the revolution in 20th century music, it serves as a chance to discover primary outcome. 

Bernstein – Stravinsky – Rites of Spring (1958)

   And there are dozens of great performances and recordings published since the beginning of long playing records era. One of early classic recordings was New York Philharmonic rendition conducted by Leonard Bernstein and published by Columbia Masterworks (MS 6010) in 1958. In cover notes for this edition Charles Burr wrote: “The Rite of Spring is still the most significant musical work of our time. Its birth pangs, which some mistook for an attempt to destroy music, are now seen to be, instead, the point of departure for a whole new way of listening to music”. These words, written almost half of the century after the work premiere, show unique position of Stravinsky’s music in shaping modern culture. Composer was not affirmative towards various interpretations. In fact he recognized as legitimate only his own performances and only conductor was his friend and co-worker Robert Craft.
   Leonard Bernstein’s rendition of The Rite of Spring is totally different from the vision known from recorded performances of Stravinsky and Craft or Igor Markevitch. Bernstein’s interpretation is extremely sound sensitive. It’s focused on orchestral colors and this solely element is responsible for formal integrity. This approach helps to understand the relationship between The Rite of Spring and the works of Rimsky-Korsakov or French impressionists. Complex structures allow the great number of possible emotional or semantic interpretations. The New York Philharmonic is perfect as usual although in some parts is trying to play this music in 19th century emotionalism. Leonard Bernstein shows its possible and fresh. Four stars even if somebody will say it is biased rating.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Richard Wagner's Parsifal conducted by Pierre Boulez

   After Richard Wagner gain success as composer, librettist, and theoretician in musical aesthetics and entrepreneur, in last years of his life he became the prominent and widely-known figure of German cultural life. He was a person of difficult character and strange views, trying to join his radical esthetics with Buddhism and anti-Semitism, Schopenhauer inspirations with his own philosophic concepts. Although he was complex and difficult personality, his operas and musical drama oeuvres can be considered as climax of romantic era, a crowning achievement of 19th century spirituality, just the way Beethoven’s symphonies closed the classical music period. This comparison is not accidental, just like Beethoven’s last symphonies paved the way for romantic style, Wagner’s last dramas had shown the tendencies for new century, although some of the consequences of these processes are now difficult to reconcile.
   The last, 16th work in series of Richard Wagner’s stage works is Parsifal. The libretto of Parsifal is loose version of early 13th century famous romance Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, knight, epic poet and Minnesinger. Story of Parsifal young knight who fulfils prophecy and saves the order from decay is universal idea in legends of all cultures. Although there are no clear indications of racist or anti-Semitic content in this work, there were heavy arguments on some symbolic meanings Wagner used. Connection of negative characters with some stereotypes and situations can be referenced this way, but in fact the whole work can be interpreted as the eternal struggle between good and evil. Kundry and Klingor are characters who can be seen both as connected to enemies of Christ. In this “most Christian” of Wagner’s works main character kills Klingor and gives absolution Kundry what makes her die. 

Pierre Boulez – Richard Wagner – Parsifal (1971)


   Wagner’s attitude has been expressed more clearly in his writings and letters, where he was developing his anti-Semitic beliefs. During preparations to the premiere of Parsifal, Wagner has objections against conductor Hermann Levi whom he demanded to be Christianized before premiere. But Levi was chosen by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was also donating the whole production, and Wagner wrote to king some letters with declarations he is agree, but in still offensive style. Not only in this field Wagner was strange and his behavior was the subject of many analyses. He was very unstable and difficult as a writer and as composer, and his music with ecstatic sublimity, strong emotions and crazy epigone estheticism allows us to feel the atmosphere of dying romanticism. 
   Parsifal is huge dramatic work, which was neither musical drama nor opera. This work became Wagner’s artistic testament. Composer called it ein Bühnenweihfestspiel (A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage) and this denomination could serve as an explanation of his real intentions. For the first time it was premiered during Bayreuth Festival in 1882 and until 1903, when Parsifal was shown in Metropolitan Opera in New York, theatre in Bayreuth was the proprietor of exclusive license for staging this work. In Europe this monopole granted by composers will and copyright rights expired ten years later. Produced as a part of Bayreuth Festival with Pierre Boulez in 1970, one year later recording by Deutsche Grammpohon this is one of most rational and psychological renditions of Parsifal. Gwyneth Jones as Kundry is so dramatic, Franz Crass as Gurnemanz is powerful enough to build célèbre sensuality. Other two soloists are Stomas Stewart performing as Amfortas and James King singing Parsifal. Four and a half of a star.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Carlo Gesualdo – Madrigals from Book VI

THE 400th ANNIVERSARY OF CARLO GESUALDO'S DEATH

   Carlo Gesualdo was one of most original late renaissance composers. He is famous as musical rebel, who was exciding rules and bursting musical meanings. The one another reason for his fame is also fact, he was murderer. His harmonics were unseen in the era of polyphonic culmination which took place in works of Palestrina. In fact Gesualdo uses some harmonic ideas more usual for late romantic music 300 years later. The aim of such uncompromised attitude was to enhance the emotional impact of music. His works are vocal compositions. Main work is series of 105 madrigals for five voices published in six books during the period of 1594-1611, and many of them were probably composed to the own texts. He composed also sacred works – Sacrae Cantiones for five voices (1603) and six-voice Tenebrae Responsories (1611). Although his work was not massive, it has strong impact on Neapolitan school composers up to early barock Ferrara prodigy Girolamo Frescobaldi. 
   Carlo Gesualdo was noble man of aristocratic family related to popes and saints. Born about 1560 in Venosa, he received an excellent education in arts and humanities of poets and composers who became later his friends. One of them was his teacher composition Pomponio Nenna, who was also known for his madrigals. The other was more friend than teacher Torquato Tasso. Surrounded by artists from his early years, he was focused on music and arts as part of reality. There is widespread belief his style, comprising onomathopeic and emphatic meanings, was connected with his personal experiences. And despite the passage of four centuries, preserved testimonies are still shocking. 
   In 1586 he was married to his cousin Donna Maria d’Avalos. When after two years of marriage his wife started love affair with Fabrizio Carafa, he was the last to know about it. Two years later, October 16th, 1590, after four years of marriage, he arranged an ambush and caught his wife and her lover in flagrante delicto. He murdered them with the sword in his wife’s bed. It is not sure if he killed his rival himself or it was done by servants who helped him with spears. Daughter whose paternity was unsure has been killed as well. List of criminal atrocities committed that night on dead bodies is shocking even now, after more than four centuries passed. Next morning he ordered to put three butchered bodies on public display on the steps of Palazzo Severo.

Carlo Gesualdo – Madrigals from Book VI (1983)

   As a nobleman Gesualdo escaped punishment. He sought refuge fearing the revenge of the relatives of murdered wife or her lover. He fled to Ferrara and then to his castle in Gesualdo. As it was said by Wolfgang Fromme, “under the pressure of extreme psychological stress, Gesualdo developed compositional techniques which went far beyond the accepted conventions of his time”. But before he found relief in music, he cut down all forests around his palace and he did it himself. During his stay in Ferrara, Carlo Gesualdo started to publish first books of his madrigals – two were issued in 1594, third next year and fourth in 1596. Last two books were published in Gesualdo in 1611. He died of asthma in Gesualdo, September 8th, 1613. The last two books and especially Book VI is most extravagant artistically and the quintessence of Gesualdo’s stylistic achievements.
   Despite his personal history Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, Count of Conza known to the present day as Gesualdo da Venosa or Gesualdo di Venosa was probably most original composer of late 16th and early 17th century. His musical works, highly expressive almost ecstatic, with chromatised polyphonic structures show him as one of most original composers in history of music and one of most visionary in late Renaissance. Among numerous recordings of Carlo Gesualdo’s music, the choice of Madrigals from Book VI in CBS Masterworks series is worth of attention. It was recorded in Paris Deutsche Evangelische Christuskirche, 7-11 December 1981 and published in 1983. The rendition of Collegium Vocale Köln conducted by Wolfgang Fromme is one of the best. The last madrigal in this choice is No. 2 Beltà, poi che t'assentiBeauty, since you must abandon me, then with my heart take all my tormentsWith such a vision we can agree it or not. But we have to admit this is definitely the voice of traumatized man, who was able to enclose his feelings into highly efficient musical form. Five stars for music, concept and performance.