Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sarah Vaughan – Dreamy

   Although she didn’t accept her jazz designation, Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) was one of best jazz singers after 2nd World War. Her album with Clifford Brown was included to Grammy Hall of Fame nine years after she gone. In late 40’s she was jazz prodigy, decade later her vocal technique was so versatile, she was able to sing blues or pop music, in 70’s she was full range creative singer performing with jazz combos and symphonic orchestras, big-bands and various instrumentalists. According to her own words, she was not only a jazz singer, defining herself rather as a singer in more universal meaning. The interpretative skills of the singer were enough to sing in various styles. Sarah Vaughan’s powerful, deep and vibrant voice was factor that really matter in her musical career. But first of all was personality of the jazz singer.
   The music education of future singer started in her childhood in Newark, New Jersey. Sarah’s father played guitar and piano, her mother sung in the church choir. Whole family was deeply religious and active in New Mount Zion Baptist Church She was taking piano lessons, singing in church choir, accompanying rehearsals and services. In 1943 as the prize in amateur singing contest, she was proposed by Apollo Theater one week performances as openings for Ella Fitzgerald. During this week heard her performance Billy Eckstine who recommended Sarah to Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines who was pianist and band leader. This was turning point in her career. In 1944 she made her phonographic debut for Continental as Sarah Vaughan and Her All Stars. Five years later she recorded Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi for Columbia. From 1953 she started regularly recording, sometimes few records a year for EmArcy and Mercury.

Sarah Vaughan – Dreamy (1960)

   In 1960 Sarah Vaughan had signed an exclusive contract that bounded her for the five years with Roulette company. During the period of 1960 to 1964 she recorded for this label 15 albums. Later she was recording mainly for Mercury, Mainstream and Pablo. Popular repertoire and style were characteristic for Roulette years. Songs were produced in typical 3 minute timeframes. Interpretative ideas and meanings of vocal expression were slightly limited. Album Dreamy had all these qualities. It was released in 1960, and was the first Roulette production. In fact the whole production was still controlled by jazz musicians. Jimmy Jones was pianist and arranger of swing era, working as sideman with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Clark Terry, Don Byas and many others. He was also a member of Coleman Hawkins’ 52nd Street All Stars. In late 50’s he joined Sarah Vaughan’s Trio and took part in recording two albums for Mercury – Swingin’ Easy (1957) and Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly’s (1958).
   The first Sarah Vaughan’s album recorded for Roulette was entirely arranged and conducted by Jimmy Jones. It was intended to be the entrance of clear and strong impact, with Sarah’s portrait by William Hofmann on the cover. Among “some of the best musicians in the recording field”, as it was announced in the linear notes, the featured one was Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison playing trumpet with clear and warm sound. He was one of very popular musicians these years and recorded with the best artists. He was long term member of Count Basie Orchestra and for more than three decades he was playing with Ella Fitzgerald bands. Success of this record and next Roulette productions gave Sarah Vaughan strong position on vocal jazz scene. She became popular and her position in show business was more stable. Although the attitude of the popular music is characteristic to this album it can be considered as general direction in sixties which has been later clearly changed. Three stars for style and quality.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Karl Böhm conducts Wagner's Overtüren & Vorspiele

   Richard Wagner operatic and dramatic works are significant contribution into development of post-romantic orchestration and process of reshaping the symphonic orchestra. He also had played his role in German politics of 19th and early 20th century. As composer he was close to Ludwig II of Bavaria and his music was used as a forefront of German culture in its nationalistic era. From another point of view Richard Wagner was one of most important composers in German culture of the 20th century, who developed harmonic and melodic language to meet the needs of modern musical theatre. No wonder his works played the key role in the career of Karl Böhm, one of most important Austrian conductors of the 20th century.
   Since Karl Böhm was conductor specializing in opera, Richard Wagner’s works were important part of his repertoire. He debuted in Vienna in 1933 conducting Tristan und Isolde. Wagnerian repertoire was Böhm’s great success after 1957 debut in Metropolitan Opera in New York. He conducted in New York Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Der Fliegende Holländer, Die Walküre, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In 60’s he was also active in Bayreuth Festival – his 1962 Bayreuth debut was Tristan und Isolde again. In 1965 to 1967 he made complete Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle, which he later recorded in his critically acclaimed interpretation. The result of his Bayreuth performing experiences was also recording of Tristan und Isolde.

Karl Böhm conducts Wagner's Overtüren & Vorspiele (1981)

   Importance of Wagner’s music in Karl Böhm’s artistic biography is clear considering his discography with most valuable complete recordings of musical dramas for Philips. Wagner’s music was also significant element of modern symphonic repertoire which for Böhm was extremely important for Richard Strauss music. In his late years Karl Böhm recorded two albums of Wagner symphonic fragments, both for Deutsche Grammophon, both with Wiener Philharmoniker and both published under the same name: Overtüren & Vorspiele.  In 1979  Overtüren & Vorspiele comprised overtures and preludes from Rienzi, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg and Parsifal. Next year, in Großer Saal of Wiener Musikverein in June 1980, Karl Böhm with Wiener Philharmoniker recorded next Overtüren & Vorspiele album. This time program had comprised Der Fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde. The recording has been published in 1981 in Karl-Böhm-Ausgabe Serie Galerie with Caspar David Friedrich’s Auf dem Segler painting illustrating the cover.
   Karl Böhm is interpreting Wagner overtures in his own way. His attitude is more dramatic than illustrative, more as if it was symphonic poem, than overtures or fragments of stage music. The one opening of this record is overture to Der Fliegende Holländer piece of so many onomatopeic sugestions it can be seen as illustrative music, but still it shows symphonic potential. More dependent of dramatic context are preludes to 1st and 3rd acts of Lohengrin. But still Vorspiel zum 3. Akt shows dramatic potential of Wagner’s orchestral narration. Second side is Prelude and Isolde’s Love Death Scene from Tristan und Isolde. These fragments have strong bounds with dramatic story of famous lovers and can serve as the hallmark of Wagner’s music. The powerful foundation of Böhm’s renditions are Wiener Philharmoniker, one of very best orchestras ever. Precision of articulation, transparency of clear and deep orchestral sound gives this performance solemn and noble taste. Even without Caspar David Friedrich’s picture reproduction this album is five star recording.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Antal Dorati conducts Stravinsky’s Le sacre du Printemps

   Detroit Symphony Orchestra is one of most prominent orchestras in history of American music. It’s history dates back to 1887, but real achievements came with the post war prosperity with Paul Paray as musical director. Following him principal conductors – Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato, Antal Dorati and Günther Herbig – granted the orchestra its development and artistic fulfilling. In 60’s string section of the orchestra under direction of concertmaster Gordon Staples recorded many accompaniments for Motown Records popular music. Economic crisis and social changes put Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a difficult situation. In new century, despite collapse of the city finances, musicians and administration of DSO reshaped repertoire and methods of promotion working for public image in more efficient way.
   One of the best conductors in the history of the orchestra was Antal Dorati (1906-1988), born and educated in Budapest, from 1947 naturalized citizen of USA. As a composer and world famous conductor, he was widely recognized as the master of early symphonic music and modern styles. Dorati was one who early saw the possibilities inherent in the recording technology. He made over 600 recordings i.e. recordings of first complete of Joseph Haydn’s symphonies and the only complete of Haydn’s operas. His versatility was well known, but it is simple fact, his intellectual attitude gave most valuable results in classical and 20th century music. He was prized as principal conductor of philharmonic and symphonic orchestras in Dallas, Minneapolis, Stockholm, London BBC and Royal Philharmonic, Washington and last post of music director in his career in Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 

Dorati / DSO - Igor Stravinsky - Le sacre du Printemps (1982)

   The time Antal Dorati spent in Detroit was fruitful in artistic events. Between 1977 and 1981, he also made series of highly acclaimed recordings. One of albums in this series was performed in 1981 first digital recording of Igor Stravinsky’s Le sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). The Decca album with this recording was awarded in Paris with highly respected Grand Prix du Disque, being notable success in career of Antal Dorati and in history of Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra played wonderfully, with great space and perfection. Saturated sound and articulation, certain, well led tempos and intensity making the complex rhythmic structures sound confidently and unconstrained. Cover features Dirk Degenhardt’s photo of Peter Breuer, one of master dancers during the last decades of the century.
   Published by Decca this rendition was one of highest priced recordings in 80’s and later became the classic one although not quite consistent with the classic interpretation of Stravinsky. Recording session took place in United Artists Theatre Building. This time the old theatre in opulent, Spanish-gothic style interior seated 2070 spectators. It has been closed in 1978 but auditorium still served for Detroit Symphony Orchestra as recording hall. This situation lasts only few years, until 1983, and when next year office building has been closed, its fate was sealed. In next decades abandoned building was vandalized, and the pictures showing the successive phases of its decay were circulated around the world. This is change concerning all who are not indifferent to the future more distant than the nearest pay day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Niemen – Vol. 2

   In 1972, for artists from Eastern Europe record contract with big Western company was the measure of a success. After recording the first CBS album, musicians decided to show results of their experiments for Polish listeners. The effect of the recording session in Warsaw State High Musical School (today it is The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music) was a lot of creative and fresh music, merging many earlier directions of artistic music, especially Polish avant-garde and free jazz. Two albums with recordings from this session, comprising complex presentation of the new repertoire of Niemen band had been released and sold separately. Albums were not titled, just numbered as two consecutive volumes, and in public use they were identified with the titles of first compositions – Vol. 1 (Muza SXL 0895) as Requiem dla Van Gogh’a (Requiem for Van Gogh) and Vol. 2 (Muza SXL 0896) as Marionetki (Puppet Men). Original pressing vas in reverse order, Vol. 2 was published first and when 20 years later album was re-edited and released in 1994 by Digiton on one CD as Marionetki (Puppets). Complete material was in original order, but beginning was the sequence of pieces from Vol. 2, while continuation was program of Vol. 1.
   When two volumes of black and white albums were released in 1973, Polish culture was in the moment of stabilizing after all changes in late 60’s. After avant-garde music of 60’s, after Polish jazz became recognized internationally, after political and social crisis of 1968 and 1970, and three years after beginning of new politics of liberalization and more opening for the culture of the West, there was still wide margin of listeners’ openness to adopt new directions in rock, experimental rock, jazz avant-gardism. This margin was even bigger since pop music and disco were in those days still on non dominant position. So this was probably the best moment for breaking last barriers and to create ambitious music dealing with intellectual problems and demanding listeners open for challenge. In late 60’s he was criticized what was probably part of politics, but in 70’s his international success made him one-man-institution, and his position became so high, he was beyond the reach of any criticism.

Niemen – Vol. 2 (1973)

   Czesław Niemen’s music was significantly different from Polish symphonic rock or art rock style. In fact he was original and creative, consequently constructing his own musical style. It’s worth to consider he was Polish who spend his childhood in Belarus Republic being then part of Soviet Union, but in traditional Polish circles with strong cultural identification and affirmative attitude to tradition. When he came to Poland, he found new possibilities, but he was still in the middle of historical problems concerning national identity and ability of cultural survive. This determined the choice of poetic texts and musical style. On Vol. 2 most material are Niemen’s compositions based on poems of C. K. Norwid (MarionetkiPuppet Men), J. Iwaszkiewicz (Piosenka dla zmarłejA Song for the Deceased), M. Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (PtaszekThe Little Bird) and B. Leśmian (Com uczyniłWhat Have I Done) with the one and only exception of Józef Skrzek’s composition to lyrics of L. A. Moczulski (Z pierwszych ważniejszych odkryćOf the First Major Discoveries).
   Musicians creating these albums together put considerable contribution in its final shape. It’s obvious with such leader only the best had chance to play. And this was also crucial moment in history of SBB, the trio from Siemianowice previously known as Silesian Blues Band. The cooperation with Niemen lasts from 1971 to 1973 and became breaking point in career of this ensemble. After they parted SBB recorded their first album becoming first progressive rock band in Poland. Four albums with Niemen should be considered also as part of SBB discography, the more, these are the first recordings where one can follow the process of building the band’s style. Helmut Nadolski, avant-garde composer and poet, contrabassist, legend of Polish jazz scene, and Andrzej Przybielski, jazz trumpeter connected with free jazz scene were two musicians who gave the ensemble deep touch of jazz rhythmic and sound expression. Groundbreaking production of band building original Polish scene deserves four stars.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Niemen – Vol. 1

   In sixties, after collapse of Stalin regime in Soviet Russia and withdrawal of Stalinism in Soviet bloc, Poland became a kind of oasis for avant-garde arts, where every kind of progressive creativity was supported by state donations and politically correct. This was the element of propaganda pose of ending with old politics. Festivals like Warsaw Autumn and Jazz Jamboree were grand manifestations of new attitude and grand opening for new music. Although censorship was known fact, there was freedom of experimenting and freedom of artistic expression. Czesław Niemen (1939-2004) was one of best Polish singers and songwriters. After the war, together with family he was citizen of People’s Republic of Belarus and in 1956 with Second Repatriation he migrated to Poland.
   He started his career as a popular and rock singer, performing independently and with Niebiesko-Czarni, the first R&B band in Poland. In 1967 he published his solo debut Dziwny jest ten świat (Strange Is This World) being the first soul production in Polish popular music. Eponymous song with music and lyrics by Czesław Niemen became one of greatest hits and a kind of program philosophical program for whole generation. This and consecutive recordings made Czesław Niemen the brightest star of Polish rock scene in late 60’s and early 70’s.

Niemen – Vol. 1 (1973)

   After first three albums in R&B style, he created progressive project Enigmatic, which was the name of the band and the album. This album is considered as the starting point of Polish sung poetry, but this was also the moment one can consider as establishing original progressive rock style. After one year LP was certified as golden record with 160 thousand copies sold, and with later reissues the album was sold in 5 million copies worldwide. In Niemen’s next album named eponymously he continued experiments in merging art-rock with romantic poetry, especially Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Polish romantic poet, author of uncompromised historiosophical poems. In 1972 artist debuted in Germany with his first record abroad Strange Is This World with new, progressively arranged version of his first hit. During the three years contract with European division of CBS Niemen recorded three albums of experimental rock and solo recital of Russian songs.
   First two albums for CBS Czesław Niemen recorded with trio of three progressive musicians known later as SBB, multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Józef Skrzek, guitarist Antymos Apostolis and drummer Jerzy Piotrowski. This lineup on first album there was augmented by avant-gardist Helmut Nadolski, who played upright bass. With this musicians and trumpeter Andrzej Przybielski in July 14-23, 1972 in Warsaw Czesław Niemen recorded two albums titled as many of his albums just Niemen. These records became milestones in the history of Polish experimental rock. First record comprises three compositions - Requiem dla Van Gogh’a (Requiem for Van Gogh) by Helmut Nadolski, Sariusz composed by Niemen to text of Norwid and collective composition of the band Inicjały (Initials), based on instrumental and vocal improvisations.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim perform Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Enigma Variations

   Every instrument has its own story with moments of happiness and passages obscured by troubles, and as in every story should be a hero or a heroine, in the story of every musical instrument there are more than few featured personalities. In history of the cello performing art there were many great soloists. And one of the most featured artists is Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987), phenomenal and prematurely died British artist. Since her debut recital of Handel, Bach, Brahms, Debussy and de Falla sonatas in the age of 16 she was widely acclaimed as prodigy virtuoso. One year later in 1962 she debuted in symphonic program performing Elgar’s Concerto with BBC Symphony Orchestra. For more than a decade she became sensational virtuoso admired for fluency and deep, beautiful sound.
   From the beginning the career of Jacqueline du Pré was developing and interlacing with Cello Concerto E Minor Op.85 by Edward Elgar. Performing in 60’s Elgar’s work almost constantly with orchestras all over the world, recording in 1965 with London Symphony Orchestra and John Barbirolli and five years later for CBS Masterworks with Daniel Barenboim conducting Philadelphia Orchestra, Jacqueline du Pré became the one who’s congenial interpretation has the power of definition for this inspired concerto.

Edward Elgar - Concerto and Enigma Variations (1976)

   Edward Elgar (1857-1934) composed his Cello concerto when 1st World War was sought to end, in 1919. Variations on an Original Theme known as Enigma Variations was work composed 20 years earlier in 1899. Original idea of Enigma Variations cycle built on a hidden theme corresponds with 20th century tendency to avoid hierarchic structures. Recorded in 1976 by London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim is an example of perfect balance between logic of repetitive schemes and spontaneity of emotional development of formal thinking. It has been issued with Cello concerto recorded with Philadelphia Orchestra during live performance, November 27 and 28, 1970. The sound of this performance is astonishing. Orchestra and soloist play with perfect articulation and expressive sound. Jacqueline du Pré’s cello sounds in full volume of dynamic and in whole range of sound – from as light and bright as violin, to powerful consonances and arpeggios. Five stars performance for perfect cello, great conducting and perfect orchestras.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts Ninth by Beethoven

   Wilhelm Furtwängler was one of the best symphonic and operatic conductors in 20th century. He was the man of phenomenal talent and musical reliability, an artist challenging with dramatic circumstances in German culture of nazi era and many unfair judgments after the war. There were some controversies about how much his position in nazi Germany affected mature period of his career. It’s meaningful, after decades these issues are still remembered and discussed as the matter of public interest. There was also in 1995 a play Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood and then movie under the same title produced in 2001 with Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgård. Both are great as adversaries fighting in front of a pair symbolically representing first generation of rebuilding Germany Birgit Minichmayr and Moritz Bleibtreu. Skarsgård is so convincing in the role of dr Wilhelm Furtwängler, it’s easy to forgive he is not a conductor. Actor’s conducting gesture is wary and safe against the real Furtwängler’s expression as we know it from documentaries. Although movie is interesting vision of postwar consciousness conflicts, it is not quite accurate picture.
Despite Wilhelm Furtwängler was great musician, he was responsible person taking difficult decisions at the time it could have cost him his life. His personal story of recognized conductor in time of nazi regime, the story of a German who did not agree with the nazis but did not leave the country, trying to help as many as he can, both Jewish musicians and Germans who did not agree with politics of new rulers. As an artist with internationally recognized fame, director of Berliner Philharmoniker was to some degree untouchable, so he was able to help for many people. Furtwängler was also in contact with German resistance and his situation began to change when regime was close to the end, he had to flee to Switzerland. After the war famous conductor was brought to degasification trial and in effect cleared of all allegations. In comments he said he stayed in Germany during nazi rule because he felt responsible for German music. The controversy was just at starting point.

Furtwängler – Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 (1951)

   Despite the verdict of denazification officials, Wilhelm Furtwängler was stigmatized in public opinion. In forthcoming years there were still people who disagreed with artist’s acquittal, blaming him for confirming nazi regime. When in 1949 he was proposed as director of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, artists in USA and some other countries had declared against him and Chicago Symphony boycott, among his opponents were conductors Arturo Toscanini and George Szell, pianists Alexander Brailowsky, Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and violinist Isaac Stern. Finally the offer has been withdrawn. Accusations against conductor can be seen as an effect of emotional and intellectual powerlessness in the face of nazi crimes. While Furtwängler was banned in America, in Germany he was authority regarded not only as the great artist but also the one who was trying to save as much of German culture as it was possible.
   There were also artistic controversies dealing Furtwängler’s interpretations. Probably the most famous was 1942 performance of the Choral Symphony before rulers of Germany. He presented the rendition revealing depth of humanity present in Beethoven’s music and in Schiller’s poem. Next performance was prepared for festive re-opening of Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951, when two performances were recorded – first during dress rehearsal (EMI) and second during public performance (Orfeo D’or). Last of Furtwängler’s recordings of the Ninth was concert performance from Lucerne Festival in 1954.
   The one Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts with the Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele made by EMI was for years recognized as one of best performances of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 D Minor op. 125. Recorded at the July 29, 1951 in Bayreuth and published by EMI in 1955, this is dramatic performance, full of inner tensions and contrasting episodes. Great quartet of soloists includes great soprano, star of world opera Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, known for her Wagner and Richard Strauss performances mezzo-soprano, here announced as an alt, Elisabeth Höngen, operatic heroic tenor Hans Hopf and Wagnerian bass Otto Edelman. Powerful team makes the symphony stands on the foundation of a solid sound. Perfection and sudden changes affect the turbulent and dramatic narrative. More than 60 years later, I still can impress, although it is also evidence that both recording technique and means of expression over the years have changed considerably. Three stars as it is still fair performance.