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


   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.