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 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.