Sunday, September 28, 2014

Giuseppe Sinopoli conducts Unfinished and Italian

   Romantic symphony was not as much popular as in 18th century, but it was powered by completely different idea of music piece. The evolution of symphony in classicism was the transition from idea of universal construction without qualities to the medium carrying the universal truth. In romantic era this form became a container for more specific contents. In first half of 19th century, before symphonic poem was invented, symphony was the best vehicle for composer ideas. Allowing themselves to be carried away with emotional reactions, composers portrayed different states of mind and even narrative components in program symphony. What is interesting, later in post-romantic music idealistic striving for universality of symphony will return with redoubled strength.
   The two of perfectly romantic symphonies are Symphony No. 8 in B Minor D 759 “Unfinished” by Franz Schubert and Symphony No. 4 in A Major, op. 90 “Italian” by Felix Mendelssohn. Each one could serve as apotheosis of extreme feelings – on one side is awareness of inevitable death and on the other unbridled joy of life. It’s worth to mention in romantic era these emotions were not distant, sometimes even not separated. And it is perfect opportunity to hear interpretation of these two works presented by conductor who has the chance to commented musical structures and his idea of rendering these works of romantic music. The artist was Giuseppe Sinopoli and was recorded with Philharmonia Orchestra for Deutsche Gremmophon in 1983. The album was published next year. On enclosed inlay was published the conductor’s essay and cover featured Johann Heinrich Schilbach’s watercolor.

Giuseppe Sinopoli conducts Schubert and Mendelssohn (1984)

   In essay Dream and memory in Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Sinopoli focuses on esthetic meanings and structural significant features of this famous symphony. Giving some concepts how one can find a deeper message in symphonic music, he concludes: “The musical meaning seems […] to be guaranteed by what Adorno calls ‘an ontology of form’ that can function as a stabilizer of ‘epic tendencies’. And yet it is not so much a question of guarantees and reductive stabilizations of the musical meaning by the form (which would once again imply a classicistic interpretative reading of the symphony) as of a fixing or immobilization of the form by that Inhalt (content) that visit it. The magical consequence of this encounter is the sound of the symphony, which is wholly Schubertian and wholly individual”. Accordingly to this opinion, Sinopoli interpreted ‘Unfinished’ Symphony from whole new perspective. Sound and rhythmic patterns occur to be meaningful; he is decoding melodic as narrative motives by following strictly dynamics and tempos.
   With no essay, the same method could be adopted to Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony. Sound qualities, articulations, tempos and dynamics show opposite side of romantic soul. Even calm mood and praying reminiscences of Andante con moto (composed in D Minor) are unable to change the impression of rejoicing ubiquitous in this symphony. The moderate drama of development part is nothing more than contrast to show the joy, serenity and light of the A-major work. Dramatic lineaments of finale Saltarello in minor key (A minor) show how effective contrasts can be. The two symphonies are clearly the pair of oppositions, even if joy is not as emotionally clear as grief and mourning, understand as “the cultic celebration of loss (…) of some good”, as Sinopoli defines it in his essay. This rendition can be breaking point for anyone who is willing to understand romantic symphony and this is worth the four and a brighter half on the five-star scale.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Steve Hillage – Green

   In 1946 story Del rigor en la ciencia (On Exactitude in Science) Jorge Louis Borges wrote about the extravagant absolute cartographic idea taken from Chapter 11 of Sylvie and Bruno Concluded by Lewis Carroll. Constant advancement in cartography was leading to establish the map of empire as 1:1 exactly image of whole country. In Lewis Carroll’s book farmers protested and conception was abandoned. Borges led this crazy idea to an absurd. No matter how crazy it sounds, scientific idea of exactness is a kind of surrender. There can be no other activity when scale of collecting objects is full and perfect. Just in contrary any science or art are effects of reduction which is elementary rational process. History as well consists of simplifications. Its quality is to integrate and shrink all elements to the common denominator. But observing development of such processes is easy to forget there are powerful phenomena with strong cultural effect even in the background of noisy fame.
   After great wave of progressive music in late sixties and early seventies, popular music was dominated by dance music, which had strong support from big media companies. In binary oriented social opinion, the opposite place took punk rock in Europe and rap in America. Progressive trends in rock and jazz were probably more productive than ever, while relevant public was diminishing old bands were still active and new artists were starting. Before they languished in a niche or made concessions to popular music, musicians were trying to find some social support in political involvement or social criticism. Also this strategy was not enough effective. Growing disillusionment of young generation has been taken by rushing movement of punk rock bands. One of strong tendencies in late seventies was futuristic vision of music connected to electronic instruments and new sound possibilities, sometimes mixed with political ideas of social changes.

Steve Hillage – Green (1978)

    This movement, we can consider it as the second wave of progrock, was the background for many interesting projects giving musicians some new artistic perspectives. And this is where Steve Hillage started his solo career. He was already well known artist, guitarist with 10 years stage in bands of Canterbury scene, where he studied at the University of Kent. He was playing in Uriel (aka Arzachel), Egg, Khan and legendary progressive formation Gong. His first record Fish Rising (1975) signed with his own name he recorded with Gong musicians. Next two albums he recorded abroad, in Woodstock – L (1976) and in Los Angeles – Motivation Radio (1977). Both were very well received in England peaking respectively 10th and 28th positions in UK album charts. His fourth album Green (1978) was third of his most successful works from commercial point of view. Recorded in Surrey December 1977, overdubbed and mastered in London during first two months of next year, album hit 30th place in the UK chart, where was listed for 8 weeks. It was also return to older Hillage style. In closing fragment of second side, The Glorious Om Riff which was remake of Master Builder from Gong album You (1974) he is at his best.

Steve Hillage – Activation Meditation / Glorious Om Riff (1978)

   Steve Hillage’s guitars are perfect and creative, and so the whole material on Green sounds so unbelievably fresh like it was recorded now. Probably this is why so many listeners compare Steve Hillage to Frank Zappa – the number of musical ideas contained in this album would be enough for whole discography of many infamous rockers. But they never will be present here, and it’s not just because I don’t have their records. Some of them are racists, others are drug addicts, pedophiles, thieves, forgers, politics beating their wives and children. Rock isn’t complicated music, but as any good music does, it should purify. And no, I don’t believe anybody with fingers sticky of dirt can clean young minds. The map metaphor, crucial in the history of ideas can be connected to history of music, which is in fact the same. Even if some people are fully convinced this is just collection of random elements which we have to categorize and close into jars. The fact some historians are just building catalogues is an effect of malfunction in the system of academic promotion. But this is the theme for another occasion.
   Although old riffs can be refreshing, return to improvised style of early seventies with its trance repeating structures was tantamount to resignation of style proposed in previous recordings. Typical for the strophic construction were harmonic modulations and rhythmic changes. In improvised fragments, especially these created on the basis of rock riffs, expression was made in process of more natural buildup. Instead of unexpected turns, emotions grew gradually. Strong rock riffs and guitar are present from the very beginning in Sea-Nature. And it is continued to first side conclusion Palm Trees (Love Guitar). Second size is organized in a similar manner with great closing guitar extravaganza. Another issue is some kind of minimalism in melodic lines and original harmonics. A lot of electronic sounds and ambient type of arrangements were in 1978 something plainly new. With Miquette Giraudy playing ARP and EMS synthesizers, Joe Blocker on drums and basist Curtis Robertson jr, Steve Hillage and coproducer of the album Nick Mason Steve Hillage made one of milestones in history of progressive rock. Four and half star for the record – a must have in every progresivist collection.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Charlie Parker – Ballads and Birdland

   Much part of music techniques, but it concerns also other fields of artistic work, was focused on giving possibly objective vision of reality. In invention of printing (1492) first aim was number of copies, but some kind of side effect was the spelling and semantic discipline. In history of fine arts this tendency has an effect in inventions of colors and geometric perspective. Famous camera obscura technique was predecessor of photography or in fact it was photography where human was active agent before invention of chemical processing. In music the history of notation was also connected the developing process of changes. After invention of photography art has changed. It took off the reality imaging, but as before it was based on talent to compose good, stable or dynamic picture, it was mixing realism with symbolism and building narrative composition. In effect phonographic records in early 20th century as the photography in 19th century created fast esthetic change. Arts and music has been released of its mimetic aims and instrumental adequacy. 
   Probably the main genre where music has changed rapidly was jazz, and the crucial moment was bebop, the first moment jazz became avant-garde art over its starting dance usage. The recording technique generated the change and ironically new phonographic industry has missed the moment the bebop was born. Leading artists were recording sweet dance hits for years while their live performances were known only for small club audience. This underground spirit was probably most powerful jazz legend, giving it more than esthetic context. And in fact jazz in 1950’s was more political issue than any other part of artistic activity. 

Charlie Parker – Ballads and Birdland (1952)

   Although mainstream companies had been forcing easier, softer touch of jazz music, some independent producers were recorded and in next decades publish unique materials in small, private companies. One of such records was Charlie Parker’s New York club recordings from 1950 and 1952. Originally album was produced by Mark Gordon for Klacto label in 1968 and then reissued by ZuZazz Records in 1988 in mid-price series. Album comprises recordings made during four evenings. First side is 5 songs played in Birdland. First two (Ornitology and 52 Street Theme) Charlie Parker recorded in September 20, 1952 in quartet with Duke Jordan – piano, Charles Mingus – bass and Phil Brown – drums. Next set of three songs (How High the Moon, Embraceable You and 52 Street Theme) is unique document of Charlie Parker and Modern Jazz Quartet meeting at Birdland November 1, 1952. Parker’s alto sounds together with Milt Jackson – vibraphone, John Lewis – piano, Percy Heath – bass and Kenny Clarke – drums. All of them were known for their recordings with Parker, but not as a band.
   Second side presents two Café Society recordings. First set is Bewitched, Summertime, I Cover the Waterfront, Gone with the Wind, Easy to Love and 52 Street Theme recorded May 23, 1950, second comprises 52 Street Theme, Just Friends and April in Paris recorded last days of the same month. Both were recorded by the same quintet Charlie Parker – alto sax, Kenny Dorham – trumpet, Al Haig – piano, Tommy Potter – bass and Roy Haynes – drums. As it is document of jazz history, it is worth to remember the 1952 Birdland announcements are by Bob Garrity, while 1950 Café Society the host was Charlie Parker. Parker’s improvisations exceeded traditional melodic, harmonic and rhythmic patterns. He returns to root functions of music elements making it the way known from folk music. How this was is possible? After half century of recorded music, it was question of time when musicians will free of notation patterns. This is what has changed performed music. The way of listening changed the way of understanding and creating music. Every new medium sooner or later becomes a technique of an art. And art is a technique ruled by an esthetic idea, isn’t it?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1

   Sergei Rachmaninoff owes his fame to his piano concertos. His 2nd and 3rd concertos are probably most praised compositions for grand piano and orchestra. One may add the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. 1st and 4th concertos are not so popular. He was also recognized composer of symphonic and choral works, artist well known for his recordings and very popular virtuoso pianist. Even though he was not adequately valued for big part of his works, he remains one of most popular composers of 20th century music. His three symphonies were never as much popular as concerti, but in last decades of 20th and first decades of 21st century these great scale postromantic compositions are present in wide symphonic repertoire. So even if someone doesn’t like sound recordings, all three are not difficult to find in concert programs.
   Born in 1973 Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff – in his native language Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов – was one of the greatest romantic composers at the turn of the 20th century. But even seventy years after his death Rachmaninoff is the reason of some artistic controversy. He was extremely popular for his concertos and highly rated for performing skills. Although many historians were hostile about his style, seeing his music as it was just a continuation of Tchaikovsky and Borodin style. It is misconception, in fact Rachmaninoff’s style was criticized as too much modern, and this criticism pushed him to rejection of his 1st Symphony D Minor op. 13. In effect he lost his self-confidence, ceased composition and started to perform and conduct. Later the manuscript of the score disappeared and he did not return to the case of the bad luck numbered opus.

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1 (1967)

   The irony of fate is later criticism of Rachmaninoff’s style as too much traditional. It was already time of growing interest on contemporary, intellectually arranged music and novelty of new concepts. And young Rachmaninoff was rather radical in experiments in his own way. In his first symphony he portrayed platonic love to Anna Lodyzhenskaya, giving dedication with initials A. L. and the same Biblical motto as Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”. Other characteristic feature was using of motive from Dies irae sequence as one more reference to unrequited love. In cover notes Nicolas Slonimsky written Rachmaninoff destroyed the manuscript. Almost fifty years later, two years after Rachmaninoff died, in 1945 orchestral parts of Rachmaninoff’s 1st Symphony were discovered in archive of Leningrad Conservatory. Reconstructed and premiered in Moscow the same year Symphony was received with great success. Nicolas Slonimsky wrote: “Rachmaninov was dead, but he would probably have appreciated the irony of the resurrection of his youthful work”.
   Rachmaninoff’s 1st Symphony is great piece of romantic music. Starting with short solemn introduction Grave, it bursts with energy Allegro ma non troppo theme. Initially bright, after some modulations it changes into elegiac and then tragic, contrasted with melancholic second theme. Introduced by the violins Moderato is composed in gypsy scale which could be a reference to Anna Lodyzhenskaya, who was Romani descendant. This is only beginning of narration, continued in ironically dramatic scherzo Allegro animato. Third part Larghetto is the contemplative moment and a background for strong finale Allegro con fuoco.
   There are many great performances of this Symphony. Most appreciated were made by Vladimir Ashkenazy with Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel with Berliner Philharmoniker. All emotional depth of 1st Symphony was also perfectly rendered by the Philadelphia Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Ormandy in 1967. The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first orchestra Rachmaninoff has conducted during his emigration. It happened in December 1939 and it was the first time since his last Russian concert in January 1917. Rachmaninoff was recording his piano concerti with Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokovsky and Eugene Ormandy. Eugene Ormandy was also conductor of premiere performances of 3rd Symphony A Minor op. 44 and Symphonic Dances op. 45, late Rachmaninoff’s symphonic works.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ludwig van Beethoven – Lieder verschiedener Völker

   Strong position of artistic song in romantic culture, its complex relations with folklore sometimes obscures predominant role of the folk song in classical period. In instrumental music of this period folk tunes were the main source of melodic invention, covering dance and cantilena formations. This was intellectual effect of Enlightenment turn to laic, secular traditions and pre-romantic judgment on value of folk culture. This presumption was strengthened in late classicism, and one of apostles of merging folk traditions with artistic music was Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer was known for his symphonic pieces and sonatas, while dozens of his songs remain unpublished. This is why so many of Beethoven’s pieces are signed by WoO – (Werke ohne Opuszahl – Works without opus number).
   Many cycles of Beethoven’s unedited songs in different catalogues or even various editions of the catalogues have different numbers. That is why there’s no such cycle as 27 Lieder verschiedener Völker (Songs Of Various Nationalities) WoO 158/1, although Eterna edition show such number for the cycle and even catalogue number. Under this number in Hans Halm and Georg Kinsky catalogue we can find only 23 Lieder verschiedener Völker WoO 158a (23 Songs Of Various Nationalities) and indeed first 23 songs from the record are the set of the cycle. After comparison of first 23, we should ask where the other four songs are. And this question is not quite easy to answer. Of course we can find the songs in catalogue of Beethoven’s compositions.

Ludvig van Beethoven – 27 Lieder verschiedener Völker (1973)

   Number 24 is Non, non, Colette with information it’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Air of Colin from Le Devin du Village. Full title of this song is Non, non, Colette n’est point trompeuse and it can be find in Halm and Kinsky catalogue as 2nd song in the cycle 6 Songs Of Various Nationalities WoO 158c. Numbers 25 and 26 are two songs from Austria written in March 1820. They are present in catalogue by Willy Hess under Nr 133: Das liebe Kätzchen and Nr 134: Der Knabe auf dem Berge. Last song is present in Halm and Kinsky catalogue Air Français WoO 158d. These four songs are supplement to the cycle of 23 Lieder verschiedener Völker WoO 158a. In catalogue by Halm and Kinsky there are much more arrangements of folk songs from various European cultures. Why in complete edition of Beethoven’s works these four were connected to the cycle of 23 remains unknown, but one can guess it is justified by the origin – the first part of WoO 158 is collection of continental folk songs, just like the four added songs. The last song Air Français is just the melody, text is unknown, so it is played by oboe.
   Most widely represented is Tirol with 5 songs, then go Russian and Spanish culture with 3 songs each, later Polish and Portugal with 2 songs. Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine are presented with one only song. Different voices are Renate Krahmer (soprano), Ingeborg Springer (mezzo-soprano), Eberhard Büchner (tenor) and Günther Leib (baritone). There are voices of members of Radio Choir from Leipzig under direction of Horst Neumann and accompanying instrumentalists Kurt Mahn (oboe), Werner Pauli (guitar), Eva Ander (piano), Reinhard Ulbricht (violin) and Joachim Bischof (cello). Recorded in May and July of 1972 album is rare document of old, traditional style of song performing art. Interesting for its idea and for history of composer who was more European than most Europeans can understand, it deserves two and a half star for its uniqueness.