Sunday, May 31, 2015

Szabados Quartet – Az esküvő

   When jazz in Hungary was in first stages of its development, progress led to esthetic stratification - most of audience was still close to dance music, while some artists were playing more complicated and expressive kinds of music. It was beyond acceptance of public considering jazz as popular music. No wonder in centrally managed system of state culture has any proper space for many experiments. Most professional part of avant-garde music was counted as contemporary academic music, even if it was in best part improvised. More popular, based on rhythm patterns and harmonic changes was credited as part of popular music. In seventies there were two leading labels in Hungary, Pepita recording all genres of popular music, including jazz, and Hungaroton publishing recordings of artistic music, historic and avant-garde. As both were run by the same state, catalogue numbers were not duplicated. Most of jazz music was published by Pepita, although there were exclusions.
   There is one at least record being published under these two labels, this is Szabados Quartet album Az esküvő (The Wedding). The record labels were printed with Pepita logo, and front cover was designed with Hungaroton logo, both with the same catalogue number (SLPX 17475). Back cover includes lots of informations with linear notes in Hungarian, English and Russian, but besides the catalogue number has no indication on any label. This situation is easy to understand reading fragment opening notes where editor reffers to the traditions of Hungarian folk music, as well to the experiences and achievements of contemporary academic music or to influences of progressive American jazz. Probably on various phases of production various genre qualifications were considered. And such hesitance is fully justified in many fragments this music sounds like controlled performance of a composed works.

Szabados Quartet – Az esküvő (1974)

   The leader of the ensemble, György Szabados was one of founding fathers of modern Hungarian jazz. Although he was playing free jazz in 1962, his first success took place ten years later, in 1972, when he won Grand Prize of San Sebastian Jazz Festival. The album of Szabados Quartet was the first album of György Szabados and can be regarded as first avant-garde jazz album in Hungary. It was recorded in various sessions, two compositions on first side were recorded in 1974, and two on second side were played in 1973. Published in 1975 and titled after opening composition Az esküvő, album is surprisingly homogeneous. Folk rhythms and melodic patterns are elements of starting material. Complicated with polyrhythmic structures, enhanced by modal scales, the whole thematic material was developed into tick structures with characteristic intensity remaining folk music.
   The material is 4 compositions by György Szabados, Az esküvő (The Wedding), Improvisatio – Zongora – Hegedű Duó (Duo for piano and violin), Miracle and Szabó Irma Vallatasa (The Interrogation of Irma Szabo). Even though instruments of the quartet have classical and jazz tradition, musicians use harmonics and articulations originated in Hungarian folklore. The ensemble was established on the foundation of interaction between pianist György Szabados and violinist Lajos Horváth. Both musicians are in complex relations with section, playing upper bass Sandor Vajda and drummer Imre Kőszegi. Whole program of the album is powerful example of post free progressive jazz in seventies.
   This was also perfect start for musicians. In next decade they became internationally acclaimed creative musicians. György Szabados was recognized avant-garde pianist. He was recording with Anthony Braxton (Szabraxtondos, 1985), Roscoe Mitchell and Vladimir Tarasov. Most prolific musical personality is Imre Kőszegi who was playing with Zbigniew Namysłowski, Jiří Stivín, Charlie Mariano, Allan Praskin and Frank Zappa. Also Sandor Vajda was active playing with György Szabados (Adyton, 1983) and with Benkó Dixieland Band. The contribution of quartet members, consequent exertion of the idea merging creative jazz with Hungarian traditions and academic avant-gardism make this album one of significant moments in the history of Hungarian jazz. Four stars without any doubt.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Richard Tucker – A Treasury of French Opera Arias

   Any success in artistic culture depends on so many elements, dedication and specialization are elements of a natural tendency. Exceptions to this rule are the more interesting they are rare and unusual. Nonetheless there were many examples of such combining many talents and different kinds of activity. One of famous artists who didn’t entirely devote to a one direction career was Richard Tucker, great opera tenor and famous cantor from New York recording religious and secular music. He was one of greatest tenor during three postwar decades. Singing in Metropolitan Opera during the last period of opulence era, when operatic world was lead by the bunch of best tenors ever recorded, he became one of brightest stars of opera stage, popular thanks to recording studio and live albums, giving radio performances and recitals.
   Richard Tucker (originally Rivn Ticker) was born August 28th, 1913 in Brooklyn. In period of school years he was successful in athletics as well as in singing. Later he was working as salesman and casually as a wedding singer, but also started to work in religious community. He raised a family but still was not sure what path to follow, he was hired as part time cantor in Passaic, New Jersey, and selling silk, until he was promoted to full time cantor in Temple Adath Israel in Bronx and Brooklyn Jewish Center. This made him to decide about being a singer. His brother-in-law was Jan Peerce, famous operatic tenor and favorite singer of Toscanini with NBC Symphony Orchestra recordings. Older and well recognized Peerce was openly skeptical about opera ambitions of Richard Tucker. Later Tucker’s successes led to a lasting rift in the family. 

Richard Tucker – A Treasury of French Opera Arias (1966)

   January 25th, 1945 Richard Tucker had debuted as operatic singer in Metropolitan Opera as Enzo in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda with such brilliant success, he stayed on stage for next three decades. Four years after he was already one of most recognized opera singers. In 1949 he performed in complete Columbia recording of Madama Butterfly under Max Rudolf and singing the part of Radames in complete NBC radio performance of Aida with Arturo Toscanini. In 1956 he recorded Aida again, this time for EMI in Teatro Alla Scala with Maria Callas, Fedora Barbieri and Tito Gobbi under Tullio Serafin. He recorded dozens of records, as well individual as complete opera productions. He recorded big part of basic opera repertoire, big choice of synagogue cantorial music and lots of popular and folk songs. Most popular arias from his repertoire were presented in various collections, but most popular part of his discography was a series of thematic albums with popular songs and arias.
   In 1966 Richard Tucker with The Vienna State Opera Orchestra and conductor Pierre Dervaux recorded for Columbia album A Treasury of French Opera Arias (MS 6231).  The choice is clear – most emotional arias from romantic French opera show the variety of the genre. First side opens George Bizet’s Flower Song famous air from opera Carmen. Then he sings airs from Jules Massenet’s Werther, Étienne Méhul’s Joseph, Giacomo Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and famous father’s air Rachel! Quand du Seigneur from La Juive, opera by Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy, usually known as Fromental Halévy. Second side opens with Romance “Je crois entendre” from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) but next four arias are highlights from Massenet’s Manon, Werther, Hérodiade and Le Cid. Richard Tucker was here in his best. His clear and powerful voice, interpretative experience and comprehensive skills with strong emotional factor made this program a perfect recital. Four stars plus a half for the idea of celebrating Paris opera in Vienna.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Georg Friedrich Handel – 4 Concertos for Organ, Orchestra and Continuo op. 4

   Vinyl records are commonly associated with pleasure of home listening, sometimes with educational possibilities, and rather rarely this medium is connecting to scientific and archival purposes. After more than a century of phonographic industry, most people learn recording technology has much more functions and upon direct utilitarian use, record companies’ catalogues are great archive of world music. Now we can see how some ideas was developed in last century, from first ethnographic and archival recordings to publishing it in series designed for special use of academic and learning purposes. One of most significant chapters in the history of archival recording and publishing was the case of Archiv Production label.
   The history of Archiv Production started in postwar years. After the end of 2nd World War many historical instruments in Germany were destroyed, organs were often in bad condition and it was clear after the reconstruction many instruments would lost earlier qualities. Using recording technology was a chance for preserving the sound of historic instruments in original interiors. This project was connected to the idea of systematic recording whole catalogues of most significant antiquities of early music from mediaeval sacral music to the end of 18th century. First recordings of works by Johann Sebastian Bach were made in 1947 by Helmut Walcha on organ of Jakobkirche in Lübeck. These recordings were published in 1948 when Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft founded its subsidiary label Archiv Produktion. 

Georg Friedrich Handel – Organ Concertos op. 4 (1956)

   Fred Hamel, who was the head of Archiv Produktion label in years 1948 to 1957, organized the catalogue of recordings in 12 periods: I. Gregorian, II. High Middle Ages, III. Early Renaissance, IV. High Renaissance, V. Italian Seicento, VI. German Baroque, VII. West European Baroque and Rococo, VIII. Italian Settecento, IX. Johann Sebastian Bach, X. Georg Friedrich Handel, XI. German pre classical music, XII. Mannheim and Wien. These periods were subdivided into detailed categories, but not always completely presented. For example Bach’s catalogue covered all of his works, but in Handel’s seven categories strikes obvious lack of his operas and oratorios. And for many reasons it was main body of Georg Friedrich Handel’s musical work – these works made him successful composer in England.
   Although Handel was famous for large musical forms, oratorio and opera, organ concertos sometimes can look as a minor part of his output, or as only a fragment of instrumental music catalogue, in fact these 18 compositions are serious contribution in development of concerto form, in the history of organ as the concerting instrument. Especially Six Concertos for Organ, Orchestra and Continuo, Op. 4 belong to most significant works in 18th century music. Four of these concertos, No. 1 G Minor, No. 2 B Major, No. 3 G Minor and No. 4 F Major, were recorded December 16th to 21st 1956 by organist Eduard Müller with Concerting Group of Schola Cantorum Basiliensis under the direction of August Wenzinger. Sustainable interpretations of these recordings are designed to retain full compliance with the original text and Handel’s style. Technical merits and reliability of these performances make it a standard of modern baroque interpretations. Four stars as standalone album and as an element of the series.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Debrecen Jazz Group – Debreceni Jazz Együttes

   Social and cultural change in Europe after the Second World War gave jazz serious impulse for redefining its artistic ideas and for further development. In clubs of post-war Paris jazz became more music for listening and thinking than just a dance or accompanying songs as it was in beautiful swing era. West society accepted this change. The same process in countries of Warsaw Pact was significantly delayed. Nevertheless in countries of central Europe jazz played special role – it was expression of unbreakable will of freedom. In the underground of official musical life, jazz won the audience behind the iron curtain. 
   Hungarian jazz was strongly connected with popular and dance music. This relation was common feature in many countries, and it’s quite understandable. The same need for popularity moved American jazz in first decades of classical period and later in smooth jazz genre being a reaction for modern improvements. This was the moment jazz in Hungary started its parting from dance music. Recording companies in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and German Democratic Republic were publishing artists and ensembles which predominantly played jazz in its smooth version. In Hungary the moment for jazz came in the end of sixties, the modern jazz became explicitly presented in public media and on records.
   In early years of Hungarian jazz many bands have no chance to be recorded or published. Only the best or achieving international applause were considered as worth of recording. One of the bands published in 1979 by Pepita was Debreceni Jazz Együttes (Debrecen Jazz Group), the ensemble playing fusion jazz with elements of Hungarian folk music. The story of this ensemble started in 1966 in Debrecen. The main lineup of the quartet were saxophonist Zoltan Gyarmati, pianist Ernö Kiss, Csaba Fazekas playing bass guitar and drummer Ferenc Mátyás. The first five years in bands history was the time for collecting awards of both professional and amateur jazz festivals. Band played in Zurich, Vienna and San Sebastian and many European countries. The Debrecen Jazz Group was also a host of Debrecen Jazz Days.

Debrecen Jazz Group (1979)

   General characteristics of this album are in main current of mid seventies. It is an example of fusion jazz with some elements of various traditions. First theme Apokalipszis (Apocalypse) has strong folk impact but improvisations are continuing hard bop ideas, even if rhythm section is playing in fusion style. Second track Bitter has stylish fusion arrangements, with strings in background and funky ostinato. This piece of clearly lyrical character is focusing on melodic theme by Csaba Deseö, violinist who worked with Debreceni Jazz Együttes during their tour in Netherlands. He was also guest performer on first side of the album.
   The Debreceni Jazz Együttes has its roots in amateur musical movement. It was clear and understandable since those times jazz music was banned from public space and for playing more swinging and expressive way students were expelled from musical schools. In this situation participation of professional musicians like Csaba Deseö and Simeon Sterev (in English transliteration Shterev) was the element of band’s strategy. Csaba Deseö, graduate of Béla Bartók Conservatory in 1961, in sixties was as a virtuoso playing popular concerts in Hungarian Radio and TV, he was also violinist of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. Simeon Shterev, graduate of Pancho Vladigerov National Academy of Music in Sofia, is one of most successful musicians from Bulgaria. He was active as jazzman (playing with Chick Corea, Maynard Ferguson, Albert Mangelsdorf, Kenny Wheeler and Jan Garbarek) and as classical and modern music soloist – he recorded works by Antonio Vivaldi and Marin Goleminov.
   Most original track of Debrecen Jazz Group album is Magyar népdal (Hungarian Folk Song) where soloing artists are searching for some new stylistic and formal connections in consecutive solos. Ernö Kiss played his Fender piano solo in hard bop style with perfectly reacting bassist Csaba Fazekas, saxophonist Zoltan Gyarmati with drummer Ferenc Mátyás turn to the idioms of free jazz and Csaba Deseö started his solo with folk simplicity and sound expression than turned to more traditional swinging phrases and developed his solo into virtuoso and expressive climax closing to free jazz style. Second side starts Debreceni seta (Stroll in Debrecen) played with Bulgarian jazz flutist Simeon Shterev. Nice fusion sound and interesting solos make this presentation great occasion to promote the ensemble playing jazz with virtuoso improvisations and trendy sound. This way the record is valuable document of jazz in Hungary – two and a half in a five-star scale.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dweezil Zappa – Havin’ a Bad Day

   Dweezil Zappa, guitarist, bandleader, singer and songwriter is one of most creative rock musicians. He had the best possible start in musical business one can imagine. His father, great Frank Zappa was prominent artist and one of substantial persons in rock history, although counting him as rock star only would be extremely inadequate considering wide variety of his compositions and creative achievements. And otherwise than show business celebrities, Zappa was always more rational than emotional, more critical than affirmative. He also made strong efforts to impact children liberal education. On Dweezil’s birth certificate in place for father’s religion he entered “musician”. It looks all four siblings were supported by father in development of their freedom and creativity which was clearly connected with values he promoted with his music. It’s enough to read novel America the Beautiful by Moon Unit Zappa or hear records by Z, the band of Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa to see the effects of great father’s presence.
   The other part is such a powerful personality can be also limiting for young people. And maybe this was the reason every one of Zappa’s children started in their own direction. Dweezil was the second of the siblings and as he was seven years old his father had published his photo on front cover of Zappa in New York album. He showed early the disposition to be a virtuoso guitarist. He started in 1982, when he was 13 years old, with the single My Mother Is a Space Cadet, a nice piece of high school rock. Two years later, in 1984 he debuted with two guitar solos on Them or Us album by Frank Zappa, and in Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles December 23rd live gig, where he played solo in Sharleena. Recording of this performance was published on flexi disc in Guitar magazine and in 1989 on You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 3. Four years later Chrysalis label released his first album Havin' a Bad Day.

Dweezil Zappa – Havin’ a Bad Day (1986)

   The title of debut album was taken from the first song Havin’ a Bad Day which is continuation of early eighties hard rock style inspired more by Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. It is neither worse nor better comparing to role models although Van Halen rock is not exactly what many of Frank Zappa fans were expected. The difference with Frank Zappa rock albums is lack of distance and sarcastic attitude. As guitarist young Dweezil sounds better than as a singer, although this is also normal for young rockers. Second song Blonde Hair, Brown Nose is already rocking, showing more sincere rock feeling, and vocal is closer to Steven Tyler. Drive of guitar and bass riffs, short guitar solo, everything is perfect. Third song You Can’t Ruin Me is first of two songs recorded by Moon Zappa. At the beginning it sounds like Rush, and this bearing is continued in closing first side The Pirate Song, instrumental utterance of guitar possibilities.
   Second side starts with classical hard rock You Can’t Imagine, and glamorous Let’s Talk About It sung by Moon Zappa. Next track, instrumental composition Electric Hoedown is stylistically most distant and most ambitious as original composition. In I Want a Yacht guest vocalists are actor Bobcat Goldthwait with family and friends choir. Closing song I Feel Like I Wanna Cry is clear and nice coda for this differentiated program. Only musicians were Dweezil Zappa playing guitars, Scott Thunes on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums and no keyboards or synthesizers. Debute album of Dweezil Zappa Havin' a Bad Day was released August 22nd, 1986. Producers were Frank Zappa who didn’t play here and Bob Stone who engineered whole production. This full size record comprises seven songs and two instrumental compositions, all material credited by Dweezil Zappa. 
   If the style of some fragments is too glamorous, we should consider the hollow-hearted style of the era, but pearls like two instrumental tracks can serve as sufficient atonement. Dweezil Zappa appeared at once as a composer, as an author of texts and as competent guitar player and singer. As his product entered musical stores just months before he turn seventeen, it shows rock genre was always a thing belong to young. Three stars regardless of artist’s age.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Witold Lutosławski, Tadeusz Baird and Krzysztof Penderecki – Polish contemporary classics

   After an anti-romantic turn in 20th century music, in the wake of great social changes, European composers constantly expanded the boundaries of musical language and forms. Between great wars many of them were building theories for avant-garde music, trying to exchange old tonality system and traditional attitude to constructing musical forms. This process was stopped in outburst of Second World War, but after it has end, many composers renew their hopes and were still experimenting with various, even more advanced ideas of creating music in alternative way. Many had applying different techniques, electronic or experimental sounds and extreme theoretical ideas. Some composers however, maintaining their radical approach, gave great pieces of symphonic music, entering the symphonic repertory.
   In Polish post-war music most famous composers were Witold Lutosławski, Tadeusz Baird and Krzysztof Penderecki. Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) was one of most acclaimed composers in Polish history. Main features of his music were clear connection between ideas and means, the balance between the substance and a form and wide stylistic range of his musical output. He was merging different tendencies like folk music influences, twelve-note techniques and aleatoric ideas. In the period of his mature works he was searching for new constructive ideas. One was finished in 1976 Mi-Parti, composition based on duality, double division and difference between parts. It sounds like a kind of minimalistic idea of impressionism, focused on slight, subtle differences and contrasts. Tense orchestral textures are the base forming narration of this work.

Kasprzyk conducts Penderecki, Lutosławski and Baird (1980)

   Great personality of the newest history of Polish music was Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981), composer, teacher and organizer of Warsaw Autumn Festival. He was called the last Polish romantic, although his style was based on contemporary sound and modern orchestrations. Looking for historical background his style had more common with expressionism and was more neoclassical by his artistic program. He uses many elements of historic styles, from archaic sound to construction patterns, but still his music was lyrical, concentrate on melody. The example of such attitude is Elegeia. Composed in 1973, this orchestral piece sounds as a sequence of contrasting episodes where elegiac elements are separated by dramatic inclusions of deep emotional effect.
   Most successful composer of generation debuted after the 2nd World War was Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1936). Shortly after his debut in late fifties and early sixties he became the face of Polish avant-garde movement. Original conceptions of sonoristic space, deep relation with various elements of tradition and fresh ideas of formal principles, were definition of his early style, evolving in seventies to postromantic tradition. The Awakening of Jacob composed in 1974, is orchestral miniature evoking strong emotions based on contrasts, clusters and string instruments glissandos. Its illustrative biblical context was used by Stanley Kubrick for soundtrack setting of the horror movie Shining.
   The closing piece of the album is Anaklasis for string orchestra and percussion by Krzysztof Penderecki. This composition written in 1959-1960 is one of crowning achievements of sonorism.  During three day session on January 1980, at Studio No. 1 of Prague Radio Polish conductor Jacek Kasprzyk with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra recorded this choice of orchestral works by leading Polish composers of this time. Very good program, relevant performances and recordings made this album a full blown contribution in phonographic picture of Polish music. Four stars for music and performance.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Arturo Toscanini conducts Giuseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boïto

   Giuseppe Verdi was most popular opera composer in nineteenth century. It is possible his fame was wider than any other opera composer in the whole history. After his great successes he composed the cycle of four religious works: Laudi Alla Vergine Maria (1888), Ave Maria (1889), Te Deum (1896) and Stabat Mater (1897) premiered April 7th, 1898 at Paris Grande Opéra and published together as Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces). Whole cycle can be seen as Verdi’s farewell to musical scene. It is also an attempt of crossing the borders of opera compositions. Te Deum, the Ambrosian Hymn was set by dozens of composers and it is one of most common setting in history of music. Giuseppe Verdi had composed this hymn for two four-part choirs, soprano solo and large orchestra. It is powerful, almost ecstatic act of worship.
   Opposite position takes Prologue to the opera Mefistofele by Arrigo Boïto, composer of very few works, famous Verdi’s librettist (Otello, Falstaff), poet and writer. The Prologue is a kind of argue between Mephistopheles and heaven choirs worshiping God or being God’s incarnation. Mephistopheles mocks with God and deride with humankind. Conversation between God and Mephistopheles ends with their bet about Faust fate. Although Prologue construction is closer to oratorio than opera, this part had best reception after premiere of Boïto’s opera. Whole work is one of best musical settings based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust. This is also version closest to the original story.

Arturo Toscanini - Verdi's Te Deum & Boïto's Mefistofele (1955)

   Verdi’s hymn and Prologue from Mefistofele by Arrigo Boïto are two elements of one program conducted by Arturo Toscanini. This very interesting album consists of one LP record published by RCA Victor (LM 1849) in cassette with eight-page insert including original Latin and Italian texts with English translation. It was produced in 1955 on the basis of live radio broadcast of March 14, 1954. This radio performance was ten days after April 4th, 1954 Toscanini had announced his retirement. Conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and two choirs, Arturo Toscanini gave one of his unforgettable performances. In Te Deum by Giuseppe Verdi leading part was sung by Robert Shaw Chorale, the choir of Toscanini’s choirmaster and probably the best choir recording for RCA in fifties. In Prologue to Boïto’s opera their parts were taken Nicola Moscona as Mefistofele and The Columbus Boychoir directed by Herbert Huffman. It’s needless to say this release is excellent opportunity to see Italian postromanticism from rare point of view.
   Toscanini was one of last great Italian romantics, who took part in finishing Boïto’s Nerone. His phenomenal musical talent and his achievements had set direction for developing contemporary art of conducting the orchestra. Such recordings are always great medium to test aesthetical criteria, then revolutionary, today maybe historical. Seeing interpretative differences we can better understand real capacity of musical form. In 1955 artistic quality of NBC Symphony – these time one of leading orchestras in the world – and sound of new recording system, based on high quality magnetic tape and full range pressing was the new exciting technology. Four stars, even with some cracks this record can be ravishing.


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   Producer's notice on Toscanini's album insert can be interesting as a document of technical solution. It says about “new raised center and outer edge which is an RCA Victor improvement designed to help protect the playing surface of the record from abrasion, scratches, and any contact with other records”. Those were the days when most records were stored just as a stack of discs and most of them were out of sleeve. Maybe this is the reason to give the regular cassette bound for just one LP edition. This album intentionally differs from other productions and it’s easy to understand why.