Sunday, March 13, 2016

Emerson, Lake & Palmer — Brain Salad Surgery


   The legendary supergroup of progressive rock, Emerson, Lake and Palmer was formed in 1970 by pianist and organist Keith Emerson who was known before as a member of progressive band The Nice, Greg Lake, singer and bassist of King Crimson and Carl Palmer, drummer of Atomic Rooster. Trio achieved instant success, in Isle of Wight Festival in August and with their debut album Emerson, Lake & Palmer released in November 1970. Next four albums established their position as legendary band of progressive rock: Tarkus and Pictures at an Exhibition in 1971, Trilogy in 1972 and Brain Salad Surgery in 1973. Especially Brain Salad Surgery was a kind of recapitulation of first chapter in the history of the band. Next albums were released after three and half year period – 2LP Works Volume 1 and Works Volume 2 did not occurred to be the next success and bright ELP fame became fading. 
   Characteristic decision is lack of title composition Brain Salad Surgery, which was recorded but not included into the program. It was published with two other songs recorded in 1973 on Works Volume 2, and as other songs of 1977 gone generally unnoticed. Program opens with Jerusalem song. It is modified version of popular hymn written by Hubert Parry (1848-1918) to William Blake’s poem And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time. Using this anthem as an opening of modern, progressive album was clear and strong statement. The idea of England as Jerusalem build among dark Satanic Mills is strong vision that makes Parry’s song most popular patriotic song and unofficial national anthem. In version modified by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, this song was published as a single to express band’s open affection to England but BBC banned this version. In fact BBC leading personalities John Peel was against ELP from the very beginning, after Isle of Wight performance he said this was “waste of talent and electricity”. Musicians were disappointed with the decision which was probably result of massive use of Moog Apollo, the first-ever polyphonic synthesizer and electronic sound effects.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer • Brain Salad Surgery (1973)

   After this hymnal, sublime entrance, Toccata by Alberto Ginastera, arranged by Keith Emerson shows opposite face of the band, virtuoso, creative and competitive. Its intensive motoric rhythm with irregular accents, already known from Tarkus and Pictures at an Exhibition, was the hallmark of trio music. Here Keith Emerson shows his huge potential as virtuoso of electronic keyboard. Typical element in Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums was the opposition of ballades. Such position in program of Brain Salad Surgery takes Greg Lake’s lyric song Still...You Turn Me On with nice contrasting electronic inserts. This composition in pure style of progrock is overcome with Benny the Bouncer sounding like a glam rock parody with a saloon style piano. But in 1973, in context of the whole genre this was just one more view into the futuristic sound possibilities and progressive arrangements promising new level of musical creativity. This context was reinforced by the album artwork created by H. R. Giger.
   The program is closed by Karn Evil 9, almost half hour long, extended work of three polystylistic impressions and longest studio composition of the band.  It is placed on big part of first side and whole second side. First impression is divided on two sides of vinyl record. Starting with blues phrase, it shortly takes position of hard rock expression with changes of tempo, meter and syncopations. Every previous album of ELP gave new evidence every musician of the trio was musical erudite. Keith Emerson was the leader on this field. Here band is balancing all the styles used by progressive rock bands, even jazz. In climax of Emerson’s piano improvisation one can hear St. Thomas theme by Sonny Rollins played with clearly jazzy feeling. Words were written by Greg Lake with support of Peter Sinfield, poet known for his contribution in In the Court of the Crimson King and member of King Crimson band. Electronically processed Keith Emerson’s voice was used in the end of third Impression. In effect of ambitious idea and consequent work, Karn Evil 9 was not only massive, but spread to cover widely developed progressive rock.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Herbert von Karajan — Ludwig van Beethoven — Symphonies 1st & 2nd — 1963


   The full cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven’s nine symphonies is one of highest achievements in the history of music, especially in orchestral music and in symphonic form. Considering the role of these symphonies play in the history of music, it’s needless to say, this is mandatory set of works in artistic development of every orchestra. The same applies to conductor. Performances of Beethoven’s symphonies usually reveal what the real possibilities of an orchestra and conductor are. Whatever we can say about different esthetic attitudes, perfect symphonic form, augmented with rich musical semantics and emotional content, these works always disclose real quality of musical art. Unprofessional orchestra can successfully play Symphony No. 1, maybe even Symphony No. 2, but there is no amateur band which is able to play the whole cycle. In opposite to this, best orchestras have no problem with performing symphonies, they are able to embody any particular vision of Beethoven’s music.
   Berliner Philharmoniker took position in the forefront of best symphony orchestras in the world. The band is sometimes called Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), but its original German name is brand perfectly known for any educated person in the world. One of qualities of their sound is its flexibility and instant reaction for conductor’s gesture. This orchestra is perfect instrument and can change the way it sounds for any need. No wonder it embodies interpretative elements on every level of performing skills and always sounds as a continuation of conductor’s idea. This quality makes Berliner Philharmoniker just a perfect band performing and recording Ludwig van Beethoven’s music.

Herbert von Karajan — Beethoven — Symphonies 1st & 2nd (1963)

   The 1963 edition of Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft was the first time Herbert von Karajan recorded complete set of Beethoven’s symphonies with Berliner Philharmoniker. For many reasons this performance is the best one. For 55 years old Karajan this was critical point of his career. He already achieved all conductor can, he was recognized as great artist, he had recorded whole basic symphonic repertoire, he was working successfully with almost every significant orchestra in the world. For some reasons he was willing to be the best one, while he was still one of best only. Recording in 1963, 1977 and 1984 next sets of Beethoven’s symphonies he was aiming to reach the position of absolute leader of symphonic music. And the fact is no other part of musical tradition can equal the cycle of Beethoven’s nine symphonies.
   All four Karajan’s visions of Beethoven’s cycle were complementary, every symphony took its place in the sequence set as it was marking episodes in output of revolutionary composer. And Karajan was always tending to show this quality as a feature. In 1963 edition symphonies are rendered with separate plans using the possibilities of recording technique. Selective sound of every group makes whole orchestra sound in multidimensional sound space. And oppositions of orchestral sections are clear and energetic. Especially for the first two of symphonies this rendition is original, probably most unusual of Karajan’s interpretations. First two symphonies he shows in more sustained interpretations then these compositions are usually shown. Every element is consequently planned and executed. This way early Beethoven’s symphonies sound even more dramatic and emotional. These renditions reveal new possibilities of interpreting Beethoven’s works. Five stars for the record.