Busch at Glyndebourne: Mozart Starts Here

Busch at Glyndebourne

FRITZ BUSCH AT GLYNDEBOURNE / MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro (abridged) / Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, bar (Figaro); Audrey Mildmay, sop (Susanna); Roy Henderson, bar (Count Almaviva); Aulikki Rautavaara, sop (Countess); Luise Helletsgruber, sop (Cherubino); Constance Willis, mezzo (Marcellina); Italo Tajo, Norman Allin, bs (Dr. Bartolo); Heddle Nash, ten (Don Basilio); Morgan Jones, ten (Don Curzio); Fergus Dunlop, bar (Antonio); Winifred Radford, sop (Barbarina); Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra & Chorus; Fritz Busch, cond

MOZART: Così fan Tutte / Heddle Nash, ten (Ferrando); Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, bar (Guglielmo); John Brownlee, bar (Don Alfonso); Ina Souez, sop (Fiordiligi); Irene Eisinger, sop (Despina); Luise Helletsgruber, sop (Dorabella); Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra & Chorus; Fritz Busch, cond / Così fan Tutte (Highlights) / Richard Lewis, ten (Ferrando); Erich Kunz, bar (Guglielmo); Mario Borriello, bass (Don Alfonso); Sena Jurinac, sop (Fiordiligi); Blanche Thebom, mezzo (Dorabella); Alda Noni, sop (Despina); Glyndebourne Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Fritz Busch, cond

MOZART: Don Giovanni / Salvatore Baccaloni, bass (Leporello); Ina Souez, sop (Donna Anna); John Brownlee, bar (Don Giovanni); David Franklin, bass (Commendatore); Koloman von Pataky, ten (Don Ottavio); Luise Helletsgruber, sop (Donna Elvira); Audrey Mildmay, sop (Zerlina); Roy Henderson, bar (Masetto); Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra & Chorus; Fritz Busch, cond

MOZART: Idomeneo (Highlights) / Richard Lewis, ten (Idomeneo); Alexander Young, ten (Idamante/High Priest); Sena Jurinac, sop (Ilia); Dorothy McNeil, sop (Elettra); Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra; Fritz Busch, cond / Warner Classics 0190295801748

Well, folks, here it is, finally put all together and properly cleaned up after more than 80 years: Fritz Busch’s complete Glyndebourne legacy, recorded between 1934 and 1951, the year of his death. None of the famous Busch brothers (violinist Adolf and cellist Hermann) lived much past 60 years old; they just had bad genes. But as someone who grew up listening to these recordings on the miserable RCA Victor Collector’s Series LPs and the even worse, muffled-sounding Turnabout Vox Historic Series (the 1930s operas, not the 1950-51 addenda), they come as a revelation. Not even Ward Marston’s meticulous restorations for Naxos’ Historical Series sound this good. The voices and orchestra practically leap at you out of the speakers with a clarity that not even the 78s probably had. And there’s a ton of natural hall reverb in these performances, which stuns me no end because “natural sound” was something you could never say about the LP issues or the earlier CD releases (such as those on Grammofono 2000). The restoration was done by “Studio Art & Son,” and whoever Art & his son are I can only say, Bravo, bravissimo!

Now that you can finally hear them clearly, the performances are, for the most part, surprisingly modern in concept, briskly conducted and mostly very well sung. Back in the day it was fashionable to dump on soprano Audrey Mildmay, who sings Susanna in Figaro and Zerlina in Don Giovanni, because she was the wife of Glyndebourne founder John Christie, but on relistening to her I find that she possessed a very fine soubrette voice, not at all third-rate or offensive. I’ve heard far worse on modern recordings of Mozart operas, Figaro and Don G included, and you can take that to the bank.

Not only were these the first complete recordings of any of the big three Mozart-da Ponte operas (although, technically speaking, Le Nozze di Figaro was more of an expanded highlights, with all of the dialogue omitted), but they set a standard that was hard to beat during the War Years and beyond until the late 1950s-early 1960s when conductors like Hans Rosbaud, Josef Krips, Carlo Maria Giulini and Colin Davis suddenly revived them with good recordings. (Of Karl Böhm I have little good to say; a superb Beethoven and Strauss conductor, he performed Mozart with a Romantic aesthetic and maddeningly draggy tempi.) More importantly, Busch, Christie and their artistic director, Rudolf Bing, firmly believed in ensemble casting, which led to perfectly-integrated performances—something the Metropolitan has yet to observe and Covent Garden, which employed a similar aesthetic in the 1950s and ‘60s, has since gotten away from. The exorbitantly high fees charged by quality singers, a jet-setting schedule, planning productions 8 to 10 years in advance and the rise of Crap Productions (Regietheater), have all contributed to the rotting decay that opera companies regularly throw on the stage and are pleased to call “challenging” productions.

At Glyndebourne, the base of the Mozart ensemble in the 1930s included seven key names: Mildmay, American soprano Ina Souez )who was one-quarter Cherokee Indian), Austrian soprano Luise Helletsgruber, Australian baritone John Brownlee, German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender (the father of the great mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender), British tenor Heddle Nash and Scottish baritone Roy Henderson. To these were added other Brits and Scots as needed (Norman Allin, Fergus Dunlop, David Franklin, Constance Willis, Winifred Radford, etc.) and as many “star” foreign singers as they could afford and were available and willing to buy into the concept, like Salvatore Baccaloni, a very young Italo Tajo, Koloman von Pataky, Irene Eisinger and Aulikki Rautavaara, the great Finnish soprano who was the mother of composer Einojuani Ratauvaara. This meant that sometimes you just had to bite the bullet and use who was available, which is why, for instance, we hear Henderson’s somewhat dry, oratorio-styled voice as Count Almaviva and Masetto and two different Dr. Bartolos (Tajo and Allin) in Nozze. By and large, however, Busch ran a tight ship, his philosophy was Mozart First, and the end result were performances that were amazingly modern for their time with little in the way of archness or constant rallentandos to suit prima donna singers. One need only compare Baccaloni’s Leporello here, for instance, to the one he did at the Met in 1942 under Bruno Walter, or Mildmay’s cleanly-sung Zerlina to the slop job done by Bidú Sayão in the same performance. Busch’s musical conception of Don Giovanni is in many ways the equal of that of Giulini and Colin Davis, no small feat in the depressed 1930s.

One feature of these performances that may irritate modern listeners is the use of a modern piano in place of a harpsichord (or period fortepiano) in the recitatives. Busch reportedly tried a harpsichord in rehearsals, but was dissatisfied with the instrument’s carrying power in live performance and didn’t want to put a microphone on it. (Fritz Reiner received criticism for doing the same thing in his Met performances of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in the early 1950s.) It doesn’t bother me too much because the piano is played crisply and cleanly, and the surrounding music is conducted at tempos very near those of historically-informed performances. Busch used a small orchestra, roughly corresponding to the one Mozart had, but used modern instruments. This doesn’t bother me either because of the wonderful transparency he achieved, although for some odd reason the bass always seemed to be a bit more thumping than it should have been.

Figaro is first up in this set, and despite the badly cut performance (a third of the opera is missing, including almost all recits), this is a wonderful performance that travels on fast feet. Busch zips through the overture à la Toscanini, one of his idols and a friend through his brother Adolf. Other critics have complained of Domgraf-Fassbaender’s Italian, particularly his singing “qvelle” in place of “quelle,” but this was a common feature of German, Austrian and Danish singers performing in Italian at the time and it doesn’t bother me quite so much. You have to remember, this was still smack in the middle of the era in which operas were sung in the vernacular of the country they were performing in, so many of these singers were used to performing their roles in German (or English). His voice was a very high, light, bright baritone (he sang the tenor role in a 1932 film version of Smetana’s Bartered Bride), quite different from the usual darker German baritones of the time. Audrey Mildmay had a very pleasant soubrette voice, well suited for Susanna, and she sings with pert liveliness. Busch pays particular attention to the light, feathery strings and the winds, with excellent results throughout. After “Se vuol ballare” we get Italo Tajo singing “La vendetta,” and very well, too. The Marcellina-Susanna duet also goes well, with Constance Willis surprisingly good in the former role, and Helletsgruber catches the breathless quality of “Non so più” fairly well. Here as elsewhere, Busch’s tempi are on the (proper) brisk side, quite different from the lethargic style popular in Germany and Austria from the 1910s into the ‘40s. In the quartet “Cosa sento,” we have the treat of hearing Heddle Nash, the finest light British tenor of his time, sing Don Basilio. Rautavaara’s rich, creamy voice is a special treat in the Countess’ music, although her “Porgi amor” is one of the few draggy spots in the music. (By the way, the score indicates “Andante” in 2/4 time, yet many conductors, even into the 1990s, seemed to think it was in 4/4 and so conducted it too slowly.) Unlike the rest of this set, where the background is fairly quiet. most of the Nozze 78 sides presented here still have excessive surface noise. I recommend filtering them with a good audio editor. Towards the end, we hit the one bad spot: “Deh’ vieni non tardar” is taken very “tardar,” at a snail’s pace in fact which causes Helletsgruber to nearly run out of breath in spots.

Brownlee as Giovanni

Brownlee as Don Giovanni

By contrast the Don Giovanni, though recorded complete, is somewhat uneven. The individual performances are consistently solid if not always imaginative. Brownlee’s Don Giovanni will stand up to anyone’s, Baccaloni was a great Leporello, Mildmay an appropriately pert Zerlina, and although Souez failed to sound properly frantic in her opening scene, she sang the living crap out of “Or sai chi l’onore” (but her runs were surprisingly sloppy in “Non mi dir”). Helletsgruber’s Donna Elvira doesn’t match the frantic tone of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf or Kiri te Kanawa, but is sung well. Von Pataky sings a fine “Dalla sua pace,” but “Il mio tesoro” is too slow, forcing him to take two breaths in the long run on “tornar.” The chorus sounds odd, as if Busch only had half the forces he needed for certain numbers. The bottom line is that, as an ensemble, they’re as good if not better than anything you’ll get nowadays if not as good as the greatest recordings (Davis and Riccardo Muti) of the past. The superb detail and clockwork execution Busch draws from them in the Act I finale, though lacking some fire, is clean and taken at the right fast pace, but here as elsewhere the cast as a whole occasionally forgets to interpret because they’re so wrapped up in the technical aspects of the music.

Saving the best for last, we move on to Così fan Tutte. Always the stepchild of the Mozart-da Ponte collaboration, it has suffered in reputation because it demeans the women members of the cast, showing them to be shallow, gullible and easily fooled in love. But what is often missed in Così is that Ferrando and Guglielmo are also pretty shallow young men, in the end nearly as dopey as their girlfriends, and more importantly, Despina is not portrayed as stupid. On the contrary, she’s as sharp a tack as Don Alfonso, easily able to see through the lovers’ foreign disguises and equally adept at fooling the women into thinking she’s a doctor just because she wears a hat, false beard and glasses and carries a medicine bag. The key to understanding Così is that it shows that protected, white, upper-class women are the dummies. All of da Ponte’s libretti are about the upper class behaving badly; Ferrando and Guglielmo just act a little more shamelessly than most of the others, and they neither apologize nor get punished for it.

Ina Souez

Ina Souez

This is, far and away, the finest performance of the three da Ponte recordings. Its only real drawback is that Souez didn’t have a really good trill, though she did do her best at the end of “Per pieta.” Given only 40 78-rpm sides on which to record it, Busch was forced to dispense with a little of the dialogue (but not most of it) and four numbers from Act II: Ferrando’s arias “Ah, lo veggio” and “Tradito, schernito,” Dorabella’s aria “E amore un ladroncello,” and an ensemble scene, “Come tutto congiura…Non c’e altro.” But I’ve always felt, as have some other perceptive critics, that Così’s second act isn’t nearly as strong or inventive as the first. Having come up with miracle after miracle in the first act (none finer than the exquisite trio “Soave sia il vento”), he found himself struggling to keep up this high level in the second act, where the action is much more stationary and aria follows aria follows duet follows trio. Nonetheless, had EMI been generous enough to allow only two more records (four sides), we would have had it complete, but this was the Depression and Così was relatively unpopular.

Yet what a great performance this is! Everyone sounds like a “character” and not like a singer singing music, which is often what you get nowadays, and this is especially true of the two “devils” who initiate this crazy masquerade, Don Alfonso (Brownlee) and Despina (sung by the fantastic German-Jewish soubrette Irene Eisinger). Nowadays the trend is to cast lyric sopranos as Despina (Teresa Stratas under Alain Lombard, Marie McLaughlin under James Levine, Nancy Argenta under Sigiswald Kuijken, Graciela Oddone under René Jacobs) which doesn’t make them sound different from Fiordiligi, and in addition they don’t sound very funny. Eisinger is not only bright-voiced and pert but a laugh riot, chuckling her way through the Act I ensembles and “In uomini, in soldati,” and acting up a storm with her mock-serious “doctor” voice in both acts. Heddle Nash, the quintessential British lyric tenor from the mid-1920s through the late 1950s, had a voice that sounds a bit unusual to modern ears because he brought his head voice down pretty far into his range, at least as far as the break around E-F-F#. A friend of mine goes further, claiming that Nash constantly sang in falsetto. It’s not falsetto. The old Italian singing method, which Nash learned from Giuseppe Borgatti in Italy, placed the upper voice at a spot just above the nasal cavities and between the eyebrows. They called it “aperto ma coperto,” or “in the dome of the head.” The one drawback was that constant use of this technique could color the voice to sound a bit nasal, and this is what one hears in Nash’s singing (particularly on the Italian “soft e” vowels, which here sound like the letter A). It is, nonetheless, a very pretty nasal sound, and he was a first-class musician who stuck to the score and always gave you what the composer wrote. He’s also a surprisingly lively Ferrando, as is his sidekick Domgraf-Fassbaender. Souez is undoubtedly the strongest-voiced Fiordiligi I’ve ever heard; I think she might have been performing this role and Donna Anna at about the same time, because she definitely has some of the latter’s gutsy sound in her singing. Add it all up, and despite the cuts noted above (and the use of a piano for the recitatives), this is absolutely the best Così fan Tutte ever recorded. Now that the sound has been improved, it goes straight to the top as the preferred version on records (yes, even better than René Jacobs, though his is the finest of the complete modern recordings).

After spending a decade away from Glyndebourne, which was closed from 1939 to 1945, Busch returned in 1950. The later excerpts from Così feature a young Richard Lewis as Ferrando, Erich Kunz as Guglielmo, Sena Jurinac as Fiordiligi, Blanche Thebom as Dorabella, Mario Borriello as Don Alfonso and Alda Noni as Despina. It’s very well-sung, Busch’s tempi are virtually the same as in 1934-35, but except for a bunch of chuckles from Lewis and Kunz, the performance sounds more studied, like so many modern recordings of the opera, and not nearly as involved or funny. It’s the difference of hearing what resembles a live performance (1935) and a run-through rehearsal (1950). The performance doesn’t fly on light feet; it plods. Only Jurinac’s “Come scoglio” sounds really involved. In “Per pietà,” Jurinac’s lack of a really good low range rather defeats her performance, the whole point of this aria being to show off the singer’s wide range (it was written for Mozart’s sister-in-law, who had a truly phenomenal three-octave voice). Lewis sounds simply awful in “Fra gli amplessi,” as if he had a bad cold and couldn’t get the voice loose.

Following the official recorded excerpts are some tracks taken from rehearsals. These aren’t much more than a curiosity. The singers are out of synch on “Dunque fa’ un po’.” Jurinac sounds badly tentative in “Per pieta,” and the horns play wrong notes. You can, however, hear Busch admonish the orchestra, telling them at one point to “even it out a little bit,” so that in itself is somewhat valuable. If anything, Lewis sounds even sicker here than in “Fra gli amplessi.”

The 1951 excerpts from Idomeneo, an opera virtually unknown in those days, have frustrated collectors for years because the alternate Elettra in the cast was a young Birgit Nilsson, who did not record a single note. Here, the role is sung by the first-cast soprano, one Dorothy McNeil—and we don’t get much of her, thank goodness, because her voice is wan and pallid, about as interesting as a bowl of cold oatmeal. Overall, however, the intensity level of this performance is unquestioned; this is Busch at his best, conducting it as if it were Gluck. Ironically, Jurinac sounds much more comfortable as well as much more involved in the music of Ilia, even singing much better trills in “Padre, germani, addio!” Lewis too, is more involved with the drama, and sings a fine crescendo in “Vedrommi intorno,” but all of the runs and trills were cut out of “Fuor del mar.” The complete recording of this opera was made at Glyndebourne six years later, again with Lewis as Idomeneo and Jurinac as Ilia, but with Leopold Simoneau as Idamante and the fantastic Lucille Udovich as Elettra. The conductor, however, was John Pritchard, a wet noodle if there ever was one (the chorus in particular sounds anemic compared to these Busch excerpts), thus the opera continued to languish in international attention for another couple of decades.

The set ends with an oddity, a snippet of spoken dialogue entitled “Grosser Zarastro” from Die Zauberflöte. The speaker is Carl Ebert, Glyndebourne’s first stage director.

The question, then, is how valuable is this set to modern ears? I would say considerably so for Busch’s unique vision of Mozart in his time, particularly for the complete Così fan Tutte, most of Figaro and Idomeneo, and at least some portions of Don Giovanni. But even if you only buy it for the Così it’s a pretty good bargain, selling on Amazon for a mere $21.54, far cheaper than the more modern Jacobs recording.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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New John Carollo Release a Stunner


MUSIC FROM THE ETHEREAL SIDE OF PARADISE / CAROLLO: Awakening for String Orchestra. Romanza!1 Splendido Affare.1 La Tortura dell’Amore.1 Un Giorno Teso.1 Metamorphosis No. 2 for Solo Violin.2 Guitar Prelude No. 3 – The Tai Chi Set.3 Guitar Etude No. 7 – The City of 100 Spires.3 Little Gems.5 She Saw the Rainbow.5 Moon Dust.5 Crafted Stardust.5 Metamorphosis No. 13 for Solo Flute.1 Bright Stillness (You Are My Desire) for String Orchestra / 1Duo46; 2Darel Stark, vln; 3Christian Saggese, gtr; 4Lisa Cella, fl; 5The Composer’s Choir; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra; Stanislav Vavřínek, cond / Navona NV6148

This new CD from Parma of John Carollo’s music, due out March 9, combines earlier recordings of his music with some entirely new works (the violin, guitar and flute pieces), using the string orchestra works “as bookends,” as the composer put it. The guitar and violin pieces are part of a large suite in nine movements titled Romantica Passione, Suite for Guitar and Violin (2004), which he dedicated to Beth Schneider and Matt Gould, who perform under the name Duo46. Lisa Cella, the flautist on this recording, also played the premiere of Carollo’s Metamorphosis No. 13 in Italy several years ago.

Happily, I did not own any of these recordings, thus I was able to enjoy and savor Carollo’s interesting and well-crafted sound world, beginning with the rather mysterious-sounding Awakening for String Orchestra in which a series of unusual chords lead into a slow-moving melodic line. This has a certain kinship to Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings, including a dramatic climax in the middle. The strings of the Moravian Philharmonic play this with exceptional feeling and outstanding tonal beauty. Romanza!, part of the suite written for Duo46, is in Carollo’s more contrapuntal style, using an ambiguous tonal base and strong backbeat counterpoint. I was particularly pleased in the way Carollo uses the guitar and the way Gould plays it, with hard downstrokes on the strings rather than in the usual soft, goopy manner of many classical guitarists. This style is evident in Splendido Affare, but this is more of a ballad, and in any case Schneider varies her attack as the dynamics of the music change. I also liked the way this piece ended on an unresolved chord. In La Tortura dell’Amore I was impressed by Carollo’s use of the guitar’s middle range, almost as if it were a viola or a high cello, often strengthening its sound to bring it to the forefront. This is clearly an exceptional piece, including a swaggering 6/8 section in the middle and a long, slow finale.

In Un Giorno Teso, Carollo gives us a modern simulation of Leroy Anderson’s Syncopated Clock, filtered through his own aesthetic and including out-of-tempo passages of fantasia-like quality. The Metamorphosis for Solo Violin moves through serrated passages towards a more melodic section that is constantly interrupted by cheerful, rhythmic figures. It’s unusual playful music, sounding as if the violinist were inventing it as he or she was going along. Again towards the end the melodic section returns, changed somewhat, leading to a quiet finish.

This is followed by two guitar solos, Prelude No. 3 – The Tai Chi Set and Guitar Etude No. 7. The former is the closest thing here to classic Spanish guitar style, hovering back and forth between A-flat major and minor. The latter, subtitled The City of 100 Spires, is a chromatic piece in unsettled tonality that moves along with the lower strings playing a melodic-rhythmic accompaniment to the upper strings. It, too, ends in the middle of nowhere.

The choral works here are among the earliest recordings of Carollo’s work. They are well written and resolutely tonal, almost in church motet style, albeit with unusual harmonic shifts within each piece. These are followed by the Metamorphosis No. 13 for Solo Flute, a well-crafted fantasy with Middle Eastern overtones. As the piece progresses, the flute plays its own accompaniment via rapid figures that bounce between the lower and upper range of the instrument. In addition, the development becomes ever more complex, putting the flute through some dazzling figures in the middle and end of the piece.

We conclude as we began, with the Moravian Philharmonic strings. Bright Stillness (You Are My Desire) uses a gentle rocking motif of chords, again in Barber-like fashion, which change as the music develops, hovering around the key of C. This is even more of a mood piece than the opener on this set, never moving towards or rising to a loud climax.

As potpourri albums go, this one is excellent in every respect, showing different facets of Carollo’s musical personality. Well recommended!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Various Pianists Play Stecher & Horowitz Commissions


L. LIEBERMANN: 2 Impromptus / Aristo Sham, pn / TORKE: Bays of Huatulco (Blue Pacific) / Charlie Albright, pn / G.L. FRANK: Nocturno Nazqueño / Daniel Kim, pn / DORMAN: 3 Études / Mackenzie Melemed, pn / MUSTO: Improvisation & Fugue / Leann Osterkamp, pn / M. BROWN: Suite for Piano / Anna Han, pn / PISTON: Concerto for 2 Solo Pianos / Matthew Graybil, Larry Weng, pn / Steinway & Sons STNS30079

From the booklet for this CD:

Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz, Executive Directors of the Stecher & Horowitz Foundation, have devoted a lifetime to the musical education of young people. Internationally recognized as one of the most distinguished duo-piano teams of their generation, Stecher and Horowitz are equally renowned for their multi-faceted activities as performers, teachers, composers and educational consultants…The Foundation’s New York International Piano Competition, held every two years, is dedicated to providing artistic development, educational enhancement, seminars, master classes, and performance opportunities. The competition has also commissioned original works from important composers of our day. These works are presented on this album, some for the first time, performed by some of the notable prize-winners of the competition. Also included is the premiere recording of the two-piano version of Walter Piston’s Concerto for 2 Pianos, written for Stecher & Horowitz.

So there you have it. An album of complete discovery for those who don’t know these pianists or works. The only three composers whose names I recognized were Gabriela Lena Frank, John Musto and Piston, so it was as much an adventure of discovery for me as it might well be for you. And of course, since I’ve not heard any of these pianists before, they were as much a discovery for me as the music itself.

First up is Lowell Liebermann’s 2 Impromptus, written in 2016. This is tonal music with bitonal twists and turns that pique interest and force you to listen. In the notes, Liebermann stats that this was his intention, to create music that required musicality, phrasing and a wide range of dynamics, not the usual “knuckle-busting” pieces that young keyboardists love to use to show off. I found this music very engaging, and would say that pianist Aristo Sham is a real and sensitive artist, not just another “little robot.”

Michael Torke’s Bays of Huatulco, which has since undergone a name change to Blue Pacific, was written in 2006 to commemorate his memories of that scenario in Mexico where “The sun shines without fail…and an ever-present breeze blows off the water.” This has a sort of pop-music rhythm reminiscent of Carole King, although with a busier and more complex top line that includes rapid, swirling triplets. It’s a nice piece, however, nicely played by Charlie Albright.

Gabriela Lena Frank’s Nocturno Nazqueño is described by the composer as evoking “one of the ancient cultures of South America, the Nazcas,” who “left behind gigantic geoglyphs on the coast of modern Peru sometime between 500 BC and 500 AD”—quite a range to choose from, a thousand years! The music is quintessential Frank, moody and evocative, drawing one’s attention via her use of shifting moods and figures which keeps the music in a state of flux. It is well played by Daniel Kim although, to my ears, without much in the way of subtlety.

Avner Dorman chose Ligeti as his musical model, and his 3 Études of 2012 are described as “precisely fashioned and fantastical, as well as technically demanding.” The titles of the three pieces are “Snakes and Ladders,” “Funeral March” and “Sundrops Over Windy Walters.” The first of these is utterly fantastic, the “ladders” being scales that run in a wobbling motion and the “snakes” being lopsided chord changes. The performer here is Mackenzie Melemed, who won the 2012 prize for best performance of a commissioned work. Somehow I get the impression that this is the work that wowed the judges. Melemed’s coordination of both hands in this frighteningly difficult work is beyond description; you simply have to hear it to believe it. The music is impressive as études, to be sure; I’d have been lost trying to coordinate this bad boy! In “Funeral March,” the music is comprised of a series of dense but clear chords…challenging to play but to my ears less impressive as music. The finale, however, is a piece in a blistering tempo that calls for such a rapid switching and overlay of hands that it becomes a challenge just to keep the notes from becoming blurred. I was deeply impressed by Melemed’s articulation in this piece. No wonder he won a prize!

Musto’s Improvisation and Fugue is played by Leann Osterkamp. The improvisation section is described as being blues-influenced, but alas Osterkamp has no feeling for blues or jazz rhythm, though she plays it very well otherwise. Musto doesn’t indicate in the notes whether any part of the score is actually improvised by the performer, but I’d assume not; it doesn’t really sound it to me. A shame, because in the hands of, say, Aruán Ortiz, this could be a very interesting piece. As for the fugue, it, too has elements of syncopation in it, played just as mechanically as the opening piece (although Musto says the fugue was written first).

Michael Brown’s Suite is played by Anna Han, first prize winner of the 2012 competition. The music also contains a lot of syncopation, but more in a classical than a jazz vein. It’s pretty interesting rhythmically, but in terms of development fairly predictable; the last movement, simply titled “Finale,” is the most concisely written. It is, however, a pleasant piece to hear, and Han plays it with both sensitivity and a brilliant technique.

The album ends with Walter Piston’s rearrangement for two pianos of his 1967 2-piano concerto. This is clearly great music, written by one of America’s best composers of the past century. It is played brilliantly here by Matthew Graybil and Larry Weng, with intermittent moments of sensitive phrasing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the last movement in particular.

A mixed bag, then, both in terms of the music and its interpretation, but still worth hearing for its more interesting moments.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Bernard’s Stunning New “Rite of Spring” & “Firebird Suite”


STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps). Firebird Suite (first version, 1919) / Park Avenue Chamber Symphony; David Bernard, cond / Recursive Classics RC2058479

This CD came to me via the direct intercession of conductor David Bernard, who has said his recording contained no less that “thousands” of corrections and emendations that deviate from the published scores. And apparently, The Rite of Spring suffered from this problem much more than others.

I wrote to David Bernard asking him if Stravinsky himself had used the corrupted score or the original manuscript when he made his own first recording of the Rite in 1929. Here’s what he wrote me:

After its premiere in 1913 (performed from manuscript), the score was published in 1921 and a full set of orchestra materials was published in 1929, which is likely the edition that was used by Stravinsky and Monteux in their recordings.  After this, Boosey & Hawkes corrected The Rite twice—in 1947 and again in 1967. Yet despite all this attention, the 1967 materials for The Rite still contained a considerable number of errors.

In 2000, Kalmus published a new edition based on the 1929 edition that was used by Stravinsky and Monteux in their recordings, referencing the manuscript score and eight other sources.  This edition corrected over 21,000 errors in the score an parts of the 1929 edition, and became the primary source for orchestras at that time.  In preparation for our recording, I worked on the new 2015 edition with Clinton Nieweg and Kalmus, correcting thousands of additional errors and inconsistencies related to articulation, pitch, dynamics and doubling. The resulting edition the best current source for performing the work.

The Firebird Suite from 1919 has similar challenges.  In creating the 1919 suite for a smaller orchestra than the original ballet, Stravinsky was forced to re-orchestrate portions of the ballet quickly, leaving considerable errors in the materials.  Kalmus published a corrected edition in 1989, but this only went so far in correcting the errors and did not re-engrave the materials, leaving the parts with the difficult to read original “manuscript” engraving.  Following my work on The Rite, I worked with Kalmus on the 2016 edition of The Firebird 1919 Suite which corrected over 5,000 errors and re-engraved all materials—both the score and the parts. 

The proof, of course, is in the listening, and even within the first two minutes of this new performance of The Rite of Spring even I could hear at least a dozen things different in the score. Very often, it seemed to me that the texture was much sparser than usual, whereas in other places it was just different-sounding.

One of the things that kept going through my mind was, With this sparser original scoring, most of the music must really have been inaudible at the world premiere in 1913, when the Parisian audience booed loudly through the whole performance. Why does this matter? Because it probably explains why Stravinsky, and his original conductor of the work, Monteux, were willing to use a “corrupted” edition for their own performances and recordings.

Another thing that kept coming into my mind as the performance progressed was that the music sounded weirder and more dissonant than even the somewhat weird and dissonant version we are used to. And I don’t think you have to be an expert on Sacre to hear these differences, just someone who has heard two or three other recordings of it. I have four: the first Stravinsky version cited above, with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris in 1929; Monteux’s remake with the Boston Symphony from 1945 (his own 1929 recording is just too messy and wrongly-played for my taste), Kent Nagano’s wonderful recording with the London Philharmonic, and Robert Craft’s version of the 1967 score with the Philharmonia Orchestra. I still wonder why, in his later years, Stravinsky himself didn’t intercede when the 1967 edition, reportedly “based on the original score,” was being put together, but he didn’t. An odd inconsistency for a man who was normally a stickler for having his music performed exactly as written, but there you are.

Despite using a full orchestra of 100 musicians (see the photo below of the live performance, and don’t let the moniker “Chamber Symphony” fool you…as Bernard has told me, his orchestra varies in size from 40 to 100 musicians depending on the demands of the scores), the edgy sound of the music and the basically “thin” orchestral texture kept leaping out at me. Even Valery Gergiev’s performance of this score with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra about a decade ago sounded richer in texture than this, as do the recordings of Nagano and Craft. Particularly in the scurrying background winds and strings, this Rite of Spring sounds much like an invasion of giant crawling insects. I know that’s not a pleasant image to conjure up, but that’s what it sounds like.

Park Ave Chamber Symph

An interesting side note: not only in the rehearsals for the world premiere (excellently recreated in the otherwise dreadful film on Vaclav Nijinsky made back in the 1990s) but also in rehearsals with orchestras throughout the 1920s, Stravinsky was forever reading from the score and shouting out the numerous tempo and rhythm changes to his dancers and orchestras. If you’ve ever seen a score of Rite, even the standard 1989 Kalmus edition, you’ll know why. These changes occur once every bar or every other bar in the score, almost continuously. This was one reason why Arturo Toscanini, who greatly admired Rite of Spring but felt himself unable to memorize and conduct the score, became skeptical of Stravinsky’s musical skills since even he, the composer, couldn’t memorize it. Considering how amazingly different so many sections of this new score sound—in note choices and rhythm as well as in texture—there’s a distinct possibility that Stravinsky just let the “corrupted” score be because, crazy as this sounds, it’s easier to play than this original manuscript edition. I take Bernard at his word regarding the 21,000 errors in the score. I could hear hundreds myself with the naked ear, and I admit not knowing the score as intimately as a professional orchestral musician would. The difficulty factor in performing this edition just increased by tenfold in my estimation. As tricky as the corrupted version is to play, this one is far trickier, largely because the sounds you hear dot not line up or synchronize in the mind as well as the standard performing editions did.

There are, then, two conclusions one can draw from this recording. The first is that, as of right now, this is THE preferred recording of Rite because of its authenticity as well as the almost startling boldness of approach. The second is that, from this point on, all future performances of this score should follow Bernard’s lead and use this version. Even in his very polished and well-rehearsed performance, the almost brutal rawness of the music comes across like a menacing steamroller. Absolutely none of it reaches your comfort level, as some sections of the corrupt edition do. You’re always on the edge of your seat because the music is always on edge.

With the Firebird Suite, I have an older performance of the standard score conducted by Bernard to compare to it. This one also has sparser textures: note even in the opening, the strings seem (to my ears, at least) less richly scored. Why do I believe this is authentic? Because this comes very close to the kind of scoring Stravinsky used in 1911 with Petrouchka, or even in his early opera The Nightingale. Early Stravinsky was a clean break with the lush orchestral sounds created by his teacher, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, even in the somewhat Rimsky-influenced Fireworks. Stravinsky moved towards what I would almost call a “metallic” sound in his orchestras, emphasizing the brightness of winds and brass and de-emphasizing a warm string sound.

Do I miss the warmth of the standard edition? In this case, yes, a little. Although it is authentic I am not fully satisfied by the sound here, simply because Firebird is a more melodic work, and in the most melodic passages my mind is constantly filling in the lusher string sound of the standard edition. Not that I like, or want, a Hollywood-style orchestra playing this (or, to be more precise, a Leopold Stokowski-style orchestra), but since the music itself is tuneful it just seems to cry out for a less “cool” sound than it receives here. Just my personal aesthetic speaking.

On the other hand, once the music leaves the Romantic early section and moves into the more aggressive tempos of the later music, I liked some of these sparser textures a bit more. They give more “bite” to the music, and once again, you’ll notice all kinds of little changes, although in this case more in the accompanying figures than in the lead line. The best solution, for me, would be to used a bit more of the older scoring in the opening section but stick closer to the corrected edition here for the later sections. As a sidelight, I also felt that the orchestra had a little more difficulty getting into the spirit of this score than they did in The Rite of Spring. The performance does not lack forward momentum or crisp attacks, but just misses the oomph that Artur Rodziński, André Cluytens (in a GREAT live radio performance from the 1950s) and even earlier David Bernard gave it.

Still, you need to hear this version if only for interest’s sake. As a whole, this is clearly the standout version of Rite to own but at present just an alternate edition of Firebird. Perhaps, as the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony becomes more comfortable with it, their future performances will have all the gusto you desire.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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20th Century “Jewels” Featured on New CD


EARLY 20th CENTURY JEWELS / DEBUSSY: Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp. ROUSSEL: Trio for Flute, Viola & Cello. HUYBRECHTS: Sonatine for Flute & Viola. SCHULHOFF: Concertino for Flute/Piccolo, Viola & Double Bass / Nozomi Kanda, fl/pic; Daniel Rubenstein, vla; Ingrid Procureur, harp; Didier Poskin, cel; Koenraad Hofman, bs / Dux 1340

Here is one of those albums that could only exist in today’s wide-open recording field, and not in the days when the Big Corporate Conglomerates ran everything: a clutch of little-known but superb musicians playing a group of mostly French chamber music of the early 20th century, of which only the Debussy Sonata is familiar to many concertgoers.

I have two other recordings of the Debussy piece, including an equally superb reading by members of the Nash Ensemble on a Virgin Classics CD that, though recorded many years ago, has since become a classic. The things that strike you about this recording are its warmth and superb clarity of sound: the three instruments are miked in perfect equipoise, which particularly helps the harp to be heard much more forward in the soundspace. Flautist Kanda, violist Rubenstein and harpist Procureur have exactly the combination of relaxation and forward momentum to make the piece work.

Roussel’s Trio is much more rhythmic in nature and not quite as concerned with impressionist feelings or opaque textures. It lies somewhere between the old French tradition of the early 20th century and, say Françaix or Poulenc from the later generation. As in the performance of the Debussy, I was particularly struck by the warm sound as well as by the way these musicians match their styles and approaches to create a unified approach. There are no superegos here trying to outdo one another, but genuine musicians who evidently enjoy playing with one another. Every note and phrase is imbued with life and feeling; even the more technical passages are not used for showing off technique but rather for displaying their well-thought-out interplay. Thanks to the exceptional clarity of sound, every nuance and note is as clear as if you were sitting in the midst of them while they were playing, yet the sounds of bow on strings, though discernible, is never so clear that it is irritating.

I was particularly impressed by the unusual yet cogent music of Alert Huybrechts, who died at the age of 39 in 1938. This almost sounds like Baroque music filtered through the mind of a Stravinsky-ite, using motor rhythms in a much more energetic way than even Roussel. Moreover, he seemed able to write disparate lines for the two instruments that sometimes ran counter to each other without sounding disjointed or just done for cheap effect.

Schulhoff’s very strange-sounding Concertino for Flute/Piccolo, Viola & Double Bass, though composed in the 1920s (1925), is not one of his ragtime-influenced pieces of the sort that made him famous in the early 2000s. It is, however, typically adventurous, in this case not just harmonically (note the edgy extended chords he used) but also in the way he spreads those chords out among the three instruments. The bass often plays chorded passages underneath the other two instruments, and the viola often plays chorded as well, which gives an unusually rich sound to the music. Occasionally both viola and bass play atonal lines in unison, two octaves or so apart, as counter figures to the flute’s (or, in the second and fourth movement, piccolo’s) top line. This is the only music on the CD that is not rooted in French impressionism but more closely related to the German-Hungarian aesthetic of the period. I’ve mentioned on several occasions how interesting and innovative a composer Schulhoff was, despite my personal distaste for his Communist politics, and this is certainly on display here. The second movement, marked “Furiant,” is an odd bitonal sort of scherzo with the piccolo cheerfully chirping on high while the viola and bass grumble on down below, sometimes echoing the piccolo’s phrases but more often going on their own way. In my view this is the newly-discovered gem of the set, even finer than the Huybrechts piece. In the last movement the three instruments often bounce off each other like ping-pong balls in counterpoint.

All of the musicians on this recording play extremely well, not just in and of themselves but in terms of understanding their roles in the ensemble passages. A great album, well worth exploring.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Fantastic Recording of Szymanowski’s “Krol Roger”


SZYMANOWSKI: Krol Roger / Wojtek Drabowicz, bar (Roger II, King of Sicily); Olga Pasichnyk, sop (Queen Roxana); Piotr Beczala, ten (Shepherd); Krzystof Szmyt, ten (Arabian sage); Romuald Tesarowicz, bass (Archbishop); Stefania Toczyska, mezzo (Deaconess); “Alla Polacca” Youth Choir; Chorus & Orchestra of Polish National Opera, Warsaw; Jacek Kaspszyk, cond / CD Accord ACD 131-2

Karol Szymanowski’s Krol Roger (King Roger), written over six years and premiering in 1924, is surely an opera for our time. With all of the rabid fanaticism one sees in radical Islam, the hateful Iranian mullahs and rabid conservative Christians worldwide, one wonders more than ever before why people living in the 21at century continue to believe in outdated and scientifically false belief systems regarding the creation of our world and the supposed spiritual animus of the humans living here.

As a child, Szymanowski was lured and fascinated by the religious music of the Orthodox Church without being a member or a believer, thus he wanted to write an opera dealing with the mesmeric trappings of religion. Rather than insult any specific religion, however, he created an allegorical tale of a King and Queen whose lives intersected with a strange form of supernatural beliefs. King Roger is told by his court advisors of a strange shepherd who is being followed by hundreds of people and warn him to banish this shepherd from his kingdom, but his queen, Roxana, begs him to invite the shepherd to court and question him. Despite his humble clothing and staff, when the shepherd arrives at court he has the bearing and demeanor of a royal figure, telling Roger and Roxana that he represents a religion of peace, love and sensuality. Roger is skeptical, but Roxana is intrigued. When the shepherd next comes to court he is dressed in splendid raiments, accompanied by a group of followers bearing strange musical instruments. As they play, Roxana falls for the shepherd and his message of love hook, line and sinker. Eventually the shepherd reveals himself as the god Dionysus and leads Roxana far away with him. Roger, however, is able to stay grounded in reality and resist his siren call, realizing that he was able to observe and hear what was going on around him without being sucked into Dionysus’ orbit.

The music that Szymanowski wrote for this opera is not only sensuous but some of his most powerful; indeed, the score almost sounds like one of his symphonies, only set to words. There are four principal roles, Roger (baritone), Roxana (soprano), the shepherd (tenor) and an Arabian sage who is one of Roger’s advisors (tenor). Only the last-named features a weak singer in this cast, which is otherwise surprisingly strong. Even the smaller roles are well cast here, the Archbishop sung by the splendid Polish bass Romuald Tesarowicz and the Deaconess performed by the famed Polish mezzo, Stefania Toczyska.

Several years ago, when I was still writing for Fanfare, I reviewed a Naxos recording of this opera. Having never heard it before, I was knocked out by the quality and power of the music but had reservations about the singing. At the time, however, I did not have access to this recording, which was made much earlier (2001). Having heard it now, I can’t even consider the Naxos recording much competition. With the sole exception of the second tenor, everyone here is absolutely first-rate in all respects, voice, diction and interpretation. I was especially impressed by the young Piotr Beczala, who in pursuing an international career pushed his beautiful voice out of shape, forcing to sing larger roles than he was suited for and yelling out high Cs and the like. He should have stayed within the lyric sphere; his shepherd is not only meticulously sung but shows a pliant lyric instrument that may, alas, be gone forever now.

Pasichnyk, whose name I’ve seen before, had an absolutely gorgeous soprano voice, creamy and bright at the same time. She is perfect for Roxana, whose tessitura lies very high to begin with and whose rapturous, hypnotic lines when under the spell of the shepherd are rendered with perfect breath control and a gorgeous tone. Baritone Drabowicz, as Roger, has a bit of a hefty sound with a dark timbre, but the voice is steady and manly-sounding without becoming hard or spreading under pressure, as his countryman Mariusz Kwecien’s voice always seems to do. He is thus a dominating figure as the King, able to modulate his volume and sing sensitively when called for but also to sound like a regal figure, not one who would be easily dominated by the figure of the shepherd.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the score is how Szymanowski wrote tonal music with actual melodic lines (but no real arias except, perhaps, for Roxana’s solo in Act II) for the singers while maintaining a tonally ambiguous backdrop in the orchestral writing. This mixture holds the listener’s interest even in a sound recording such as this, without visuals to go by.

I’m sure there are several people who will read this review and decide that, for aesthetic or religious reasons, Krol Roger is not for them. That is their loss. The Age of Reason was more than 200 years ago, and, sadly enough, the superstitious backsliding of the world’s population has done nothing positive to advance humankind.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Discovering Simon Pilbrow’s Jazz


COLOURS OF SOUND / PILBROW: Australia. A New Beginning.3 Studio City.4 Remembering Woody Shaw. Autumn Breeze.3,5 Fast Fingers.2 A Fischer’s Line.4 Surprise.1 Joyful. Try for Ages.2 September.4 Blue Six1 / The Brent Fischer Orchestra: Assa Drori, Alex Gorlovsky, Raphael Rishik, Susan Rishik, vln; Elizabeth Wilson, Lynn Grants, vla; Maurice Grants, Kevan Torfeh, cel; Oscar Hidalgo, contrabass; Rob Schaer, Mike Stever, Kye Palmer, Jell Bunnell, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders, 1Bobby Shew, tpt; Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Scott Whitfield, tb; Craig Gosnell, Steve Hughes, bs-tb; Bob Sheppard, Alex Budman, Brian Clancy, cl/bs-cl/s-sax/a-sax/t-sax/fl/a-fl; Sean Franz, 2Ken Peplowski, cl; Kirsten Edkins, a-sax/al-fl; Gene Cipriano, bs-cl; Bob Carr, bar-sax; Lee Callet, bar-sax/bs-cl; Simon Pilbrow, pn; Brent Fischer, cond/vib/marimba/4e-bs; 3Larry Koonse, gtr; Chuck Berghofer, bs; Ray Brinker, dm / Clavo Records CR201709

Simon Pilbrow, a well-known veteran in Australian jazz circles, wrote a letter expressing his admiration of the late Clare Fischer’s website in 2011. Clare’s health was already declining, but that email started a friendship between Pilbrow and Brent Fischer, which eventually resulted in this CD, recorded and issued last year.

The publicity blurb accompanying the disc gives all kinds of stories and reasons for the titles of the pieces on this disc, but except for those which are obvious tributes, such as Remembering Woody Shaw, A Fischer’s Line and A New Beginning, which Pilbrow wrote for his wife Jean, many of the titles are just that. Australia, for instance, is more closely related to Rhythm Changes than any song or anthem relating to Pilbeow’s native land. Sometimes I think that jazz critics and publicists overthink these things. Even such renowned jazz composers as Charles Mingus, George Russell, Eddie Sauter, Benny Golson, Johnny Richards and Clare Fischer often titled their works on a whim. Unless geared towards a specific scenario, i.e. film or theater music (ballet, oratorio, opera), music is its own expression. Titles are merely a way for listeners to identify a tune. Interestingly, Brent Fischer wrote all of the arrangements. Even more interestingly, on this recording his orchestra includes a body of strings (9 in all, including a bowed string bass in addition to the usual acoustic or electric jazz bass) on two tracks.

The opener, Australia, is straightahead jazz in form and swing, reminiscent of the kind of music that Woody Herman, Shorty Rogers and Stan Kenton played in the early-to-mid 1950s, but it has a wonderfully loose feel to it and the chord changes are very conducive to looseness of swing. The strings do not play on this one, and Brent’s arrangement has the kind of bright sound (trumpet- and trombone-oriented in terms of scoring) that this music calls for. A New Beginning, as it turns out, is a jazz waltz, scored here for only a quintet. It opens with Alex Budman’s soprano sax over Chuck Berghofer’s bass, Larry Koonse’s swinging guitar and drums. Budman then launches into a solo in 4 over the same rhythm combination, which in turn leads to Koonse himself in a very imaginative solo of his own before Budman, again in 3/4, plays the final two choruses. A really lovely piece!

Studio City is a more complex piece in Latin rhythm with unusual harmonic movement beneath an attractive theme. The high reeds again get a workout, particularly Budman as soloist and Brent Fischer on marimba. Fischer added some nice muted bass figures behind his own solo to add interest, and the swirling reeds that follow lead nicely into Budman’s alto solo. There are also some nice piano fills from the composer. Remembering Woody Shaw pays tribute to the superb and sometimes overlooked trumpet great. Pilbrow describes the piece as being in three sections, the A theme (beginning with a trumpet lick that sounds eerily like Shaw himself) “being a statement,” the B theme “a question, and the musical tension resolving in the C answer.” Ron Stout, it turns out, is our Shaw sound-alike, and his solo turn is magnificent. Scott Whitfield’s trombone and Bob Sheppard’s soprano also have wonderful solos, including a brief duet.

Autumn Breeze is a bossa nova tune admittedly based on the music of Jobim. Here, at last, we hear the string section along with Budman on alto flute. Koonse is also on this track, and Pilbrow again takes a piano solo. This one is closer in style to a pop tune than the rest of the set. It is followed by one of Pilbrow’s jazziest pieces, the uptempo bop number Fast Fingers. The soloists here are Sheppard on alto sax, Stever on trumpet, guest clarinetist Ken Peplowski, Bob McChesney on trombone and Pilbrow himself, later trading licks with drummer Ray Brinker. This score almost has a Toshiko Akiyoshi feel to it…I half-expected to hear Lew Tabackin come roaring in on tenor sax in the spot given to Sheppard. Stever’s solo sounded much like the kind of astounding trumpet spots one heard on Toshiko’s records, too. There’s a nice polyphonic section where two reeds play off each other, with Stever’s trumpet dropping in for a third line—undoubtedly Brent’s work.

Pilbrow wrote A Fischer’s Line as a tribute to Clare in, naturally, a Latin rhythm. Originally conceived for four clarinets playing in harmony, Brent Fischer expanded it to a five-voice line. On this one we hear not only Budman’s soprano sax, Whitfield’s trombone and Pilbrow’s piano, but also the bass clarinet of 89-year-old Gene Cipriano, reportedly the most-recorded reed player in history. Surprise is another straightahead swinger, scored for full orchestra (soprano & baritone saxes, 2 trumpets, trombone and bass trombone), and featuring the tenor sax of Bob Sheppard, Bobby Shew as guest trumpet and Andy Martin on trombone.

Brent told Pilbrow that his 2005 tune Joyful reminded him of Vince Guaraldi’s wonderful music for the Peanuts cartoons of the 1960s and ‘70s. Fischer added a 16-bar chord sequence as an interlude at the end of each solo which the band incorporated into the original score. This one features alto flute over rhythm section playing the opening theme, after which the rhythm becomes looser and more swinging as Budman moves into his improvised solo. Pilbrow’s solo is indeed reminiscent of Guaraldi (everybody in the jazz world liked Vince, don’t kid yourself), after which the 16-bar interlude recurs, leading to the tune’s finish. Try for Ages uses an anagram of Gary Foster, long-time member of the Clare Fischer bands, It’s a jolly swinger, again scored primarily for clarinets. Budman solos on bass clarinet, followed in turn by Peplowski in the higher register, then by the duo trading fours for two choruses before the rideout.

The strings return for September, another Latin-based tune, this time in 5/4 and not quite as melodic as Autumn Breeze. The solos, however, are wonderful, particularly Pilbrow himself on piano, and the piece swings with a nice, loping rhythm. We wrap up the album with another bop tune, Blue Six, again featuring guest trumpeter Shew as soloist along with Sheppard, Whitfield, Pilbrow and Brinker. This one is scored more for the brass than the reeds, although brass is present (2 trumpets, trombone and bass trombone), opening up with a neat polyphonic intro played by trumpet, trombone and bass trombone before the trumpet section leads the band in the melody. Sheppard’s soprano solo comes flying out of the ensemble as if shooting for the moon! This is followed by another polyphonic chorus for trumpets and trombones, strongly reminiscent of the kind of writing Shorty Rogers did, before Shew makes his statement. This interlude is orchestrated somewhat differently each tone. Muted trumpets over bass trombone lead into the final chorus, which includes one more statement from Sheppard. A wonderful close to a fun album!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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