NTWS’s “Inventions” a Potpourri of Remarkable Music

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INVENTIONS / WILLIAMS: For the President’s Own. WOLFGANG: 3 Short Stories. BROUGHTON: In the World of Spirits. MACKEY: The Ringmaster’s March. Wine-Dark Sea. DAUGHERTY: Winter Dreams / North Texas Wind Symphony; Eugene Migliardo Corporon, conductor / GIA Wind Works CD1004

This is one of those potpourri-type albums that college wind bands put out from time to time, generally trying to mix “standard” wind band fare (marches, festive overtures, etc.) with more artistic pieces. In this particular case they were fortunate because one of the standard-type works, For the President’s Own, was written by John Williams who is one of our finest light music composers, and another, 3 Short Stories, was composed by jazz-classical hybrid composer Gernot Wolfgang, whose work I have had the good fortune to review last year on this blog.

The Williams piece, composed for the “president’s own” United States Marine Band. Typically of his best work, it juxtaposes jaunty themes with intriguing chord changes and imaginative scoring. My lone complaint is that it was really too brief, but at least Williams didn’t overload the listener with superfluous music.

Wolfgang’s 3 Stories starts auspiciously with Uncle Bebop, a terrific piece that, if you didn’t know better, you could mistake for a jazz piece from the 1950s. The North Texas orchestra plays it with not only fine technical skill but also the right amount of swing. It’s such a pleasure to hear a wind band (other than the U.S. Armed Forces jazz ensemble) that knows how to swing. Wolfgang’s piece wends its way along, developing its boppish theme in strict classical form, ending with a “teaser” coda that has a big pause before the final two chords. The second piece, Rays of Light, is more impressionistic and less jazz-oriented, yet also reveals a fine musical mind. Here, the music is very lightly scored, featuring a fine saxophone solo by Brian Horton around which the various winds—playing mostly in their lower registers—wend around it. With Latin Dance, Wolfgang moves into the realm of such groups as Machito and his Orchestra, the famed Afro-Cuban band of the late 1940s. The difference is that Wolfgang’s music ls less heavy on the Latin beat and more playful, with swirling clarinets and flutes, until an alto sax solo by Colin Crawford is head, reminiscent of the kind of work Charlie Parker did with Machito. Horton joins Crawford for a few bars of sax duet near the end of the chorus, followed by some pretty good Latin percussion, then the ride-out by the reeds and brass.

Bruce Broughton’s In the World of Spirits begins promisingly enough, with imaginative swirling high winds and punchy brass. The tempo relaxes as more winds are heard, but the playful mood picks up again with staccato trumpets. Eventually a lively, rather jumpy 3/4 is established, followed by a mysterious, quiet passage for sub-tone clarinets and miscellaneous rhythm instruments, with the other reeds slowly adding into the mixture. My sole complaint of this piece was that it repeated material already heard, dressed up in different orchestration, and wasn’t quite interesting enough to sustain its 11-minute length.

The first piece by John Mackey here is The Ringmaster’s March, written as the final movement of his suite The Soul Has Many Motions. It’s a lively enough piece, with a few harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns to make it at least interesting enough to get through its brief (three-minute) length, occasionally using what I would call “march cliches” to an almost comical effect.

Michael Daugherty’s Winter Dreams is a musical tribute to the famed Iowa artist Grant Wood, written as a tribute to the composer’s father. It’s an exceptionally lovely piece in the correct sense of the word, using an exceptionally light touch and delicate wind colors to “paint” his image of the famed artist, and can easily be appreciated for its softness and great imagination without having to conjure up images of American Gothic or Wood’s other paintings. Indeed, I found this to be the most complex piece on the CD, eventually moving to a point where clarinets play a jaunty in double time while the soft wind melody continues in the background, after which the composer develops his material with equal lightness and a touch of mystery. A wonderful flute solo comes and goes just before the end.

Mackey’s second piece, Wine-Dark Sea, is the longest work on this CD, a three-part suite commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin and premiered there in February 2014. In the liner notes, the composer explains that the music is based on the Odyssey. In the first movement (“Hubris”), Odysseus fills his ship with the spoils of war but “carried another, more dangerous cargo: pride.” What I found interesting about this piece was its use of a Latin-jazz sort of rhythm a couple of minutes into it, over which is eventually laid double-time figures played by flutes, trumpets and other winds that goes against the underlying beat. There’s a certain galumphing, heavy quality about the music that put me in mind of some of the things the Stan Kenton band did in its heyday. The difference lay in the frequent use of the snare drum to play press rolls as if in a marching band. Interestingly, when the music turns delicate a harp is used, but not in typical harp style; rather, it plays ascending, oddly-spaced arpeggios. Eventually the band falls away and we hear a pounding bass drum, followed by what sounds like vibraphone playing ambient sounds in the background. A forlorn English horn is heard, plaintively chanting, followed by what sounds like a bassoon. A soft muted trumpet is heard in the background as the strangely ominous mood continues softly in the foreground. The movement sort of fades out.

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Corporon with the North Texas Wind Symphony

The second movement, “Immortal Thread, So Weak,” begins with the harp playing in a more conventional mode, soft plucked chords establishing a fragmented theme before a forlorn clarinet is heard playing a new melody in front. Other instruments enter, one by one, until a rich but soft blend is heard. This movement is based on the song of a beautiful nymph who finds Odysseus near death on the shore of the island where she lives. The music is absolutely exquisite, creating and sustaining a remarkable mood via subtle changes in texture and harmony. Even when Mackey uses very close chords and tone clusters, his soft-grained textures remove all feelings of edginess from the listener; he or she is wrapped in a warm, comfortable space, even when the volume increases and more brass enters along with the winds. Wind band music has surely changed for the better since I was young!

The last movement, “The Attentions of Souls,” depicts that moment when Odysseus makes a sacrifice to the dead at the gates of the underworld. As he “cuts the throats of the sacrificial animals, the spirits of the dead swarm up.” This movement is an object-lesson in sound-painting of the highest order. Eventually the music becomes more animated as the spirits of the dead taunt and mock Odysseus. Words fail me to describe everything Mackey does here; this is music on a level with the finest creations of Mahler or Ligeti. Eventually, a “dance of the dead” enlivens the tempo, creating an imaginative atmosphere on par with Berlioz’ “Night of the Witches Sabbath.”

Thus we come to the end of this collection of “Inventions,” as the CD is so aptly titled. Get it, if only for the works of Wolfgang, Daugherty and Mackey…they are gems.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Brubeck’s Zurich Set Surprises and Delights

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ZURICH 1964 / BRUBECK-DESMOND: Audrey. BRUBECK: Cable Car. Koto Song. Thank You. COOTS-GILLESPIE: You Go to My Head. DESMOND: Take Five. BURKE-JOHNSTON: Pennies From Heaven. MORELLO: Shimwa / Dave Brubeck Quartet: Paul Desmond, a-sax; Brubeck, pn; Eugene Wright, bs; Joe Morello, dm. / TCB 02422 (live: Zurich, September 28, 1964)

Fifties and Sixties jazz has been undergoing a sort of Renaissance lately as numerous reissues and new concerts by Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Svend Asmussen and Brubeck have come to light. I can’t always keep up with them all because some of the labels involved don’t supply downloads for review, but I’ve been fortunate enough with several of them, and am always happy to review anything by the Brubeck Quartet.

I was nine years old when Take Five became a hit record, and from that day to this have been greatly enamored with the quartet as a whole but especially the interaction between Paul Desmond’s alto sax and Brubeck’s piano, and to this day I don’t think that a majority of their fans really understand why their collaboration was so successful. It was as much a matter of blending timbres as it was of contrasting styles. Brubeck played, for a white musician, an unusually rich, chunky, deep-in-the-keys sort of piano. It was a sound much closer to black pianists with a deep blues base like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Ramsey Lewis than to those pianists raised more on a classical aesthetic, and this includes both white musicians like Tristano and Evans and black ones like Powell and Teddy Wilson. This is unusual in light of the fact that Brubeck did come from a classical background, and one that was part of the French school (Darius Milhaud) to boot. But somewhere around 1950 or so, Brubeck became enamored of the blues-drenched playing of black pianists, and his chunky chords were a hallmark of his style.

Desmond, on the other hand, was one of those alto saxists like Lee Konitz who played his instrument with a light, somewhat “reedy” tone. One of my friends, the late trad-jazz clarinetist Frank Powers, once told me that the first time he heard Desmond he thought he was playing a clarinet. When he was told it was an alto, his comment was, “That’s one goddamned hard reed!” And it was. Desmond liked to refer to his tone as a “dry martini,” despite the fact that he himself drank Dewar’s scotch and not martinis. And somehow or other, that combination of his dry alto tone and Brubeck’s rich, chunky piano blended perfectly. Desmond’s contract specified that when he recorded on his own he was not to use a piano so that the recording could not be confused with his work with Brubeck, so he usually used guitars, but the thin sound of the usual electric jazz guitar didn’t really contrast with his tone, it sounded too much like it.

Yet all of the above may seem moot when one listens to the delicate tracery of Brubeck’s piano introduction to Audrey. As the liner notes point out, this may be the quartet’s best performance of this not-so-often-performed tune, casting a hypnotic spell over the listener as it goes along. Regarding the quartet’s rhythm section, I always loved Joe Morello on drums (and he was the only member of the quartet I saw in person, in 1971) but never really felt that any of their bassists did much more than offer good support. This isn’t a knock on Eugene Wright, who was an excellent bassist, but it’s also not a knock on Norman Bates or any of Brubeck’s other bass players. The bass really had more of a “grounding” function within the quartet. As the performance continues and Dave plays his own solo, the hard attack and chunky blues style comes more into play, and you begin to understand what I’m talking about. Eventually Brubeck’s solo becomes a mere sequence of syncopated block chords, repeated in the same position and sequence. After a single-note break, the chord positions shift and so does the rhythm, now playing against the bass and drums rather than with them. Wright takes a nice solo, reaffirming my assertion that he was a nice bassist but not a terribly important cog in the machine. At one point he plays a quote from When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on his Tuba. Desmond’s following solo is simply exquisite.

Cable Car sounds like it’s in 6/4, but without seeing the score I’m not 100% positive. No matter, though: this is Brubeck’s tune, and he tears it up on piano in a sort of Meade Lux Lewis kind of way, shifting the rhythm so much that by his second chorus, if you haven’t followed what he was doing from the start, you’de be lost. Just for laughs, he later throws in a quote from Jack Benny’s theme song, Love in Bloom. It was that kind of concert: everyone and everything was relaxed and a good time was being had by all.

You Go To My Head is another fine example of the kind of communication that Dave and Paul had with each other. A few light chords from Brubeck, and Desmond falls right in with an epigrammatic delineation of the melody. Improvising right from the start, the theme is suggested but never quite obvious. This version of Take Five, like so many of his live performances of it, is considerably quicker in tempo than the studio recording and thus loses some of its hypnotic quality (especially—and I hate to say this—when it was issued in its original “360 Sound” mastering, with just enough reverb added to make it sound like the bass and drums were playing in a deep cavern), but what it loses in atmosphere it makes up for in invention, particularly from Desmond once he really gets rolling. Interestingly, at this quicker tempo it almost sounds as if Wright and Morello are subtly shifting the rhythm to add an extra grace note per bar. Brubeck’s own solo is fascinating, starting out in a more classical vein with rolling triplets. Morello’s solo is one of his gems, reminding me of the one time I saw him in person. I still think that he and Elvin Jones were the most creative jazz drummers I ever saw, although Buddy Rich certainly had his own spectacular qualities.

Koto Blues is one of Brubeck’s most unusual pieces, the harmonies based on the open intervals of that instrument’s strings. This one is largely Brubeck’s show on piano. One of the concert’s highlights is surely Pennies From Heaven, an old song that modern pianists have had fun playing with, from Lennie Tristano to Clare Fischer. Brubeck’s version kicks off at a brisk tempo, and shortly after we hear the original tune it scarcely appears again. Both Desmond and the leader turn their considerable talents to deconstructing it and putting it back together, but never to a point where they use atonality or any outside chord changes. Morello’s Shimwa appears to be a modal tune (no key changes) in a quick 3 tempo built around a few little melodic cells, which Brubeck plays quite well.

Thank You is the perfect closer, jaunty and relaxed at the same time. This one, too, is mostly Dave on the piano. Towards the end the rest of the quartet drops out and he plays a surprisingly complex, rhapsodic sort of cadenza, both musically astute and tongue-in-cheek at the same time.

An interesting note about this release: although it claims its origin as a concert, it is in fact a Swiss radio broadcast that has been around for years (in far inferior sound) as a broadcast from September 28, 1963. The biggest difference is the sound quality. The “pirate” version sounds pinched and cramped; this one sounds like an early digital recording.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Méhul’s “Uthal” a Fascinating Dramatic Opera

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MÉHUL: Uthal / Karine Deshayes, mezzo-soprano (Malvina); Yann Beuron, tenor (Uthal); Jean-Sébastien Bou, baritone (Larmor); Sébastian Droy, tenor (Ullin); Philippe-Nicolas Martin, baritone (Le Chef des Bardes/Troisieme Barde); Reinoud van Mechelen, countertenor (Le Premier Barde); Artavazd Sargsyan, tenor (Le Deuxième Barde); Jacques-Greg Belobo, bass (Le Quatrièm Barde); Les Talens Lyriques; Chœur de Chambre de Namur; Christophe Rousset, conductor / Ediciones Singulaires ES1026

It’s really a shame that the operas of Étienne-Nicolas Méhul, greatly admired by Beethoven and Berlioz (and partly an influence on Fidelio), are virtually unknown today. Every opera I’ve heard by him—Le Chant du Départ, Joseph en Égypte and Stratonice—has been not only interesting, but also highly unusual in its musical character and quality, and Uthal, despite a somewhat convoluted plot, is no exception. Based on a legend of the Irish poet Ossian, it concerns Larmor, the old chief of Dunthalmon, who now lives in the woods because his son-in-law Uthal has usurped his authority, deeming him no longer able to fight in battle. Larmor’s daughter Malvina tries to calm his anger and persuade him to reconcile with the husband he gave her. But Larmor, though touched, rejects her arguments. He sends his faithful bard Ullin to Fingal’s palace to inform the latter of the injustice done to him.

Fingal decides not to fight such a weak enemy himself, but sends the men of Morven to do it for him. The warriors land on the shore and Larmor tells them to “Steep yourselves in the traitors’ blood.” Malvina stays by herself, despairing that her father and Uthal might fight each other in mortal combat. At the same moment, Uthal enters the forest and bemoans his faithless wife whom he still loves dearly. Malvina, not recognizing Uthal, approaches him to ask his assistance to avoid a fatal outcome. Curious, Uthal at first is careful not to be recognized and is moved by Malvina’s confession, but soon his anonymity becomes impossible, and when Larmor shows up with the men of Morven, come to declare war on him, Uthal refuses to submit and chooses an unequal combat. At the end of the battle, while the Bards try to comfort Malvina by singing her an ancient ballad, Uthal is taken prisoner. Larmor denies him the death he wishes and condemns him to the shame of exile, but when Malvina declares that she will leave the palace to follow him her compassion so moves Uthal that he agrees to kneel before Larmor. The old chief, touched, grants his pardon.

From the very opening of the overture, one is immediately plunged into an ominous and unique sound world. Méhul completely dispensed with violins in his scoring in order to give the music a dark character, and it works. Only edgy-sounding violas, cellos and basses are heard amid a largely wind and horn-based orchestra, and nearly all the scoring is low and ominous. The music works up to a fever pitch in this overture, and suddenly Malvina’s voice is heard riding the agitated orchestra, much like the opening scene of Gluck’s great Iphigénie en Tauride. Being an opéra-comique, there is spoken dialogue, but either Méhul’s librettist kept it to a minimum or the performers here did so, because it is not overlong or obtrusive on the thoroughly exceptional music. This is a dark, powerful work that plunges headlong in its progression. Solos and duets are generally brief and wedded into the preceding and ensuing music. Occasionally, as in Malvina’s sung dramatic strophe “Quoi! Ce combat affreux!”, the music takes on a declamatory quality; in others, like the following quartet “O de Selma” (sung by the three Bards and Malvina), Méhul employs a much more lyrical vein for the three men but overlays a much more tense and dramatic line for the mezzo-soprano. In these ways Méhul keeps the music moving, and developing, and maintains your interest. Moreover, by keeping the whole of the opera to one hour, he does not drag out what could have been a tempest in a teapot to oversized proportions.

uthal-castPre-echoes of Beethoven abound in this music, as do post-echoes of Gluck. Méhul was a well-grounded and highly imaginative composer, and there is not a wasted moment or gesture in Uthal. On the contrary, this is music of a very high order, and it is to the credit of the cast—none of which I’ve ever heard of before—that they not only sing with beautiful tones and fine styles but give themselves over to the drama, lifting it out of its artificiality and making it valid and interesting. The one real aria in the opera, Uthal’s “Quoi! je la cherché en vain!”, is set in G-flat minor to an uneasy 4/4 with ominous syncopated accompaniment by the basses. After one of the longer spoken dialogues between Uthal and Malvina, their duet is a driving, urgent piece in B-flat minor with a distinctly Beethovinian sound about it.

I simply cannot say enough good things about the performers. One and all, from the top female voices down to the chorus, orchestra and conductor, they give 110% and make as strong a case for this music as could possibly be imagined.

I reviewed this record via downloads, and thus only received the booklet as an Adobe PDF file, but if you buy the hard copy you’ll get a deluxe package , slightly taller than a DVD case, with an exquisite hard binding and fine paper pages with the liner notes and complete libretto. Very highly recommended!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Zych’s “Alice” Fantastic, Imaginative, Enigmatic

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ZYCH: Alicja w Krainie Czarów / Orchestra of the Opera at the Castle in Szczecin; Jerzy Wołosiuk, conductor / Dux 1249-50

Przemysław Zych composed this ballet based on the wildly imaginative Tim Burton film of Alice in Wonderland. The booklet, such as it is, pushes this big-time with photos of performers in all sorts of colorful costumes and lighting in animated and/or contorted positions. Since the booklet is only in Polish, I haven’t a clue what any of it means, but I know Alice in Wonderland inside-out and upside-down, having been exposed to it as a child of four and being very attached to it at least up through my junior year in college, when I wrote a paper on it for my English class.

alice-4From the very first notes of the “Magical Overture,” the listener is in for a treat. This is resolutely tonal music, but it is as delicately scored as fine Dresden china and written with exquisite care and inspiration. In some scenes, like the end of the first, I could sort of imagine what was going on—Alice knocking at the little door, then drinking the anonymous “Drink Me” potion and shrinking down to a small enough size to get through it—but for the most part I just let my imagination run wild and enjoy the wonderfully creative score that Zych has created. In addition to its delicate orchestration, it is also interesting in texture. At times, the soft winds (low and high ones, playing very softly) mix with equally soft-textured percussion to create swirling figures. I wish I had the visuals for every scene, but in a sense I, who know the Alice story inside out, didn’t really need to, so image-specific is Zych’s wonderful score.

alice-1Indeed, the music is even better than the very fine score recently written for the Royal Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland production of a few years ago, and that is saying something. Zych is able to maintain the sort of atmosphere that one needs to create a dream world that appears real to the dreamer (Alice) but is known to be a dream by the observer (you). Even when the music becomes louder and more aggressive, as in the second scene (possibly the Caucus Race?), the constantly shifting harmonics and almost “slippery” feeling of rhythm keep one un-grounded, so to speak. The fourth scene (track 5) has some particularly witty music, with trombones sliding around and the feel that you are not quite grounded though you think you are. Scene 7 has got to be the Mad Hatter’s tea party…it just sounds it!

alice-3By the tenth scene, we are probably in the garden with the living playing cards painting the roses…or are we? I don’t know, but the atmosphere is right, particularly when things get a big loud and noisy, possibly announcing the Queen of Hearts. The huge scene 14 (CD 2, track 7) is obviously the “trial” of the Jack of Hearts for tart-stealing, capped by monstrously powerful music representing the monstrously powerful Queen. Then things quiet down as the jury-box erupts, the cards fly in Alice’s face, she panics and then wakes up with her head in her sister’s lap (I think…again, I couldn’t see it). But it all sounds like that in the score!

alice-2Indeed, as the ballet continued my only complaint, aside from the fact that I couldn’t see it, was that Dux chose to split it over two CDs when one would have sufficed. Nowadays even home burning programs like Nero can accommodate up to 82 minutes 20 seconds on a blank CD without signal loss or distortion, so 81 and a half minutes is really no big deal. Other than that, this is a stupendous ballet score, certainly one of the best I’ve heard in my life. Highly recommended!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Minnaar’s Surprisingly Passionate Fauré

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FAURÉ: Nocturnes: No. 1 in e-flat min.; No. 7 in c-sharp min.; No. 13 in b min. Barcarolles: No. 3 in G-flat; No. 12 in E-flat. Thème et Variations en c-sharp min. Impromptu No. 5 in f-sharp min. 9 Préludes, Op. 103. Romance sans Paroles in A-flat, Op. 17 No. 3 / Hannes Minnaar, pianist / Challenge Classics CC72731 (CD & DVD: the DVD contains the same program as the CD plus a concert registration)

I have to be honest: I didn’t approach listening to this album with a high degree of expectation, not because I didn’t like the music of Gabriel Fauré but because I didn’t know the playing of pianist Hannes Minnaar at all and thus didn’t expect much. Why? Not because I was pre-judging Minnaar but because I know from long and bitter experience that too many modern pianists come to the music of late Romantics with a completely Objectivist approach, which generally means brisk tempi and clean playing but absolutely no feeling. Or, which is worse, they come to it with a desire to be too mooshy-gooshy romantic, which absolutely kills the music.

For me, Fauré was one of those unusual late Romantics whose music cries out for a rare balance of feeling and coolness. His famous Requiem is perhaps the most noted example of his art, and it, too, seldom receives the kind of performances it deserves. But pianist Minnaar, as it turns out, is a gem of an artist. He understands Fauré’s unusual aesthetic to the hilt; he knows how to balance the cleanliness of his digital articulation with a combination of delicacy and straightforwardness, how to introduce subtle moments of rubato and when not to, and in the end he produces a very satisfying recital of this composer’s piano music.

Yes, there were a few moments when I wished Minnaar would have pulled back a bit on the headlong tempo and give a shade more relaxation to the music, but not many. For the most part he maintains a firm grasp on the music’s structure, and that in itself compensates for much in the way of its unfolding structure. A good example of both things is his performance of the Barcarolle No. 3. Minnaar keeps everything in control and reveals the music’s underlying structure splendidly, yet at times I wished he would have relaxed just a bit on the tempo to provide a more barcarolle-like feeling. Still, what one hears is valid and there are indeed subtle touches here and there that let you know that Minnaar is indeed thinking about the music he plays.

A perfect example of what I mean is the Thème et Variations en c-sharp minor that immediately follows the Barcarolle. Here, Minnaar shows us why he is so well suited to playing his music, alternating his straightforward and poetic styles in turn as the music demands. Were he to play the entire series of variations as he played the dreamy opening theme, we would quickly lose interest, but he keeps us involved by keeping himself involved. Interestingly, the pianist almost draws out a Russian feeling in the sixth variation, marked “Molto più moderato.” Minnaar also has plenty of sensitivity for the Nocturnes, which are exquisitely fashioned as if cut delicately out of lace. There are also a few hints of Debussy in this piece.

The Nine Preludes of 1910-11 show that the mature Fauré was virtually unchanged in either form or harmonic use, but they are charming pieces, well played. The Nocturne in B minor is a very late piece (1921) and less dreamy than the earlier Nocturne on this disc. Minnaar’s recital ends with the Romance sans paroles, a charming salon-type piece.

This is a fine representation of Fauré’s piano music for those who like it, and I recommend it as such.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Kletzki’s & Marek’s Symphonies Come to Life

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KLETZKI: Symphony No. 2, Op. 18.* MAREK: Sinfonia Brevis, Op. 28 / Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; *Mariusz Godlewski, baritone; Thomas Rösner, conductor / Musiques Suisses MGBCD6289

Czesław Marek (1891-1985) and Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) , born nine years apart, came from different parts of Poland—Kletzki in the Czarist or “Russian” sector and Marek in the Austrian section—but moved to Warsaw by the mid-1920s and were friendly rivals. Marek studied piano in Vienna with Theodor Leschetizky and composition with Karl Weigl and Hans Pfitzer, while Kletzki, born in Łódz, studied philosophy (not music) at the University of Warsaw before moving to Berlin in 1921, where he switched to music.

Both were considered fine composers of that time. I found it interesting to note on Wikipedia that Kletzki’s music was championed during the 1920s by both Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler, and in fact the latter invited him to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in 1925, so Kletzki was already getting his feet wet as a conductor that far back. Of course, he had to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 because he was Jewish. He lived in Italy for a time, but when Mussolini began ramping up his anti-Semitism he moved to Switzerland. By 1942 he gave up composing, citing the stress and depression of the world situation for killing his muse, and after the war he emerged as one of the finest conductors of his time.

Marek, it turns out, was particularly noted for this one-movement Sinfonia, Op. 28, for large orchestra, which won first prize in the Polish section of the 1928 International Columbia Graphophone Competition celebrating the centenary of Schubert’s death. (Kurt Atterberg won the prize in the Western European segment of the competition.) Interestingly, though Marek was older than Kletzki, he, too abandoned composition, at age 43. Thus I was interested to hear the music of both composers.

Kletzki’s Symphony, ostensibly in G minor, does not sound it, but rather its long (18:40) first movement rambles along in a jocular bitonal way. This movement is interesting and obviously well written, but to my ears it tends to repeat its motifs a bit too much, at least until 15:12 when the tempo slows down and a more lyrical theme in E-flat major is heard. Even so, you can hear why both Furtwängler and Toscanini liked his music: it’s modern but also rather lyrical and sounds more like Nielsen than Mahler, whose symphonies both conductors detested. This is especially evident in the soaring, lyrical second movement, which despite its occasional “close chords” retains its basic tonality, cleverly shifting from G-flat to G major. It is also rigorously structured, much more so than the music of many other conductor-composers like Bruno Walter, Felix Weingartner and Furtwängler himself. The second movement also contains a brief but well-written fugue and a nice canon for strings. Another unusual feature of this symphony is the third movement, which is an “Andante con moto” rather than the expected “Scherzo,” yet still jogs along at a rather jocular pace with a quirky theme in triplets for the strings. The last movement, marked “Pesante,” actually begins slowly, with a pensive and slightly edgy melody played by violas and cellos, then moving to the winds for further exploration. Then—surprise!—we hear a

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Karl Stamm

baritone singing, more in the style of Strauss than Mahler, although there are some clearly Mahlerian touches in the orchestral writing (though not like Das Lied von der Erde). This is by far the most striking and original movement in the entire symphony, and to a certain extent it almost doesn’t seem to fit with the first three movements, just as the last movement of Beethoven’s Eroica doesn’t really fit with the first three. Yet it is an extremely interesting piece taken on its own terms, and I found myself drawn to it. The text, by poet Karl Stamm who died at age 29 after contracting the Spanish flu, translates into English as follows:

Sleep, sleep, o world!
Silently the night approaches,
All longing is silent
And fulfills the time.
Sleep, sleep, o man!
What do you cry out of the dreams?
Soul, do not be afraid!
Behold, I bear the worlds,
In me glows your pain,
So, with all grown together,
I approach the Creator.

Listen: the Eternal is good
If we do not recognize him.
Faith: when we burn,
He burns his own blood!
(You quietly smile,
Think 🙂 what would be a god,
Who are created to torment,
To suffer unhappy need? …
No, he created happiness!
(Without Peace and Rest,
Without joy and splendor
Then God would not be God either.)

Sleep, sleep, o world!
Everything is longing.
Still is every mouth,
Fills the time.

By contrast, Marek’s large (28 minute) one-movement symphony unfolds in large, dramatic waves of sound, unfolding and sweeping all before them. It’s definitely post-Romantic, yet it retains a certain element of Strauss about it if not the language or syntax of Strauss. Unlike Kletzki, who tended to ramble a bit, Marek has a completely clear vision of where this music is going and how to get there. There is scarcely a wasted note or gesture in the entire symphony; his musical ideas are taut and completely under control, yet at the same time fresh and surprising. His orchestration, too, is unusual, tending towards very lean sonorities with very little “fat” in the scoring. In this respect he almost seems to be a bridge between Sibelius and Roy Harris, if you catch my meaning. It’s very easy to hear why this work won a prize; it’s an undiscovered gem, a true work of genius. Around 10:30 the volume increases, the tempo changes and we get a “punchy” section with brass and percussion that is quite dramatic—yet again, it all fits into the overall scheme of things. By the 17-minute mark the music becomes decidedly Romantic in spirit but not entirely in construction; this is the slow middle section, lyrical but not sappy.

Eventually drama returns, and when it does it is powerful indeed, almost with a hint of military fury in its forward stomp and drive. Conductor Rösner really has his forces worked up into a frenzy here, and appropriately so; this is tremendously dramatic music, grabbing the listener by the collar and not letting go. Great stuff! Later, we reach a dark, quiet section dominated by low winds (what sounds to me like a bass clarinet) with soft tremolo strings playing high above.

For their time and place, these are excellent symphonies well worth hearing, although neither composer comes close to the imagination and mysticism of Karol Szymanowski. These are the world premiere recordings of both symphonies, and conductor Thomas Rösner does a fine job with them, imbuing both with energy and spirit. The Polish National Radio Symphony plays extremely well for him, not missing a single nicety of expression or turn of phrase as the music goes along. In addition, the sonics are relatively natural, with excellent clarity as well as a bit of space around the instruments.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Mulligan’s Great Early Arrangements in Stereo

AJC99019 Gene Krupa_TRAZ

GENE KRUPA PLAYS GERRY MULLIGAN ARRANGEMENTS / MULLIGAN: Bird House (2 tks). Mulligan Stew. The Way of All Flesh. Birds of a Feather. DAVIS-CONRAD-ROBINSON: Margie (2 tks). PORTER: Begin the Beguine (2 tks). PINKARD-MITCHELL-ALEXANDER: Sugar. KRUPA-MULLIGAN: Disc Jockey Jump (2 tks). YOUMANS-CAESAR-GREY: Sometimes I’m Happy. HAMILTON-LEWIS; How High the Moon (2 tks). AYER-GRAY: If You Were the Only Girl in the World. PARKER: Yardbird Suite. MacDONALD-HANLEY: Indiana / Al DeRisi, Al Stewart (3), Doc Severinsen, Ernie Royal, Marky Markowitz (tracks 4-11), tpt; Billy Byers (tracks 1-3, 12), Eddie Bert (tracks 1-3, 12), Jimmy Cleveland, Kai Winding, Urbie Green (tracks 4-11), Willie Dennis (tracks 4-11), tbn; Phil Woods, Sam Marowitz, a-sax; Ed Wasserman, Frank Socolow, t-sax; Danny Bank, bar-sax; Hank Jones, pn; Barry Galraith, gt; James Gannon, bs; Gene Krupa, dm / Verve 8195063 or available for free streaming on YouTube: Sometimes I’m Happy, others here.

After listening to Mark Masters’ rearrangements of pieces by Mingus and Mulligan, I was in the mood to re-listen to some of the latter’s early arrangements for the great post-War Gene Krupa band. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the great drummer had re-recorded a clutch of them in stereo for Norman Granz’s Verve label in 1958 and, moreover, that the assembled band was comprised of some of the very best musicians of the day!

Needless to say, my enthusiasm was not dimmed by the actual listening experience. Say what you will about many modern jazz arrangers and composers, and I’ll say a lot of nice things about them, but the freshness of concept that existed in what I refer to as the “progressive swing” period (1945-49) remains as fresh and vital today as it did then. All of these arrangers, bursting with new ideas and excited to try them out, provided us with some of the most innovative big band music of all time: George Handy, Eddie Finckel, Gil Evans, Tadd Dameron, Gil Fuller, Eddie Sauter and Mulligan, each with his own distinctive voice and way of voicing instruments combined with harmonic daring and a way of “filling space” that many of our modern arrangers could learn from.

It’s amazing how many of the pieces here were dedicated to Bird, or Charlie Parker, even when the basic rhythmic concept was still swing and not bop. He was already a very potent force in the jazz world c. 1946, and it shows. I was also pleasantly surprised by the way young Mulligan (he was only 16 when he first joined Krupa!) came up with innovative introductions and counter-melodies to even some of the most well-worn or banal tunes on this set, such as Indiana, Sometimes I’m Happy, Begin the Beguine, Margie and Sugar. These arrangements still sound fresh and different today, with voice leadings and altered chords that were quite daring back then.

In addition to all this, we are graced with solos by some of the very greatest musicians of the 1950s, all in their prime. For those who don’t know, trombonist Eddie Bert was a veteran of Red Norvo’s early-1940s band as well as Charles Mingus’ 1955 Jazz Workshop group, and saxist Frankie Socolow was a mainstay of the 1940s Boyd Raeburn band. Trombonist Willie Dennis also played briefly with Mingus. This was quite a band!

The extra track from this session, Indiana, and all of the alternate takes are, for some reason, only in mono sound, but very fine mono sound. But that should not deter you from exploring and acquiring this recording. This is big-band jazz of a very high order, one of several testaments to the exploratory nature of Gene Krupa’s quest for creative jazz. I’m sure there are still many people who think that Krupa left Benny Goodman over salary squabbles, but I don’t see it that way. In fact, one could argue that both Krupa and Harry James left the Goodman band because they had a different concept of jazz and were getting tired of the Fletcher Henderson sound. Of course, neither one could have foreseen when they left in 1938 that Benny would completely revamp his orchestra with those innovative Eddie Sauter and Mel Powell arrangements in 1940, but only Krupa would probably have been happy in that environment. James wanted more of a combination of Count Basie drive with schmaltzy string arrangements. Krupa almost immediately made his own band sound modern with such tunes as Let Me Off Uptown and just kept on going with Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge riding the wave with him until Mulligan came around in 1946.

I can’t say enough about this album but don’t want to spoil all the surprises for you. Just dig in, and enjoy!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayle

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