Re-Evaluating Maud Powell

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Sometimes you inadvertently overlook an artist because of a bad first impression. This was my experience, and my error, in regards to violinist Maud Powell. Yes, I knew that she was the first American violinist—and certainly the first American female—to be considered on a par with such European giants as Ysaÿe, Kubelik and Kreisler. But the bulk of her recording activity, sad to say, leaned too much in the direction of effluvia: short pieces, encores and bonbons, all of which proved that she could play the violin but none of which showed her as a great artist.

Now mind you, such pieces formed the bulk of Kreisler’s output, too, but Fritz Kreisler had a way of playing those pieces, gently nudging the beat along with Viennese charm, that he was able to overcome this; and he lived long enough to actually record some substantial works, i.e. Grieg, Beethoven and Schubert sonatas with Rachmaninov, the complete Beethoven and Mendelssohn Violin Concertos, and even the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas (with Franz Rupp). Plus, he wrote a large number of well-crafted and popular short pieces himself and participated in a long-running and artistically successful series of duets—many of them of Rachmaninov songs—with tenor John McCormack.

But Maud Powell, who died on January 8, 1920 at the relatively young age of 52, had no complete concerto or sonata recordings to her name, and most of the short pieces she recorded—aside from Humoresque, the Schubert Ave Maria and the Offenbach Barcarolle (the latter, in my view, not much of anything when played on the violin)—were of incredibly banal music. Just look over the titles:

St. Patrick’s Day
Souvenir
Silver Threads Among the Gold
At the Brook
Annie Laurie
Little Firefly
Molly on the Shore
To Spring
The Little Red Lark
Ben Bolt
Deep River
Slavonic Cradle Song
Arkansas Traveler
Have Pity, Sweet Eyes!
Adoration
Petite Valse
Love’s Delight
Song of India

And even some of those titles that looked interesting—like “Fifth Nocturne”—turned out to be rubbish. Thus it was very hard for me to think of Powell as a great artist.

But then I ran across some recordings on YouTube that really opened my ears, particularly the finale from the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Recorded with piano in one take in 1904, it is a performance of such vigor and, more importantly, dazzling precision of fingering and bowing, that it literally blew me away. That’s when I started searching for other “better” Powell recordings and came up with a fairly impressive list of titles:

  1. François Schubert: The Bee / Chopin: Minute Waltz (May 29, 1909) B-4671-3
  2. Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen (abridged) (June 20, 1916) B-11149-4
  3. Thomas: Mignon – Gavotte (arr. Sarasate) (June 24, 1914) B-15000-1
  4. Bach: Violin Sonata in E, II. Allegro (June 6, 1916) B-17805-1
  5. Bach: Violin Sonata in E, IV. Presto (same date) B-17806-1
  6. Sibelius: Valse Triste (June 24, 1914) C-14999-1
  7. Vieuxtemps: Polonaise (May 20, 1909) B-1899-2
  8. Mozart: Divertimento No. 17 – Minuet (June 11, 1907) B-4668-1
  9. Chopin: The Maiden’s Wish (arr. Francis MacMillen) (June 7, 1917) C-20024-2 [portion]
  10. Alexander Zarzycki: Mazurka (May 20, 1909) B-7097-2
  11. Émile Sauret: Will O’ the Wisp [Farfalla], Op. 40 No. 3 (June 6, 1916) C-9008-4
  12. Massenet: Thaïs – Intermezzo (May 19, 1909) C-7098-1
  13. Jean-Marie Leclair: Tambourin (June 18, 1915) B-16108-2
  14. Jenó Hubay: Hejre Kati Scenes de la Czardas (September 27, 1912) C-12427-1
  15. Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E min., III. Finale (Presto) (November 8, 1904) C-1911-1

Tracks 2, 4, 5, 11: Arthur Loesser, pianist. All others: George Falkenstein, pianist

It is in these recordings that some of Powell’s greatness can be heard. The bad: she , like every other violinist of her time, used portamento as a means of expression. This was a device that went back to the 18th century, and was then still considered an important part of a violinist’s (and singer’s) art, but of course the advent of violinists like Szigeti and Heifetz eventually led to its demise. Yet if you look past that, you’ll hear a remarkably expressive artist who took great pains to play everything in her repertoire with feeling and care.

Powell The BeeWe can decry the fact that she didn’t live long enough to make complete concerto recordings. I would especially have liked to hear her play the Sibelius Concerto, which she premiered in America, and which the composer himself heard her play and gratefully approved, as well as the Dvořák Concerto, which she gave the world premiere of under the composer’s baton. But we can hear some of her artistry in such short pieces as the Sibelius Valse Triste, Chopin’s The Maiden’s Wish and two pieces that are much better than the titles suggest, Zarzycki’s Mazurka and Émile Sauret’s Will O’ the Wisp. Even Francois Schubert’s The Bee is given a serious, virtuoso performance. And then there are the second and fourth movements of J.S. Bach’s third Violin & Keyboard Sonata. These show an artist taking infinite care in her phrasing and at least trying to perform in the correct style, and she does a very fine job.

We may still feel a bit cheated in not being able to hear Powell in her best repertoire, and not very much of it. But I think if you come at least halfway towards her and try to hear the genius in her playing, you will indeed hear it. Here is the link to cleaned-up reproductions of each of the tracks listed above.

You may or may not hear what I hear in the recordings of Maud Powell, but I would at least ask you to give her a chance. I think your patience will be rewarded. Her bow and fingering technique was second only to the amazing Pable de Sarasate, and her interpretive skill second only to Bronislaw Huberman.

The one thing that still puzzles me, though, is why on earth Victor—which had a ton of great singers on its roster—never paired her with a famous singer. Jan Kubelik recorded with Nellie Melba; Kreisler recorded with McCormack; Mischa Elman with Caruso; but not one singer bothered to record with Maud Powell. I wonder why!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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New Richter Release of Live Schumann

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R. SCHUMANN: Novelettes, Op. 21 Nos. 1 & 2. Fantasie in C, Op. 17. Liederkreis: Mit myrten und Rosen.* Piano Quintet in E-flat.+ C. SCHUMANN: Er ist gerkommen in Sturm und Regen* / Sviatoslav Richter, pianist; *Nina Dorliac, soprano; +Borodin String Quartet / Doremi DHR-7786 (recorded in studio, Moscow, 1950 [C. Schumann song]; live: Bucharest, 1948 [R. Schumann song]; Dubrovnik, August 15, 1967 {Novelettes]; Budapest, June 12, 1980 [Fantasie]; Moscow, December 31, 1985 [Quintet])

This latest entry in Doremi’s series of live Richter performances, numbered Vol. 7, centers around the music of Robert Schumann except for one song by his wife Clara. Both the Piano Quintet and the Fantasie are released here for the first time ever, while the two songs with Richter’s long-rime partner, soprano Nina Dorliac, see their first CD issue here.

Sometimes you really have to feel sorry for most of these Soviet-era musicians. Stuck in a totalitarian state, the likes of which the new American Left is desperately trying to force on our own country today, Richter had little opportunity to actually play the piano professionally until he was 19 or 20 years old, he didn’t study at a conservatory until he was 23, and he didn’t get to perform in Western countries until 1958, by which time he was 43 years old. Happily he was well enough known behind the Iron Curtain to be recorded as early as 1948. He also lived long enough to have a splendid career in the West, and was lucky enough to survive the collapse of the Soviet Union as well.

Richter’s aesthetic was of a kind not much in favor nowadays. He was a steel-fingered virtuoso who played the piano like the crashing of two trains on the same track, but unlike Vladimir Horowitz, who was a virtuoso first and foremost, Richter tried hard to be a sensitive artist. He modified his steel-fingered approach to match the character of each composer, and I was surprised to learn on Wikipedia that he was a lifelong lover of opera and vocal music. Even in his most tender moments he would never be confused for such coloristic pianists as Cortot or Cherkassky, but his tenderness always seemed to come as a surprise to those who only “heard” the steel-fingered virtuoso. Thus, in the Novelettes, one hears an aggressive keyboard approach that takes no prisoners—perhaps a bit heavy for this music—mixed with moments of great tenderness. Richter always “bound” his phrases lyrically, no matter how strong the keyboard attack, but he used very little pedal. In this respect his playing was, curiously, very close in approach to that of Benjamin Britten, whose own pianistic skills were vastly underrated.

It may come as a shock to those who never saw Richter in concert that he was an incredibly shy, almost introverted performer. He detested being photographed while playing and also tried, to the best of his ability, to block all unauthorized recording or filming of his concerts. Most of the time, especially in his later years, he played with the house lights dimmed, his sheet music illuminated only by a tiny lamp at the top of the music stand. Not everything he did was perfect or among the best of all performances of that specific music, but he tried to be a sincere artist every time he touched the keyboard.

Of the performances on this CD, only the Clara Schumann song with soprano Nina Dorliac is a studio recording. The Robert Schumann song comes from a live performance in 1950, although both songs are issued here for the first time on CD. Both the Fantaisie and the Quintet are released here for the first time ever, which means that only the 1967 Novelettes have been previously released on CD.

Dorliac & Richter c. 1950

The Fantasie performance, from 1980, found him in a particularly felicitous mood. Even at his most stentorian, his piano sings and exults in the music, and the digital sonics make his playing sound a bit warmer than usual. I was particularly interested to hear the songs because I had never ever heard, or heard of, Nina Dorliac before. She had a very pretty soubrette voice, very expressive; a shame that she sang in Russian instead of German, but you can’t have everything.

Despite its 1985 performance date, the sonics on the Quintet are quite rough, making the piano sound boxy and the strings surprisingly scrappy. Undoubtedly this was one of those performances recorded secretly without Richter’s knowledge or permission, so we should be grateful that we have it at all. It’s a very fine performance, ebullient and forceful as one would expect, surprisingly so in the third movement,  although I personally prefer the wonderful recording by pianist Joyce Yang and the Alexander String Quartet on Foghorn Classics.

All in all, a bit of a mixed bag, as one would expect when live performances heretofore unknown surface. I particularly loved the Fantasie and the songs, and portions of the quintet were very well conceived and executed. The choice is yours.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Telemann’s Flute Fantasies Remarkable, Fascinating

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TELEMANN: 12 Fantasias for Flute Without Bass, TWV 40:2-13 / François Lazarevitch, flautist / Alpha Classics 267

Here’s a new recording of Telemann’s flute Fantasias, certainly among his most creative and remarkable pieces, and what makes them so remarkable is that he applied to the flute the same principles that J.S. Bach applied to the solo violin and cello, i.e., it is music in which the solo instrument creates its own counterpoint and accompaniment.

But not everyone approaches this music the same way. Several flautists, obsessed with the melodic quality of this music, de-emphasize the contrapuntal elements; this is how Claire Guimond performs them on Analekta FL23084: Guimond plays the flute very nicely but in a safe, preditable style. Her emphasis is beauty of tone, not variety of sound or emphasis on counterpoint. All the rhythms are “regular,” meaning that the quarter and eighth notes all balance out in a regular metric pattern. By contrast, Lazarevitch employs more rubato in his phrasing, making the quarter and eighth notes sound a bit irregular in meter. He also plays around with the rests, giving the music some space in the middle of a busy phrase in eighths. This gives the music much more the feeling of fantasy, meaning a liberality of pulse that makes the listening experience far more interesting. This is also, if you read the accounts of music critics of the time, an appropriate style of playing Baroque music. The word “baroque” means “ornate,” and it was often considered the mark of a great artist to “break up” the rhythm in an irregular manner in order to make the music more interesting. This was an art that was lost by the late 1930s, when music-making became more and more rhythmically strict and regulated, and it was not really revived until the 1970s in the work of such musicians as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Reinhard Goebel, Gustav Leonhardt and a few others. And then, they were kicked to the curb as the British HIP musicians moved in, took over, and forced everyone back into a strict time-beating manner of playing and conducting.

Playing the Fantasias in this manner also allows the listener to discern the different movements within each piece (the first Fantasia is only 3:22, but all the others range between four and six and a quarter minutes) more clearly, and the ear also allows one to discover relationships between those movements. One also hears remarkable touches, such as the chromatic glisses in the third Fantasia or Telemann’s interesting manner of combining elements of German, French, Italian and even Polish music. Indeed, in the middle of the Fantasia No. 5 in C, one hears a couple of real Irish jigs! The way Lazarevitch plays these pieces they are fun to listen to, and I’m all for enjoying the music I hear. Interestingly, I immediately recognized the opening melody of the Fantasia in G (the eleventh), which is probably the most well-known of the set.

One of the few detriments of this release is that Lazarevitch’s flute is absolutely swimming in a sea of echo. This is one of the banes of modern classical recordings, a tendency to overdo the reverb. Once in a while it helps us appreciate the way Telemann bounced his counterpoint off the melodic line, but too often there is a discernible post-echo or feedback that almost makes it sound as if he is playing the notes twice. Yes, of course you can tell the difference, but considering how many modern-day musicians of all genres love to “play off the feedback,” it detracts from what is otherwise an ebullient and well-thought-out performance.

Strictly from a technical standpoint, Lazarevitch seems to emphasize technique over tone quality. I don’t mean to say that his playing is rough, but producing a consistently round, golden tone on the flute isn’t his thing. You often hear him blowing air across the mouthpiece, and he prefers a lean tone to a round one. This doesn’t bother me very much, however, because of his close identification to the music and his stated goal of projecting the different mood of each piece. As he puts it in the liner notes, “Telemann plays on effects of contrast and surprise by switching between opposing characters and tempi.” Not every flautist is on the same high level of a Claude Monteux or a James Galway, able to produce both a beautiful sound and an interesting interpretation, and I always prefer the latter to the former.

Indeed, as the series progresses, one notices all sorts of little minutae and details in the music. Tonal it may be, but it is certainly not unvaried. One such moment comes at about 2:20 in the midst of the Fantasie in D major (track 7), in which Telemann asks the performer to create an echo effect. Interestingly, he does not continue in this vein, but then suddenly at 4:18, there is it again. By using such devices, he keeps the listener off balance.

The twelve Fantasias climb up through the chromatic scale, but not consistently so. The first is in A major, the second A minor, the third B minor, the fourth B-flat major, then C, D min., D, E min., E, F-sharp min., G and G min. And within each key Telemann finds a different means of expression, but of course pitch is relative. Lazarevitch is hung up on so-called “Baroque pitch,” meaning around A=420 or so, which makes each piece sound a half-tone flat to modern ears. I’m still not entirely sure why the hang-up on this. In a world that operates on A-440—and it’s not going to change in a widespread way any time soon—why bother? Is your flute going to blow up if you play these pieces in A=440? It’s an affectation, folks, but only an irritant to those who have “perfect pitch” (perfect, again, being relative to A=440).

I’m not normally drawn to Baroque music for its own sake, nor really to music for solo flute, but this is quite an extraordinary album despite the few caveats noted above.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Papandopulo’s Music Strange, Mysterious, Yet Lively

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PAPANDOPULO: Piano Concerto No. 3.* Violin Concerto+ / *Oliver Triendl, pianist; +Dan Zhu, violinist; Rijeka Opera Symphony Orchestra; Ville Matvejeff, conductor / CPO 555 100-2

If you’ve heard, or heard of, the music of Boris Papandopulo, you’re ahead of the curve. I never had, so I took a chance on this strange but fascinating CD. Papandopulo, who was born in Honnef am Rhein in 1906 and died in Zagreb in 1991, was a Croatian composer of Russian Jewish descent. He wrote an astounding 460 works (!), his music combined elements of folk music—particularly its strong rhythms—with an almost Baroque style of continually fast, virtuosic passages with modern harmonies. He also used some very modern harmonies, alternating between moments of ebullience and strangely dark, mysterious passages. These are but two of his works, but fine ones.

The son of a musical family, Papandopulo’s father was a Greek nobleman and his mother, Maja Strozzi-Pečić, a famous Croatian-Jewish opera singer. In order to make a living, Boris Papandopulo1worked as a music writer, journalist, reviewer and piano accompanist while he wrote his music. He started piano lessons as a child and studied composition at the Musical Academy in Zagreb. He enjoyed writing in a style of “European Moderne” without “departing from the traditional formats of musical cells, from the settled development of motif and facture or the well-established laws of melodic movement.” He thus combined motor rhythms and a style of composition in which notes were reeled off in a continuous forward sequence with astringent modern harmonies. It’s music that is easy to understand when you’re listening to it but difficult to describe. Even in the third movement of the piano concerto, clearly mixing classical form with jazz, Papandopulo’s aesthetic defies convenient explanation. Yes, the music swings somewhat and had the outer trappings of jazz, yet maintains his basic approach of unreeling long spools of notes in his linear style. For him, jazz, like everything else, is merely a vehicle for his imagination, another way for him to express the same basic tenets using varied rhythms and forms.

Oddly, the violin concerto begins in a much more lyrical vein, an unusual mode for this composer’s work, and it is when the solo violinist enters that the music becomes more moody and mysterious. He puts aside his obsession with motor rhythms in the first movement, focusing instead on the solo instrument’s penchant for a long, singing line—another side of his musical personality, so to speak. To a certain extent, this piece is a bit more conventional in form and certainly in rhythm, yet it is still an engaging and fascinating piece…in fact, if anything it is even more appealing to the average listener than the piano concerto. The first movement, at 24:31, is practically an entire work in itself, dramatic, lyrical and with never a wasted phrase or gesture.

The second movement, which clocks in at 13:48, takes us on a journey of floating melody with interesting chords underpinning it. The very upbeat third movement opens dramatically, almost wildly, with a brass and string fanfare before the violin enters and begins playing in and around a bevy of horns and percussion. This one really does fall back on Croatian-style rhythms and harmonic modes, recalling if not actually quoting folk music. The violin gets in the spirit, too, playing rapid figures, sometimes with the edge of the bow to simulate folk fiddling. It’s a rousing finish to a wonderful recording.

Highly recommended!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Holst & Vaughan Williams’ Contrasting British Operas

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HOLST: At the Boar’s Head / Jonathan Lemalu, bass-baritone (Falstaff); Eric Barry, tenor (Prince Hal); Paweł Kołodziej, bass (Poins); Krzysztof Szumański, baritone (Bardolf);
Kathleen Reveille, mezzo (Doll Tearsheet); Gary Griffiths, baritone (Pistol); Nicole Percifield, soprano (Hostess); Mateusz Stachura, baritone (Gadshill); Warsaw Chamber Opera Sinfonietta; Łukasz Borowicz, conductor /
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Riders to the Sea / Gary Griffiths, baritone (Bartley); Nicole Percifield, soprano (Cathleen); Kathleen Reveille, mezzo (Maurya); Evanna Chiew, mezzo (Nora); Anna Fijałkowska, mezzo (The woman); Warsaw Chamber Opera Sinfonietta & Philharmonic Women’s Chamber Choir; Łukasz Borowicz, conductor / Dux 1307-08 (live: Warsaw, March 16 [Holst] & 18 [Vaughan Williams], 2016)

Here are two real oddities, British operas written just two years apart by two quite different English composers. Gustav Holst, of course, is best known for his orchestral suite The Planets, but the style and musical syntax of that masterpiece is entirely different from his usual style, of which At the Boar’s Head (1925) is a good example. Ralph Vaughan Williams, heavily influenced in his early years by the French impressionists, became more uneven as time went on, but when he wrote Riders to the Sea (1927 but not premiered until 1937), he was still an inspired composer.

The Holst opera is given its first recording here, and what strikes the ear as a bit odd is the English diction of half the cast, which is Polish (the other half is American). The singers’ Polish accents are obvious, but at least they try to sing clear English, so I give them points. To be honest, I was a bit worried about how the tenor singing Prince Hal would come off, simply because it was written for one of the most stentorian of early English tenors, Tudor Davies, whereas most modern-day British and American tenors favor a much lighter style of vocalism. As it turns out, Eric Barry doesn’t have as stentorian a voice as Davies (few did in his time besides Walter Widdop or Tom Burke), but he is strong enough in his projection and has a bright and cutting enough of a timbre to compensate. The plot, of course, revolves around the same incidents found in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 later used by Orson Welles in his classic film Chimes at Midnight. The now-paunchy Falstaff, once a good pal and familiar of Prince Hal, keeps trying to cling to him despite the fact that the latter is trying to distance himself from the pompous old windbag because he is being groomed for the throne.

Some online critics have compared this opera to Holst’s The Wandering Scholar, but to be honest I liked At the Boar’s Head much better. The music is livelier and wittier, the rhythms of the music written to exactly match the rhythm of the words, and Holst chose his libretto from Shakespeare very well and tailored it perfectly. The orchestration is sparse yet telling: he was, after all, a master of orchestration and knew exactly what he was doing. Although there are no arias, the music is most definitely melodic and tuneful. In short, it’s a thoroughly delightful work, a British equivalent of Verdi’s Falstaff, far better than any comic opera written in the past half-century. It certainly deserves a place in the repertoire of opera houses today.

For the most part the singers are splendid. Aside from Barry, we have Jonathan Lemalu as Falstaff, a singer whose voice is unsteady in sustained tones but possesses an extremely rich, deep and resonant bass voice. The bit parts, such as the inn Hostess (Nicole Percifield) and Doll Tearsheet (Kathleen Reveille), are very well cast, the latter having a fruity mezzo with a quick vibrato. As the opera progresses, you just stop evaluating the singing and even the music and just revel in its charm and humor. The talented cast is just enjoying themselves so much that you in turn enjoy them as well. In the section titled “How now! What news?”, Holst sets up a nicely complex fugue among the four voices. Yes, I can imagine that the staging for such an opera might be a little static—the scene never changes from the Boar’s Head pub—but with a little imagination and not too much Eurotrash, I’m sure it can be made quite delightful. I’d much sooner sit through a performance of this than another mind-numbing performance of Il Viaggio a Reims.

The filler, Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea, is based on a story by John Millington Synge about a woman named Maurya who has lost her father, her husband and four of her six sons to the sea. Her two daughters Nora and Cathleen hear that a body has washed up on shore and may be that of Maurya’s fifth son, Michael. Meanwhile her sixth son, Bartley, plans to go to the Galway fair to sell horses, but his mother is afraid of the sea winds and begs him not to go. He does so anyway, with Nora and Cathleen chiding their mother for sending him off with a bad word. But her prediction becomes reality; her daughters receive the clothing of the dead sailor which identifies him as Michael, and Maurya claims to have seen the ghost of Michael riding behind Bartley. In time villagers bring the body of Bartley, who somehow fell off his horse and drowned in the sea, back home. Maurya laments, “They’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me.” Apparently Maurya isn’t much of a feminist…to her, her daughters are nothing.

Ironically, this work, short as it is (a little under 40 minutes), is a real masterpiece. As the liner notes point out, “Nearly all the vocal parts are a dramatic recitative, coherent with the considered rhythm of the original text. Commentators point to the kinship of the melody with Gregorian chant. The sense of the archaic is also reinforced by the very frequent doubling of voices by instruments and accompaniment in parallel fourths, at times in fourths and thirds… The tonality of Riders to the Sea is already very distant from the tonal system, yet it does not show the close kinship with English folk music we might expect from Vaughan Williams. The dissonant nature, copious oscillating semitones as well as oscillation between the major and minor scales, and the liquidity of tonal centres fit Synge’s gloomy drama perfectly well.” This is an excellent description of the music, but technically speaking the sung lines are in the tonal system. It is the orchestral accompaniment that is bitonal, and it is this musical clash that sets up the tension.

Here mezzo Reveille graduates from a supporting role to the lead role of Maurya. She has an unusual voice in that she has a very insistent vibrato, like that of the late Kathleen Ferrier, but like Ferrier’s it is at least an even vibrato. Interestingly, her low range is rich and full like Ferrier’s. More importantly, she is an expressive singer and her diction—like that of all the cast—is crystal-clear. Now, why on earth can’t we have singers like this all the time nowadays in opera recordings? Why do record companies have to hire singers who can’t sing consonants clearly? Of course, in this case the question is a rhetorical one because all of these singers can sing clear English.

Although the music does not resemble British folk music, it is not terribly far from it, either. All of the sung recitatives have a melodic contour; Vaughan Williams did not fall into the trap that Kaija Saariaho did in her most recent opera, L’Amour de Loin. Since Vaughan Williams was also a master orchestrator, his finely-sculpted lines make telling use of the winds, strings and brass, sometimes using just one section at a time. I also liked his use of a distant, wordless chorus behind Maurya when she sings about Bartley and near the end of the opera, also the way Vaughan Williams simulates the waves with broadly played cymbal washes. Near the end, Maurya has a powerful solo scene which is the closest thing to an aria in the opera.

This is a surprisingly well-done and fascinating issue. I’m not a strong advocate of most British operas by a long shot, but these two are definitely worth a listen!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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R.I.P. Lonie Levister

What can you say about someone who you contact for professional reasons but who opens up his heart and his mind to you? This describes my relatively brief but spirited encounter with jazz composer and arranger Alonzo (Lonie) Levister, who passed away this past December 6 at the age of 91. I didn’t know him long—only three and a half years—and only via e-mail, because by then he and his wife of nearly a half-century, Gloria Bleezarde, had moved from New York City to faraway Nazare, Portugal, a semi-sleepy but beautiful nook in the middle of nowhere. Gloria had been attracted on a visit by its rural charms, its open-air fresh-food market and its breathtaking scenery from the hilltop, and so persuaded the then octogenarian Levister to move there with her. “For the rest of my life?” Lonie asked. “You’re almost ninety,” the younger Gloria said. “What do you think, you’re going to live forever?” “Well, yeah,” Lonie said. “At least, that’s my plan!”

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It was a typically witty and almost childlike response from a man who viewed life as an open book yet to be written, no matter now many pages were in it already. I had been writing my book on the cross-influence of classical music and jazz, the original working title of which was Classical Gas (which I reluctantly abandoned because I feared copyright infringement on the title of Mason Williams’ hit single from eons ago), and was frustrated that I couldn’t find a copy of Levister’s one and only LP, Manhattan Monodrama to listen to and evaluate. Indeed, the origin of that LP came about as a result of Levister’s typical open heart and generosity, even as a young man. He had become infatuated with Charles Mingus’ lovely but quirky jazz ballad, Portrait (also known as God’s Portrait), and so sent him a lush arrangement for strings and winds that he had written. Mingus, who had never even heard of Levister, was struck by the incredible beauty and inventiveness of this score and so recorded it for his Debut record label with trumpeter Thad Jones as soloist. This led to his being invited by the bassist to record a full-length album of music for his label. Levister responded with a handful of superb but unrelated individual pieces and a jazz ballet he had recently composed entitled Manhattan Monodrama. This was during a period in which he was writing ballet scores for such folks as Katherine Dunham and Donald McKayle.

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The record went nowhere. Jazz critics thought it was too classical and classical critics found it too “simple” and therefore boring. The only spin-off came when one of the side one pieces, one Slow Dance, attracted the ear of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane who recorded it for Prestige. Ironically, the little piddly royalty checks from this Coltrane recording were the only income Levister ever received from any of his work in his later years, the Debut LP having long since gone out of print, sunk beneath the waves, and virtually forgotten.

Yet Levister was eternally grateful to Mingus, not only for the chance to record his music but also because the bassist introduced him around to the jazz elite in New York, including the irascible trumpeter Miles Davis. Davis asked Levister to write something for him. When he did, he brought the music around to Miles who looked it over and said, “You sure are thorough wit’ your shit, ain’t you? There’s no place in here for me to improvise!” Davis never recorded that piece (neither did anyone else), but ironically he went around town talking up Levister as a first-rate talent. Miles Davis was one strange dude!

Levister was bemused and a little suspicious as to why I was suddenly so interested in his work, but once I explained my mission he was completely supportive. There was just one catch: he himself only had a very battered-up copy of the album and didn’t know how to convert it to wav files, so he contacted his old friend Dan Morgenstern, former director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, to have the Institute send me a copy. Morgenstern wrote the Institute an e-mail—he was long gone by this point from the Institute—and copied Levister on it. Levister copied me on Morgenstern’s letter. Weeks went by. Nothing happened. Not knowing Morgenstern at all, I took the plunge and contacted him on it. He seemed annoyed, not necessarily because I wrote him but because he thought his name and clout would have gotten the job done. He wrote them another e-mail and was more insistent, mentioning that Levister was 90 years old and wasn’t going to be around forever. I hid this from Lonie; it would have probably hurt his feelings to realize he was mortal!

Levister0004Eventually I got the recordings, which I then proceeded to clean up (they, too, had come from an old copy of the LP, probably the only surviving one outside of Sue Mingus’ own collection or the two copies I saw being sold on Ebay for hundreds of dollars) and sent a copy to Levister. He was pleased with my audio editing, and then sent me more things I had no idea about: video and audio clips from his two “pocket operas” of the 1950s, The Happy Hypocrite and Blues in the Subway, and a piece he had written on commission for Cannonball Adderly on the recommendation of Mingus, the Bedrock Suite. The latter was in absolutely miserable condition: obviously recorded on a private acetate, it not only had ticks, pops and plenty of surface noise, but the treble was so covered that you couldn’t even make out the instruments clearly or hear the drums much at all. I proceeded to clean this up as well and send it back to him.

Lonie was so grateful for all my attention to his music (“People aren’t exactly breaking my door down to hear it”) that he then sent me other things, such as excerpts from a late-’60s musical (that also went nowhere) called Slave Song, a faux-cowboy song he had written (Holy Cow [Bust My Knee]) and a Christmas song (The Prince of Peace). I sent him pages from the book, particularly the chapter in which I described his music alongside of that of his equally-neglected contemporary, Herbie Nichols. He was thrilled to me taken seriously, something that had never happened to him in his life. He then explained to me via e-mail how he came to involved with classical music, how he presented some pieces to Leonard Bernstein who recognized his talent but told him that “Your sonata is excellently crafted, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not personal or interesting. You need to write music that reflects you.” Bernstein then wrote him a glowing letter of recommendation to Nadia Boulanger in Paris on his personal letterhead, which led to that eminent teacher accepting Lonie as a pupil. It was the turning-point of his life.

Levister0002But for Levister, nothing really came easy after the Manhattan Monodrama LP, although he did write the arrangements for the Prestige All-Stars album Roots. Cannonball Adderly, hearing the Bedrock Suite, promised to record it on his next album but didn’t. In fact, no one recorded it other than Levister himself on that faded demo disc. Hearing it years later, Atlantic Records producer Nesuhi Ertegun said that it was a mistake for Adderly not to record it, that it would have been the highlight of the album. Such was Levister’s professional life. He arranged the music for one of those peppy but generic musicals that hit Broadway like a passing storm, Kicks & Co., and won a Clio Award for his Prell Shampoo jingle, but that was about it. While working on the 1968 musical New Faces of 1968 he met a young dancer-actress in that show, Gloria Bleezarde. They fell in love and were married. After that period, however, work dried up for Levister.

We kept in touch all through the gestation process of my book. At one point I listened to a new opera based on a famous jazz musician that I had been eager to hear, but which turned out to be not so great because the singers were too formal and couldn’t swing if you put a gun to their heads. I complained about it to Lonie, who asked to hear the music which I then sent him. He agreed that it was too stiff and too formally written. I told him my opinion that it was because opera singers can’t swing, but he disagreed with me. “It all depends on how you write it,” he wrote to me. “If the lyrics and the music are hip enough, they can get into it.” I demurred, so he sent me a five-page handwritten scenario (with lyrics) for a jazz opera based on Louis Armstrong meeting Luciano Pavarotti. Its title was “Pops” and Luciano: The Lost My Hat Blues. Here’s page 1 of what he sent me:

Levister0001

But Lonie wasn’t done. He also sent me as a gift an astounding handwritten book describing his and Gloria’s expatriation adventure, life in Nazare, and real life/fantasy life adventures all wrapped up in 178 pages which included nearly 170 full-color photographs. The book was titled All In: An Expatriate Journey. It was stunning. It is stunning. The cover and 14 pages are reproduced here as an Adobe file for your enjoyment. I couldn’t thank him enough.

But Lonie wasn’t done. One my book was finished, he suggested a new title, From Bach to Bop, which I loved. In changing it, however, some other people who had been pre-reading it said that it was rather misleading since it indicated a linear connection between 18th century Baroque and the bop era whereas my book was much more far-ranging than that, so I changed it again to From Baroque to Bop and Beyond. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter from Lonie on his personal letterhead extolling the virtues of my book. “I wanted to do for you what Leonard Bernstein did for me,” he said. I was deeply touched. How can you thank someone for that much generosity?

As I became busier and more involved with my blog last year, we lost touch…not that we kept in touch that frequently to begin with. Then a few days ago I wrote him an e-mail to see how he was doing. He didn’t answer for three days. This, too, was not unusual; often when I wrote him I’d get a reply a week or so later saying, “Oh, I just found this in my inbox.” I don’t think Levister was that diligent about checking his e-mail. But this time something told me to check, so I entered his name in Google. His Wikipedia page came up, saying that he had died

It’s hard to say goodbye to someone who opens his heart and his mind to you in such a way. I’m grateful for being able to get to know this talented, gentle and funny man. He was one of a kind.

You can listen to Levister’s full 1956 album Manhattan Monodrama here, along with excerpts from Blues in the Subway and Slave Song. They are the tracks numbered 73 through 90.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Kamus Has Fun With Finnish String Quartets

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DIFFERENT VOICES / SIBELIUS: String Quartet in D min., “Voces intimae.” KAIPAINEN: String Quartet No. 7, “Batsheba.” TIENSUU: Rack / Kamus String Quartet / Alba ABCD383

This disc starts out with one of the most famous of all string quartets, Sibelius’ Voces Intimae, before moving into modern territory with the world premiere recordings of quartets by Jouni Kaipainen (1956 – ) and Jukka Tiensuu (1948 – ), so at least I had something to judge their prowess by.

The Voces Intimae receives a bracing, straightforward reading of the fast movements, similar in overall shape and design to the legendary 1933 recording by the Budapest String Quartet, made back in the day when they still had at least one Hungarian in the group. The one big difference is that the Kamus Quartet uses less vibrato; the small difference is that Kamus takes three minutes longer to get through it, but this isn’t really a detriment because of their propulsive style. The work’s title applies largely to the slow third movement, and here Kamus shows their more sensitive side with a beautifully sculpted reading that is touching without being sentimental. I was particularly impressed by their exquisitely soft playing at the 1:50 mark, a moment so easily ruined by lack of instrumental control in inferior readings. They also wisely introduce moments of rubato into their phrasing in this movement, which adds to its touching quality. Only in the fourth movement, marked “Allegretto ma pesante,” did I feel that they just missed the spirit with a slightly over-refined reading, but all in all this is a splendid performance worthy of this great music.

Since I had no liner notes with this download, I had to guess as to what the references were in the titles of Kaipainen’s and Tiensuu’s quartets. The Kaipainen work begins bitonally with slow, moody music featuring soft violin tremolos over the viola and cello, frequently interrupted by rests. A very high E is played by one of the violins as the other instruments fall in behind it, now with all four instruments playing tremolos, later with the music temporarily settling into D-flat minor. It is a piece built around mood, and the mood is dark and mournful—one might say typically Finnish—although a somewhat livelier section comes around, now in D-flat major, with pizzicato cello propelling it rhythmically. Kaipainen evidently knows what he’s doing, for the quartet develops along interesting lines, holding and retaining the listener’s interest. Eventually a long-lined cello solo takes over, with the three higher instruments alternately playing pizzicato and holding long loud notes above it. Another pause, and the viola leads the group back to the mood of the opening section. And all this in just the first 5 ½ minutes of its 13:41 length! At one point a 6/8 rhythm comes around, followed by intense downward glissandi by the upper strings, followed by strong downbow attacks. Eventually the quieter mood resumes, as the first violin plays a strange lyrical melody very high up and the others gently play around it to the finish.

Tiensuu’s Rack is more of an angular piece, starting with the two violins very high up in their range and the cello plucking notes around them. Eventually a syncopated sort of rhythm, almost folk-like, is set up; indeed, as the music “settles” in we hear intimations of folk music but this doesn’t last long. Much of the piece revolves around the playful interaction of the two top strings with pizzicato interjections from the cello and occasional long-lined commentary by the viola. You might almost call it a playful piece, although the humor in it is quite subtle at times. The tonality generally centers around D major, at least in those sections when tonality is prevalent. Long sections of sliding tonality then ensue, followed by busier (and somewhat humorous) syncopated bustling by the four instruments. It’s a weird piece, but a fascinating one. In an odd sort of way, the Kaipainen and Tiensuu works complement each other.

All in all, a fascinating album, one that draws you in and holds your attention throughout, superbly played by this talented quartet.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Krupa’s Last Recorded Performance a Gem

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GENE KRUPA LIVE AT THE NEW SCHOOL / SAMPSON-WEBB: Don’t Be That Way. SHAVERS: Undecided. STRAYHORN: Take the “A” Train. KRUPA: Drumboogie. ARLEN-KOEHLER: As Long as I Live. GREEN-HEYMAN-SOUR: Body and Soul. TIZOL-ELLINGTON: Caravan. PRIMA: Sing, Sing, Sing / Eddie Shu, t-sax/harmonica; John Bunch, pn; Nabil Totah, bs; Gene Krupa, bs / Chiaroscuro 207, or available for free streaming on YouTube (live: New York, April 17, 1973)

Gene Krupa was sort of an anomaly among jazz drummers. He didn’t have the greatest technique by a long shot: not only Baby Dodds, but also Vic Berton, Chick Webb (his personal idol), rival Buddy Rich and later drum idol Max Roach could all do things Krupa found impossible. But Gene had one thing going for him that many lesser-known drummers did not have, and that was a sense of drama. Benny Goodman often said that he never played the same after Krupa left his band in early 1938 because, despite all the wonderful things that Lionel Hampton, Dave Tough, Big Sid Catlett or Harry Jaeger (a really fine and underrated drummer) could do, it was Krupa’s beat that inspired him the most.

Krupa always said that he thought his drum solos through the way a horn player did, that he tried to tell a story and be coherent. In several of his solos with Goodman, however, he tended to overplay, most often when he played with the trio or quartet. With his own band, however, Krupa surprisingly streamlined and modernized his style. This fit in perfectly with the more sophisticated scores his orchestra played, including those by Gerry Mulligan in the post-war years. I actually did manage to see Gene in person once—with Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson, the original trio, and later in the set with George Duvivier on bass and (I think) Terry Gibbs on vibes. He played beautifully.

That was in 1967. During the next few years, Krupa went through a plethora of health problems including leukemia, emphysema, heart disease, and severe back pain. Despite this, he still managed to give performances as great as any he had played in the past. This April 1973 jam session, recorded only six months before Krupa’s death, wasn’t released until 26 years later, and many critics dismiss it as merely “historical” in importance because of its timing.

But this isn’t entirely fair. The unusual quality of this performance is directly related to the rhythmic pulse of tenor saxophonisr Eddie Shu, a name I was barely familiar with, and in addition the tight rhythmic propulsion of pianist Bunch and bassist Totah. They function as a unit, playing a sort of serrated jazz even within the context of the old standards that made up this concert, and because of this we hear Krupa playing things on the drums that he never attempted before. His pulse is both more fluid and more serrated in quality, and he follows his musicians with unerring timing and a great sense of humor. Of course, the final performance on here—Sing, Sing, Sing—is primarily a nostalgia piece for those members of Krupa’s audience who wanted to hear him pound out that tom-tom beat one last time, and it doesn’t work as well as the Goodman original because you need the cushion of a big band to absorb all that pounding. Just having a tenor saxophone to play all the riffs and breaks and solos doesn’t quite cut it. But in everything else on here, you get a chance to hear Krupa in a new context, and it’s fascinating to hear him adapt to his slightly more modern compatriots.

I found this album to be fulfilling and interesting, and I think you will, too, if you’re open minded about it.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Uhlig’s French Concerto Album Powerful, Dazzling

Uhlig

RAVEL: Concerto for the Left Hand in D. TAILLEFERRE: Ballad for Piano & Orchestra. N. BOULANGER: Fantasy for Piano & Orchestra. FRANÇAIX: Piano Concerto / Florian Uhlig, pianist; Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern; Pablo González, conductor / SWR Music 19027CD

Florian Uhlig, who has made a name for himself by recording all of Schumann’s and Ravel’s piano music for SWR, here tests the waters of French piano concertos and fantasies. Two well-known works, the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand and the Françaix Piano Concerto, flank the two rarities, Germaine Tailleferre’s Ballad for Piano & Orchestra and Nadia Boulanger’s Fantasy.

From the very first notes of the Ravel, we realize that we are in for something quite momentous. Conductor Pablo González creates a virtual hurricane of sound, starting from a mere whisper and building up to a volcanic eruption of tremendous impact. Uhlig’s playing is firmly attacked and beautifully phrased and articulated; this is a musician who evidently understands his role. I still find it almost impossible to visualize playing this music with the left hand only, but that’s why I was never good enough at the keyboard to have a career! Oddly enough, I had never listened to Paul Wittgenstein’s performance of this music previously, but did so in order to compare it with this version. His performance (1937, with Bruno Walter conducting) is equally dramatic, the orchestral phrasing a bit more clipped than here, although to be truthful Walter didn’t get as much out of the score as González does…and Wittgenstein’s playing is just competent, neither as smooth nor as technically secure as Uhlig’s. But even if you’ve heard other versions, and no matter how you slice it, this Ravel performance is musically impressive and overpowering in its emotional impact. An interesting feature is the trombone solo at the 11:20 mark, phrased in such a way that it slurs almost like a jazz trombonist. Why is this interesting? Because it’s so similar to the way Ravel phrased the rhythmically tricky trombone solo in Bolero, that’s why.

This was my first exposure to the Tailleferre Ballad, and my impression is of an airy, transparently-scored piece in the Impressionistic style so beloved of French composers in that time. It has a singing melodic line but not a kitschy or treacly one; she evidently liked to use whole-tone scales and extended chords in the Debussy manner, yet she avoided sounding too much like her model by virtue of her manipulation of inner voices and a tendency to be more outgoing in terms of volume and expression. As in all of these pieces, Uhlig’s playing is rich-toned and expansive. It’s very much what I would have expected of a German pianist playing French music, but to be honest I sometimes tire of the “classic French”approach which is so delicate that the keyboardist sounds as if he or she is playing on Dresden china. A little Teutonic passion goes a long way in this music. And once again, I was absolutely awestruck by González’ conducting. This is a guy who really “gets it” in terms of drawing emotion out of the music! Like the Ravel Concerto, the Tailleferre Ballad is in one long movement, but within that movement there are different sections, each of which is a development or expansion of the one previous. It’s an excellent and fascinating composition.

I skipped reviewing the recent two-CD set of Nadia Boulanger’s music because I felt that, although it was well written (she certainly knew the principles of composition!), it wasn’t really inspired. It didn’t come from “inside,” like her sister Lili’s music did. Once again González gives it everything he has, as does Uhlig, but my impression of the piece—as opposed to my impression of the performance—remains the same. Nadia’s music was interesting; she didn’t get bogged down in banalities; but it lacked that certain spark of creativity that made Lili’s music so impactful. It’s the difference between a fine craftsman and a genius…let’s say, between those artists whose scenery paintings you buy at “starving artists” sales and Vincent van Gogh. That being said, the performance is exciting and dramatic, though I found the score too episodic and at times reminiscent of movie music. It also tends to ramble by the 15-minute mark, although a later fast passage revives its spirits.

An interesting sidelight: the very first recording of the Françaix Piano Concerto was made with the composer at the keyboard and Nadia Boulanger conducting, so there is a connection between two of the composers on this disc. That original recording (from 1935, I believe) was light as a feather, airy and charming in the “true” French style. Much to my surprise and delight, González manages to emulate this style in his conducting, but Uhlig remains Uhlig, employing a deep, rich tone and flowing legato. It’s a different way of looking at the music, equally valid if a bit less effervescent than the original. Has anyone besides me ever noticed the similarities (in terms of compositional style if not orchestration) between Françaix and Satie? Somehow, people forget that Satie made it to 1924, by which time Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde and Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique were written. Music was changing, and pretty rapidly, too.

All in all, however, this is surely one of the best surprises of early 2017, particularly for those listeners who haven’t yet discovered the Ravel or the Françaix pieces. Great playing and absolutely inspired conducting!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Say & Alstaedt’s “4 Cities” a Fascinating Musical Journey

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SAY: Cello Sonata, “4 Cities.” DEBUSSY: Cello Sonata in D min. JANÁČEK: Pohádka. Presto. SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Sonata in D min. / Nicolas Altstaedt, cellist; Fazil Say, pianist / Warner Classics 190295867232

The gimmick of this CD—and it seems, nowadays, that the big labels (of which Warner is one of the biggest) seem fixated on kitsch gimmicks in order to sell classical “product”—is that these four sonatas were written in four different cities (well, duh!) and in addition that Fazil Say’s cello sonata is “a musical celebration of four Turkish locations the composer describes as ‘full of personal memories.’” Happily, the music is good enough to sustain the listening experience.

The opening of Say’s first movement, titled “Sivas,” sounds much more like pop music played by cello and piano than anything classical. I was not very pleased with the over-reverberant echo in which the music swims, and sometimes sinks. Fortunately the second movement, “Hopa,” is very dramatic, featuring Alstaedt playing rapid figures with fast, edgy bowing and Say’s piano pounding out percussive figures in the bass range. This is the Fazil Say I’ve admired in the past, and I really enjoyed this movement. I almost wished that the sonata would have started with this movement! In the development section, the cello is slapped like a string bass, after which Alstaedt plays a fast native Turkish dance rhythm while the piano continues to pound behind him. The liner notes claim that this is a remembrance of a wedding celebration in full swing.

The third movement, “Ankara,” begins with Say repeatedly pounding the contrabass low A while damping the strings with his other hand, while Altstaedt is playing ominous-sounding sustained low notes. Then the cellist moves into a fragmented melody, the pianist now playing single As roughly three octaves higher than before. It’s a strange piece, built around hints and suggestions of music rather than fully-formed statements. Then, at the 5:27 mark, roughly halfway through the movement, we hear a snippet of Ankara’nın Taşına Bak, a protest song dating back to the First World War. I wonder if Say revived this song as a protest against the destruction of his native country’s beautifully-balanced ethnic diversity by invading ISIS hordes? In the latter part of this movement, Altstaedt is forced very high up in his range, then to play wavering pitches as the music moves to a fade-out.

The last movement, “Turkish Saint-Tropez,” is a complete surprise, a tribute to Bar Street where “all manner of musical styles intermingle,” but primarily swing jazz. Altstaedt does a pretty good job on it, but it’s really Say’s piano that drives the rhythm and swings.

Their performance of the Debussy Sonata, one of the great gems of the catalogue, is played with fervor by the duo, if not quite on the exalted level of Colin Carr’s classic account. Altstaedt and Say give it a bit more rhythmic push than usual, and the pianist in particular really seems to get into the spirit of the piece, prodding Altstaedt to some fine, expressive playing. The last movement really sparkles!

Janáček’s Pohádka or Fairy Tale was new to me, a beautifully atmospheric piece typical of this composer’s chamber music. I fully enjoyed the interplay between the two musicians here, particularly the way Say articulated the piano part. The duo creates an almost shimmering effect with Janáček’s delicately written score, filled with melodies but never cheap or sugary in his expression. The work has an unusual history. Based on the same fairy tale that inspired Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Janácek wrote three movements in 1910 but intended it to be a larger work; in 1912 he added a poetic, reflective finale, which he later scrapped as unsatisfactory. Eventually he rewrote it, in the version heard here, in 1923. The extra “Presto” movement which follows was intended for inclusion, but somehow never made it into any of the three versions. In E minor, it’s both vigorous and ominous in feeling, probably meant to represent the evil magician Katschei. Although not thematically related to any of the three settled movements, it makes a nice addendum to them.

This recital wraps up with the Shostakovich Cello Sonata. Written early in his career (1934), it manages to avoid the over-the-top emotion of some of his later works despite a raging second-movement Scherzo later used as a basis for his Tenth Symphony (certainly one of his greatest). The first movement, in particular, is one of the finest things Shostakovich ever wrote, a melody both appealing and intriguing with subtly morphing harmonic changes and a final section of quiet mystery. I was intrigued by the section in the second movement where Shostakovich employs the cello much as Stravinsky did in The Firebird, playing soft, quickly-sliding figures up and down the range of the instrument. Here, as elsewhere throughout this recital, Alstaedt shows remarkable variety of tone color and rhythmic elasticity, his playing always being emotionally charged and in synch with the feelings demanded of the music—note particularly the almost nostalgic Largo. As for the finale, many early listeners considered it too flippant and sardonic in its humor, but nowadays we have no problems accepting it.

All in all, a splendid recording and, for me at least, a superb introduction to the excellent cellist Nicolas Alstaedt.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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