Neunecker’s Strauss Will Blow You Away

Strauss Neunecker

STRAUSS: Horn Concertos Nos. 1 & 2. BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings* / Marie Luise Neunecker, French hornist; *Ian Bostridge, tenor; Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Ingo Metzmacher, conductor / EMI 5099972354759

While listening to our local classical insomnia-inducing radio station a week or so ago, my cousin actually heard a recording that woke her up and blew her away. It was the Strauss Second Horn Concerto, the one that Dennis Brain played as if he didn’t care and would much rather have been driving his sports car or reading a racing magazine, by a horn player she couldn’t quite catch the name of. So I pulled up the radio station’s playlist for the day and discovered the name:

Marie Luise Neunecker.


Sorry to sound naïve, but honestly, I’d never heard of her in my life. Aubrey Brain, Dennis Brain, Peter Damm and Hermann Baumann, check. Barry Tuckwell, check (I even saw Tuckwell live once). A few other names along the way, also check. But Neunecker? I had no idea who she was. So I checked her out online, and was completely blown away. What a gorgeous tone, and what a thrilling attack! Moreover, she plays as if she never takes a breath. Does she use circular breathing? I don’t know, but it sounds like it.

Now, it would be easy to say that Neunecker achieves her effects by playing the music with accents somewhat different from those in the score…easy, but not true. On the contrary, she plays exactly what Strauss wrote, but she does so in a manner that enlivens the fast passages and brings elegance and warmth to the slow ones. She is both a poet of her instrument, as Dennis Brain was, and a stupendous technician, which Hermann Baumann was (and, I think, still is). This places her, for me, at the very top of her profession. So the question then comes, Why isn’t she world-famous as they are?

Probably because she’s a woman and, although a nice-looking woman, not particularly striking or stunningly beautiful. If you’re a man you don’t have to look like a movie star to make it, but if you’re a woman you almost have to be a ravishing beauty, like Susan Graham and Rachel Barton Pine are, in order to become a superstar. Oh yes, there have been a few exceptions, among them Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, but they are the rarities.

Neunecker combines a bright tone, enthusiasm, sensitivity and fantastic technique. She sounds as if she were born with a horn in her mouth; her playing is that natural. Watching her on YouTube, I notice that she uses a 2/3 top – 1/3 bottom embouchure on the mouthpiece, which probably gives her great control. But when does she breathe? She never appears to take the horn away from her mouth when playing, nor do I notice her taking little quick breaths.

As for this performance of the Britten Serenade, it is quite good. Unlike Dennis Brain, who in the original recording overshot the high A-flat (which is very difficult to play on an open horn anyway) and played a B-flat, Neunecker gives us what is written. Ian Bostridge, here at an early stage of his career, has a much more pleasant tone and better breath control than one heard later on from him. The performance just misses greatness, but it is quite fine nonetheless.

If you have any fondness for the Strauss Horn Concertos, this is surely the recording to acquire. It will, simply, blow you away.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Deller’s Final Recital Among his Best


O RAVISHING DELIGHT / ANONYMOUS: Miserere, My Maker. DOWLAND: Shall I Sue? Come, Heavy Sleep. I Saw My Ladye Weep. Wilt Thou, Unkind, Thus Reave Me of My Heart? Fine Knacks for Ladies. Flow, My Tears. CAMPION: I Care Not for These Ladies. The Cypress Curtain of the Night. BARTLETT: Of All the Birds That I Do Know. ROSSETER-CAMPION: What Is Then Love But Mourning? (2 tks) PILKINGTON: Rest, Sweet Nymphs. BLOW: O Nigrocella (The Fair Lover and his Black Mistress).* The Self-Banished.* CLARKE: The Glory of the Arcadian Groves.+ In Her Brave Offspring. ECCLES: Oh! The Mighty Power of Love. CROFT: My Time, O Ye Muses.* DANIEL PURCELL: O Ravishing Light. + HUMFREY: Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin?* / Alfred Deller, countertenor; Desmond Dupré, lutenist/*viola da gamba; *Robert Elliott, harpsichordist; +Deller Consort / Harmonia Mundi HMA190215

This disc took me completely by surprise, mostly because I hadn’t even known it existed. Alfred Deller, who was of course the first falsetto countertenor of all time and, in the early 1960s, one of only two well-known countertenors—the other being American Russell Oberlin, who sang in his natural voice and not in falsetto—was 60 years old and only two years from his death when this recital was issued in 1977. Though the recordings were apparently made in 1969, 1972 and 1974, the sound quality is quite spectacular, in fact if anything a little too “roomy,” but in the case of the aging Deller it actually helped his dry voice. Most of his recordings of the early 1960s, some made with his son Mark as second countertenor (and a pretty bad one), sound too claustrophobic.

Although I greatly preferred Oberlin to Deller, the latter had some remarkable qualities and all are caught in this splendid recital. First of these was his unusual ability to “float” his high falsetto notes like a soprano singing in head tone—a trick that, alas, no living countertenor seems capable of duplicating. Second of these was flawless diction: you never needed a lyric sheet when Deller sang English lute songs, and you don’t need one here. Again, this is a quality that few it any modern countertenors possess; Andreas Scholl, in particular, swallows his consonants in every language he sings. (Philippe Jaroussky has wonderful diction in French and Italian, but I haven’t heard him attempt anything in English.) Deller also had a real trill, not just a “fast shake,” which you can hear in Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin.

From the opening track, Miserere, My Maker, to the very end of the recital, Deller creates a spell and holds the listener in the palm of his hand. It may be interesting to know that Desmond Dupré, the lutenist here, had been Deller’s accompanist of choice since the time of his first recordings, made for HMV around 1947, and he is very fine indeed.

My sole complaint is that some of the fast lute songs, like Shall I Sue? or Rest. Sweet Nymphs, are taken at too slow of a pace, but this may have been artistic choice rather than a condition of his aging voice. Certainly, his breath control—and vocal control—are far superior here than they were in his many recordings of the 1960s, including his performance as Oberon in Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you listen closely, you can hear Deller linking one phrase to another without taking a breath; this was something he had a hard time doing in the ‘60s. Considering that he pretty much came out of retirement to make this recording, I think the long rest helped him tremendously.

One of the most pleasurable qualities of this recital is its unhurried feeling. This isn’t to say that Deller and his accompanists sound slack to the point of ennui, but rather that they have worked out all details of tempo, articulation, phrasing and coloration so

Rosary Bead

The “rosary bead” at The Cloisters

well that it almost sounds as if you were attending a live recital at a venue like, say, The Cloisters just outside of New York City in one of those high-ceilinged rooms where a voice like Deller’s would be heard to maximum advantage. (I went to The Cloisters three times in the early 1970s when I was young and lived in northern New Jersey and loved its ambience and artwork—the most impressive object d’art, to me, was the large “rosary bead” carved out of fine wood with a razor-pointed tool, so ornate in its detail as to be mind-boggling—but alas, I never heard a concert there, though they were still given once in a blue moon.)

One of the delights of this recital is that it is not all lute-accompanied. Some tracks have harpsichordist Robert Elliott with Dupré on viola da gamba, and some have the Deller Consort (which included young David Munrow on recorder), all of which adds variety to the sound. All in all, I cannot praise this CD highly enough. It captures Deller at his absolute best in wonderfully modern sound which needs no apologies, and his artistry will constantly delight you.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Tortelier’s Dutilleux Cycle Reissued

Dutilleux 01

DUTILLEUX: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2. Violin Concerto, “L’Arbre des songes.” 1 2 Sonnets de Jean Cassou.2 Timbres, Espace, Mouvement avec Interlude. Metaboles. Tout un Monde Lontain (A Whole World Away).3 Mystère de l’Instant.4 The Shadows of Time. 5 JEHAN ALAIN: Prière pour nous Autres Charnels (Prayer for Us Mortals) (arr. Dutilleux)2,6 / 1Olivier Charlier, violinist; 2Neal Davies, baritone; 3Boris Pergamenschikov, cellist; 4Edward Cervenka, cimbalom; 5Edward Burrowes, boy treble; 6Martyn Hill, tenor; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor / Chandos CHAN 9853

Exactly a year ago, in July 2016, I reviewed a recording of Henri Dutilleux’s Sur le Même Accord, Les Citations, Mystère de l’Instant and Timbres, Espace, Mouvement by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ludovic Morlot. In it, I was a bit snarky regarding the music therein, referring to it as “pretentious drivel” and calling the composer as “Doodly-oo” because “the music just doodles along.”

In time, however, I learned that it was more of the conductor’s fault for my impression and not necessarily the scores. I really enjoyed Renée Fleming’s performance of his Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou and Charles Munch’s recording of his Symphony no. 2, not to mention Mariss Jansons’ recording of the Violin Concerto, “L’Arbre des Songes” with Dmitri Sitkovetsky as soloist. Once again, I learned to my chagrin that, as the Rolling Stones once opined, “it’s the singer, not the song,” thus I am giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up to this sterling set by conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier.

It’s more than just having a better grasp of the music’s complexities and knowing what to do with them. In Tortelier’s capable hands, the music takes on a life of its own. It has energy and movement that Morlot was not merely unwilling but powerless to give it. The music’s timbral shifts are now discerned as part and parcel of shifts in meter and pulse. In short, the music is interesting. I even found that I liked his performance of the Second Symphony a shade better than Munch’s, and Munch is one of my idols. The symphony has more “bite” and drive under Tortelier’s direction, and sounds better related to the first.

In the music of Mystère de l’Instant, for instance, what sounded disjointed and pointless (to my ears, anyway) in Morlot’s recording has bite and drive in the hands of Tortelier. Some critics have rightly said that Tortelier pierces the music’s mysticism better than other conductors, but clearly this is not all he does. If it were, it would still strike my ears as fussy and pretentious. By easing up on certain notes and phrases and stressing others in the way a great linguist recites a poem. Compared to the unpracticed layman who has no elocution skills, the difference is like that of night and day. Even the little, scurrying violin figures in Prismes have meaning and purpose here; they did not in the Morlot recording. Everything was just prosaic.

Harmonically speaking, Dutilleux was related to Messiaen but by and large did not use as many “dark” chords and sinister dissonances, yet his reliance on nimbus-cloud-like formations of orchestral timbres bore a strong resemblance to the older composer. As I now hear it, Dutilleux was trying to convey mysticism, which put him in a direct line of descent from Debussy, but expressed it in a more direct and energetic rhythm. One of the really odd things about Metaboles and Tout un Monde Lontain is that, at the conclusion of each piece, Dutilleux suddenly jumps to a major chord completely unrelated to the preceding material to wrap things up. This was just about the only feature of each work that I found unnatural and out of place.

Toretlier conducts the Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou very well, but Neal Davies’ somewhat sttel-wool baritone timbre does the work no favors. Here I much prefer Renée Fleming’s recording with conductor Alan Gilbert on Decca, but by way of compensation I found Tortelier’s reading of L’Arbre des Songes more into the spirit of the music than Mariss Jansons. Oddly enough, I also liked the way boy treble Edward Burrowes sang on The Shadows of Time.

Since it was written in 2002, two years after the last of the recordings on this set, Tortelier apparently did not record Sur le Même Accord. This is a pity as it would undoubtedly be a classic reading, as most of these performances are, but the recording by the work’s dedicatee, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, and the Radio France Philharmonic conducted by Kurt Masur, is quite fine.

Highly recommended for all but the Deux Sonnets, although Davies’ woolly baritone also afflicts his part of Duteilleux’s arrangement of Jehan Alain’s Prière pour nous Autres Charnels.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Landrus’ Debut Disc Inconsistent But Interesting


GENERATIONS / LANDRUS: Jeru Concerto. Orchids. The Warrior. Arrow in the Night. Arise. Human Nature. Ruby. Every Time I Dream / Brian Landrus Orchestra: Ralph Alessi, Igmar Thomas, tpt; Alan Ferber, tbn; Debbie Schmidt, Fr-hn; Mark Feldman, Sara Caswell, Joyce Hammann, Meg Okura, vln; Lois Martin, Nora Krohn, vla; Jody Redhage, Maria Jeffers, cellos; Jamie Baum, fl/al-fl; Tom Christensen, oboe/fl; Daryl Harper, cl; Brian Landrus, bar-sax/bs-cl; Michael Rabinowitz, bsn; Alden Banta, contra-bsn; Marcus Rijas, tuba; Brandee Younger, harp; Joe Locke, vib; Jay Anderson, bs; Lonnie Plaxico, bs/el-bs; Billy Hart, Justin Brown, dm; J.C. Sanford, cond / BlueLand Records BLR-2017

Brian Landrus is a baritone saxist and bass clarinetist who idolized Gerry Mulligan, performed in Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project and has worked with Bob Brookmeyer, Rufus Reid, Danilo Perez, Frank Kimbrough, Maria Schneider and Jerry Bergonzi, among others. This, his orchestra’s debut CD, due out July 28, encompasses the full extent of his jazz education and experience, wedded to various forms of dance music (more on that later) and a classical perspective of orchestration.

Before getting into my review, an observation. We’ve now had 90 years of innovative jazz orchestrators, and not just the famous names like Duke Ellington, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Charles Mingus and George Russell, but also such highly creative talents as Don Redman, Bill Challis, Reginald Foresythe, Alec Wilder, George Handy, Jimmy Mundy, Paul Laval, Tadd Dameron, Pete Rugolo, Bob Graettinger, Rod Levitt, Allyn Ferguson, John Lewis, Clare Fischer, Don Ellis and Mulligan himself, who used classical instruments in a jazz context and—even more interestingly—jazz instruments in a classical context. They worked out, long ago, new and striking methods of jazz orchestration that were (and to some extent still are) mind-boggling in their use of coloration. All this, and more was covered in my magnum opus, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond. Yet too many modern jazz orchestrators tend to rely on the traditional and standard “book” of jazz orchestration, even when using strings, thinking themselves innovative if they happen to throw in a wordless soprano, a Theremin or an EWI for color.

In this orchestra, you will find such unusual instruments (even for a project such as this) as alto flute and contra-bassoon, but more importantly is the way Landrus uses these instruments. In the liner notes he admits the influences of Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Ravel, and this is all to the good.

What disturbed me was Landrus’ insistence on including elements of hip-hop, rock, funk and reggae into his compositions, none of which (and I am adamant on this subject) are either conducive or friendly to jazz. Funk, of course, is an outgrowth of R&B, and even as far back as the 1950s great jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker stayed as far away from R&B and early rock music as they possibly could. In its later state, funk is simply an insistent beat for dancing, and a stiff one at that. Both the hip-hop and reggae beats also impede rather than help the progression of jazz music, as Charles Mingus complained in the 1970s. The music of James Brown, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd have absolutely nothing to do with jazz. Better he should have picked up on the music of Professor Longhair and Dr. John, which does.

That being said, Landrus’ Jeru Concerto (named after Mulligan’s nickname) is a fascinating piece, eclectic in its style and largely focused on the ensemble. Landrus himself is the only soloist, which is appropriate. The opening figure sounds Mulligan-ish in outline, but the heavy reliance on the tuba playing backbeats is a startling touch. The music quickly melts into what I would call “Hollywood movie music scoring,” with the strings playing footballs (whole notes) over a surging beat and Landrus’ baritone saxophone. I was a bit disappointed that Landrus didn’t seem to know how such innovators as Mundy, Sauter and David Balakrishnan used strings, but I could hear that he was more focused on color than an interesting texture. I did, however, like the brass punctuations, particularly in the first movement, and despite my misgivings the music itself, as opposed to the scoring, developed interestingly.

The brief interlude (1:11) is a cadenza for Landrus on the bari sax, playing rapid sixteenths in serrated figures, while the second movement relies on creating warmth with low timbres—sort of a Gil Evans-ish sound without Evans’ remarkable tone mixtures. The melodic line here is quite lovely, however, and Landrus plays a nice solo over soft pizzicato strings and fills by the vibes. I was particularly impressed by the third movement; here, Landrus used his orchestral palette in a more innovative way, including soft string tremolos, and the music was deeper, more reflective than the preceding movement. This is an excellent piece of music, at least until the rock beat enters, but fortunately it was not too obtrusive here. Also excellent is the fourth and last movement, which has an asymmetric beat but sticks primarily to a jazz form of expression. Some of Landrus’ musical ideas in the moving lines of the accompaniment are quite interesting; with more innovative timbres, it would have been outstanding. I particularly liked his willingness to change moods and tempos within this movement, creating a sort of miniature suite as the finale to his concerto.

Orchids was composed in a single meditative moment “after two days of writing and dreaming.” The soloists here are Brandee Younger on harp and Landrus on the bass clarinet. The piece, written in E-flat, has a sort of loping Caribbean beat, perhaps related to reggae. The melodic line goes to the French horn while the upper winds, and then the violins, play interesting figures around it. Oddly, some of the winds sound just a hair flat in their held chords. An excitable interlude towards the end adds dramatic interest to the piece. Towards the end, both the tempo and the swing pick up and ride the piece out to the finish line.

The Warrior, written for Landrus’ father, is more of a gentle than a belligerent piece, although it gains in complexity and interest as it goes along. Again, there is some suspect pitch in the orchestra, here among the strings. I noticed that the album was recorded over two days, January 4-5, 2017, in Brooklyn. Perhaps the atmospheric pressure acted as a gremlin of sorts. Igmar Thomas plays a nice trumpet solo on this one, filling in some ideas and textures with the ensemble behind him on the second go-round, followed by vibist Joe Locke over a sax cushion at a more relaxed tempo. Mark Feldman’s violin solo put me in mind of Ray Nance, but it is Landrus’ baritone solo that arrests the ear the most.

Arise is a nice bossa-nova piece with a hard-to-define melodic line and slithering chords. The music becomes somewhat turgid harmonically, but interest is maintained by means of the subsidiary figures that come in and intermix with it; eventually, it almost sounds like a Mingus piece, even to the point of mixing flute/clarinet sonorities in the top line against low, meaty chord mixtures in the lower instruments. Human Nature is a Latin-tinged ballad, again with a vague melody, under which Landrus gives the tuba fast-moving figures to add interest. There are nice spot solos by Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Jamie Baum (flute) and Tom Christensen (flute), although in this case both the tune’s progression and its orchestration were fairly predictable.The orchestra, however, is again fully in tune on these and succeeding tracks.

Ruby is quite interesting rhythmically, ambiguous melodically and conventional orchestrally. I did, however, like Landrus’ combination of flute with muted trumpet for the background figures at one point. This piece was written for Landrus’ four-year-old daughter, whose artwork graces the album and booklet covers. Landrus’ baritone solo is the piece’s highlight.

We close out this set with Every Time I Dream, another slowish, Latin-tinged piece. It’s lyrical and whimsical, but doesn’t really develop except in the solos: Joe Locke on vibes, Landrus on bass clarinet and Alessi on trumpet. All in all, then, an interesting first excursion on disc for a young man who is still growing as a musician, composer and arranger.

I’ve made these comments along the way not to denigrate Landrus’ work, but rather to encourage him to widen his musical horizons. Sometimes artists feel that any criticism of their work is a form of cruelty or punishment, but I’m not that kind of person. When I hear a real talent that simply needs encouragement to widen their horizons, I say so to help them. Landrus is a gifted improviser and a good arranger, but with some further listening and experimentation I think he can go a long way.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Mátyás Seiber’s Jazz-Infused Fun Pieces

Seiber 1

MORE NONSENSE / SEIBER: Divertimento.*1,2 Andantino Pastorale.*3 3 Morgenstern Lieder.*4 Introduction and Allegro.*2,3 The Owl and the Pussy-cat.4,5 More Nonsense.*3-6 Serenade6,7 / *Killian Herold, clarinetist with 7Tino Plener, clarinetist; 1Philip Roy, 1Hwa-Won Rimmer, 5Felix Borel, violinists; 1Raphael Sachs, violist; 2Frank-Michael Guthmann, cellist; 3Nicholas Rimmer, pianist; 4Sarah Maria Sun, soprano; 6Anton Hollich, bass clarinetist; 5Carsten Linck, guitarist; 7Rune Brodahl, 7Saar Berger, French hornists; 7Rui Lopes, 7Angela Bergmann, bassoonists / Avi 8553602

Mátyás Seiber is not a name particularly well known in classical music circles, despite a long and distinguished career, partly because he diversified his talent so much. In the 1920s, while writing serious classical pieces in the Hungarian manner, he was also an entertainer on an ocean liner and the first professor of jazz in history with a chair in Frankfurt. During and after World War II, he lived and worked in Great Britain, mostly as a choir director and composition professor, but still had a hand in jazz, co-composing Improvisation for Jazz Band and Orchestra with famed bandleader Johnny Dankworth (Cleo Laine’s husband). Thus you can see that, in approaching a CD such as this, one never quite knows which Seiber will show up.

And, of course, the success of an album such as this depends greatly on the ability of the “classical” artists to play in a jazz style—something that, alas, does not come easily or naturally to most of them. Many don’t know how to swing or at least try to make the music sound as if it is improvised.

Happily, clarinetist Killian Herold, who plays on most (but not all) of the selections on this album, is a performer who understands the difference between classical and jazz clarinet styles. This is important because Seiber’s music vacillates between the two. In the opening Divertimento, for instance, the first piece, “Toccata,” moves like a jazz-age Charleston while the second, “Variazioni Semplici,” is more classical with Magyar-type harmonies—a cousin to Bartók. The third piece, “Scherzo,” sounds like a cross between the two. Herold, who has an excellent, rich tone, seems to have at least heard Artie Shaw if not Benny Goodman, so his playing in the jazz-influenced pieces have a nice swagger to them.

But this album does not only include instrumental pieces; it also contains some of Seiber’s vocal music, brilliantly sung here by coloratura soprano Sarah Maria Sun whose solo CD I recently gave high marks to. First up on the vocal selections are the 3 Morgenstern Lieder, one of which has words disappear down a funnel and another about a knee that goes walking in the woods. The clarinet part, florid though it is, is nothing compared to the fiendishly difficult, serrated vocal line, which almost sounds like a cross between Pierrot Lunaire and the Lucia di Lammermoor mad scene. Sun handles this music as if she had been singing it for years…well, who knows? Maybe she has! Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat is too well known to comment on, except that here Sun’s high coloratura voice sounds remarkably rich and low, and it is obvious that she hasn’t had much experience singing in English, though her German-accented diction is fairly clear. Seiber’s musical setting almost has the feel of a cabaret song about it, except that some of the features in the vocal line would be beyond the capabilities of many such singers.

In the midst of all this wackiness, the Introduction and Allegro sounds peppy but somewhat normal—well, at least normal for Seiber, though it includes some humorous touches such as clarinet and cello portamento passages. More Nonsense is a collection of four very brief songs on various silly texts, and here Sun’s diction is quite difficult to understand.

The program closes out with the Serenade for two each of clarinets, French horns and bassoons—a fairly strange combination in any case. It’s sort of a Hungarian-British variation on the kind of wind sextet that Jean Françaix wrote, amusing in its galumphing rhythms and folk-like melodies. Oddly enough, our star clarinetist, Killian Herold, isn’t even on this piece, but it’s still well played and fits the theme of the album.

This is a delightful surprise and, although not the most serious of music, surely a recording you’ll want to have!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Albert Mangelsdorff Invites Some Friends

MANGELSDORFF-RILEY-CHERRY: I Dig It – You Dig It.1 MANGELSDORFF: My Kind of Time.2 Way Beyond Cave.3 MANGELSDORFF-ZOLLER: Outbox.4 MANGELSDORFF-KONITZ: Al-Lee.5 MANGELSDORFF-DAUNER: My Kind of Beauty6 / Albert Mangelsdorff, tbn with 1Don Cherry, tpt; 2Elvin Jones, dm; 3Karl Berger, vib; 4Attila Zoller, gtr; 5Lee Konitz, a-sax; 6Wolfgang Dauner, pn / MPS 044006737522

This 1969 album features German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff in a series of duets with various jazz musicians. Not being as familiar with the German jazz scene of the 1960s as I was with the American, and to a lesser extent the French, I can’t say that I knew who Karl Berger, Attila Zoller or Wolfgang Dauner were before hearing this album, but of course the others are all quite famous in the U.S.

I was particularly interested in hearing the opening duet with trumpeter Don Cherry, a certified member of the jazz avant-garde as one of Ornette Coleman’s bandmates. The music here is typically spacey “outside” jazz of the time, tending to ignore both bar lines and a harmonic base after they play the opening lick, and of course it is Cherry who is the more adventurous, going all over the place while Mangelsdorff tries mightily to catch up and fit in. I found it intriguing that Terry Riley, the grandfather of minimalism in classical music, is listed as one of the composers of this piece, but really have no idea what his contribution was. Perhaps in providing the little tune heard at the four-minute mark as something for them to hang onto? In any event, it’s a delightful, even humorous excursion.

Interestingly, My Kind of Time is almost as spacey a piece of music, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since Elvin Jones was the drummer with John Coltrane’s equally famous quartet. I got to see Jones in person a year or two after Trane died, and he was, to my mind. one of the two or three greatest drummers of that time (the others being Joe Morello and Buddy Rich). Here, however, Mangelsdorff seems to have more of a grip on the construction of the piece (he should; he wrote it), being able to create some interesting melodic constructions while improvising over the very basic chord pattern. Jones’ playing is extremely modern, sounding much like many of today’s drummers in the way he consistently fractures the time while still being able to “stay with” Mangelsdorff. This is a facet of his playing that, as a teenager, I wasn’t fully able to grasp when I heard him live, but his solo reminded me very much of the way he played back then.

Karl Berger was a very fluid vibes player with a good technique, but like many German jazz musicians of the 1950s and ‘60s he had some trouble really swinging. This, however, does not afflict this track, which is all about harmonic and spatial relationships, with Mangelsdorff simply inserting occasional note flurries into Berger’s constantly moving lines. It almost sounded like music written for a classical vibes player with jazz trombone obbligato, if you know what I mean. At the three-minute mark it sounds as if Berger switched to xylophone, playing very high up in the instrument’s range, but not for long. By this time, it has become clear that what Mangelsdorff is playing is more or less improvised counterpoint, and very fine improvised counterpoint at that. Being recorded at a different venue and date from the preceding tracks, the microphone placement is much closer and the sound drier, which gives an interesting perspective to the proceedings.

In Outbox Mangelsdorff is accompanied by acoustic guitarist Attila Zoller. I was vaguely familiar with the Zoller band during the 1960s but not an ardent follower. Here, it is the trombonist who is in the left-hand channel and the guitarist in the right, and for whatever reason the music is somewhat simpler in rhythm and harmony and swings a lot more. It almost sounds like the kind of thing that could have occurred from a meeting of J.J. Johnson with Barney Kessel, if you know what I mean, with Mangelsdorff playing superb staccato notes in what sounds like a bit of circular breathing to maintain an almost unbroken line. Zoller, on the other hand, mostly contributes chords, but very nice ones, later moving into single-note playing when the trombonist drops out for a few bars. At one point Mangelsdorff plays an odd repeated triplet figure, with Zoller falling in with him for a few bars.

Al-Lee features Lee Konitz, who in the beginning of the piece almost sounds as if he were playing clarinet rather than alto sax. As a graduate of both the Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus schools of jazz, Konitz certainly knew how to play unusual chords and meters, and here he and the trombonist complement rather than duel with each other. Oddly, this track just fades out quickly at the 2:44 mark…was there more in the can that they chose not to release?

The final track, My Kind of Beauty, features Wolfgang Dauner starting out playing the strings of his piano before moving to the keyboard. This, again, is really out-there kind of jazz but somewhat lacking in swing. I say “somewhat” because Mangelsdorff, playing a very relaxed and lovely melodic line, seems to be operating in his own musical universe while Dauner throws in comments and advanced chord positions by way of prodding. Eventually, Mangelsdorff falls away and allows Dauner to have the stage to himself for an extended solo built around the music of the opening bars.

I admit being mildly astonished by the advanced musical thinking and musical approach exhibited in this album. Even for 1968, and even considering the backgrounds of many of the participants, this is a stunning collection of tracks that not only shows the guests in a good light but also places Mangelsdorff among them as a peer. Very highly recommended!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Rodziński’s Stupendous “Khovanshchina” Reissued

Khovanshchina front

MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina / Mario Petri, bass (Ivan Khovansky); Amedeo Berdini, tenor (Andrey Khovansky); Mirto Picchi, tenor (Vasily Golitsyn); Gianpiero Malaspina, bass-baritone (Shaklovity); Boris Christoff, bass (Dosifey); Irene Companéez, mezzo-soprano (Marfa); Herbert Handt, tenor (Scribe); Jolanda Mancini, soprano (Emma); Dmitri Lopatto, baritone (Varsonofiev); Andrea Mineo, tenor (Kutscha); Dimitri Lopatto, tenor (Strelets I); Giorgio Canello, bass (Strelets II); RAI Rome Chorus & Orchestra; Artur Rodziński, conductor / Datum DAT12320 (live: Rome, June 14, 1958)

The reviews I’ve read of this recording when it was previously issued on Myto (it also appeared on Stradivarius and VAI) tended to be disparaging. Most of the complaints came from the fact that Rodziński had to trim about 20 minutes’ worth of music from the opera, the worst cut being the complete omission of Susanna in Act III, but one must remember that Mussorgsky left this score in a mess when he died.

My regular readers know that my preference is for works to be presented complete, so I sympathize to a point with those who carp about cut scenes, but once in a great while an abridged performance comes along that is just so good in every respect that I make an exception. Such was the case with Ferenc Fricsay’s live Handel Samson in German, and also with Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s late-1970s TV performance of Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea with Eric Tappy and Rachel Yakar, and this is true, for me, of this Khovanshchina. I’ve listened to some of the later recordings that everyone else find so wonderful, particularly the Abbado version on DG, and found them wan and lackluster.

Thus for me, the glories of this recording far outweigh its few weaknesses, and this even includes the fact that it’s sung in Italian. Among these is the chance to hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration, replaced the very next year (1959) by Dmitri Shostakovich’s muddy, plodding score which is now the standard performing edition. Another reason I like it is the intense emotional commitment of every singer, undoubtedly helped by the presence of both Rodziński and Boris Christoff, even though the latter’s Act I monologue sounds more snarly than subtle (but then again, Christoff was a snarly singer by nature). Even when the singers aren’t at their vocal best, like tenor Mirto Picchi (normally a very reliable singer), they’re in there pitching and giving their all. Irene Companéez, whose only studio recording seems to have been the 1959 La Gioconda with Maria Callas on which she sang La Cieca—and not very subtly (she also sang Malcolm in a 1958 live performance of La Donna del Lago under Tullio Serafin)—is much more in character here, displaying an almost Slavic sound to her voice. The fifth act is particularly impressive in every respect, with both Christoff and Companéez at their dramatic best.

Yet as some other critics have pointed out, the real star of this performance is Rodziński. Unlike some of his other Italian opera broadcasts, such as the Tannhäuser, he pulled everything together here with Toscanini-like tension and clarity. Nothing was allowed to sag dramatically, and he drew some extraordinary playing out of the RAI Orchestra. He was also able to browbeat the Rome chorus into singing musically, on pitch and without screeching, and conducted in a way that the rhythmic “spring” of the orchestra leads both the solo singers and chorus. Once the ear adjusts to the mono radio sound, you’ll find it is consistently clear and decently balanced. As in their previous Rodziński releases, Datum has rolled back a lot of the surface noise found on other pressings, but in the process has dulled the top end somewhat. A two to three DB boost in the treble works wonders, however, and makes this a worthwhile acquisition.

There’s a reason why this performance keeps getting reissued, and believe me, the sound quality isn’t it. It’s just a great performance that stands the test of time.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Arnold Rosner’s Chamber Music Revived


ROSNER: Violin Sonata No. 1.1,2 Danses à la mode.4 Bassoon Sonata.3,5 Cello Sonata No. 2.2,4 / 1Curtis Macomber, violinist; 2Margaret Kampmeier, 3Carson Cooman, pianists; 4Maxine Neuman, cellist; 5David Richmond, bassoonist / Toccata Classics TOCC 0408

I’ve had occasion to praise Arnold Rosner’s music in the past, specifically his Eighth Symphony, but here we have first-ever recordings of some of his chamber music. Working in this very different, more intimate medium, Rosner retains his basic style of using modes rather than enharmonic keys and pre-Baroque polyphony (as confirmed by the CD back inset) while using more modern chord positions to bolster the harmony. To a certain degree, but not too strongly, his music resembles that of British composer York Bowen, whose work has experienced a Renaissance in the early 21st century. Where Rosner differed from Bowen was in his strict application of these principles in his music. It is continually interesting to listen to but not as highly original or imaginative.

Yet within its own frame of reference, Rosner wrote music that was warm and loving without being cloying, and that in itself is always a pleasure to the ear. None of these works will bowl you over, but none will bore you or cause you to lose interest in listening to them. Rosner had a very clear sense of where he was going when he wrote; he used a lot of “mirror phrases,” i.e. the first two bars would be played in a somewhat inverted fashion in the second two etc., and his general rhythmic liveliness works wonders, particularly in the hands of these very talented performers. I’ve said good things about Peggy Kampmeier’s pianism before, in her wonderful album of modern flute works with Tara Helen O’Commor, and it holds true here: she is a lively and engaging keyboardist who obviously loves what she plays.

The same can be said of cellist Maxine Neuman, who tosses off the Danses à la mode with energy and élan to spare. She almost makes the music sound better than it is, although it’s fairly good to begin with. The second movement, in particular, has a nice swagger to it that suggests the Orient while the fourth and last almost sounds like a Hora.

By contrast, the Bassoon Sonata is dark and moody, just like the instrument itself. No attempt is made here, as Mozart did, to jolly up the instrument and try to make it sound peppy: even the “Allegro” second movement is on the serious side. Rosner’s score has a somewhat softer contour here than the two works preceding it, and bassoonist David Richmond does a splendid job on it.

The Cello Sonata, interestingly, is also dark and moody, not at all like the Danses, thus here cellist Neuman plays with a darker timbre and somewhat more angst. Kampmeier follows her moods beautifully, creating a real dialogue between the two instruments. The middle movement, “Moderato,” is not really lively so much as just slightly animated, and there’s a touch of Orientalism in the harmonies used here as well. In the last-movement “Allegro,” Rosner switches musical gears, using a restless 6/8 in the piano part (with some pregnant pauses between beats) to help propel and urge the cello along. The cello part sounds as if it doesn’t really want to sound animated, but is, rather, going along grudgingly, even stopping once or twice as if to say, “I’m really not in the mood for this!” Eventually the cello goes along with the piano, but never quite in an easy relationship, and this unusual tension between them persists to the very end.

An interesting and unusual disc, then, one that you will enjoy hearing.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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Harberg & Wolpert’s Viola Concertos


HARBERG: Viola Concerto. Elegy. WOLPERT: Viola Concerto No. 1, “Giants” / Brett Deubner, violist; Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra; Linus Lerner, conductor / Naxos 8.559840

I normally don’t find myself drawn to too much modern American classical music these days, not because there’s not much being written but because there doesn’t seem to be much that strikes my ear as original. Too many composers seem to be in one of two “bags”: melodic but sappy or edgy in a formulaic sort of way. But the music of Amanda Harberg (1973 – ) is neither; it is melodic and predominantly tonal, yet her melodic line tends to sound like it is based on old American folk songs, though it is not, and her ear for color leads her to some particularly original orchestration.

The latter really impressed me. In my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extensive and detailed guide to the intersection of jazz and classical music, I spent a great deal of time describing the more unusual and innovative orchestrators of the last century, from Ravel, Stravinsky and Jelly Roll Morton to Eddie Sauter, Leonard Bernstein, George Russell and Fred Katz, and pointed out that with such a wealth of different orchestral textures to choose from, it makes no sense that classical composers are still using the Rimsky-Korsakov playbook. Harberg’s orchestration seems to me to combine elements of Aaron Copland with bits of Bernstein, Stravinsky and even some touches of Sauter. One hears much more brass in her Viola Concerto than is usual, as well as vibraphone and a bevy of percussion. Her wind passages are pungent and telling, and even when she uses a “string cushion,” as in the slow movement, low brass is mixed in with it. Moreover, her melodic line in this movement, though decidedly lyrical, has neither pathos nor bathos to bog it down. It is wistful but not morose. I liked it very much. Even more interestingly, the last movement, written in D minor but emphasizing the lower fifth (A) as a ground bass, begins with a slightly ominous low bassoon solo before leading into the viola and then a rhythmic-polyphonic passage for a group of strings. Although the music is not jazzy in the conventional sense, there is a great deal of syncopation and backbeats here to add rhythmic interest—and again, Harberg relies more heavily on the brass (and occasional winds) to make her point than just throwing in more strings. In short, it’s the kind of music jazz-based musicians could play if they also have classical technique. Although conductor Linus Lerner does a pretty good job with the Southern Arizona Symphony, I think someone like Michael Tilson Thomas would bring out more of the jazz allusions. Brett Deubner’s playing of the solo part is vivacious and lively, and he has a good sense of how his part fits into the surrounding structure.

The Elegy was originally composed for viola and piano, but Harberg arranged it for string orchestra. It’s a wistful piece, written by Harberg as a memorial to her deceased teacher, Marina Grin, and Deubner plays it with just the right amount of feeling—again, without slipping into bathos. Without trying to be critical, however, I must say that the string arrangement of the accompaniment, although good, doesn’t quite have Harberg’s “fingerprints” on it.

By contrast, the music of Max Wolpert is much more ominous and dynamic. The liner notes tell us that he “conjures up monsters where the traditional, classical, and theatrical meet,” but since I outgrew monster movies when I was 10 years old I didn’t particularly respond to that side of him. Fortunately, this specific concerto was inspired by a Biblical quote from Genesis that “There were giants in the earth in those days.” Wolpert takes this to mean that the world is diminishing, thus his music is built “around a melodic interval which gradually diminishes and draws together,” the first movement generally built around an ascending perfect fifth, the second on a fourth and the last on a major third. What I liked about it was his ability to create contrasts in sound and texture. Although the work is indeed a viola concerto, Wolpert, like Harberg, tends to use the solo instrument as a form of obbligato commentary rather than as a dominant solo voice, although in Wolpert’s concerto there were more moments in which the solo viola “sang” melodic lines all by itself. In terms of style, I didn’t find Wolpert’s music quite as individual as Harberg’s—at times it tended towards the kind I mentioned in the first paragraph—but at least he gave his best and tried to create an individual sound world.

The first movement is linked to the second via a solo harp interlude, and thematically the movements are also related. In the slow movement the solo viola plays in its lower, darker range, and Deubner manages this without making it sound forced. Wolpert doesn’t have quite the gift for melodic construction as Harberg, but his music is interesting in a modal sort of way. I felt, however, that the tune he introduced at the three-minute mark in this movement was just a tad banal; fortunately, it moves on from there. The third movement, titled “Dance of the Cloud Woman,” begins in a quiet, almost ruminative vein, with the solo viola alternating comments with the cello section of the orchestra, before the tempo increases and an almost Hasidic dance tune predominates. This is a wonderful piece, harking back to violin concertos from the late 19th century when such things were commonplace. Wolpert juices up his score with some powerful orchestration here and there.

All in all, then, a refreshing and engaging disc of modern Americana. Despite its moments of power and tragedy, I found that this music was wonderful for lifting up your mood on a blah summer day!

—© Lynn René Bayley


Sarah Maria Sun Dazzles in Modern Recital


MODERN LIED / HOLLIGER: 6 Lieder nach Gedichten von Christian Morgenstern. SCIARRINO: Due Melodie. LACHENMANN: Got Lost. KURTÁG: Requiem do Drugu, Op. 26. RIHM: Ophelia Sings. LANG: Wenn die Landschaft Aufhört / Sarah Maria Sun, soprano; Jan Philip Schulze, pianist / Mode 297

Soprano Sarah Maria Sun, if you just go by the “biography”in the CD booklet, appreared out of nowhere to sing music of the 16th through 21st centuries. She has performed, booked by magic, at major venues around Europe and sung with such luminaries as Simon Rattle, Kent Nagano and Heinz Holliger, She was first soprano of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart from 2001 to 2014 and has given master classes for modern vocal music at Harvard, Oslo, Stockholm, Zürich, Moscow, Hannover, Berlin and Chicago Universities. You need to go to her own website to learn that she has been singing since the age of 10, first studied voice at Cologne and Stuttgart before taking lessons from Darinka Segota and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner. But that is all you will find. No year of birth. She apparently didn’t have parents or other relatives to support her in her career. No “angels” to help pay for her education, and she just popped, as if out of a toaster, to sing modern music.

This is not do much an indictment against Ms. Sun as it is an indictment against the whole professional concept of a “biography.” A few “look what I did” facts and details do not a biography make. Does she ever sing characters in operas, or just concert music? How did she become so deeply involved in modern music to begin with? Who were her own favorite singers, how much training did her voice need to reach this point, and who “made” her career? Enquiring minds want to know…like mine!

Listening to the CD, one is presented with a well-controlled, light, high soprano voice with tremendous brilliance or squillo in it. Perhaps a bit too much squillo, as her extreme high range has just a touch of acid about it—not bad, but noticeable. The mid-range is lovely, however, and she surprisingly can do down the scale when she needs to.

As for the music, it is both varied and interesting. Heinz Holliger’s Six Songs after Poems by Christian Morgenstern can best be described as typical German-Austrian modern music, atonal but still lyrical like some of the Berg songs. I was delighted by both the text settings and Sun’s singing of them; she has near-perfect diction, always a bugaboo for me with modern-day singers. By contrast, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Due Melodie are completely atonal to the point where the listener has no guideposts except, perhaps, through the sustained tones given to the vocalist. Sun describes his style as using the voice “as a magnet, drawing us into the inner life of a…text. He achieves this by using the singing voice, with sometimes furious and difficult coloratura-ornaments; the speaking voice, breathing sounds; and various nouth-noises.” These specific songs center around almost continuous use of trills, and happily Sun has a very clean and clear one.

In contrast to both of these, Helmut Lachenmann’s Got Lost is essentially a technical exercise for the voice with very few lyrics. Like Cathy Berberian’s former husband and muse, Luciano Berio, Lachenmann exploits its use as an instrument. In an interview with Sun printed in the booklet, Lachenmann questions the very use of poetry as song texts, finding them objectionable and even “unbearable.” Both soprano and pianist are thus flung by Lachenmann into the ether, throwing sounds around like notated Frisbees, only occasionally coming back to earth to be grounded in a single note (but not a tonality) for a moment or two before going off again on another tangent. Lachenmann is fond of “the most extreme moments of Berg in which “Messages conveying existential threats were communicated ‘without pitch’ and certainly not sung.” So listener, be forewarned; this is what you’ll hear in his music! The brief text is excised from the work of three writers. First up is Friedrich Nietzsche: “No more path! Abyss and silence chilling!…Your fault! To leave the path thou wast too willing!” Then a text by Fernando Pessoa, “All love letters are ridiculous. They wouldn’t be love letters if they weren’t ridiculous.” Finally, an anonymous sign in an elevator in Berlin-Grunewald, 2001/02: “Today my laundry basket got lost. It was last seen standing near the dryer. Since it is pretty difficult to carry the laundry without, I’d be most happy to get it back.” Of course, the existential angst comes from the fact that we don’t know if this person ever did get their laundry basket back. Imagine the suffering if they did not!

Next stop on this wild musical road trip, György Kurtag and his Songs of Loss based on the work of Russian poet Rimma Dalos. “Everything here is chromatic,” say the notes, and indeed it is. Interestingly, I couldn’t tell much difference between the music of Lachenmann and Kurtag. Both are interesting, mind you, but I didn’t find their music particularly individual.

At least Wolfgang Rihm’s Ophelia Sings has a discernible rhythm, if no less a definable melodic line. In fact, the second song here, “Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime,” is downright lyrical in its first four lines before breaking up into little shards of notes. I noted that Sun’s English is not as clearly sung as her German, but heavily accented which causes some problems in understanding the lyrics.

By contrast, Bernhard Lang’s When the Landscape Ceases is a sort of minimalist piece, using repeated melodic-rhythmic cells in sort of a cockeyed Carl Orff manner. One point I noted was that Sun’s voice, though extensive in range, is not differentiated in color and shows no expression whatsoever. Perhaps the composers whose work is being sung here asked for none, but personally I miss crazy Cathy Berberian and her way of getting involved in everything she sang. Yes, that’s a personal preference and not and objective judgment, but it’s how I feel.

Nonetheless, Sun’s CD is dazzling as an exhibition of a superbly trained voice performing modern music, and is thus recommended on that basis.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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