Franz Schreker’s Neglected Masterpiece

front

SCHREKER: Die Gezeichneten / Franz Crass, bass (Duke Antoniotto Adorno/Captain of the Guards); Thomas Stewart, bar (Andrea Vitelozzo Tamare); Ernst Wiemann, bass (Podestà Lodovico Nardi); Evelyn Lear, sop (Carlotta Nardi); Helmut Krebs, ten (Alvanio Salvago); Julius Katona, ten (Guidobald Usodimare/A Youth/First Senator/Father); Manfred Schmidt, ten (Menaldo Negroni); Walter Hauck, bar (Michelotto Cibó); Hans Herbert, bar (Gonsalvo Fiechi); Herbert Klomser, bass (Julian Pinelli); Erich Wenk, bass (Paolo Calvi/Second Senator); Maria von Ilosvay, alto (Martuccia); Donald Grobe, ten (Pietro, a cutthroat); North German Radio Chorus & Symphony Orchestra; Winfried Zillig, conductor / Walhall 376

In the era of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and the similar rubbish he wrote that followed it, Franz Schreker wrote this astonishingly musical, powerful and symphonically constructed work. Die Gezeichneten, or The Stigmatized, tells the story of a deformed, hunchbacked Genoan nobleman of the Middle Ages, Alviano Salvago, who has no illusions of being with a woman but who, out of the goodness of his heart, donates the island paradise he created called Elysium to the people of Genoa for their use. Unfortunately, the island is already being used by his dissolute friends as a site for orgies, and so they go to Duke Adorno to stop the transfer of ownership. One of them, Count Tamare, has set his sights on Carlotta, daughter of the Podestà. Carlotta rejects him, as she is only interested in Salvago, whose soul she wants to paint. Infuriated by Carlotta’s rejection, Tamare swears to Adorno that he will take her by force. He also reveals the secret of the grotto to Adorno. Not wanting Salvago to become more popular than himself as a result of the gift, Adorno decides to use the existence of the secret grotto as an excuse to veto the transfer. From Wikipedia:

Not wanting Salvago to become more popular than himself as a result of the gift, Adorno decides to use the existence of the secret grotto as an excuse to veto the transfer. While Salvago is sitting for Carlotta, she complains that she can’t paint his soul if he keeps avoiding looking at her. To which he responds that ugly as he is, he still has the feelings of a man in the presence of a beautiful woman… Eventually Carlotta confesses that she loves him, but faints in his arms as both are overcome with emotion.

The citizens of Genoa go to the island for the first time and are awed by what they see. Salvago asks the Podestà for Carlotta’s hand in marriage. She evades him, wanders off alone, and in the grotto finally succumbs to Tamare who’s wearing a mask. The Duke accuses Salvago of masterminding the abductions. Salvago, beside himself with worry for Carlotta, leads everyone to the underground grotto. Carlotta lies senseless on a bed, while Tamare prides himself on his conquering abilities. Salvago stabs him. Carlotta awakens, Salvago rushes to her side, but with her dying breath she calls for Tamare. Salvago, completely deranged, stumbles over Tamare’s body as he makes his way through the stunned crowd.

The music in which Schreker wrapped this sad and somewhat ugly tale of unrestrained lust vs. the pure intentions of Salvago is very much in the late-romantic tonal language of the time, but unlike the later Strauss operas (Die Frau ohne Schatten, Ariane auf Naxos, Intermezzo, The Egyptian Helen, Arabella, Die schweigsame Frau), Schreker’s music is much better constructed. Once past the lush overture, the opera moves in an interesting sound world, using rhythmic motifs not only in the orchestra but also in the vocal lines. Although he never quite abandons conventional tonality, there are touches of Mahler in the score. Like Strauss, the music is continuous within each act and each character gets his or her own particular style to distinguish them. There are passages that one can point to as semi-parlando, but Schreker’s long experience in writing songs serves him well in his sense of construction. Although the music does not “reach for the high notes” the way Puccini and late Strauss often did, it is somewhat difficult to sing, as the musical lines tend towards the strophic and are often quite complex. In short, it’s the kind of opera that only exceptional singing-actors can perform. As one can imagine, the modern productions of this opera (one such is on YouTube) tend to stress the prurient interests in the story, with lots of naked women running around with their junk hanging out.

From what I can tell, and I may be wrong, this seems to have been a non-staged recording made for broadcast by Hamburg radio between May 9 and 11, 1960. I admit to not having heard Winfried Zellig before, but he seems to have been a composer and music theorist as well as a conductor. He studied law before moving into music, which he studied with Hermann Zilcher before becoming a private pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. In 1927 he became the assistant to Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera, and so may have encountered Schreker’s opera at that time. He was also the one who completed Schoenberg’s oratorio Die Jakobsleiter at the request of the composer’s widow. (Would that he had also finished Moses und Aron!) Thus he was uniquely qualified to lead this performance. Sadly, he died only three years later, at the still-youngish age of 58. He leads a supremely taut performance that does not ignore the sometimes exotic orchestration, and his talented cast includes the wonderful light tenor Helmut Krebs, noted for his singing of light roles ancient and modern (he was also a noted David in Die Meistersinger). The American darlings of Germany at the time, soprano Evelyn Lear and her husband, baritone Thomas Stewart, sing Carlotta and Tamare respectively, and the lineup also includes such lesser-known but equally excellent singers as Maria von Ilosvay, a mainstay at Bayreuth during this period and beyond, Walter Hauck, Herbert Klomser, Franz Crass and another American, tenor Donald Grobe.

The second act is the most “parlando” in style, not as lyrical or attractive as the first and particularly the third act, which is the best and most interesting of the three. Thus, it is sad that many modern performances—even the Decca studio recording, conducted in a dull and uninteresting manner by one Lothar Zagrosek, and featuring a strangulated, unsteady tenor (Heinz Kruse) as Salvago—make cuts in the last act and not in the second, where a few minutes’ excision would not harm the musical structure nearly as much.

It’s really a shame that modern productions tend to focus on the sexual aspects of the opera (which, of course, are an essential component of the plot, but not the way Schreker intended), or that the modern “singing actors” who perform it exude plenty of acting but not much in the way of voice. The best cast of any of them is, sadly, an incomplete performance conducted by Kent Nagano, which includes the superb soprano Anne Schwanewilms, tenor Robert Brubaker and baritone Michael Volle for EuroArts in 2005. Thus you almost have to own, or at least hear, this recording in order to fully appreciate the complexity and beauty of the music. The best way I can characterize it is as a somewhat lighter and less grotesque Salome in style. Had this opera been written by Strauss, I’m sure it would be world-famous buy now.

Of all the singers, it is Lear who stands out for her subtlety of interpretation. Her voice was still exceptionally beautiful in those years. She later complained that singing too many performances of Berg’s Lulu ruined her voice, and she was probably right. A lyric soprano, she really only had the extreme high range that Lulu called for as extra notes she could vocalize to, not a range she could sing comfortably in performance after performance. Lear should have made discretion the better part of valor and given the role up, pressure to continue it notwithstanding. Interestingly, her husband’s voice also became drier and a bit hollow in later years (I saw him in the early 1970s, at the Metropolitan Opera, as the villains in Les contes d’Hoffmann), and he had no similar excuse for his vocal deterioration…but he remained a riveting and compelling vocal actor.

Yet for all the recording’s excellences, a caveat: the sound is quite muddy, particularly for the orchestra. I strongly urge that you acquire this recording via downloads if you can or, lacking that, rip the CDs and enhance the treble by 2.2 db. This gives the singers’ voices a bit more brightness, which is not unwelcome (particularly in the case of Lear), but greatly enhances the orchestral sound. In every other respect, this is clearly the performance to own of this unjustly marginalized gem, a sort of German Pelléas und Mélisande with sex and gore thrown in.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Advertisements
Standard

Roberto Esposito Plays His Own Piano Music

cover2

ESPOSITO: Piano Concerto No. 1 in f♯ min., “Fantastico.” Piano Sonata No. 1 in Bb min. / Roberto Esposito, pno; Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra; Eliseo Castrignano, cond / Grand Piano Overtone GP781

Thirty-four-year old composer Roberto Esposito has written these large-form works, a Piano Concerto as a Sonata, in part to pay homage to the great composers of the past and in part to inject some elements of music close to his heart, jazz and “folk music of the Mediterranean.” The latter can already be heard in the opening of the first movement of the concerto, though it quickly shifts to a late-Romantic aesthetic in the oboe passage with strings. Surprisingly, the piano’s entrance shifts gears once again, introducing an alternate theme that is then dovetailed into the orchestra, now playing staccato chords behind him. The ensuing solo portion of the music is indeed jazz-oriented, assuming a swing beat against the otherwise formal backdrop. But Esposito has more surprises in for us, alternating classical and jazz phrasing as the music progresses, and he even gets the orchestra’s basses to play a quasi-syncopated pizzicato figure behind him and the winds. Swirling piano figures are then introduced, against which the orchestra’s rhythms shift to a Latin beat. Esposito falls into line with this, playing a Latin beat with his left hand and arpeggiated figures with his right, and the extempore “break” sounds improvised. But this isn’t half as surprising as the following solo piano cadenza, which is pure jazz, relaxing the tempo halfway through it and introducing a sort of syncopated canon above single bass notes. Although I enjoyed it, these juxtapositions seemed to me not necessarily forced but not fully integrated structurally. Esposito is young, though, and enthusiasm clearly predominates in his approach at this stage in his development.

roberto-esposito

Roberto Esposito

The second movement, “Adagio ironico,” begins with a lush string figure, following which the piano enters playing a lovely theme based on the opening. In the liner notes, Esposito states that this movement “refers to the big-band tradition of Duke Ellington,” but this really isn’t evident until 4:52 into the movement, when the tempo increases slightly and the pianist-composer swings out with a Swing Era-type melody. Sadly, the Budapest strings aren’t into the spirit in their alternating passages; they try, bless them, but end up sounding like Mantovani playing swing. Oddly, the movement ends in the middle of a phrase.

In the third movement, Esposito pays tribute to the Puglian folk dance pizzica salentina. It’s an odd rhythm even as Latin rhythms go, rapid triplets played against a quick 3, and within its quirky beat Esposito is able to introduce jazz inflections. The orchestra’s winds, strings and percussion take their turn in a slower passage, then Esposito re-enters and the music regains its momentum.

The piano sonata begins with quick flourishes, moving (again) in and out of jazz time, but here, since he is the only player, he is in complete control of the musical progression. Again, themes are juxtaposed, as are tempo changes, moving into piano flourishes that, though interesting, don’t seem to jell at first. But Esposito has more surprises in store for us, swinging out when you least expect it and continually switching gears. It’s really more like a piano fantasia than a sonata. There is much more structure in the second movement, which begins with a somewhat classical-sounding theme before moving into a 1950s pop ballad sort of tune with jazz inflections. Later, he improvises on this theme in an interesting fashion with good swing. It’s the third movement that is the most impressive, both in terms of form and a full integration of jazz elements into that form. Very impressive in the way he keeps dovetailing jazz passages into the ongoing musical structure.

The final piece, Indigo Mirage, appears to be played on a celeste with soft strings and a harp in the background. Esposito describes it as “inspired by an adventure-filled trip to the States and Central America.” It’s a nice piece, sort of a pop ballad.

This CD clearly presents an enthusiastic young musician-composer who has good instincts. I’m hoping that, in time, he will refine his art further and produce some truly substantive works. I’m rooting for him!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Duo d’Accord Plays Tansman

cover

TANSMAN: Le Train de nuit. Sonata for 2 Pianos. Fantaisie sur le valses de Johann Strauβ. Le Grand Ville, Ballet in 3 Tableaux / Duo d’Accord: Lucia Huang, Sebastian Euler, pno / SWR Music 19053CD

The Polish composer Alexandre Tansman, often considered French or at least cosmopolitan because he lived much of his life in France, was a talented but sometimes uneven composer. I tried to review a CD of his Concertinos, but chose not to because the music was formulaic and uninteresting to me. This is clearly not the case with this disc of duo-piano music, works so imaginative that they almost defy description. Interestingly, his 1951 piece, The Night Train, has a jazz feel about it, which isn’t surprising from the composer of the earlier Transatlantic Suite and other jazz-inflected works of the late 1920s and early ‘30s. Duo d’Accord can’t quite get the jazz feel, playing the syncopations in a more classical vein, but it’s all there in the music if you just tune your ears to it. At 16 minutes long, it has a great deal of development in it, and Tansman wrote contrasting tempos in the various sections of the piece, including a languorous waltz, to add variety. His jazz-classical train toodles down the tracks at its own pace and quirky rhythms, with plenty of harmonic changes and some nifty chromatic passages in it. There’s a nice bluesy passage beginning at 8:25, suggesting a bit of revelry aboard his “bar car.”

The duo-piano sonata is an entirely different animal. It is in stricter classical form but also atmospheric and moody, with a soft, mysterious opening characterized by walking bass lines. This first movement also seems to drift towards the 12-tone style, seldom settling down in any one specific key. The slow second movement relaxes this, allowing tonality to creep in, while the moto perpetuo third movement keeps the pianos a semitone apart as they scamper up and down the keyboard. In the fourth movement, “Allegro deciso,” Tansman opens the proceedings with crush chords and a slow tempo before moving into a bitonal fugue. This is tremendously interesting music.

The Fantasy on Waltzes of Johann Strauss, which I half-expected to dislike, is in fact another wonderfully imaginative piece, combining and contrasting snippets of various Strauss pieces, including the “Duidu” section from the Act II finale of Die Fledermaus. Though clearly designed for entertainment value, it is nonetheless so well constructed that one cannot help but admire it: a far cry from the bombastic piano transcriptions of others’ music by Franz Liszt. Indeed, the music’s charm seems to bring out the very best in Duo d’Accord as they have obvious fun playing with the different variants.

In the music of the ballet suite La Grande Ville from 1935, the ragtime and jazz influence isn’t even subliminal; it’s right out in the open, and here Duo d’Accord does indeed capture the right spirit and swing of the music. Of course, the ballet had to do with a young couple dancing, so this makes perfect sense. Even in the seductive second movement, “Cité ouvrière,” the jazz inflections are evident, though perhaps less so than in the fast outer movements, particularly the Charleston-based third piece, “Dancing.” I was delighted to discover this piece, having unfortunately missed it while writing my book on the intersection of classical music and jazz.

This is a simply wonderful disc, full of interesting music by a composer who walked the tightrope between popular and classical musical styles with imagination and grace. Bravo to Duo d’Accord!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Martinů’s Double Concerti in a New Recording

cover2

MARTINŮ: Concerto for 2 Violins & Orchestra. Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola & Orchestra. Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra / Deborah Nemtanu, Sarah Nemtanu, vln; Magali Demesse, vla; Momo Kodama, Mari Kodama, pno; Orchestre Philharmonique de Marsaille; Lawrence Foster, cond / Pentatone Classic 5186658

The imaginative and always inventive Bohuslav Martinů gets a modern makeover in this new release. In the first piece, written in 1950, gone are the Bohemian-Slavic references in many of his scores: none of the slightly asymmetric phrasing one heard in earlier works is present. Here, all is crisp and clean, with a no-reading reading that presses forward with an almost relentless drive. In its own way it’s exciting, however, and both the soloists and orchestra play with flawless technique.

Happily, the Bohemian spirit is present in this performance of the Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola, a solo-instrument work featuring the fine playing of one Magali Demesse. Conductor Lawrence Foster imbues this work with Eastern European warmth, and Demesse responds in kind. She is particularly fine in the expressive latter part of the first movement with her tasteful use of portamento.

The duo-piano concerto, somewhat splashier than normal for Martinů, revels in chromatic movement and frequent key changes within bars. This gets a fine reading from Foster and his soloists, the piano duo of Momo and Mari Kodama. The orchestration is quite unique in its coloring, and in addition has a good amount of jazz syncopation about it, a rare thing for the normally quite classical-oriented Martinů (though he did write a jazz suite earlier). Indeed, much of the chromatic movement here seems to take its cue from contemporary jazz of the time (1943); you can find my detailed analysis of this work in my online book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond. I’m guessing that jazz-classical aficionados haven’t yet fully discovered or embraced this work simply because it is so much denser and more complex than the mostly-crappy Gershwin Piano Concerto in F, so popular because it’s much more accessible to the general public. Martinů also introduces a quasi-blues swagger into the second movement, even in the orchestral part, which Foster conducts excellently. With somewhat more jazz-oriented soloists, this performance might really have swung. The Kodamas try their best, bless them, but simply don’t have the kind of feeling one would have gotten from a duo of, say, Friedrich Gulda and Chick Corea, who played a duo-concert back in the 1980s.

The last movement, a bit less jazz-inflected than the first two and played in a fast 3, skips along at a lively pace but still fits in with the preceding music. Foster gets a lot of credit for drawing such an elastic reading from his French orchestra. Clearly, this is the most masterful and original piece of the three on this CD. Very highly recommended!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard

Ellington Swings at Coventry Cathedral

cover

ELLINGTON: New World A-Comin’ / Duke Ellington, pno / Come Sunday. Light (Montage). Come Easter. Tell Me It’s the Truth. In the Beginning God. West Indian Pancake. La Plus Belle Africaine / Willie “Cat” Anderson, Cootie Williams, Herbie Jones, Mercer Ellington, tpt; Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, tb; Chuck Conners, bs-tb; Russell Procope, a-sax/cl; Johnny Hodges, a-sax; Paul Gonsalves, t-sax; Harry Carney, bar-sax/cl/bs-cl; Ellington, pno; John Lamb, bs; Sam Woodyard, dm; George Webb, Cliff Adams Singers, voc / Storyville 1018448 (live: Coventry, February 21, 1966)

The Duke Ellington Orchestra went through several changes as it moved through the 1960s, from impressive and inventive suites to accompanying singers like Frank Sinatra and Alice Babs, an album with John Coltrane, and playing imaginative arrangements of current pop tunes and, by this point, programming sacred concerts. Ellington was always very religious in his own way and wore his heart on his sleeve. From the time he wrote “Come Sunday” as part of his Black, Brown & Beige suite in 1943, he had evolved, by this point, to expanding on religious Christian themes in full-length concert works. This way-stop at Coventry Cathedral in early 1966 gave him the opportunity to present three of his religious pieces mixed in with a current favorite of his, La Plus Belle Africaine, and other excerpts from Black, Brown & Beige.

The concert here opens with one of Ellington’s most diverse and interesting piano solo pieces, New World A-Comin’, which begins as an out-tempo ballad before moving into swinging sections, but the music keeps shifting and changing both thematically and rhythmically. As usual with Ellington, the music is not technically difficult—he never had the kind of technique that could compete with such solo piano masters as Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell or George Shearing—but it is musically complex, and that in itself is interesting. It sounds as if he were spontaneously composing at the piano. (Interestingly, Charles Mingus’ great piano solo album is not that far removed from the way Ellington plays here.)

Come Sunday, the quasi-spiritual piece from 1943’s Black, Brown & Beige, underwent many transformations by the band in the years since. This version swings more than most, includes a brief paraphrase of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot in the introduction, and features Russell Procope in an extended clarinet solo, the latter portion of which has Cootie Williams growling with a plunger mute in the background. After a bridge played by Ellington, the tempo comes way down and Johnny Hodges plays an exceptional alto solo. An extempore, out-of-tempo trumpet interlude (possibly Herbie Jones) leads into the swinging rendition of Light (Montage), an excellent performance with the band swinging in a relaxed yet uptempo fashion.

Come Easter is another of his jazz-religious ballads. The piece was entirely new for this concert; it is played very well, but there’s not a lot to it other than a pretty theme. Tell Me It’s the Truth, which opens as an alto sax-trombone duet played by long-time Ellington stalwarts Hodges and Lawrence Brown, is an unusual piece as being in either a fast 3 or a moderate 6/8, an odd tempo for the band. The music has a sort of gospel-blues feel to it.

In the Beginning God starts out in swinging fashion, but quickly slows down for a deeply-felt baritone sax solo by the great Harry Carney, who in my view never got the credit he deserved for pioneering his instrument in jazz. (When I saw the Ellington band in person in 1973, I stood at the rail near the bandstand of the Meadowbrook, looking directly at Carney. It was amazing; he was 63 years old at the time, but his face was relatively unlined and he looked like a man in his late 30s.) Procope plays a clarinet solo, followed by a somewhat strained-sounding baritone singer named George Webb. After his first chorus, the band picks up and swings behind him. He has a fairly pleasant tone and good diction, but that strained tonal emission is hard to take. He then has a speaking section in which he lists the things that didn’t exist before the creation of the universe, such as “no TV commercials, no cows, no bulls, no birds, no bees, no people.” He hits a nice high note at the end, though, before Paul Gonsalves (who I also saw in person with the band) swings mightily, with really cool rhythmic, spoken interjections by the Cliff Adams Singers. This was the opening piece of Ellington’s First Sacred Concert the previous year (1965), and all in all it works remarkably well.

Front-Cover-32367A somewhat theatrical trumpet fanfare, followed by a clarinet trill, opens the second half of this piece, followed by a magisterial open trumpet solo by Willie “Cat” Anderson, who then takes it into the stratosphere as only he could. The third section, actually a separate piece played in the Sacred Concert as Books of the Bible, features the chorus intoning the names of the apostles who the “gospels” were named after, along with the titles of other Biblical books. This, as well as Tell Me It’s the Truth, New World A-Comin’ and this updated version of Come Sunday, also comes from the First Sacred Concert. This morphs into the uptempo section of In the Beginning God, bringing this quasi-religious suite to a close. (Ellington made it very clear that his Sacred Concerts were not “jazz masses,” but his jazz impressions of religious themes.)

West Indian Pancake, another swinging 6/8 piece and one I hadn’t heard before, comes next. It’s a fairly simple tune, embellished by Ellington with some nifty trombone section counterpoint. Gonsalves plays another excellent solo. The concert ends with an excellent performance of La Plus Belle Africaine, one of Ellington’s most interesting later pieces, which became a concert staple by 1969. John Lamb plays an exceptionally interesting, almost bitonal, bowed bass solo on this one with a great deal of chromatic movement.

All in all, an excellent concert. Personally, I liked the programming of the pieces of the First Sacred Concert very much here, and of course all the solos are different from the recording of that work for RCA Victor—an album that, surprisingly, sold very poorly at the time.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Goodbye, Jack Reilly

jack reilly

Jazz pianist, educator and sometime classical composer Jack Reilly, who died this past Friday at the age of 86, was one of my oldest friends who I never met in person. Back in 1989, I started my own homemade music ‘zine devoted strictly to classical music and jazz, a forerunner of this blog. These were the early days of desktop publishing; I used a program called “Publish It!” which set up a three-column-per-page layout, used a hand-held scanner for pictures that converted good-looking photos into poor, grainy images to insert (in some instances I just did a cut-and-paste from the Schwann Catalog because it looked better), had copies made at the local Kinko’s, staple-bound each issue by hand and then sealed the binding with some sort of liquid elastic. It looked homemade and I never had more than 40 subscribers, but I kept it going for three years before I called it quits.

species_bluesJack sent me a copy of his early, home-bound copies of his “Species Blues” books (later professionally published by Hal Leonard) to review, but because I was so busy with the current issue I explained to him that I wanted to hold off on reviewing it until I had a chance to properly digest it. For some reason, he assumed I didn’t understand what he was talking about and so told me NOT to review it because I was too stupid. Well, that just ticked me off. I don’t claim to be competent at bookkeeping or building a ham radio, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s music, so I delved into the three-book series and wrote a very positive and detailed review and sent it to him. He was awed by my analysis of his work, and from that moment on, we became friends.

But for whatever reason, Jack still decided to play me for a fool. He called me on the phone but said his name was Sean Petrahn, an Italian-Jewish jazz critic, and wanted to write reviews for my magazine. I was delighted to have him, even though I already had Ralph Berton and jazz trumpeter Jack Walrath as reviewers in the jazz field (I never was able to get any known names for classical reviews except for Terry Teachout, who I had met a decade earlier at the Aspen Music Festival). Jack/Sean wrote some very fine reviews for my ‘zine, but he kept playing me. He had his wife, Carol Lian, call me on the phone pretending to be Steve Allen’s secretary and asking me how she could get in touch with Sean because Steve wanted him on his TV show. Once I stopped publishing, he admitted the charade and we became real friends.

He was always supportive of me and I of him. I wrote good reviews of his CDs, which were not plentiful, and just couldn’t understand why this superb jazz musician wasn’t as well known as his early friend and colleague, Bill Evans, whose work his resembled in many ways. When he decided to release his series of spontaneous improvisations on the Aleister Crowley deck of tarot cards, “Tzu-Jan: The Sound of the Tarot,” he asked me to write the liner notes, for which he paid me. It was very welcome money, though not a large stipend. The funny thing was, once past his Sean Petrahn phase, we rarely talked on the phone in the intervening years, but we kept in touch via email almost up to the end.

harmony of bill evansReilly’s work was consistently interesting. He didn’t lay into technique nearly as much as other jazz pianists, and perhaps this is what held back his popularity. People love flash in jazz pianists, and this Reilly would not do. His music was meaty and well-developed, one of his best works being the “La-No-Tib Suite,” which is Bitonal spelled backwards. He recorded a jazz version of the suite while his wife Carol, a fine classical pianist who also invented her own improvisations, recorded a classical version of it. He continued to send me his CDs to review, some of which appeared in Fanfare, as well as his Hal Leonard copies of Species Blues, The Harmony of Bill Evans and his last book, The Harmony of Dave Brubeck. Reilly’s musical analyses were detailed to a T and always extremely interesting. The Hal Leonard books also included CDs of him playing examples of various chord positions so that musicians could hear what he was writing about. In both books, while respecting the original works, Reilly included reharmonizations of their music in his own style.

in your own sweet way

When reviewing The Harmony of Dave Brubeck, I mentioned that during Brubeck’s active career many jazz critics lambasted him for his “pretentious” and “heavy-handed” playing style, which I never agreed with (I was a Brubeck fan from the moment Time Out first appeared in the early 1960s). Indeed, some critics even went so far as to approach alto saxist Paul Desmond and ask him why he didn’t just leave the quartet and go out on his own. Reilly was gracious enough to pass my comments on to Iola Brubeck, who wrote me back and commented that it was just the mindset of the time. I still have her email saved in my archive. He was also responsible for giving me Sheila Jordan’s email address, which led to my published interview of her.

Jack’s wacky sense of humor continued to the very end as well. I still have the hysterically funny meme he sent me of President Donald Trump, showing one of his signed executive orders. Over the real executive order, Jack had photoshopped an image directing all jazz musicians to learn to play bebop heads in all 12 keys…beginning with Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee. I knew he had been a cancer survivor, back in the early 2000s, but seemed to be in fairly good health until his final days.

In short, Jack Reilly was a wonderful musician and a loyal if somewhat quirky friend. He continued to send me links to jazz videos and great audio clips he had found online, and I did the same, once locating a late-1950s TV clip of the late George Russell leading a band which included Tony Scott on clarinet and Bill Evans on piano playing some of his pieces. Jack couldn’t thank me enough for that one. We also agreed that the late Clare Fischer, though recognized for his composing skills, was one of the most underrated jazz pianists of his time, and he gushed about the brilliance of the late Hall Overton as well. Reilly also sent me recordings of some of his classical compositions, which although they were well written I found a bit thick in texture and not altogether appealing, but by that time he had come to respect my musical judgment and so wasn’t really offended. I praised his jazz to the very end.

If you haven’t discovered Jack Reilly, and are a jazz fan, you need to search him out on YouTube and also collect some of his records. He was a superb artist whose work, like Mark Murphy’s, flew under the radar.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

Standard

Walker Delves Into Hindemith & Hartmann

cover 2

HINDEMITH: Ludus Tonalis. HARTMANN: Piano Sonata, “27 April 1945” / Esther Walker, pno / FHR 54

Pianist Esther Walker here plays two major works by two composers, one internationally famous and the other (Karl Amadeus Hartmann) only well-known to academics and musicians. Yet both works are fascinating and well-written, though Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis or Tonal Games is clearly the meatier and more densely structured of the two.

A contrast in the abilities and potentials between the precise and highly productive Paul Hindemith and the amorphous, vastly overrated musical “philosophy” of Theodor Adorno: When Hindemith came to America, he carved out a fine career for himself as a Professor of Music at Yale, not only writing a work such as this and in teaching, but also in musicology. He took several years off from his own work as a composer to research the true performance style of the early 17th century (as opposed to today’s false “historically-informed” nonsense) to produce a working arrangement of the seminal operatic work of all time, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which he then conducted and presented in the early 1950s. Adorno, hired by Columbia University, was asked to come up with a workable philosophy of music that could be taught. He came up with nothing more than his own nasty polemics against non-German conductors performing German music and his lifelong snotty comments about jazz, Arturo Toscanini and even actors in great plays. In short, Adorno was a non-productive intellectual snob whereas Hindemith was a true intellectual who enjoyed interacting with other musicians and students, and was highly productive.

Ludus Tonalis (which, incidentally, was also the name of a used classical record shop in New York’s Greenwich Village during the 1960s and ‘70s) used the 12 tones of the chromatic scale as the springboard for using each of them as a keynote to bring the others into tonal accord. As explained in the liner notes:

Not the least innovative aspect of Ludus Tonalis is its structural follow-through. The work consists of 25 movements: 12 fugues interspersed with 11 interludes, the sequence framed by a prelude and postlude themselves evincing formal and expressive symmetry. The long-term evolution of this sequence is from the ‘C’ keynote of the first fugue to the ‘F sharp’ of the twelfth, with the interludes modulating not between keys but between the keynotes of those fugues on either side; a long-term process adumbrated in the prelude then consolidated in the postlude.

And Hindemith did not stop with verbal description. Here is an image created by Hindemith to show the sequence of notes from Series 1 in his book The Craft of Musical Composition as used in Ludas Tonalis:

Hindemith graph

Interestingly—or ironically, in the case of Adorno’s dismissal of jazz musicians—this graph occasionally confuses classical musicians, who think mostly in terms of what is on the page written by the composer, but not by jazz musicians who always think in terms of tonal relationships and chromatic movement.

Hindemith structured his work as a Prelude followed by 23 fugues and interludes, concluding with a Postlude. Despite the complexity of the work, it is relatively easy to follow, particularly if you’ve studied jazz, and not as indigestible to the casual listener as the description above might indicate. Despite his use of some advanced harmony and unusual (for classical music) chord positions, it is one of his more melodic works, and pianist Esther Walker plays it with warmth of tone and lyrical distinction. In her hands, it becomes much more than an exercise; it is living, breathing music, interesting and attractive at the same time. In the brisker fugues, Walker plays with energy and enthusiasm. The “Scherzando” interlude is also played with a deft touch and a nicely bouncing rhythm. The result is a performance of both fascinating construction (the third fugue almost sounds like a modern version of J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue) and a strong desire to make the score appealing to the average listener. In this she succeeds brilliantly.

Hartmann’s piano sonata, which occupies a similar sound and texture as the Hindemith piece, was withheld from publication by the composer and so did not have its premier until 1982, some 21 years after his death. Despite its tonal similarity to Hindemith’s work, it is altogether a more somber work, its longer movements allowing for greater development. This somber quality makes sense if one explores the subtitle, “27 April 1945,” a date on which Hartmann witnessed “an endless stream of Dachau prisoners of war trudge past us…unending was the misery…unending was the sorrow.”  Since it lacks the immediate appeal of Ludus Tonalis, marking it as a “musician’s piece” and not one that would gain public endearment or easy acceptance. Walker makes what she can of it, however, imbuing its stern structure with as much warmth and feeling as she can muster. I liked it very much.

This is a great CD that you need to hear if you enjoy modern music.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge

Return to homepage OR

Read The Penguin’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Classical Music

Standard