Mascarenhas & Gulda Play “Jazzical” Music


GULDA: Concerto for Cello & Wind Orchestra.* KAPUSTIN: Nearly Waltz. Elegie. Burlesque / Oliver Mascarenhas, cel; Johannes Nies, pno; *Wind Ensemble of the NDR Radio Phil.; Gerd Müller-Lorenz, cond / GILLESPIE-PAPARELLI: A Night in Tunisia. Blues ‘n’ Boogie. LEWIS: Delaunay’s Dilemma. FOSTER: Doin’ the Thing / Friedrich Gulda, pno/recorder; Hans Last, bs; Karl Sanner, dm / Dreyer Gaido DGCD21126

This could have been a fun and wonderful CDs, with a German-Indian cellist—which in itself is odd—playing the jazz-influenced classical music of Friedrich Gulda and Nikolai Kapustin, followed in turn by Gulda himself playing four jazz pieces on both piano and recorder with bass and drums.

First is Gulda’s concerto for cello and wind band, and if the rhythm here sounds closer to rock or funk music than to jazz it’s probably because it came from the period in which that style was popular. Although I’m not crazy about this aspect of it, the actual music is interesting and creative, and about a minute and a quarter into the first movement Gulda suddenly switches from fusion to a Mozartian lyric theme, then it’s back to the jazz influence. No one could ever claim that Gulda was a boring or conventional composer!

I don’t know whether it’s due to the microphone placement or his own playing, but Mascarenhas’ tone sounds a bit smallish in this concerto. If he couldn’t project strongly, he should have insisted on closer microphone placement to make his contribution sound a bit stronger. Even in the context of a wind band, his sound is neither large nor brilliant, though his technique is certainly secure.

Oddly (and what about Friedrich Gulda wasn’t odd?), this concerto is in five movements instead of four, titled “Overture,” “Idylle,” “Cadenza,” “Menuet” and “Finale alla marcia,” and not too surprisingly it is the cadenza movement, which involves improvisation, that is the longest of the five at 10:42. In the “Idylle” Gulda suddenly turns romantic, giving us a sweet, simple little melody that could have easily become treacle but is handled in such a way that it avoids that tag. About three and a half minutes in, the tempo suddenly quadruples and the music becomes a bouncy little waltz before resuming its slower pace (with some really lovely scoring for the French horns). Another aspect of the recorded sound that I didn’t care for was its dry, clinical quality. Both cellist and orchestra sound as if they were recorded in a studio with blankets on the walls to absorb sound. Mascarenhas plays well from a technical standpoint but only exhibits the most rudimentary grasp of a jazz beat. At the 7:30 mark in “Cadenza,” Gulda suddenly quotes Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze. I cut this short, of course.

The next movement puts us back in the 18th century, and final “marcia” is nothing more or less than German polka music. Sorry, Friedrich, but this concerto is just too much of an unpalatable pastiche of opposing styles of music that just don’t go together.

Happily, the Kapustin works are all excellent little vignettes, typical of this wonderful composer’s style. Once again, Mascarenhas plays with a nice little tone and a decent if not entirely successful attempt to swing. Happily, pianist Johannes Nies has a bit better grasp of jazz style than Mascarenhas, thus in Elegy where the piano takes over for the entire middle section (with the cellist just tossing in a few pizzicato notes), you actually get some swing in the playing. The Burleske, with its irregular meter closer to rock than jazz style, Mascarenhas does a fairly good job keeping up with Nies.

The jazz quotient picks up considerably as soon as we hear Gulda, on piano, playing A Night in Tunisia with his trio of the time. He was still a bit rhythmically stiff in 1958, the time of these performances, yet he clearly knew what he was doing. Hans Last contributes some metronomically-bound bass playing.

Most people don’t know this, but Gillespie’s Blues ‘n’ Boogie was the theme song of the Billy Eckstine bop band, written while he was a member of its trumpet section. Gulda plays it considerably faster than the original tempo, and if the looseness of his swing doesn’t  quite recapture memories of Bud Powell it’s certainly good within its own limits. The set winds up with Frank Foster’s Doin’ the Thing, on which Gulda suddenly switches from the piano to the block flute (or recorder) for the opening chorus before moving back to the piano, then again to the recorder for a nice solo.

So the last seven tracks are fun to listen to, but I really couldn’t take that cello concerto. It’s just too much of a pastiche musically and, to my ears, doesn’t work.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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