Rosenberger’s Powerful Szymanowski Recordings

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SZYMANOWSKI: Masques. Études, Opp. 4 & 33. Mazurkas, Opp. 62 & 50 / Carol Rosenberger, pn / Delos DE 1635

In the 1970s, two amazing American women pianists made recordings of then-offbeat repertoire that would stand the test of time: Ruth Laredo’s Scriabin Sonatas (and small pieces) and Carol Rosenberger’s performances of Szymanowski’s Masques, Études and Mazurkas. In the case of the Op. 62 Mazurkas they were really unusual, since the music was long out of print by the time she recorded them (the composer’s nephew gave her a copy of the score).

But of course, high bars and alpine mountains are meant to be reached for and at least conquered if not surpassed, and both of these intrepid women have had their work seriously challenged in the last two decades. I now turn to Garrick Ohlsson for my Scriabin Sonatas and Martin Roscoe for most of my Szymanowski. Both have captured the sheer excitement of their forebears’ discovery of this repertoire while providing further refinements to their performance practice. But whereas Laredo’s Scriabin has remained in print more or less consistently over the past half-century, Rosenberger’s Szymanowski has been maddeningly elusive…until now. Delos has done us the favor of combining both of her albums of this composer’s work, made in Los Angeles in 1973 and 1976, into a neat double-CD package.

Listening to her performance of Masques, one is struck by the wide-awake approach of her playing. This is very different from the way most pianists perform Szymanowski nowadays, alluding to the French impressionist school which clearly inspired him. Rosenberger obviously wanted to make his Polish roots more evident in her interpretations, and she does so with surprising strength and wide-awake dynamics and phrasing. Nor was she alone in this view; the great Sviatoslav Richter played Szymanowski’s Mythes in concert with a similarly strong approach. The difference is that while others make the constant dissonances of his music sound diffuse and somewhat ethereal, Rosenberger made them sound like Stravinskian grotesqueries.

This is especially evident in the first CD, where Rosenberger attacks Masques with gusto and vigor. One almost envisions a weird sort of surreal puppet play in which marionettes are jerked around on strings, doing a bizarre dance to them. If you’re familiar with the recordings of others—particularly that of Roscoe—you may well be taken aback by this approach. But I have to say that I like it, despite its being different. These readings have a rich, redolent, deep-in-the-keys approach, bringing Szymanowski’s aesthetic closer to that of, say, Schumann or Medtner than to that of Chopin or Debussy, which is the modern approach.

I was startled, in the liner notes, to read of Rosenberger’s long and painful journey to a professional career. I hadn’t realized that at age 21, ready to start playing concerts, she was suddenly and cruelly struck down with polio. It took her ten years to even begin playing again and another five to build up the physical stamina needed for a career. Jay Joslyn, writing in the Milwaukee Sentinel, put it this way: “Polio destroyed every tool a pianist must have except heart and mind. With legendary dedication, Ms. Rosenberger overcame her musical death sentence. The insight and understanding she gained through this ordeal is apparent in the high quality of her musicianship.” Thus, though born in 1933, it was not until 1969 that she began her career in earnest, giving her first big concert tour in 1970. I was startled to discover that she is not only still with us but, happily, the present artistic director of Delos Records, having taken over that slot following the death of her long-time friend and patron, Amelia Haygood, in 2007.

Rosenberger carries the approach shown in Masques into the early (Op. 4) Études, which I admit I was not familiar with before hearing her performances. As a sidelight, her pianistic energy and enthusiasm here is not dissimilar from the way Ruth Laredo played Scriabin. Having never heard any of the early Polish recordings of Szymanowski’s music cited in the booklet, I can’t say how much her playing resembles theirs, but taken on its own merits it is clearly startling and makes a very strong impression. She doesn’t so much seduce you with the music’s delicacy as grab you with its strength. Being of Polish descent, I can tell you that this is how the mazurka rhythm is supposed to go. A mazurka is not a dainty dance by any means if you’ve seen native dancers perform it! It’s active, foot-stomping and energy-inducing; Think of it as a 3/4 cousin of the polka. Even Chopin, the wispiest and most Romantic of Polish composers, wrote pretty lively mazurkas.

But then again, you can’t escape the fact that Szymanowski was attempting to completely change the mazurka, so a slightly softer approach, such as that of Martin Roscoe, is certainly viable as well. But when I think of the mazurka and remember how it is danced, Rosenberger’s performances sounds more authentic to me.

Bottom line: if you already have Roscoe’s complete recordings of Szymanowski’s piano music, you may not need this release, but if you particularly want to hear the Mazurkas played with a bit more gusto Rosenberger’s set is a must.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Janowski Livens Up Hindemith

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HINDEMITH: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Noblissima Visione. Concert Music for Strings and Brass (“Boston Symphony”) / WDR Symphony Orchestra; Marek Janowski, cond / Pentatone PTC5186672

It wouldn’t be quite correct to say that Marek Janowski is an overlooked or neglected conductor, but he is surely greater than his overall profile within the classical world would suggest. One of the reasons why he is sometimes neglected is that, many years ago, he decided that he would never again conduct opera in live performance because he was—like myself—utterly disgusted and repulsed by what we are pleased to call “Regietheater.” Yet his Pentatone recordings of Wagner’s operas have, despite some iffy cast choices, received high marks from critics because of his superb conducting skills. Thus I was particularly interested in hearing his take on these Hindemith works.

Interestingly, each of the works on this CD present Hindemith in his most congenial and populist vein. The Concert Music for Strings and Brass, written in 1931, was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony, then celebrating its 50th anniversary; Noblissima Visione was commissioned by Leonide Massine in 1937 for a ballet based on, of all things, St. Francis of Assisi. The Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber began as a Massine commission in 1940, failed to gel as a ballet, and ended up being a concert piece finished in 1944, based on, as Hindemith put it, “natty pieces for piano duet.” It ended up being one of his most popular works, almost sounding like the then-modern American classical music of Walter Piston, Paul Creston and even Aaron Copland.

Many years ago, in the latter days of his long career, Eugene Ormandy startled the musical world with a very good recording of the Symphonic Metamorphosis with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Janowski does him one better. His performance is more clearly etched, with outstanding orchestral detail and great drive and “lift” to the score. He also seems to revel more in Hindemith’s unusual harmonies: though the piece was based on Weber’s melodic line the underlying chords were not. In the third section, marked “Andantino,” Janowski really moves the music well despite the slower pace, and in the last movement the buzz of the bassoon underlying the winds is startlingly clear. The whole performance almost has the kind of drive and energy one associated with the late George Szell, but in comparing Janowski’s recording to Szell’s I still prefer this one. It’s less stiff and has far greater sound.

By contrast, the music of Noblissima Visione is warm and rich, with softer orchestral colors and a more lyrical profile. In this work, too, Hindemith moves the harmony with the melodic line so that the two are organically connected. Each piece in this suite thus has its own specific feel and flow, the first (“Introduction and Rondo”) having an almost pastoral feel to it. In the second, “March and Pastorale,” Hindemith wrote a rather relaxed and jolly tune for the opening, which makes it seem an odd choice to represent the soldiers who purportedly attacked and wounded the young St. Francis, torturing him brutally. I really expected something closer to the kind of march that opens the Mahler Sixth Symphony. This one has a peppy double-time coda before the music slows down for the “Pastorale,” which actually sounds more unsettled and edgy tonally than the opening piece. The final “Passacaglia” moves at a nice medium-brisk pace; this represented St. Francis’ “canticle of the sun,” and contains 21 variations on a six-bar theme, ending with a tightly-written coda that crescendos to a blaze of glory.

We end with the earliest piece composed of those here, the Concert Music for Strings and Brass. Personally, I have a hard time conceiving Koussevitzky, who was a pretty mediocre musician, conducting something this rhythmically modern and complex without messing it up (his recording of the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, which he also commissioned, is a real mess). Hindemith’s tight pacing, which incorporates many neoclassical rhythms, unsettled tonality and interesting counter-figures played by the high strings against the lower, would surely have taxed Koussevitzky beyond his pay grade. To be honest, I also have a hard time envisioning the typical Boston Symphony audience of 1931 sitting through this. Philadelphia, maybe; Stokowski conducted a lot of modern music there; but certainly not ultra-conservative Boston.

Still, the music is excellent. Hindemith was able to avoid the trap of writing “celebratory” music that ended up being pompous or conceded too much to popular tastes. There are many highly creative moments in this score and its two long sections (nine and eight minutes, respectively) really jell into something quite meaty. Oddly, the music ends on a sort of Gershwin-like blues lick. Again Janowski finds a way of playing the music in as brisk a tempo as possible without ignoring the salient details in the score. In way, his conducting reminds me more of Czech conductors than Polish ones; there’s a high degree of similarity between this disc and the one of Karel Ančerl conducting Josef Suk’s Asrael, which I reviewed last month. Janowski captures the mood of the music as well as its textural profile, combining these elements here as deftly as he has done in Wagner.

These are clearly among the finest readings of these scores extant. A great disc!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Bethea Makes a Comeback with “Suite Theory”

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SUITE THEORY / BETHEA: Crystal Clear. Destiny’s Boat (2 tks). Meniscus. Guardian of Forever / The Mica Bethea Big Band: GregBalut, Dave Champagne, Daniel Rollan, Ray Callender, tpt; Michael Dease, Diego Herrada “de la Vega” Ventura, Lance Reed, tb; Gina “Badeeduh” Benelcazar, bs-tb; Todd Delguidice, a-sax/t-sax/sop-sax/fl; Daniel Dickinson, a-sax/sop-sax/fl; Juan Carlos Rollan, t-sax/a-sax/fl; José Rojas, t-sax/a-sax/cl; Seth Ebersole, bar-sax/bs-cl; Josh Bowlus, pn/Rhodes; James Hogan, gtr; Dennis Marks, bs; John Lumpkin Jr., dm; Terry “Doc” Handy, perc / self-produced CD, available at http://www.MicaBethea.com

How can you not root for a guy who was hit by a semi going 85 MPH while he was stopped in traffic, leaving him a quadriplegic, making a comeback through jazz music? This is the startling but true story of Mica Bethea, whose music and band this is. This CD, due out March 1, is his comeback disc.

Bethea’s music is quintessential West Coast big band style (omitting, of course, such atypical groups as the old Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band, which had its own unique aesthetic): soft brass textures, heavy use of flutes and alto saxes, Fender Rhodes piano and a percussion section that is laid back and understated. That said, his musical conceptions are entirely his own, well constructed and varied in rhythm and feel. After the swinging opener Crystal Clear, which features a series of well-thought-out solos, we move into more retrospective territory with Destiny’s Boat. Here, Bethea shows his individuality in a piece that is full of interesting lines and even more interesting harmonic structure. The music represents the mood Bethea was in when he woke up from his accident to discover that he was a quadriplegic. It’s a very moving piece with excellent solos.

The next number, Meniscus, is a peppy Latin tune representing Bethea’s re-entry into music and socializing. The problem here is that, after the promising opening theme, the music doesn’t really develop very much and the solos are just sort of “there.” Happily, Bethea makes up for this with the brilliant Guardian of Forever, a truly outstanding piece with some brilliant ensemble writing. I was particularly unhappy with the rambling, rock-music-sounding guitar solo, but the background figures are nicely written and the brass licks following the guitar solo are really outstanding. So too is the final chorus, which makes up for some of the earlier themes.

The album concludes with an alternate take of Destiny’s Boat. Interestingly, the “feel” in this take is less amorphous and somewhat more chipper than the original. I also liked the solos in this one; they seemed to make more sense in the context of the ensemble writing.

All in all, a good CD that shows promise for both Bethea and the band. I hope to hear them develop further in the future.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Neubauer & Garrett’s Lost Bloch Recordings

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BLOCH: Suite for Viola & Piano. Suite for Solo Viola. Suite Hébraïque. Meditation & Processional / Paul Neubauer, vla; Margo Garrett, pn / Delos DE 3498

Here’s a bizarre story if there ever was one. Violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Margo Garrett recorded this album back in 2001. So far, so good. But then, we are told in the publicity sheet accompanying this album, the tapes were lost for fifteen years, and when they were rediscovered Neubauer and Garrett were utterly delighted by them and wanted them issued.

Whoa, wait a minute. Who the hell, nowadays, loses tapes of classical music for 15 years? What storage shed, basement, attic, garage or closet shelf did they go to? Normally, upon leaving the recording studio, the artists are either given the tapes or told where they can get them in the future. Who was handling this project? The FBI? George Papadopoulos? Hillary Clinton? And who found them? Hey, at this point, what difference does it make?

As it turns out, they are indeed splendid performances of some of Bloch’s most interesting works: atmospheric yet well-written with meaty themes and interesting development. The music engages both the mind and the heart, and the duo did indeed find just the right tone and mood for each piece. You really feel these performances; they’re not just professional read-throughs but emotionally engaged, even gripping in places. You’d almost think they wrote this music themselves.

Moreover, even the earliest work on this disc, the 1919 Suite for Viola & Piano, is harmonically adventurous and interesting. Already Bloch was being influenced by some of the modern French and Russian school that was in the air at the time. Neubauer and Garrett catch each and every nuance in these scores, feeling each others’ pulse, so to speak, as they wend their way along through the music. Listen, for instance, to how well they catch the feeling of mystery in the “Lento” movement of the opening Suite…pure magic.

In the solo Suite, Neubauer has to carry the load on his own, but this is no deterrent for him. I was struck throughout this recital by how bright his viola tone was, sounding much closer to that of a violin than such famed violists of the past as Lionel Tertis, Paul Hindemith or William Primrose. The music here, written much later than the Suite with piano (1958), is even more modern, particularly the finale which ends in the middle of a phrase. Very strange indeed!

In the Suite Hébraïque (1951), Bloch’s style is more advanced than his famous Schelomo, denser in structure and tonal expression. Once again, Neubauer and Garrett go straight to the heart of the music but, more importantly, keep it flowing and make the structure intelligible. The program closes with the Meditation and Processional, the former so deeply played that it almost breaks your heart. The latter, less emotional and more ceremonial, makes a fine finale to this disc.

This is surely one of the finest albums of Bloch’s chamber music I’ve heard, outstanding performances of both the earlier and later material. Neubauer and Garrett uncover the relationships between these scores and make the program sound as gripping as a live performance.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Medtner’s Songs Brilliantly Performed on New CD

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MEDTNER: 3 Romances, Op. 3 Nos. 1 & 2. 5 9 Goethe-Lieder, Op. 6 Nos. 1-6.6, 4, 2, 5 Winter Evening.5 Epitaph.2 12 Goethe-Lieder, Op. 15 Nos. 1, 3, 6-8.6, 2, 4 6 Gedichte von Goethe, Op. 18 Nos. 4-6.2, 4, 6 8 Gedichte, Op. 24 Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.5, 1, 2, 3 7 Gedichte, Op. 28 Nos. 1-3, 6.5, 2, 6 7 Songs after Pushkin, Op. 29 Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7.1, 6 6 Pushkin Poems, Op. 32 Nos. 1, 4, 5.5, 3 6 Songs after Pushkin, Op. 36 Nos. 1-4, 6.3, 1 Sleeplessness.2 5 Poems of Tyutchev, Op. 37 Nos. 2 & 4.1 4 Lieder, Op. 45 Nos. 1, 2, 4. 3, 2 7 Lieder, Op. 46 Nos. 2, 4, 5.1, 6, 4 7 Songs after Pushkin, Op. 52 Nos. 2 & 6.1, 3 8 Hinterland Lieder, Op. 61 Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6.4, 3, 3, 5 / 1Ekatarina Siurina, sop; 2Justina Gringyte, mezzo; 3Oleksiy Palchykov, 4Robin Tritschler, ten; 5Rodion Pogossov, bar; 6Nikolay Didenko, bass; Iain Burnside, pn / Delphian DCD 34177

It’s funny how certain composers of the past seem to creep up on you out of nowhere to suddenly become known and respected after years of neglect. True, there are still some who haven’t been so lucky, among them Karol Rathaus, Szymon Laks and Julián Carrillo, but in the past decade we’ve suddenly come to think of such formerly ignored composers as Miecyzław Weinberg, Nikolai Kapustin, Florent Schmitt, Erwin Schulhoff and Charles Koechlin as part of the repertoire whereas previously they were “niche” composers only known to a handful of cognoscenti. Lately Kaikhosru Sorabji and Nikolai Medtner have made large strides in that direction as well, thus we have here a collection of more than half of his song output in a handy 2-CD set.

This collection was the brainchild of pianist Iain Burnside, who according to the brief notes I’ve seen selected both the repertoire and the specific singers for this set. I’ve tried as much as possible to indicate the singers of each song in the header above by listing the footnote to their names in the order in which they appear. None of these singers were known to me, and I doubt that many people besides their parents, friends and personal managers may actually know who they are. The first voice up, and in fact the one that gets the most material on this set, is that of baritone Rodion Pogossov. Like so many of our modern singers, he has a noticeable flutter to his voice that borders on a wobble or judder, but he has many assets, among them a voice that is strong in every register, excellent control of dynamics, great emotion in his interpretations and, bless his heart, perfect diction—all necessary qualities to bring out the depth of feeling that Medtner put into his songs. And the music itself is terrific: somewhat reminiscent of the songs of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, but with more unusual melodic lines tailored more specifically to the flow of the words and, for those who pay attention to such things, far more complex accompaniments. Thus when performing Medtner, you need a really virtuosic pianist, and Burnside fills that role splendidly.

Didenko, Nikolay

Nikolay Didenko

In the second group of songs we hear three more singers, basso Nikolay Didenko, tenor Robin Tritschler and mezzo Justina Gringyte. The latter has a bit of a squally voice but is, again, a superb technician and interpreter. Didenko is absolutely terrific, a Russian bass with good notes on both ends of the scale; he might make a terrific Boris Godunov someday. And Irish tenor Robin Tritschler has a light but beautiful voice with, again, good control and clear diction. He might make an excellent Simpleton in Boris some day (among other roles).

Robin Tritschler

Robin Tritschler

Since this album came to me via download, I had no booklet with texts or translations of any of these songs, but fortunately I was able to find most of them on Emily Ezust’s outstanding “LiederNet Archive” (http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_settings.html?ComposerId=5021). If you ever use this site, PLEASE donate a little money to her. She has been running it as a labor of love for more than 20 years and does the fine music public a great service by providing texts and, in most cases, translations of songs by hundreds of composers.

It’s difficult to put Medtner’s style into words because as I say, though melodic (although he was a contemporary of Scriabin and, though a few years older, of Stravinsky, he consciously stayed away from modernism), his musical thinking was far more advanced than Tchaikovsky’s and even Rachmaninov’s. He was, in fact, a highly individual composer who worked not in pastels but in bold colors with equally bold harmonies. Sadly, he fled the USSR in 1921 to live in the West where he was shrugged off and ignored, thus he died in abject poverty in 1951 at age 71. Sviatoslav Richter was one of his few champions who played in the West, but even his occasional inclusion of Medtner’s music in his recitals did not awaken interest in him until much later. There is occasional harmonic movement in his musical line but also extended chords played in the left hand that also move the harmony out of center. The effect is like listening to Rachmaninov with occasional touches of Scriabin or Stravinsky. It’s startling but Medtner was such a good composer that nothing he did sounds out of place. It kind of makes you cry to realize what truly great but unusual composers like Medtner, Koechlin and Szymanowski went through in their lifetimes, starving and struggling for years because their music, though great, was so unusual, while nowadays all these supposedly “great young composers” who write formulaic bullshit get grants and performances of their music all over the place.

In 1945, the Maharajah of Mysore, India, an honorary fellow at the Trinity College of Music and president of the Philharmonia Society of London, put up his own money to allow Medtner to record as many of his works as he could between 1945 and 1950 despite his failing health. Medtner recorded all three of his piano concerti (dedicating the last of them to the Maharajah), two sonatas, several smaller pieces (including the Russian Round Dance as a piano duet with Benno Moisevitch) and many of his songs with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The recordings sold poorly and did nothing to sustain Medtner or revive his once high reputation.

In the 8 Gedichte, Op. 24 we finally get to hear soprano Ekaterina Siurina, and she has a wonderfully pure and beautiful voice—and, again, great diction. We also get to hear our second tenor, Oleksiy Palchykov, and he is also a bright-voiced singer with good diction, albeit with a more “Russian” sound. He could be a splendid Dmitry in Boris some day.

Indeed, as you go through this set, you come to realize how much more varied and interesting Medtner’s songs were than, say, those of Rachmaninov, who wrote some very good songs but all in a lyrical vein based on Russian folk music. Medtner is consistently more intense, sort of like comparing Carl Loewe to Franz Schubert.

If you buy this album, even as a download, from Delphian you will have access to the booklet which I did not. I strongly recommend this set if you have an interest in 20th century Russian music.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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The Atom Accordion Quintet Plays “Jazzical Moods”

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MAJKUSIAK: up2U. WRÓBEL: Suita. LENCZOWSKI: Atom Accordion Quintet. KOŁODZIEJCZYK: Subliminal Folk Suite / Rafał Grząka, acc; Atom String Quartet / Requiem Records Opus Series 1341

Here’s something new and different from the Atom String Quartet, a 2016 album of through-composed pieces by four composers of whom I was previously unaware. They are Mikołaj Majkusiak (b. 1983), Piotr Wróbel (b. 1977), Krzystof Lenczowski (b. 1986) and Mikola Kołodziejcyk (b. 1986).

The opener, up2U, starts out with an almost Mission: Impossible sort of theme and rhythm (5/4). The ostinato quality continues as the five musicians play around it in a series of variations. Then the whole thing slows down to a strange series of held chords with the various string players each taking turns doing a series of portamento slides. This leads to a series of fluttering figures, during which the tempo increases again as the piece moves towards its finish.

Wróbel’s Suita begins in a lyrical, almost melancholy vein, sounding as if it were based on a folk song. This leads to a slow, sad cello theme, around which the other instruments make comment. Then, suddenly, we get a fascinating but quirky bass line as the music moves more towards a jazz rhythm, which of course the quintet plays with perfect style and understanding. There’s a fascinating solo played by one of the upper strings, possibly improvised, before the score moves towards a series of strange chorded figures played in strict rhythm, then another lyrical section, this time more like modern classical music and less like folk. The accordion plays a loping figure which leads into the strings playing syncopated figures and portamento slides. There’s a hot violin solo, possibly by Mateusz Smoczyński, before we return to the slides and a recap of the theme, followed by a rhythmic section and, later, solos (improvised?) by Grząka on the accordion and Michal Zaborski on viola. This is really great music by any standard!

Lenczowski, the Atom Quartet’s cellist, titled his piece after the quintet. It is divided into four parts: “Walc” (Waltz), “Moderato,” “Adagio” and “Final.” The Waltz is a strange one, more in 6/8 than 3/4 with its rhythms divided somewhat oddly, while the “Moderato” features an ostinato accordion figure behind the playing of the various members of the group. The music is surprisingly lyrical, almost harking back to an earlier style of music despite its modern bent; this is particularly true in the nostalgic-sounding “Adagio” in G major which, except for jazzy-sounding bent notes in the violin solo, could easily be mistaken for a post-Romantic work. The Finale, despite double-time rhythmic figures by the accordion, is more in a Moderato tempo with a lovely theme in C major albeit with excursions into other keys as it progresses. Here the playing of the soloists clearly show the strong influence of the pioneering Turtle Island String Quartet, which Smoczyński played with for five years.

Kołodziejcyk’s Subliminal Folk Suite is also divided into sections, titled “Odsibka,” “Fajrant” and “Zawijas.” Here we have a perfect fusion of jazz and classical: the syncopations and strong jazz pulse are combined with well-written themes and variants, each section of each piece contrasting with and complementing each other. I’m guessing that the solos here are completely improvised (the notes provide no clue), and by now there is no hiding the fact that Turtle Island is the model. “Fajrant” begins very quietly, with a sustained chord that very gradually swells to a nice mezzo-piano. The slow-moving figures continue apace, followed by “waves” of sound from the strings and accordion, scored in unusual chords. There’s a solo accordion passage (written, I think), after which the string quartet plays in an almost strictly classical vein. The brief (1:59) but edgy finale starts with an almost rock-type beat but is much better developed, with another slow theme played over it for contrast.

This is an outstanding CD that could easily appeal to both jazz and classical lovers, although I suspect that the presence of the accordion and the use of jazz figures will upset the latter camp.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Paolo & Stephanie Return

Aldo-Stephanie

BROADWAY AND MORE / BERLIN: Call Me Madam Medley. Marie. KERN-HAMMERSTEIN: Make Believe. GAY-FURBER: The Lambeth Walk. Medley: DeCURTIS: Torna a Sorrento/D’ESPOSITO-MANLIO: Anema e core. MALNECK-MERCER: If I Had a Million Dollars. HOFFMAN-KLENNER: Heartaches. WILLSON: The Music Man Medley. ADAMSON-McCAREY-WARREN: An Affair to Remember. BERNSTEIN-SONDHEIM: West Side Story Medley. McCARTNEY-LENNON: Penny Lane. BALLARD: Mr. Sandman / Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, pn / Alderighi-Trick Records ATC0005

Here’s another crop of classic pop tunes rearranged and redefined by the world’s best and most famous piano-four-hands duo, but in this album they’re playing on two pianos instead of one. This gives them both the chance to stretch out at their respective keyboards rather than crowding each other for room on just one. On this recording, Stephanie Trick is playing on the left channel while her husband, Paolo Alderighi, is playing on the right.

As usual with this duo, older musical fare reimagined is the order of the day, but in this case the program also includes some Italian songs (including the old Italian tenor favorite, Torna a Sorrento), a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and the Beatles’ Penny Lane. We start out with the very gaga-type music from Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, which opens up with It’s a Lovely Day Today. This medley seems to be played rather straight, with only a bit of variation in their playing despite a bit of Fats Waller-like stride emanating from the keyboards halfway through, but they put their jazz shoes on for You’re Just in Love and really crank it up.

Better yet is their treatment of the old Tommy Dorsey hit Marie, complete with the seldom-heard verse that leads into the main tune. Then things really change, with a surprisingly bluesy chorus that really cooks, followed by a doubling of tempo and a rapid shuffle beat to chug things along. This is followed, in turn, by Paolo cutting loose with some nifty right-hand playing while Stephanie feeds him some nice chords from her side. This one really takes off! Jerome Kern’s Make Believe from Show Boat begins wistfully, almost like a slightly out-of-tempo ballad, going to waltz tempo for an almost classical treatment of the melody. A nifty key change moves the duo into a medium-uptempo where, after another restatement of the melody, they completely rewrite the song in their duo-improvisation. A hint of boogie bass then ensues and they continue their exploration of the song, eventually leading back to the principal tune for a somewhat dramatic, key-changing finale.

Furber’s Lambeth Walk is taken a bit out of “walk” tempo and given some nifty rhythmic changes, including a Latin chorus in the minor. This is followed by the pair playing off each other, filling in notes that the other seemed to have missed. More rhythmic shifts tell you that this is a duo that doesn’t need a rhythm section (although it would be nifty to hear them play like this with a drummer). I wasn’t sure what they could have done with de Curtis’ Torna a Sorrento except to play it straight, which they do for the first 1:55. Then they alter the beat slightly and move into d’Esposito’s Manlia a core, another lovely tune but clearly not a jazz piece. This, however, lends itself to some nice improvisation in the second chorus. By and large, however, the mood here is one of nostalgia and delicacy, though in the last chorus Paolo plays some more nice variations.

Matty Malneck’s If I Had a Million Dollars was a Depression-era hit for the sadly short-careered Boswell Sisters, who sang it in the 1934 film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round. It gets an almost classic Fats Waller-like treatment, and why not? Stephanie is practically Waller reincarnated. More of a surprise to me was Heartaches, the old Ted Weems hit, originally taken at a Latin beat with Elmo Tanner whistling a chorus. They begin the song wistfully, at a relaxed tempo, as if they were going to give it another ballad treatment, but have no fear. They soon enough move it into its original tempo, albeit with running double-time eighth notes in the bass, before really swinging it hard. They obviously gave this one a great deal of thought as to how they were going to do it, then opened up the improv doors and enjoyed themselves.

I found it interesting that they chose to do a medley of tunes from Meredith Willson’s Music Man, not because I don’t like the show (I do…it’s one of only four musicals I really do like) but because the songs are geared more towards a straight reading. But just listening to the way they open up with a nicely lilting Leider Rose, My Home Again Rose makes you smile, following which they rewrite the tune in a jazz manner before giving us a bit of ‘Til There Was You and 76 Trombones. Then comes the fun—double-time stride style to juice up the proceedings, with Paolo really cooking on his piano.

An Affair to Remember is one of those songs that one recalls with pleasure without ever hearing it played by jazz musicians. It’s a lovely ballad, and in the second chorus they relax the rhythm and play some really lovely variants. Our third Broadway show medley comes from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, surely one of the most famous scores heard on the Great White Way. Tonight leads it off, followed by I Feel Pretty, this time with a nifty jazz chorus, then A Place For Us (played straight) and finally America (I thought they’d never get there!) played with some nice variations.

Another surprise to me was Penny Lane, played here with a relaxed tempo and smoldering feeling before moving into a quasi-Latin beat and some permutations on the original. A bit of counterpoint and a driving rhythm move us into the latter part of the performance, which includes some really funky jazz as a surprise before the sudden ending.

The CD concludes with the Chordettes’ old hit (I think their only one), Mr. Sandman, which I loved as a little girl. Surprisingly, this is the vehicle for some of their most imaginative rewriting, including a shift to the minor and bits of Latin rhythm as they proceed to do it up pink, including one section that sounds like a bitonal music box. They ride it out strongly, however, reminding us that they really enjoy playing jazz. A fine finish to an album mixing jazz, Broadway and nostalgia!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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