April 9, 2016
Victor Herbert (1859-1924) has certainly made his mark in American Music, being most remembered for “Babes in Toyland.”
JoAnn Falletta has certainly been making her mark with Naxos and her 21st century conducting of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Ulster Orchestra. She isn’t afraid to try something new and her recording of the Victor Herbert works.
March 30, 2016
Following up on their very successful Kings of Swing,op.1 release the SWR Big Band with addicting vocals from Fola Dola offer 15 new tracks this time in a live recording. Fast becoming the best big band in Europe Pierre Paquette, conductor has selected popular standards such as “One O’clock Jump,” “Stardust,” and “Satin Doll” and let his sidemen loose for some extraordinary solos that you will want you to here again and again. Fola Dola who has taken over what Ella Fitzgerald did for so many years is featured on “Witchcraft,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Love Me Or Leave Me,” and “That Old Black Magic.”
March 26, 2016
Charles O’Brien (1882-1968) is a new unsung composer for this reviewer having been introduced to me by Martin Anderson of Toccata Classics. This second volume of three concentrates on his two earlier works Minstrel’s Curse and Spring written in the early 20th Century as well as two very early works from 1898 Berceuse and Mazurka when Charles was attending George Watson’s school. It concludes with a piece Scottish Scenes orchestrated for a 1929 BBC concert originally written for piano which can be heard on Toccata Classics #260 on O’Brien’s piano music CD release. I’ve provided a link above for volume one of his orchestral works.
To Spring, op. 4 (An den Fruhling) (1906) has parallel lines to Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 both written in B flat major and both written about spring and both having a similar structure within the form of the sonata. The tone poem has turned out to be his most popular work although this is a first recording as are all of his works. The work begins with a theme that is shared by the woodwinds and the strings. It is one of tranquility that segues into a section of agitation followed by an exchange of woodwinds and horns before it returns to the opening theme which continues for the balance of the work. Percussion is added to enhance the work.
The Minstrel’s Curse, op.7 (Des Sangers Fluch) (1905) according to conductor Paul Mann was part of a potboiler program and never ever performed again until this recording. Based on a 19th century poem by Ludwig Uhland (listed below) this concert overture/tone poem is filled with many ideas including harp solos which are part of the story. These type of story telling overtures are right up my alley as there are ups and downs as the story unfolds. Paul Mann points out in his well thought out liner notes that it is a Lisztian style of work and I tend to agree with him. I’m glad that he did his best to retain all of the material making it as complete as possible.
Mazurka and Berceuse, no opus numbers were written when Charles was attending the Watson school of music in 1898. He was 16 at the time and one can hear the promise that the young student had to offer. Totaling 6 minutes in length the lullaby and dance are very easy on the ears.
Scottish Scenes, op. 17 (1914-15) were originally written for piano but as part of a 1929 BBC broadcast Charles orchestrated and the result are three pieces that definitely bring out the scotch snaps in O’Brien. “Moorland” has a flair for the dramatic, “Voices of the Glen” a mysterious piece, and “Harvest Home” a rousing uplifting dance.
I encourage listeners to obtain all three of the O’Brien pieces and welcome him into your library. They will provide many hours of listening pleasures.
The Minstrel's Curse In olden times a castle stood towering high and free: It gleamed far over the country, unto the deep blue sea; The gardens round were fragrant, in glowing bloom arrayed, And glistening like the rainbow, the limpid foun- tains played.
There sat a mighty monarch with many lands his own, He sat so pale and threatening upon his mighty throne. For what he thinks is terror and what he sees is rage And what he speaks is torture and blood his writ- ten page. There travelled to this castle a noble minstrel pair, The one with locks of gold and the other grey of hair; And with his harp the old man a comely charger rode, While merrily beside him his young companion strode. The old man to the young said: "My son, take ample care! Our deepest songs remember, and strike thy note most rare. With all thy might put sorrow and joy into thy tone ! To-day we both must conquer this monarch's heart of stone." Before the lofty pillars the minstrel pair is seen; Upon the throne are sitting the monarch and his queen.
The king is fiercely splendid, like bloody north- ern light, The queen is mild and lovely, like full moon in the night. The old man touched his harp strings, and won- derful to hear ! Chords fuller, ever fuller, were rising to the ear; Then high the young man's singing most heavenly limpid streamed, The old man's voice sonorous a ghostly chorus seemed. They sing of love and springtime, of golden days to bless, Of freedom, manly honour, of faith and holiness. They sing of all the sweetness that trembles through the breast, They sing of all that's lofty and fills the heart with zest. The courtiers round about them forget to mock and sneer; Stern warriors before heaven all bow their knees in fear. The queen in wistful gladness is overcome and throws Down to the magic minstrels from her own breast
"You have beguiled my people, beguile you now my queen?" The king is shouting fiercely, and trembling in his spleen. He throws his sword that flashing has pierced the young man's heart: Thence no more golden ballads, but sprays of lifeblood start. And scattered as by tempest is all the listening swarm. The youth in throes is dying right in his master's arm. He wraps the mantle round him, then upright on his steed Binds fast the youth and with him he leaves the hall in speed. Before the lofty gateway the minstrel old and wise Stands still and there he seizes his harp, of harps the prize. Against a marble pillar this noble harp he flings. He calls; through halls and gardens his voice un- canny rings: "Woe, castle, no more music shall sweep thy halls along, No harp-strings shall resound there, and no more golden song.
Nay ! Only sighs and groaning and sneaking of the slave, Till crushed by spirit of vengeance thou art a mouldy grave. "Woe, fragrant gardens blooming so fair in spring- time's grace ! To you I show this dead boy's white and dis- torted face, That you henceforth shall wither, that every spring be dry, That you all sere and barren in days to come shall lie. "Woe, thou unholy murderer! Thou curse of minstrelsy ! Thy strife for bloodstained glory all times in vain shall be; Thy name shall be forgotten, steeped in eternal night, And, like a dying rattle, in empty air take flight !" Thus cried the ancient minstrel, and heaven heard his call: The pompous halls are ruins, low lies each mighty wall. One lofty pillar only recalls the splendours past; This pillar, cracked already, may fall to-night at last.
Where once were scented gardens is now a barren land, No branches shade to scatter, no spring to pierce the sand; No songs, no book of heroes the monarch's name rehearse ; Dissolved in night, forgotten ! That is the min- strel's curse.
March 11, 2016
RCA has been releasing many of their Living Stereo albums from the 60’s many of which I still have on lp. The two released on this CD are both good ones and should be added to your collection, especially the Franck which in my opinion is the recording that all others should be judged. Ted Libbey, who writes musical guides for NPR, agrees with me 100% as well as conductor Adriano.
February 25, 2016
One of the things that I try to do if it is possible while preparing for a soundtrack review, especially if it is a favorite of mine, is to read the novel, see the movie, and do some background material on the making of the movie. In the case of “Double Indemnity” this was a relatively easy thing to do except for one thing. This score has really never had a complete release except for the suite that Patrick Russ did and was recorded by Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1997. This is a score that was nominated for an Oscar and while certainly not his best score it is surely deserving of a OST release of some sort if this is possible. Intrada has released a 2 CD set called Film Noir at Paramount which includes “Double Indemnity,” “Ace in the Hole,” “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “The Desperate Hours,” “The Scarlet Hour,” “Union Station,” and “I Walk Alone.”
“Double Indemnity (1944) is considered by some to be the very best of the noir films that Hollywood ever produced. Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson the story was simply about murdering her husband, making it look accidental and collecting double indemnity on the insurance policy. Having the ingredients of a good noir there was a black widow and a double cross. James Cain wrote a masterful novel and it is ironic that Raymond Chandler, an excellent writer in his own right did the screenplay with Billy Wilder (another story in itself.). For Rozsa this score became somewhat of a template for future films “The Lost Weekend” and “The Killers.” and strengthened his hold on being an A+ composer for Hollywood. The score to my surprise transferred to a listenable mono recording that fared better than “The Lost Weekend.” The main title is one of yearning with little hope. It plods along at times with the brass playing a key part in both the harmony and melody. The second theme which appears in The Meeting is the complete opposite to the The Prelude in a major key not a minor. As source music at the end of the film is a selection from one of my all time favorite classical works, the unfinished symphony of Schubert. A added bonus is a stereo version of The Prelude a nice bonus selection.
Nearly 20 years ago Koch released three scores of Rozsa performed by the New Zealand Symphony conducted by James Sedares. “Double Indemnity” was included a 26+ minute suite. Unless one could find this CD at a reasonable price it is certainly not worth the $50.00 asking price on Amazon.The speed is at a snails pace compared to the new OST release.
February 18, 2016
When Naxos sent me this recording of “Manhattan Intermezzo” it immediately got my attention because of the name and as I delved further into it I discovered the most unusual coupling of material of Sedaka, Emerson, Ellington, and Gershwin.
Neil Sedaka (1939) will be best known for his string of rock hits including “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” and “Calendar Girl.” When I first listened to “Manhattan Intermezzo” it sounded like nothing I expected at all. While we certainly cannot put this into the classification of true classical we could certainly compare it to “Rhapsody in Blue,” another selection on this platter. Repeated listens have revealed layers of different sounds of culture as well as painting a wonderful picture of Manhattan. The eighteen minute suite was arranged by film composer Lee Holdridge, a fine composer of many Hollywood films and with the permission of the composer Jeffrey Biegel was allowed to add his own embellishment to the work. This work is well worth the price of the CD and one that you’ll want in your collection for your phone etc.
Keith Emerson (1944) was part of the group Emerson Lake and Palmer and did a rock version of “Pictures at an Exhibition” that got my attention so the background was there for classical material. The 20 minute work is divided into three sections allegro, andante, and toccata. The first movement begins in a twelve tone fashion which is skittish, so much so that I nearly turned it off and went to the next selection. As I was about to do this the material changed into a melody which carries on in different rhythms, making it a unique blend of styles. The andante begins in a fugue fashion (hint) and quickly turns into a spirited easy on the ears short piece. The third movement again begins with more twelve tone material which is dissonant, loud with brash and powerful chords. To me this doesn’t sound like a toccata at all but more like something you would hear in a “On the Waterfront” like movie. Towards the end of the movement there is a respite from the dissonance and a melody appears all too briefly. Repeated listens have not helped as they sometimes do.
Duke Ellington (1899-1974) wrote big band standards, religious material, soundtracks to movies as well some great symphonic material which Naxos has made available to us on other CD’s. The work definitely has a big band sound which takes full advantage of this and blends nicely with the piano material. What you hear is a reconstruction of the original material from the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert in 1943 due to the fact that Duke never wrote much of it down or it was lost. “New World a-Comin'” fits into the category of “Rhapsody in Blue” style of music.
George Gershwin (1898-1937) has been written about enough that I won’t include it in this review other than when a group of us gathered one evening and posed the following question. What was the greatest work of the 20th century? It was the winner and for obvious reasons. Jeffrey Biegel uses the 1996 version prepared by Dr. Zizzo and careful listening will reveal the differences. The Brown University Orchestra under the direction of Paul Phillips performs as well as many orchestral recordings I’ve heard in many years of listening.
This is a fine CD and I applaud Naxos for offering this material to us. Recommended.
February 3, 2016
David Porcelijn conducts the Bochumer Symphony
One of the incredible bonuses of being able to review for Naxos is the introduction of new composers and music available to me. Such is the case with the Dutch composer Henk Badings (1907-1987) pedagogue and composer. His lack of popularity can be attributed to his dealings with the Nazi party during the war years. At one time his material was banned from being performed in his native country. As one Dutch friend put it so eloquently “The whole blacklisting was a bit McCarthy-esque as a great many composers, artists, bands and orchestras had signed up, simply because otherwise they would not be allowed to play (hence to make a living)!*) Principles are one thing, starvation another. Thankfully after about two years the zealousness of the immediate post-War righteousness had abated, and pretty much everyone who had not been an immediate collaborator or true propagator of Nazi propaganda or ideals was pardoned.”
The 4th Symphony was completed in December of 1943, had nothing to do with the war but instead is witty and has a natural sound that has truly grown on me during several listens to it. I don’t feel it is anything that you could compare to any of his contemporaries. He is unique and very melodic following a traditional Lento-Allegro, Scherzo, Largo, and Allegro format. It wasn’t performed until after the war in Rotterdam in 1947 dedicated to the conductor Eduard Flipse who also conducted the premiere. The opening movements begin with ominous chords like an oncoming storm that quickly dissipates into the introduction of the main theme with the trombones leading the way. After a brief opening the Scherzo turns into sweeping theme carried by the strings followed by another powerful burst of energy from the brass. The oboe and strings continue the memory with a hint of a fugue and staccato dissonant passages. It is a well done Scherzo and could very well find its way to my best of compilation CD’s, something that I’ve got for all types of allegros, andantes, vivaces, etc. The Largo is a yearning melancholy theme which reminds me of Strauss. The finale Allegro is somewhat slower than some but offers yet another strong melody which is passed from section to section nicely. This is a real winner.
The Fifth Symphony was a commissioned work for the 60th anniversary of the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eduard van Beinum, who had been a supporter of his music since the 30’s. The four movements are very similar to the 4th; Lento-Allegro, Scherzo, Largo, and Presto. The Lento-Allegro definitely has jazzy passages not unlike Ellington, Prokofiev, or early Shostakovich. While quite dissonant the melody is still layered in the material to filter through. The Scherzo is clearly modern sounding with short cells of dissonant material followed by quiet passages. The Largo reminds me of film music which was also noted by a 1955 review of the material. His harmony with the brass adds so nicely to the overall quietness of the movement. The finale, a Presto is a boisterous with yet another strong melody.
To my knowledge this is the third release of material from CPO of his works. I look forward to more material.