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When I received this CD from Aevea and put it in my Marantz 4004 I was surprised at the sound I heard as this 66 minute recording unfolded. The sound was bright and clear and while the arrangements were complex in areas they didn’t come off like a piano concerto or showmen type material .Even in  the complex sections you could clearly hear the the melody and the harmony. I think it reminds you of a silent movie piano playing and some of Laurel and Hardy short films were silent so it fits in very nicely with the style. I also think that if you’re not familiar with Laurel and Hardy at all (I doubt you would buy this) the majority of the music plays out like cartoon music which back the silly antics of the pair.

This is a nice edition to the collector of Laurel and Hardy material as well as the occasional watcher. You’ll hear a tune and then try to guess what movie it was from. I don’t think Hal Roach had any idea the following they have along with books, music, toys and other novelties. I don’t know if every short or film is represented but the vast majority of them are.

FATAL HOUR 1940 Mr. Wong

November 16, 2016

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Fourth in the series of 6 films about “the Chinese Copper” James Lee Wong, the Monogram answer to Charlie Chan is featured in this 67 minute film which also includes the somewhat regular cast of Marjorie Reynolds (3) and Grant Withers (6). The story centers around the death of his long time friend on the police force Dan Grady (never saw him) who was fished out of the water with lead shoes and two bullets in the back of his neck. A perfect story about revenge where the police force sends out every available man to catch the killer. Nope. Captain Street (Withers) is going to handle this alone with “Bobbi” Logan (Reynolds) and the “Chinese Copper” Wong. Wong upon seeing the jade in Grady’s desk drawer, immediately seeks the assistance of the Chinese jeweler (Richard Loo) in San Francisco’s Chinatown. His advice was “A wise man could become more wise by visiting Belden’s a jewelry store. It appears a dead end but leads to the clue of the smuggling ring. The Neptune Club run by Cookie (Stanford Jolley uncredited) and owned by Harry “Hardway” Lockett (Frank Puglia)  are behind the smuggling and two more deaths occur, Tanya Serova (Lita Chevret), girlfriend of Belden Jr. and Hardway, and  Frank Belden Sr.(Hooper Atchley. Both knew too much.John T. Forbes (Charles Towbridge) , lawyer for the creditors not to his surprise finds that $50 jade is actually $3000 pieces and when he finds that Belden Sr. is ready to confess he is murdered. Tanya is murdered because Forbes, who is in love with her, is thrown aside for Belden Jr. and he murders her.    Another murder, Griswold (Jason Robards) a radio programmer, and a remote control radio all play part in the plot.

Scott Darling, a prolific writer of nearly 200 screenplays, along with adaption by George Waggner best known for his directing of “The Wolfman” (1941) offered a clever story with enough twists and turns to make it interesting. William Nigh, who did over 120 films, directed an adequate job with no frills,  exactly what Monogram wanted, quick, on time and on budget. The theme, written by Edward Kay nicely depicts the character Wong as a slow prodding but always moving forward character. The music is spotted rather sparsely something that Monogram does but this film is better than others in the series.

As long as one keeps in mind that this is a ‘B’ picture and was designed to fill an hour of time, the function of Monogram. It provided second billing to the ‘A’ feature and did a nice job.

The good news is that this film is in public domain which means you can watch it for free. I t is 1 hour and seven minutes so make sure you are getting the full version as there are some that are only one hour. If you wish an entire 6 DVD set it be purchased for a very reasonable price, under $20.00 from Oldies.com http://www.oldies.com/product-view/9571D.html. It is also available used on the net. The Roan Group seems to have the best quality.

93 Days

October 18, 2016

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I want to thank all of the record distributors for tirelessly sending me CD’s and digital files. My health has been poor as of late so I haven’t had the strength to concentrate on them as I must. When I played this digital file my brain immediately perked up when I heard “Speech of Remembrance, a track that touched my soul as well as anything that Thomas Newman or John Williams wrote. Quiet with a slow buildup to a majestic crescendo. The piano is in harmony with the strings and the choir appears at the end. A good track for your playlist. “This is my City” gives us the first indication with African drums, choir, and prominent percussion. “The Beautiful Man” introduces a new theme  every bit as powerful as the opening theme but 90 seconds into the track we hear a change and a reference to the Jaws theme. Darkness and tension appear in “Liberian Threats” along with a quiet theme from the strings as the oboe harmonizes and tension builds. Onyi begins in the background softly with her voice complimenting the soft sad theme. “Happy Birthday” is not what the title indicates but a very somber tune with chords from the lower strings featured. “It Started”  combines the softness of the theme along with the ominous drums and what I like to call a variation of a chinatown theme with the lonely solo muted trumpet. “Evelyn” the final track portrays the sadness with Onyi singing proudly in the background for the final chords.

I encourage all of you to give this new work a try. I’ve included an audio clip for you to get an idea of the score. As the topic of the film is serious so is the score. You’ll hear  a score of the seriousness of the topic.

Hasse: Classical Jazz

September 30, 2016

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DISC: 1
1 Night Music (after F. Chopin’s Nocturne No. 6 in G 00:04:02 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
2 Pyotr’s Piano Concerto (after P. Tchaikovsky’s Pia 00:03:32 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
3 A Bit of Brahms (after J. Brahms Symphony No. 3 in 00:04:02 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
4 Maurice’s Pavane (after M. Ravel’s Pavane pour une 00:04:45 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
5 Gabey’s Pavane (after G. Faure’s Pavane, Op. 50) 00:04:15 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
6 Freddie Goes to Church (after F. Chopin’s 12 Etude 00:05:31 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
7 Feelin’ Pretty (after L. Bernstein’s I Feel Pretty 00:03:14 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
8 Seriously Pathetique (after L. van Beethoven’s Pia 00:05:05 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
9 Paradise Is Strange (after A. Borodin’s Prince Igo 00:04:04 Haase, Gary
10 Yes, It’s Magic (after F. Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op 00:03:42 Haase, Gary
11 In the Beginning (after F. Chopin’s 24 Preludes, O 00:04:40 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The
12 Basically Bach (after J.S. Bach’s BWV 1068: II. Ai 00:03:33 Haase, Gary New York Ensemble, The

 

When I spun this platter and began to listen to it along with reading the liner notes I immediately wanted to classify this release as a ‘crossover’ that loosely took classical melodies and gave them a jazzy feel and sound. After listening to it for a second time I came to the conclusion that this was not a ‘crossover’ but a concept that has been tried before, but this attempt with Gary Haase and The New York Ensemble was different in the arrangements. There sounded like there was little or no improvisation but well written  structured arrangements that drift a little but not too far. That hard to understand feeling wasn’t there. It almost leans toward elevator music but there is enough jazz with the chordal changes and harmonic adaptions . I think that some of the melodies chosen such as Bach’s popular melody lend themselves to this style of music.

My two favorite tracks on the CD are Feeling Pretty (L. Bernstein), classical in a very broad sense. Haase provides us with some very nice keyboard work and the brass section definitely enhances the arrangement. The other favorite is Stranger in Paradise from the opera Prince Igor by Borodin. It features from very nice trumpet work with an able backing from harmonic strings. There are also selections from Brahms, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Faure.

Haase has crafted a fine score that the jazz listener will want to have in his collection. He has a good feel for the keyboard. I’m not so sure about the classical listener, although the casual one may find it to their liking.

Holst Orchestral Works

September 22, 2016

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CLASSIC CHANDOS SERIES

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There are many of us who believe that Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was only known for The Planets and nothing else. He was a one and done composer like Dukas and Sorcerers Apprentice, Borodin and his Prince Igor along with many other composers. This is not true and this re-release will show you some of the wonderful music that he has to offer.In this recording Holst wrote about the  barren land of Egdon Heath, the business of Hammersmith, a movement of an unfinished symphony, and an overture to an opera.

“Fugal Overture,” written in 1922 was an overture of the opera The Perfect Fool, performed in 1923. Written in a neoclassicism style Holst originally titled this a Fugal Ballet. Holst makes effective use of the glockenspiel giving it a sparkle which changes into an overpowering brass motif. “A Somerset Rhapsody” was written in 1907 and is a trio of folksongs that are eventually combined and performed using different color orchestrations. The three folksongs are “It’s A Rosebud in June” features the oboe which is tranquil and peaceful and transmits love and peace. The middle selection “High Germany” a rousing march filled with a robust brass fanfare which is filled with melody and counterpoint. The transition between the first and the second is flawless and you don’t realize it until you listen for it. The final tune is “The Lovers Farewell followed by the combing of the tunes.

“Scherzo” was the only completed movement of his unfinished Choral Symphony from 1925. After his death it was released and performed in 1935 with Adrian Boult conducting. The liner note writer Lewis Foreman (excellent notes) gave it the title ‘great might-have-beens.’ If your looking for something loud and uplifting this is the track for you. “Egdon Heath” based on the writings of Thomas Hardy in his novel Return of the Native which Hardy was aware of what Holst was doing. Holst used the Hardy words to inspire his writing. “A place perfectly accordant with mans nature-neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly: neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame: but, like man, slighted and enduring: and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony.” The theme in a minor key is offered by the brass section which leads us into a section of dissonance and despair. The string section continues the theme primarily in the wind section with harmony from the brass (a forte of Holst). Overall this 16+ minute work is one that will sway your emotions. Well done by Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra. “Hammersmith” is written for band originally but Holst re-orchestrated it for symphony orchestra and it was conducted by Boult in 1931. The piece is based on the bustle of the city Hammersmith along with the slow flowing motion of the river. A rather dissonant piece with a nice melody I’ve not heard it for concert band but would certainly like to do so  The final selection is a piece that Holst was commissioned to write when he was lecturing at Harvard for concert band for a radio concert which never came off. Holst called it his jazz band piece which it was really not. His daughter arranged the lively piece which has now become a standard in his recorded offerings.

Hickox is a master interpreter of Holst and there are other offerings in the vast choices from Naxos and Chandos. He isn’t just about Planets and these 6 offerings are an outstanding example of what he has to offer.

Look forward to 4 new releases in 2017 in the Hickox series including the Double Concerto from Holst, Light of Life from Elgar, The Black Knight from Elgar, and The Bear from Walton. Chandos is truly a major player in the classical world.

 

Vaughan Williams Film Music

September 17, 2016

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I’ve always had the greatest fondness for the Naxos film music classics series of some of the films of the 40’s and 50’s including this latest offering of Vaughan Williams film music, something that the average listener was not aware that he wrote quite nicely in this genre. Who better to write about British war dramas than Vaughan Williams? This previously released recording in 1995 on Marco Polo was recorded in Dublin in November of 1993.

Don’t expect to hear a Hollywood type score with lots of brass, a bit of loudness, and memorable marching type themes. This is still Vaughan Williams and a wonderful addition to your collection. If there is a bit of agitation and excitement, it can be found in Coastal Command (1942). It was a documentary depicting real wartime happenings and the leading actors were in fact RAF members. When it was seen in 1944 by the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, he had little positive to say about it. I on the other hand found it to be an interesting film as I learned from a historical aspect and the highlight for me was the score by Williams.

49th Parallel (1940-1941) has the honor of the most melodic and memorable of the four suites. It is a proud majestic theme that will remain with you for a long time. The longest of the four is The Story of a Flemish Farm (1943) which plays out like a tone poem or orchestral suite which has 7 different movements. For the most part it is well laid back like many British composers and is my favorite of the four works.”The Flag Flutters in the Wind” sets the background for what kind of story this is going be. Majestic theme for the flag is followed by a danger mysterious section and it ends with the the major key melody. “Night By The Sea” continues withe eerie  music followed by a short motif “Farewell to the Flag.” “Dawn in the Barn-The Parting of the Lovers” “Dead Man’s Kit” offers a  wonderful flute solo backed by the reeds complete with flutterings and an ominous background. “The Wanderings of the Flag” ends the score with proud majestic material worthy of the flag.

Completing the CD is Three Portraits from the England of Elizabeth (1955). The opening track of the three is “Explorers gets us off to arousing start with music that could be the opening of a Korngold scored film with material that is rousing and warms the blood. “Poet” is completely the opposite as you’ll hear music from the court, a dance delicate in nature which conjures up courtly dancing. “Queen” as you can gather from the title is a majestic coronation type track that bestows honor on the queen.

Vaughan Williams had the unique ability to use classical music and whatever situation the film dictated to achieve the correct material. While these are considered more propaganda minor films this is not true of the music. The 67 minute could stand proud and tall with his symphonies. It is well recorded and a treat to have in my collection.

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With a release date of September 9th 2016 Reference Recording was nice enough to send out an advance copy for review. Fairly unknown, except by the most advanced classical listener, this CD has turned out for me to be a real treat. Included in the release are 4 works that are making their premiere release on recording media.

Anyone who is familiar with Reference Recordings knows that the recording in 24-Bit is a step above in quality and finer equipment will capture all of the clarity and transparency that are a trademark of Prof. Johnson and his excellent team.

The enhanced 65 piece orchestra from their original 49 core members produced a fine sound under the direction of Martin West. As a result of the ballet performing “From Foreign Lands” West, intrigued, began to find more of his material and we now have a 73 minute CD of some of his orchestral works.

The beginning selection, a world premiere, “Torch Dance,” begins as a coronation march with the brass offering a major part in the cue while the strings remain active with the harmony provided by the calls of the brass section which is 13 pieces strong and a big part of the orchestrating. The next 7 cues are devoted to “Foreign Lands.” The opening piece, a Russian selection reminds me of something that Glazunov might have done in a dreamy way. I find track no. 4 to be my favorite selection on the CD. The remainder of the tracks include an Italian fandango, a fast Polish dance, a Hungarian  Csardas, an Italian tarantella, a very stately German dance. The 26 minute work offers a variety of styles, tempos and dances from the 6 countries represented. A nice addition to your collection.

“Habanera,” is a Spanish Dance contradanza haberna, and the lovely melody is enhanced by the staccato type rhythm along with the delicacy of the harp playing in the background. This is a world premiere recording. The best way to describe it is it has a sound of Resphigi. “By the Cradle” is not a lullaby but part of an 8 piece set for 4 piano hands. The first recording was on a 78 rpm and this CD is the second. It has a sound that is peaceful and easy to follow the melody line. The original composition was called sorrows and smiles and this one certainly falls into the smile category. Another world premiere is “Six Airs De Ballet,” which is based on the Grabbes Don Juan and Faust. The six movements are marked Entr’acte , Intermezzo, Fantasmagorie, Minuetto, Sarabande, and Passepied. Many of them sound like Mozart. The actual ballet written in 1829 didn’t prove to be particularly successful although another attempt was made in 1950. Gondoliera based on a poem written by Geibel it was a good example of what one can do in 5 minutes. This is another world premiere making one wonder of course why hasn’t he been recorded before. The final 5 tracks are Spanish Dances  orchestrated Philipp Scharwenka and Valentin Frank as he wrote it for piano, four hands. This is his most popular work and financially his money maker so to speak.

If you’re anything like me and you’ve discovered something new you’ll want to have this in your collection. This is a very easy piece to listen to and I recommend it.