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Volume 26 Issue 5 - February 2021

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • Recordings
  • Musicians
  • Pianist
  • Composer
  • Quartet
  • Musical
  • Jazz
  • Recording
  • February
So, How Much Ground WOULD a ground hog hog? community arts and the Dominion Foundries end run; the vagaries of the concert hall livestreaming ban; hymns to freedom; postsecondary auditions do the COVID shuffle; and reflections on some of the ways the music somehow keeps on being made - PLUS 81 (count them!) recordings we've been listening to. Also a page 2 ask of you. Available in flipthrough format here and in print February 10.

Old Wine, New Bottles

Old Wine, New Bottles Fine Old Recordings Re-Released BRUCE SURTEES The new 11-CD set, Ivan Moravec Portrait (Supraphon 4290-2 naxosdirect.com/ search/099925429027) will introduce, or reintroduce, a Czech pianist who was one of the very finest artists of the last generation. For a good many of the decades of the end of the 20th century into the 21st, Moravec was a familiar name to music lovers around the world, particularly to those who celebrated their Czech heritage. Born in Prague on November 9, 1930 he was influenced by his father who was an amateur pianist and singer. He introduced Ivan to opera and taught him to read the scores which together they read and sang through. In an interview at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where he had been a professor for more than 30 years, we learn that “I basically studied with Irma Grunfeld, the niece of Alfred Grunfeld, a very famous Viennese pianist through the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries – some of his recordings have been preserved. […] In addition I was somewhat influenced by Professor Kurtz who was also teaching in Prague. Kurtz was an absolutely first-rate teacher.” In a most interesting interview in PIANO News in April 2002, reprinted in the accompanying notes, An Enthusiasm for a Radiance of Tone, Moravec speaks about the many people who influenced his playing, especially Michelangeli. The works included in the new discs embrace solo and concerted works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Franck, Ravel, Janáček, Martinů and Smetana. Of course, I did not commence listening with the first track of the first disc as some listeners might have done if faced with such a wide range of compositions from 11 composers. Instead, I went straight to works by which to evaluate the artist. I have a special affection for the four Ballades of Chopin but have not heard a recorded performance to better express what, I thought, Chopin would have heard in his head. From Cortot, Rubinstein, Richter, et.al, none has come close. There is lots more inspired Chopin here: the complete 24 Preludes, Op.28, the four Scherzi, the Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor, Op.35, the 17 Mazurkas and many individual works. Moravec’s Chopin at last realizes all expectations. His playing is majestic and exultant and wholly satisfying; playing unequalled that I know of. Who would have thought? Moravec, as may have been expected, is a master of Schumann and Brahms. Equally authoritative performances of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and that wonderful little Arabeske in C Major, followed by Brahms: Capriccio in B Minor, the Rhapsody in G Minor and also Three Intermezzi Op.117 and the Intermezzo in A Major, Op.118/2. The Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 is preceded by the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor, both conducted by Eduardo Mata with the Dallas Symphony in 1993. There are many other performances: Beethoven and Mozart concertos; some exquisite Debussy: Images Books 1 and 2; Estampes; Children’s Corner; and, naturally, Clair de Lune; and Preludes. Also, interesting Ravel, Martinů, Smetana and Janáček. In the box is a DVD that includes a most enjoyable and informative video biography of Moravec, including musical reminiscences by conductors and fellow musicians. Also, complete performances of works by Beethoven, the Appassionata; Prokofiev, the First Piano Concerto (Ancerl); Mozart Concerto No.25 (Vlach); and the Ravel G Major (Neumann). In Czech, with subtitles in many languages. A firstclass package not to be overlooked. Volume Two of Profil’s Emil Gilels Edition is a 15-CD selection of memorable recordings (weren’t they all!) derived from various sources (PH17066 naxosdirect.com/ search/881488170665). All the composers are Russian from Tchaikovsky forward. There are performances of solo works, duos, trios, chamber music and concertos; too many for individual comment. The first disc contains two performances of the Tchaikovsky First: The first entry is a monaural recording of 1951 from Moscow conducted by Konstantin Ivanov with the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra, then one in stereo from October 10, 1955 with the Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner. Happily, the listener can listen to both versions and may have a preference for one or the other. Gilels is the same in both. Ivanov or Reiner? Mono vs. stereo? I enjoyed the weight and majesty of the Russians. Tchaikovsky’s Second also merits two versions, a Russian performance conducted by Kondrashin and a Hungarian conducted by András Kórodi. Rachmaninoff’s Third gets two outings with Kondrashin, from January and March 1949, but the Fourth gets only two movements, the second and third. There are concertos, chamber works, sonatas and duos, and arrangements by these familiar and unfamiliar composers: Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Aleksander Alyabiev, Mily Balakirev, Borodin, Cesar Cui, Scriabin, Medtner, Glazunov, Borodin, Alexander Siloti, Moisey Wainberg, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian, Arno Babajanian and finally, Andrey Babayev. Assisting artists are Elizaveta Gilels, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yakov Zak, Yakov Flier, Dmitry Tsiganov, Vasily Shirinsky, Vadim Borisovsky, Sergei Shirinsky. The conductors are Fritz Reiner, Kirill Kondrashin, Dmitry Kabalevsky, Konstantin Ivanov, Franco Caracciolo and Kórodi. Never a dull moment in this superbly recorded collection. To celebrate their establishment 40 years ago in Munich, Orfeo has issued several attractive compilations, Legendary Conductors, 40 Ultimate Recordings and now the collection Orfeo 40th Anniversary Edition – Legendary Pianists (C200071 naxosdirect.com/search/orfeo+c200071). This edition should be quite intriguing to collectors who surely will find a set of names quite different from what they might have chosen. It does not claim to be definitive; a collection, not the collection. There are ten CDs in the box featuring nine artists recorded live or recorded for broadcast, giving a sense of hearing an actual performance that contributes a heightened sense of you-are-there. It took a day to audition the set, which turned out to be not at all tedious, as the repertoire is pleasing and pianists clearly dedicated. Here are the pianists: Géza Anda, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Friedrich Gulda, Wilhelm Kempff, Oleg Maisenberg, Konstantin Lifschitz, Carl Seemann, Gerhard Oppitz and Rudolf Serkin. Repertoire consists of mainly concertos from Bach to Brahms, via Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. Also, a handful of variations, etc. This is a most attractive collection of pure pleasure. 52 | February 2021 thewholenote.com

Other Fine Vintages James Campbell, Clarinet James Campbell; John York Crystal Records CD330 (crystalrecords.com) ! At what point in The Portrait of Dorian Gray does the protagonist look at his younger self in the mirror and realize something is amiss? Meanwhile the painting, hidden away, displays the truth of the ravages of time. Listening to James Campbell’s delightful playlist, the greatest hits of clarinet recital literature, the novel comes to mind because of how well it applies to recorded performances. There are eight selections on James Campbell Clarinet: Weber (Seven Variations on a theme from Silvana, Op.33); French composers who provided us with fluff, in the case of Paul Jeanjean and Gabrielle Pierné, and with one of the finest pieces in the clarinet literature, Debussy’s Première rhapsodie (plus his charming exercise, Petite Pièce). Alban Berg’s beautiful enigmas, Vier Stücke, Op.5, Witold Lutoslawski’s dashing and elegant Five Dance Preludes and good old Malcolm Arnold’s Sonatina Op.29 complete a survey of the 20th century. The recordings, all made in the 1970s by a youthful Campbell and the excellent pianist John York, mark the start of Campbell’s tremendous career in Canada and around the world. This was the era when we had few homegrown stars; they inspired a larger crowd of nextgeneration explorers, myself included, who hoped their success might equal Campbell’s. Let us speak in present tenses. Campbell’s strengths are his fluid sound and easy brilliant technique. Always understated, he modestly nails all of the demands of this difficult literature. It does my envious heart good to hear the extremely subtle proofs that he and I share the same difficulties in the Debussy Rhapsodie. Max Christie The Savoy 10-inch LP Collection Charlie Parker Craft Recordings CRO00010 (LP)/CRO2774 (CD) (charlieparkermusic.com) ! Charlie Parker was a singularly creative force in bebop, influencing jazz improvisation on a scale comparable only to Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The alto saxophonist’s greatest studio work was done in the 1940s, recorded by small, devoted companies. This set of four 10-inch LPs (or single CD) commemorates not just Parker’s Savoy recordings but replicates the form of his canonization. Originally released as 78-rpm records, one track per side, Parker’s principal work for Savoy – 28 tracks of it – were reissued as New Sounds in Modern Music Volumes 1-4, on four 10-inch LPs between 1950 and 1952. Tracks weren’t in scholarly chronological order: Volume 3 leaps from 1948 to 1944, covering the range of the recordings in reverse and putting a swing rhythm section including pianist Clyde Hart and guitarist Tiny Grimes after cool jazz progenitors Miles Davis and John Lewis on the set’s last session. Why revisit this order? It best captures Parker’s impact as bop spread its influence, the last time jazz genius compressed its full flight into three-minute units. Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, from two decades earlier, are the only comparables. Listening to Parker in this form, you hear the moments of transformation, as he uncovered new dimensions of harmony and rhythm with unparalleled joy, in company whose talents (Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie) sometimes approached his own. Parker soared as few other musicians have and soared highest here on recordings like Ko-Ko, Parker’s Mood, Cheryl and Constellation. Stuart Broomer Atelier George Lewis – Rainbow Family 1984 George Lewis; Joëlle Léandre; Derek Bailey; Steve Lacy Carrier 051 (carrierrecords.com/album/rainbow-family) ! While forward-looking musicians (Sun Ra, Bob James) began fusing improvisation and electronic elements in the 1950s and 60s, composer/theoretician/trombonist George Lewis was among the very first to extend improvisational methodologies to computer programming. Best known for the work Voyager (beginning in 1986), he had entered the field with The Kim and I, a duet for trombone and programmed Moog synthesizer in 1979. Rainbow Family is a previously unreleased 1984 concert from IRCAM in Paris. It integrates human and programmed computer improvisation, the program generating both its own material and reacting to the work of live improvisers through three Apple computers controlling three DX-7 Yamaha synthesizers. The work includes segments with individual improvisers – bassist Joëlle Léandre, guitarist Derek Bailey, bass clarinetist/flutist Douglas Ewart and saxophonist Steve Lacy – then Ewart and Lacy combine with the machinery before all four engage simultaneously with the program. What’s most fascinating is how the program can match individual musicians’ distinctive approaches, whether adapting to the fluidly expressive lines of Ewart, the playfully analytical approach of Lacy, or the comparatively abstract inventions of Léandre and Bailey. The synthesizers do what the improvisers do, balancing their own impulses with the sonic environment in which they find themselves. As one might expect, the later pieces with more musicians are significantly more complex and generally richer, a genuine meeting of human improvisation and human-constructed, programmed improvisation. Rainbow Family has taken 36 years to appear, but it’s definitely worthy of contemporary attention. Stuart Broomer thewholenote.com February 2021 | 53

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