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Volume 26 Issue 8 - July and August 2021

  • Text
  • Events
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  • Opera
  • Jazz
  • Sound
  • Orchestra
  • Festivals
  • Reviews
  • Summer
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Last print issue for Volume 26. Back mid-September with Vol 27 no 1. And what a sixteen-month year it's been. Thanks for sticking around. Inside: looking back at what we are hoping is behind us, and ahead to what the summer has to offer; also inside, DISCoveries: 100 reviews to read, and a bunch of new tracks uploaded to the listening room. On stands, commencing Wednesday June 30.

Way Off is closest to

Way Off is closest to free jazz, with continuous snarling glossolalia and splittone screams from Tapio’s tenor saxophone, the performances are separate enough so sonic schizophrenia doesn’t result. In fact the concluding title tune, which makes extensive use of string buzzes from kanteles or Finnish zithers played by the saxist and drummer in tandem with bass strokes, mostly serves as an idiosyncratic confirmation of the trio’s Nordic identity. Besides that though, emphasis is on contemporary improvisation. Rauhala’s subtly expressive plucks are upfront on a couple of tracks and Tuomi’s pinpointed cymbal clatter and hi-hat pulses join him on Siltasalmi. As for Tapio, playing flute on She’s Back, he produces Herbie Mann-like shrills with funky echoes and the same facility that his slashing alto saxophone cries suggest Ornette Coleman on a track with the ethnic title of Lasten Juhlat. No matter which woodwind is used alongside the bass and percussion on these discs, invention and originality are projected from each. Old Wine, New Bottles Fine Old Recordings Re-Released BRUCE SURTEES Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra The Columbia Legacy – The Legendary Mono Recordings 1944-1958 Sony Masterworks 194397574821 (120 CDs, 200-page hardcover book) ! Sergei Rachmaninoff’s opinion of the Philadelphia Orchestra as “The World’s Greatest Orchestra” was proudly quoted by Columbia Masterworks across the top of the covers of their Philadelphia Orchestra releases on LPs in the 1950s. The actual quote from Rachmaninoff, who made many recordings with the orchestra, was “the finest orchestra the world has ever known” which boils down to the same thing. The Philadelphia Orchestra was founded in 1900 and in 1910 Leopold Stokowski became their third music director, a post that he kept until 1938 when he was succeeded by Eugene Ormandy. Stokowski’s association with the orchestral continued until 1941 and the luxuriant virtuoso character of the orchestra was established during his tenure. The Academy of Music, the orchestra’s home, had been designed for opera and was less than an ideal venue for symphonic music. Stokowski adjusted the seating to balance the sonorities. He was an organist and he played the orchestra like an organ and together with free bowing in the strings, cultivated the maximum of colour and texture… the evolution of the famous Philadelphia Sound. Ormandy was born Jenö Blau in Budapest on November 18, 1899. He was a child prodigy and at the age of five became the youngest student at the Budapest Royal Academy of Music and later won the State Diploma for Violin Playing. He was a pupil of Jenö Hubay, who was also the teacher of Joseph Szigeti and Jelly d’Aranyi. He graduated in 1913 and within four years he was appointed a professorship at the Academy. He modestly pointed out that he was only the third-best violinist in the world, after Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz. Blau came to America in 1920 after being tricked by a dishonest impresario into accepting a specious engagement there. It was around this time that he changed his name. He worked as a backbencher at a silent movie orchestra in New York and rapidly advanced to first violin and then conductor of the orchestra at the Capitol Theater, one of the largest motion-picture theatres of the day. Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1927, Ormandy gained professional experience and received plaudits as conductor of the CBS Radio Orchestra. As pointed out in the accompanying 200-page hardcover book, his career was initially guided by pure chance and his ability to see the opportunities that were offered him. It gained irresistible momentum in 1931 when he took over the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, his first post as the principal conductor of a symphony orchestra. While there he made a number of Victor recordings including the premieres of Kodály’s Háry János Suite, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and a specially commissioned recording of Roy Harris’ American Overture, as well as renowned versions of Bruckner’s Seventh and Mahler’s Second Symphonies which bolstered his reputation. By 1936, Ormandy had been appointed associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, second in command to Stokowski, and in 1938 he became that orchestra’s music director. Ormandy remained at the helm in Philadelphia until his retirement in 1980, upon which he became conductor laureate. He died in 1985. Under his tutelage Stokowski’s practice of free bowing was abandoned and the cohesive, lush and distinctive Philadelphia Sound was further refined and personalized. He believed that the Philadelphia Sound should more properly be called the Ormandy Sound. His Philadelphia discography began with Nathan Milstein playing a slightly truncated version of the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, regrettably without the third movement, recorded in November 1944 and March 1945, issued in June of that year. This is, appropriately, the first performance heard in the 120-CD set of every one of the monaural recordings Ormandy made with his Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia “Pops” between 1944 and 1958. The sound is flawless and solidly real. There is of course not enough space to list or comment on each performance of this definitive set, but here are some that stand out: Khachaturian’s Gayne Ballet; Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky; Copland’s Appalachian Spring; and a spectacular 1953 performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Of particular note are recordings from two acoustically superior venues, Glière’s Symphony No.3, “Ilya Muromets” from the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia, and Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony No.3 from Symphony Hall in Boston, both dating from 1956. There’s also lots of Bach (including Ormandy organ transcriptions), Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and lighter fare from Gershwin, Franz Lehár, Victor Herbert and Richard Rodgers. Soloists include such noted instrumentalists as Rudolf Serkin, Robert Casadesus, Oscar Levant, György Sándor, Claudio Arrau, Eugene Istomin, Gregor Piatigorsky, Joseph Szigeti, Isaac Stern and E. Power Biggs. Some of the finest singers of the era are included – Bidu Sayão, Stella Roman, Martha Lipton, Frederick Jagel, Jennie Tourel, Richard Tucker and David Lloyd, to name just a few – plus the Westminster and Temple University Choirs and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. The list goes on and on (and on). So here we have it: “The world’s greatest orchestra” with their chosen music director playing music from Bach to the modern era, in remastered recordings, many of which are issued here for the first time on CD. Should it be changed to “The Ormandy Sound”? With 152 recordings on CD for the first time ever, 139 recordings for the first time on CD as authorized releases from the original masters and 16 remastered recordings, all featuring their original LP artworks, there’s a good case to be made for that here! 56 | July and August 2021 thewholenote.com

OTHER FINE VINTAGES The Music of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra Tafelmusik Media 880513103227 (tafelmusik.org) ! One of Tafelmusik’s most interesting and exciting recordings has recently been re-released, available on all major digital platforms. Originally recorded by CBC Records in 2003, The Music of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges features a generous sampling of the music of the one of the most fascinating, influential and multi-talented figures of late-18th-century Paris. In the excellent essay commissioned for the re-release, Bologne expert Marlon Daniel writes: “A remarkable violinist, orchestra leader, and composer, [Bologne] was at the centre of Parisian musical life in the late 1700s. He was a trailblazer who commissioned and led performances of great works, such as the six Paris Symphonies of Haydn.” He was also a celebrated fencer, military leader and, as this recording demonstrates, a first-rate composer. The recording features stylishly elegant performances of the Symphony in G Major, Op.11, No.1 and the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.3, No.1, the latter featuring the sensational playing of Linda Melsted. Also included are charming excerpts from L’amant anonyme, the only surviving opera by Bologne (recently given its Canadian premiere by Opera McGill), and music by Leclair and Gossec. The recorded sound is excellent and the orchestra, under the direction of Jeanne Lamon, digs into the music with passion and grace. Though Bologne was well-regarded and knew great success in his time, he also encountered racism and was blocked from attaining even more prominent positions – which he deserved – because of the colour of his skin. As wonderful as this recording’s program and performances are, its re-release is important because it puts Bologne’s achievements and remarkable skill as a composer at the centre of the project and celebrates him for the great artist that he was. Daniel’s essay is fascinating, and the accompanying artwork by Gordon Shadrach is beautiful and deeply moving. Let’s hope that Tafelmusik will give us much more of Bologne’s fabulous music in future concerts and recordings. Larry Beckwith Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans: A Career Retrospective (1956- 1980) Bill Evans Trio Craft Recordings (craftrecordings.com) On a Friday Evening Bill Evans Trio Craft Recordings (craftrecordings.com) ! Emerging in the mid-1950s in New York, pianist Bill Evans already combined an expanded harmonic vocabulary and subtly nuanced voicings, emphasizing elements of Scriabin and Ravel unusual in jazz. He contributed substantially to Miles Davis’ 1959 landmark Kind of Blue, while his own group redefined the jazz piano trio as a complex, interactive organism. Unlike Davis, who innovated repeatedly and radically, Evans would mine his defined territory for the rest of his career. This handsome, book-like set celebrates Evans’ work with a career-spanning essay by Neil Tesser and five CDs, some 61 tracks, devoted to different aspects of his art. Produced by Nick Phillips and drawn from multiple record labels, the set is both representative and distinguished, spotlighting gems from Evans’ career. Ranging from his 1956 debut as a bandleader to a club performance recorded two weeks before his death in 1980, the first two discs are devoted to trios, the focus of Evans’ performing life. While the earliest recordings present him with conventional if masterful accompanists, e.g. bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, the major shift, for Evans and much of the format’s future, comes with the 1960 debut of his group with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, the former largely abandoning walking-bass lines for virtuosic counter melodies. While La Faro’s death in 1961 momentarily stalled the group’s development, his influence would soon provide successors, particularly Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson, who inspired Evans for key periods over the next 19 years. Disc Three is devoted to Evans’ solo and occasionally multiple piano recordings, some of the most luminously introspective piano music that the 20th century produced, whether in or out of jazz. The shimmering, trancelike beauty of Peace Piece, from 1958, reveals Evans as already a completely formed artist. Three overdubbed tracks from Conversations with Myself and its sequels emphasize the introspection, like the mournful N.Y.C.’s No Lark, the title an anagram for deceased fellow pianist Sonny Clark. Disc Four presents Evans’ various collaborations, including duos with singer Tony Bennett, guitarist Jim Hall, and saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. The Interplay quintet sessions from 1961 match the diverse talents of Hall, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Zoot Sims, effectively bridging hard bop and cool styles. The fifth CD breaks the pattern. It‘s a previously unreleased hourlong trio set from Vancouver’s Oil Can Harry’s. Recorded on June 20, 1975, it highlights the spontaneous interplay with Eddie Gomez and Eliot Zigmund. The material ranges from Evans’ own The Two Lonely People to the younger pianist Denny Zeitlin’s Quiet Now, Jerome Kern’s Up with the Lark and jazz tunes from Mercer Ellington’s Blue Serge to Miles Davis’ Nardis. For Evans enthusiasts who have the bulk of the material from the four-CD overview, this is also available from Craft Recordings as On a Friday Evening on two-LPs or CD. Stuart Broomer Albert Ayler Quintet 1966: Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm Revisited ezz-thetics 2-1117 (hathut.com) ! A historical keepsake from the first extensive European tour by the quintet of innovative tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler (1936-1970), this two-CD 16-track set features re-mastered radio broadcasts from each of the cities visited. It’s notable, since except for trumpeter Donald Ayler, the band was completely new and included bassist William Folwell, drummer Beaver Harris and violinist Michel Samson. Someone who came from and returned to contemporary notated music, Samson’s emphatic, astringent string slices and staccato glissandi immeasurably change the interpretation of Ayler originals. Concert considerations mean that Truth is Marching In, Our Prayer, Bells and Ghosts, for instance, are played three times, often as part of a medley, yet each has a unique emphasis. In Berlin, Truth… is treated as a bouncy march with trumpet yodels, string jumps and drum ruffs; in Lörrach, it starts as a refined dirge before guttural saxophone split tones and presto brass sprays jerk the theme to a bouncy climax. In Stockholm, the interpretation judders between a detached harmonized exposition and a climax that kinetically projects altissimo reed screeches and drum pops. Samson’s double and triple stopping frequently contrast with Ayler’s pitch straining, honking scoops and multiple theme interpolation — Paris hears snatches of La Marseillaise, for instance. Yet those triple-tune renditions, versions of other compositions played twice and new versions of some littlerecorded Ayler lines, mean the end result is unique. A half century on, Ayler’s mix of spiritual seriousness and carnival-like jollity remains inimitable. Yet this set offers a different and rare take on his creations. Ken Waxman thewholenote.com July and August 2021 | 57

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