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Bob Zeidler (Charlton, MA United States)

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Respighi: Ancient Airs & Dances
Respighi: Ancient Airs & Dances

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dorati/Respighi classic, in up-to-date hybrid SACD format., 3 Dec. 2004
Antal Dorati, Ottorino Respighi's music and I go back a long way, all the way to Dorati's mid-50s Mercury Living Presence monophonic LP of Respighi's first two parts of his Roman Trilogy ("The Fountains of Rome" and "The Pines of Rome") with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Over time, I managed to collect all of Dorati's Respighi (adding up to a total of 4 albums), first on mono LP and then on stereo LP, up to and including this Philharmonia Hungarica performance of the full suite of "Ancient Dances and Airs for Lute" (by this time, in stereo only).
For reasons that escape me (probably a temporary change in musical tastes in the interim), I hadn't yet duplicated any of these on CD when they were released on this medium. For this particular work on CD, I had been in sort of a "limp along" mode for some years, with a recording by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica - particularly in this remastering that includes 2- and 3-channel SACD as well as the conventional CD signal that had itself been superbly remastered by Wilma Cozart Fine not all that long ago - makes it easy for me to retire that Ozawa recording.
Where Ozawa is downright flaccid interpretation-wise (despite the excellent BSO forces), Dorati's reading is rhythmically incisive where need be, warmly glowing elsewhere (in the slower sections), and beautifully luminous throughout. (Interestingly, a comparison of timings suggests otherwise: Ozawa's reading is nearly 3 minutes shorter than Dorati's, but limp nonetheless. The "tale of the tape" is often not the full picture.)
As is probably well-known, the Philharmonia Hungarica was comprised of Hungarian emigrés who escaped (most without their instruments) following the 1956 Soviet invasion. Dorati was their spiritual godfather from the outset, polishing the group into a virtuoso ensemble. (This pairing was to later record the complete symphonies of Haydn on the Decca label, a traversal that is still a milestone in classical music recording history.) This group plays as fine as any in these relatively small-scaled works (based on Italian and French lute music from the 17th and early 18th centuries), and of course is led by one of the greatest Respighi interpreters of all time.
The sound, dating from 1958 recording sessions, is fully up to the very high standards that Mercury established with its Living Presence series, perhaps the most uniformly excellent set of analog master tapes ever put together by a single label. (In fact, the CD layer sound is significantly better than that on the Ozawa/BSO recording, despite the latter being some 2 decades newer.) And, while the "ordinary" CD layer, with its fresh mastering by Mrs. Fine, is remarkable for its clarity, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to assess the DSD transfer from the analog master tapes to the SACD medium.
The playing time, at 54:32, is on the short side. Perhaps there would have been sufficient space to include either "The Birds" or "Brazilian Impressions" (other Respighi works that Dorati championed); perhaps not. Regardless, this hybrid SACD is very highly recommended.
Bob Zeidler
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2011 10:07 AM BST


Sibelius: Symphony 3, 5
Sibelius: Symphony 3, 5
Price: £15.36

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It seems I've hitched my wagon to Segerstam's Sibelius star., 30 Nov. 2004
This review is from: Sibelius: Symphony 3, 5 (Audio CD)
It began innocently enough, when I first heard Leif Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra perform Sibelius's incidental music to Shakespeare's "The Tempest," combined with two seldom-heard tone poems ("The Oceanides" and "Night Ride and Sunrise"). I was impressed more than enough so that, when Ondine later released a CD containing Sibelius's 1st and 7th Symphonies, it was just natural to add them to my then-small collection of Sibelius works by this conductor, orchestra and label. (Segerstam had earlier recorded the symphonies, with a different orchestra - the Danish Radio Orchestra - on a different label [BIS], but I had not heard any.) As far as I was concerned, this was some of the best Sibelius work I had ever heard, and it looked to me like Segerstam was on a roll. Next came another Ondine release, this time coupling the 2nd and 6th Symphonies (a CD I have yet to comment on).
This brand new release of the 3rd and 5th Symphonies has temporarily distracted me from that 2nd/6th Symphony assignment, and for good reason: not that this release is at a quantum level higher than that 2nd/6th one, which is equally fine and "all of a piece" with his Sibelius work on Ondine to date, but more because these two symphonies (the 3rd and 5th) do represent some interesting challenges that Segerstam meets heads-on and succeeds remarkably well.
The 3rd Symphony, along with the 6th on the previous release, are probably my two favorite Sibelius works in the symphonic genre. Relative to the other five symphonies, they are smaller in scale (perhaps explaining why they are frequently coupled on CDs, although they're not here) and pose interesting interpretational challenges if they are to be properly realized.
It seems to me that, given the spareness of the materials found in the 3rd Symphony, a key to interpretational success lies at least in part in carefully shaping the phrases. The actual notes, in and of themselves, hardly suggest the difficulty of properly realizing the work: one gets the sense that this is an "easy" work for an orchestra to perform, at least at some level of mediocrity. But it is a rather difficult work to realize effectively.
Segerstam, I think, succeeds on every level. His is a reading of finely nuanced control of dynamics and tempo and carefully shaped phrasing. Particularly felicitous is his - and the musicians' - way with the woodwind chorales that make up a fair bit of the work; these chorales are rendered with a fine sense of plangency. (The principal clarinetist, for one, is particularly outstanding.) And, in the concluding pages, Segerstam makes a strong case for this as a "logical" ending, whereas in lesser hands it is frequently simply abrupt.
The 5th Symphony presents fewer such challenges (at least until, again, the concluding pages): much of the work "plays itself." Notwithstanding, Segerstam's reading is one of "logical inevitability" as the music grows organically from the motivic cells that are a hallmark of Sibelius's compositional style. Even more than in the 3rd Symphony, the plangency of the individual orchestral choirs - again, the woodwinds, but also (and especially) the brass - is outstanding. And Segerstam paces the closing measures, with their famous "luftpauses," better than any I've heard.
The Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra could be said to be Sibelius's "home field advantage," and Ondine provides them with crystal-clear sound that readily permits one to follow all the instrumental lines.
This Segerstam cycle represents the fifth - and probably final - Sibelius cycle for me. (Earlier ones include Anthony Collins on British Decca, Colin Davis with the Boston Symphony, Vladimir Ashkenazy, again on Decca, and a rather fine budget cycle on Naxos, with Petri Sakari and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, a true "sleeper.") It is the finest cycle I've yet heard, and I eagerly await the final installment of the 4th Symphony. Hopefully its filler will include either "En Saga" or "Tapiola" to match the darkness of the 4th. Actually, both works *should* fit, in the event anyone from Ondine is reading this review. :-)


Our First Records
Our First Records

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating find!, 19 Oct. 2004
This review is from: Our First Records (Audio CD)
As the title suggests, this IS Oregon's first record, recorded back in 1970 but never released (on LP) until a decade later, in 1980. I have no idea as to how long the 1980 LP sat dormant before being released on CD, but it must have been quite a while. (The product page info states that the CD was released just two years ago, in 2002.)
As one who has followed the careers of both Paul Winter (and his Consort) and the Oregon group, this album is a very special find for me. It was recorded at roughly the same time as was "Road," the first Winter Consort album that included these Oregon musicians, as well as Winter and David Darling, on cello. This group would go on to record one other Winter Consort album, "Icarus," before Oregon established its own identity on a series of albums for Vanguard,and, later, Elektra-Asylum and ECM (although Paul McCandless worked with the Winter Consort both before "Road" and after "Icarus," most notably in "Common Ground" and "Canyon").
Perhaps the most amazing aspects, to me, of "Our First Record" are the facts that Oregon as a group had established its basic sound - its vision - as early as it did and that this vision was so uniquely different from that of the early Winter Consort. The liner notes, as well as some additional web-reading, suggest that the basic sound evolved during jam sessions while with the Consort, and that it all came together during studio work spread over six weeks in 1970.
Whatever one chooses to call Oregon's music (world jazz fusion, acoustic fusion, "the first of the new-age groups," among others, have been applied), it is immediately distinctive, both for its unusual combination of instrumental timbres and for its adventurous range of material. It can groove, as good jazz must, as in the bass work of Glen Moore in "Collin's Delight" and the piano jazz work of Ralph Towner in "Margueritte." Or it can feature the lyrical (and often stratospheric) oboe work of Paul McCandless ("Canyon Song" and "Jade Vision"). And Collin Walcott's sitar and tabla work give the group its "world music" flavor.
This is very much a "studio production" in light of the amount of multi-tracking that appears. (Particularly intriguing is "Recuerdos," in which Paul McCandless appears to be playing a trio of oboes in the background, beneath the bluesy work of Ralph Towner on guitar and Glen Moore on bass). But neither this, nor the group's apologies (in the liner notes) about the quality of the 1970 sound, can detract from what is a superb first effort. In fact, I found nothing about which to quibble as far as the sound is concerned; it's really very fine, and no apologies are required. (The only drawback, and it is a very minor one that doesn't affect my own 5-star rating for the CD, is its 47:14 running time, due to its LP origins.)
A few of these tracks (no.'s 3, 5 and 6) are duplicated on "Oregon: Best of The Vanguard Years" (which, for some, means the best of Oregon, as Collin Walcott was lost to the group before they established their ECM career). But, for those who - like me - are interested in just how quickly the group's sound evolved, "Our First Album" is a must-have.
With this very first Oregon album "safely home," now all this particular compleatist needs is the CD release of those three early Winter Consort albums (two with McCandless and one with the full Oregon group) on the A&M label: "The Winter Consort," "Something in the Wind" and "Road"; these remain major gaps in the shared catalogs of these amazing musicians. In the meantime, "Our First Album" will tide me over nicely, thank you very much!
Bob Zeidler


Midnight at Notre-Dame: Organ Transcriptions
Midnight at Notre-Dame: Organ Transcriptions
Price: £14.90

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable CD of organ transcriptions., 22 Sept. 2004
The superlatives for this CD must begin with the recorded sound, certainly the best I believe I've ever heard over a period of many years of listening to pipe organ recordings. This recording is a hybrid SACD that contains two layers and three sets of signals (SACD surround sound and SACD stereo in one layer and "conventional" CD audio in the other). Even the conventional CD audio signal (which is the only one I can evaluate at present) surpasses anything I've heard in terms of organ reproduction. And this is no ordinary organ: Nominally a Cavaillé-Coll organ dating from the 1860s, and then augmented in 1932, with yet further upgrades in 1963 and again in 1992, it is among the finest organs in the world. And it is in one of the most famous venues of all: The Cathedral de Notre-Dame in Paris. (The technical details at the back of the booklet state that the Cathedral has had an organ dating back as far as 1402, but it was with the Cavaillé-Coll effort that it reached its full bloom and fame.) Even in "ordinary" stereo CD reproduction, the sound field seems perfect; the frequency range is awesome, with rock-solid bass from the 32' pipes and sweet reproduction of the flute stops, with never a hint of background noise from what must be a prodigious air-handling system for the 110 stops that are part of the organ.
Despite the three stages of 20th century modernization, the organ remains, in terms of its voicing, a paragon of the "Romantic symphonic aesthetic" that was common for its late-19th century time. And the works presented in this album typify that sensibility, even if it did encroach into the early part of the 20th century. All are transcriptions of works for other instruments and forces, and all but one of these transcriptions have been done by French organists/composers who were well-known (Marcel Dupré, Maurice Duruflé, Jean Guillou, Louis Vierne) and not so well-known (Henri Busser, Henri Messerer). The "odd man out" in the collection is Franz Liszt (no mean organist himself), who transcribed Wagner's "Pilgrims' Chorus" from "Tannhäuser," but not in a way that can be said to be a stylistic anomaly relative to the other transcriptions.
The album opens and closes with pairs of transcriptions of works by J. S. Bach, concluding with a marvelous transcription of Bach's famous Chaconne from his Partita for Solo Violin, BWV 1004 by Henri Messerer, certainly not as famous as Dupré, Duruflé, Guillou or Vierne but well up to the task set out here. In fact, it is, for me, one of the clear highlights of the album. (The Bach Chaconne certainly didn't lack for transcriptions for other instruments as well, with Ferrucio Busoni's transcription for piano being perhaps the most famous. But I must say that I like this Messerer transcription for organ.)
A work that I thought couldn't work as an organ transcription (Mozart's Adagio & Fugue in C minor, K. 548) actually is a surprise success in a transcription by Guillou. And Liszt's "Pilgrims' Chorus" transcription is sensitively done, without the slightest bombast that one might expect.
Somewhat less successful is Busser's transcription of Berlioz's Marche hongroise (Rákóczy March) from "La Damnation de Faust." I think it demands the orchestral color and percussion that Berlioz had scored for the work, and loses a bit in the translation.
The famous Rachmaninoff Prelude (op. 3 no. 2) receives an interesting transcription by Vierne, one that brings out the darkness in the work that can evade a pianist. In fact, it is almost, in this transcription, lugubrious by comparison. But the transcription is splendidly voiced, and shows off the coloration possibilities - and the 32' stops - of this remarkable organ.
A total surprise, and probably my favorite track second only to the Bach Chaconne, is a transcription by Guillou of Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Toccata, op. 11. Perhaps the technical tour de force of the entire album, it is ghostly yet with incredibly fleet passage work, requiring virtuosic finger (and foot) work.
Olivier Latry, the Notre-Dame organist, handles all the challenges (hands, feet, stops) thrown at him with aplomb and plays with what can only be described as stylistic accuracy. He is, in a phrase, one fine organist. And he has the benefit of one of the world's finest organs, and some of the best recorded sound I've ever heard.
One last, if minor, point. This is my very first hybrid SACD from Universal (Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, Decca), and I notice that the jewel box, while no bigger than standard jewel boxes, seems to be more robustly made and much less prone to breakage where the front-cover hinge pins engage the CD carrier. I hope that this is the beginning of a positive trend; two decades worth of busted jewel boxes is more than any mere mortal need bear.
Bob Zeidler


What Charlie Heard
What Charlie Heard
by Mordicai Gerstein
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If I had my own son...", 23 Aug. 2004
This review is from: What Charlie Heard (Hardcover)
(sung to the melody of "If I were a rich man...")
Why, I'd be reading him this splendid illustrated children's book!
What on earth is an heirless geezer like me doing, reviewing a children's book? Well, that's a reasonable question. The only sensible answer that I can come up with is that I'm simply somewhere in the middle of my second childhood, "up to my eyeballs in Ives."
Mordicai Gerstein prefaces this enjoyable children's book with the statement "Everything I know about Charles Ives I learned from listening to his music, and from my dear friend, Jan Swafford, whose epic biography, 'Charles Ives: A Life with Music,' was the main source and inspiration for this book." And so it is that Jan Swafford has also been the main source and inspiration for my own second childhood with Charlie Ives. I can actually date my "second childhood" study of the life and music of Charlie to the time I was reading a borrowed copy of his Ives biography while awaiting my own copy.
The narrative text of "What Charlie Heard" (all accurate, and admirably complete, by the way) is quite brief; probably not much more than a few hundred words in total. (While no expert on the matter, I believe that the narrative can be read by a child of 7 or 8. In fact, I provided a copy of this book to a friend's son for his 8th birthday. But I wouldn't consider him "average" by any definition; very precocious would be more like it. Hopefully he didn't find it to be boring.)
Is it possible that a book so brief in its narrative text can actually "tell" the story about Charlie Ives and his life with music, with all of its "ups" and "downs"? Sure it can! All one needs to do is to pay heed to the remarkable illustrations, and to take the time necessary for pulling out all of the clues hidden in these illustrations. And, while it isn't necessarily possible to figure out from the narrative and the illustrations just what Charlie Ives's music sounds like, the youthful reader should certainly come away with the expectation that the music sounds "different," given how it was that pretty much everything in Charlie's life and environment found its way into his music in one form or another. And that may be "half the battle," as they say, toward an early appreciation of America's greatest composer.
I know-rather directly-that Jan Swafford admires Mordicai Gerstein's book on Ives as much as Gerstein admires Swafford's. So I just had to take a look at it. (I never did have an opportunity to see the earlier copy that had been a birthday present; it was a "drop ship.") Now I've got my own copy, I've seen and read it, and I'm impressed. But what next?
Well, given the circumstances, perhaps I'll just read this really neat book to my cat. He's about the right age in "human years": between 7 and 8 as I write this. And he's listened to Charlie's music along with me, without raising a noticeable fuss.
And his name happens to be Charlie. And, no, it's no accident. :-)
Bob Zeidler


McPhee - Orchestral Works
McPhee - Orchestral Works
Offered by encorerecords
Price: £24.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ahead of the curve in several ways. But sadly overlooked., 17 Aug. 2004
Colin McPhee (1900 - 1964) could easily have been included among that select group of composers known as "American mavericks" had it not been for one minor technicality: McPhee was born in Montréal and grew up in Toronto. Never mind that McPhee studied in New York, under the tutelage of Edgard Varèse and eventually settled back in the U.S. for the final two decades of his life after spending a number of years in Bali; he is at least as qualified as are Varèse and Leo Ornstein to be included in this group. (A curious lacuna in Michael Broyles's new book, "Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music," is that McPhee doesn't even earn an index mention, whereas Varèse and Ornstein are given big bleeding chunks of commentary! But that is the subject of another, different review.)
The title work of this album, "Tabuh-tabuhan," is the single work that McPhee is most famed for. An orchestral toccata in three movements, it incorporates Balinese gamelan instruments (in addition to two pianos)which, because of their unique tuning, provide a piquant "spice" to the harmonic flavoring of the work. In this, he was years ahead of Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison (and, in an "Eastern"sense, Alan Hovhaness as well) in the use of these instruments. Even more, McPhee was more than a few decades ahead of Steve Reich and Philip Glass in using percussive, driving ostinatos in a thoroughly minimalistic sense in "Tabuh-tabuhan."
Two generations ago, Howard Hanson and his Eastman-Rochester Orchestra committed a fine performance of this work to disk (so long ago that it was "mono only"). But, good as that performance was, this performance by the Esprit Orchestra de Toronto-a group that specializes in contemporary music-tops it quite comfortably in splendid stereo sound.
"Nocturne" (coming more than two decades later, in 1958) is scored-and "flavored"-much like "Tabuh-tabuhan" except that it is in a single, more relaxed, movement, as its title would suggest. Even more like "Tabuh-tabuhan" is his "Concerto for Wind Orchestra" (1960, his last completed work).
The three-movement "Symphony No. 2" (1957, commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra) is quite Ravel-like in its clarity and, to a lesser extent, McPhee's use of harmony (here again subtly affected by his use of gamelan instruments). It has a "fairy tale" atmosphere that brings to mind Ravel's "Ma mère l'oye" ("Mother Goose") ballet suite.
"Transitions" (1954, commissioned by the Serge Koussevitsky Foundation) is described in the booklet notes as McPhee's "...own transition back into the world of western commercial acceptability" after, literally, decades of Balinese gamelan-inspired "Eastern-leaning" music. Scored for full orchestra rich in percussion, it IS decidedly more conventional than the other works on the album. Nonetheless, enough of the "earlier" McPhee remains to identify this as one of his own.
Was McPhee our very first minimalist? He might well have been; clearly, the minimalist characteristics are there for all to compare with later Reich and Glass. He certainly predated Cowell and Harrison in incorporating gamelan instruments. Interestingly, I find no evidence of his early tutelage under Varèse. (Can I have a big "Hooray!"?) And he wrote with a sense of instrumental and harmonic clarity of which Ravel might well have been proud.
Look no further for an integral compilation of the "important" music of Colin McPhee, unsung and nearly-forgotten maverick. This is the one to have!
Bob Zeidler


Songs
Songs

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE consummate Ives song specialist., 17 Aug. 2004
This review is from: Songs (Audio CD)
There I was recently, in a recording studio with a small but select number of Ives experts. (I was just an invited guest, hardly an expert.) We were spending the day listening to tapes of an Ives centennial celebration concert whose 30th anniversary, coincidentally, just happens to be today, August 17.
Of the works performed in that concert, I was quite taken by the soprano's rendition of "Memories," a 2-part song Ives wrote in 1897 while a Yale undergraduate. I thought it a "magic" moment when, in the first ("Very Pleasant") part of the song, one can bust one's gut laughing, while, in the second ("Rather Sad") part, the soprano had the seeming ability to "rip your heart out"with her ability to capture a sense of nostalgia.
Noted Ives scholar and biographer Jan Swafford describes these two songs as typical of the "Victorian parlor songs" of their era, after the model set by Stephen Foster. Stuart Feder, another Ives scholar and biographer, suggests, in his "The Live of Charles Ives," that the "rather sad" part might allude to Ives's mother. But it is a fact that Ives had barely recovered from the shock of his father's death that had sent him reeling just a few years before. Speaking strictly for myself, I can envision the image of George Edward Ives in the words
"I can see him shuffling down
"To the barn or to the town
"A-humming."
So, perhaps in light of that "read" of mine regarding George Edward Ives, my reaction is understandable. And the soprano's rendition was indeed superb. Regardless, and in any event, one of the Ives experts present at the session said to me, "Aren't you forgetting Jan DeGaetani's recording of the song?"
Well, d'oh! Sure enough, I had forgotten about it. For all the many months I've had this album listed as one of the "essential" Ives recordings, I've managed to fail to comment on it beyond a brief Listmania description. So it's not inappropriate that I use the 30th anniversary of the above-noted Ives concert as a "take-off" for finally commenting on what is unquestionably the finest album of Ives songs ever.
Jan DeGaetani had an illustrious career (regrettably cut short by an all-too-early death from leukemia). A singer of great versatility who essayed works from John Dowland to George Crumb, including a personal favorite that includes song cycles by Hector Berlioz and Gustav Mahler, she will nonetheless always be identified with the songs of Charles Ives, thanks to this album.
This collection contains as wide a variety of Ives songs over his song-writing career as one could imagine in a single-CD album, from the early "The Circus Band" (1894) to "In the Mornin'" (1929, Ives's final essay in the genre).
A few of the songs ("The Housatonic at Stockbridge" [1921], "The Cage" [1906]) represent "Ives the recycler" at his best; they are vocal settings of larger-scale works that Ives had originally written for chamber (or theater) orchestra forces. In fact, "The Housatonic at Stockbridge" (from "Three Places in New England") is a tour de force for vocalist and pianist, endeavoring as it does to capture the impressionism of the orchestral version. DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish, her superb accompanist who has performed many Ives keyboard works on his own, do indeed turn in a bravura performance in this difficult-to-capture sense of impressionism.
Elsewhere, DeGaetani makes the singing of songs that are by turns atonal, full of awkward interval leaps and of difficult meters seem like child's play, with totally secure vocal technique and intonation. And she perfectly captures the sentimentality of the "easier" songs that, in the hands of a lesser artist, would come across as "vocal marginalia." There is little of Ives that I consider to be such marginalia; it is simply a matter of infusing the songs with the spirit that Ives had endowed them with. And DeGaetani nails every one of them.
Which brings me full circle to "Memories." DeGaetani, like the unnamed soloist of 30 years ago today who reminded me that I had this unfinished business to attend to, will make you laugh until you bust a gut. And then she'll rip your heart out. Just as I believe these two song parts were meant to do.
Needless to say, a keeper!
Bob Zeidler
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 28, 2014 10:16 AM BST


Stars and Stripes Forever
Stars and Stripes Forever
Price: £8.48

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some appropriate music for August, 2004. And other goodies., 16 Aug. 2004
This being the month of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, not too surprisingly, the "appropriate music..." alluded to above are the Three Fanfares by Leo Arnaud (b. Lyon, France 1904; d. Hollywood, CA 1991). The first two fanfares ("Olympic Theme"; "La Chasse") were originally written in 1959. At the time, the first fanfare had no specific name; the two fanfares together were simply called "Bugler's Dream." It was nearly a decade later (1968) that ABC-TV adopted the first fanfare for the '68 Olympic Games (and then for "Wide World of Sport"); then the "Olympic Theme" name stuck. Permanently. So, all the Olympics watchers in the U.S. can expect to OD on the theme, whether they like it or not. (Interestingly, in cruising a few classical music message boards during these Olympic times, I find that all too often people attribute this "Olympic Theme" to John Williams. Not so!)
Well, so much for the "preliminaries for the Olympic occasion." The Cleveland Symphonic Winds under Fred Fennell play these three brief works for all they're worth, even to restoring the French horn responses to the trumpet calls in the second part of "Olympic Theme." These French horn parts were-and are-so difficult that the ABC-TV version, from, obviously, a different and earlier recording, had them replaced by trumpets.
My main reason for acquiring this CD when it first came out two decades ago was not Olympian in the slightest. In short, it was because Fennell reprises three wind ensemble classics that he had done many years earlier, with the Eastman Wind Ensemble on the Mercury Living Presence label. These three are Sam Barber's "Commando March," Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Folk Song Suite," and Percy Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy." All three are classics for the wind ensemble, and I can envision tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of former wind ensemble players who "passed this way" in high school and college. I certainly did, and remember these works with great fondness (along with many other wind ensemble "classics" that Fennell has conducted over a long and illustrious career).
The Eastman band was never ever a slouch in performing this type of music. (In fact, it was the model for the genre.) But the Cleveland Symphonic Winds (essentially, the Cleveland Orchestra minus the strings, but beefed up where sections require more instrumentalists, plus saxophones and baritone horns not normally found in orchestras) is on another, higher, plateau entirely. This is most evident in the Grainger work, which is a true masterpiece for the instrumentation, with some highly original parts writing that provides intriguing sonorities not normally associated with "band" music.
All three-the Barber, Grainger and Vaughan Williams works-come off noticeably better on this Telarc release than they did years ago (*many* years ago in the case of the Barber work) when Fennell led the Eastman Wind Ensemble. In terms of sonics, it isn't even close: as might be expected, the Telarc sound is still state-of-the-art after two decades.
The balance of the album is mostly fillers of marches from the U.S. and Europe. (The album title is somewhat of a misnomer, given its contents, including the Grainger and Vaughan Williams pieces.) A few marches are well-known; a few are obscure. All are as well-played as the pieces I've commented about in some detail.
At just a little under an hour, this is not necessarily high value, but it was typical for "early" CDs, as this one is. To me, it is worth it for the superb job on the Grainger work. To others, perhaps the three Arnaud fanfares will fill the bill. For the next few weeks, anyway. :-)
Bob Zeidler


Magnetic Rags
Magnetic Rags
Price: £21.16

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nice change of pace from my "usual" listening., 14 Aug. 2004
This review is from: Magnetic Rags (Audio CD)
I endeavored to track down some music written by William Ryden, and ran across this gem of an album, consisting of rags arranged, and in one case composed, by him for brass quintet. (Some time back, I had been at a chamber orchestra concert, and one of the featured works, by Ryden, impressed me enough for such a search. That featured work, a setting of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" for vocal quartet, narrator and chamber orchestra, was perfect "pops concert" fare, but alas has yet to be recorded. Too bad; it was both charming and amusing.)
Ryden has to his credit the composing of more than 250 rags for piano. One of them-"Frogmore Stew"-is among the brass quintet arrangements on this album, and, based on its hearing, he seemingly deserves as much prominence as William Bolcom, following in the tradition of Scott Joplin (who has five of his more famous rags included on the album).
Scott Joplin! Who can forget the pathbreaking Nonesuch LP of his piano rags that Joshua Rifkin did more three decades ago, and the effect that album had on the genre? It wasn't just "The Sting" that reflected this rediscovery; this "craze of the times"; it seemed that everyone and his brother wanted to get in on the act. One popular release of the times was Gunther Schuller's "The Redback Book," with the New England Conservatory Orchestra. And I could swear that the Canadian Brass had taken their own whack at the craze, but, in checking my LP library, as well as an Amazon search, I may have conflated a possible Joplin album from them with "The Village Band" album, brass quintet transcriptions of other music from the Gilded Era.
Well, never mind the Canadian Brass! The Avatar Brass Quintet perform these works with all the skill and panache that one could ask for. Not only do we have five Joplin rags, as well as the one by Ryden himself, but equally famous works by Eubie Blake and Irving Berlin, a rare piece by George Gershwin, and a number of rags by some lesser-known contemporaries of Joplin.
What more could one ask for? Well, I for one would like to hear more of Ryden's own rags; maybe not all 250 of them, but at least a few more than just "Frogmore Stew." Perhaps an album that combines Bolcom and Ryden rags as arranged by Ryden for brass quintet would be just the ticket.
In the meantime, this "Magnetic Rags" album fills the bill nicely.
Bob Zeidler


Havergal Brian: Symphony No. 1 'The Gothic'
Havergal Brian: Symphony No. 1 'The Gothic'
Price: £12.68

96 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! From Marco Polo to Naxos. And affordable!, 1 Aug. 2004
Klaus Heymann, the founder of these two labels, was courageous a number of years years back, when he released Havergal Brian's 'Gothic' Symphony on his full-price Marco Polo label. I would guess that the album has been a steady, if slow, seller over those years, as it has been the only available recording of this marvelously idiosyncratic work. My own copy, played at least annually (almost ritualistically so) has served me well for most of those years.
I've long wanted to introduce this work to friends, but for some of them cost, and, to an extent, availability, have stood in the way. No longer! Heymann has done the right thing by releasing this album on his budget Naxos label, and it is now affordable to all. And, as I note later, it is better than the Marco Polo original in more than just price.
The 'Gothic' may well be the most talked-about-yet-not-listened-to classical work ever. Many seem to have opinions on it whether they've listened to it or not (in which case, the work may well hold two records: the largest symphony in terms of orchestral forces, and the most misunderstood as well). The 'Gothic' inevitably gets compared, largely incorrectly, with a handful of other works with which it has little in common: Gustav Mahler's 8th Symphony ('The Symphony of a Thousand') most often, but also the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, the 'Grand Messe des Morts,' 'Te Deum' and 'La Damnation de Faust' of Hector Berlioz, and even, on occasion, Arnold Schoenberg's early 'Gurre-Lieder.' But such similarities exist mostly at the margins; the 'Gothic' is a true sui generis work owing no measurable debt to these.
The greatest similarity is to the Mahler work. Both are divided into two unequal parts, in roughly 1/3 to 2/3 proportions; both utilize Goethe's 'Faust' and medieval hymns for inspiration (but Brian and Mahler invert the order of these two sources), and both call for huge orchestral and choral resources. But comparison ends there; the 'Gothic' hasn't the cumulative inevitability of the Mahler work, and is quite different in all other respects.
Nor has the 'Gothic' the granitic architectonics of Bruckner's symphonies (although there are a few brass chorale passages reminiscent of Bruckner), or the equally idiosyncratic brilliance of the three Berlioz works despite the 'Gothic' being inspired by 'Faust,' having some of its orchestral forces spatially arrayed as in the 'Grand Messe des Morts,' and having its massive Part II set to the 'Te Deum' text.
Anyone familiar with British music of the period the 'Gothic' was written in will recognize this as a British work: Except in the most idiosyncratic places (of which there is no shortage), the work is British to the core, with passages that alternately remind one of an entire host of such composers. Bax, Butterworth, Holst and Vaughan Williams come to mind, and Elgar is seldom far away. (While Brian came from a working class background and had been, at least in part, an autodidact, he was already known and respected by his British peers prior to the 'Gothic.')
To be sure, the 'Gothic' is a huge, sprawling work, seemingly evolving as a series of tableaux full of original themes and orchestrational touches, as well as choral writing that was years ahead of its time in its harmonic daring and vocal density. The episodic style, and the frequent punctuations of the 'Gothic' by march music, remind me as much of Mahler's 3rd Symphony as the work reminds others of Mahler's 8th Symphony. (One such march, a quirky one scored for nine unison clarinets and side drum, is particularly intriguing.) Moreover, there is a 'long arc' to the work not unlike the Mahler 3rd that could be said to represent a journey from 'darkness into light.' Brian began the work in the shadow of the end of the Great War; to him, 'Gothic' symbolized the emergence from the Dark Ages into something better and brighter. But, whereas the Mahler work ends in a blaze of glory, the 'Gothic' ends, after its journey of considerable length, in a softly diatonic yet enigmatic sense of a capella choral repose. To me, it is as if he is uncertain that the 'enduring timelessness' of the Gothic cathedral, as metaphor, is all that enduring, following the horrors of the Great War he experienced first-hand.
This is not an easy work, so rich with ideas as it is, to grasp at first hearing. (A wealth of information on the work, as 'symphony qua symphony,' and as metaphor, can be found at musicweb.uk.net/brian/sym1.htm.) But it is certainly not difficult to enjoy it, and, over time, build one's own cumulative sense of its logic. The high quality of the performance belies its origins and makes a splendid argument for the work's own qualities.
This Naxos release is an improvement over its Marco Polo predecessor in ways other than just cost. The sound is noticeably clearer, particularly in the densest passages, which had a fair bit of congestion and distortion. (This improvement comes at the expense of recording level, which is slightly, but observably, lower, probably by 4 - 6 dB.) The album is now in a 'slimline' 2-CD jewel box that takes up less shelf space. There has been no significant attempt at cost cutting for the booklet, which faithfully duplicates the material in the Marco Polo release, save for brief notated musical examples and two color photographs. In exchange, the Naxos notes include even more information on the forces used in the recording, with biographical details about the vocal soloists and further information on the orchestras and choruses. As before, the discs are generously indexed, with musical references to the index points (a total of 46) clearly stated in the booklet notes. For many coming upon this work for the first time, these notes and index points will help them understand this weird yet wonderful work.
VERY highly recommended!
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