Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Classics tribute: Apple pays homage to the Captain

We have here, at 0:12, one of the world's great march tunes --

Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger, cond. KEM-Disc, recorded c1981

by Ken

In the above audio clip I've left in some lead-in, so we can hear the pulse-quickening build-up to the Big Tune, except that when it comes, it comes -- devilishly, given that build-up -- in hushed form! Then at 0:27, when the tune gets its only repetition, it's heard in full voice, after which, all too quickly, it's gone! Leaving us wanting more, no? (We're going to hear one conductor who came up with a solution of sorts to this problem.)


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Free! [an updated, more "post-like" version]

• Updated again: We've got the Frankie Howerd "Free"!
• And one last bonus update: "Comedy Tonight"
• Okay, one more thing, or actually two: Let's hear Zero
do "Comedy Tonight" too (twice, in fact)

"Free": "Oh, what a word!" sings Pseudolus (the great Zero Mostel, 1915-1977)

Zero Mostel (Pseudolus) and Brian Davies (Hero), vocals; Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Capitol, recorded 1962

Frankie Howerd (Pseudolus) and John Rye (Hero), vocals; Original London Cast recording, Alyn Ainsworth, musical director. EMI-DRG, recorded 1963
[Note: More of Frankie Howerd's Pseudolus to come at the end of the post]

by Ken

Yesterday I missed a walking tour (of Brooklyn's Bensonhurst and Bath Beach neighborhoods, not something that comes along every week), one that I'd not only paid for but that I wanted to do badly enough to have registered for it even knowing that it would knock out all afternoon possibilities for the Saturday of Open House New York Weekend.

But for the first time in I-don't-dare-try-to-calculate-how-many years, it wasn't because of the obligations of daily blogging. Which no doubt accounts for the fact that out of the mass of music rattling around my head, this song from Burt Shevelove, Larry Gilbert, and Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has been singing in my head.

I had planned to offer you Frankie Howard singing "Free" as well, from the London cast recording, but so far that plan remains a victim of the software revolt I cited in an earlier version of this post. I would need to dub it from LP, and so far my audio editing software isn't working with the years-delayed computer OS upgrade I just installed.

Meanwhile, here's Zero Mostel, as the Roman slave Pseudolus, contemplating being "Free" with his young master, Hero (Brian Davies), from the Original Broadway Cast recording of Forum (the first musical for which Sondheim wrote music as well as lyrics). [UPDATE: As noted up top, and as heard above, in a tiny triumph of human over technology we've now got the Original London Cast version of "Free"!]


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Meet the composer, Richard Strauss-style

The first part of the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos, with Paul Schoeffler as the Music Master and Sena Jurinac as the Composer (we're going to hear the radiant Jurinac in her glorious 1958 studio recording, which I've described as the best recorded performance I know of any operatic role, and Schoeffler in a 1944 live performance), staged by Günter Rennert and conducted by Karl Böhm, filmed at Salzburg in 1965 -- the remaining four parts are also on YouTube.

by Ken

It was a long, arduous path from conception to ultimate creation, the strange entertainment concocted by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, his librettist on two previous, wildly different operas, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, in collaboration with the great stage director Max Reinhardt, who had collaborated with them on Rosenkavalier.

The original idea was to provide a half-hour musical entertainment to be inserted in an adaptation (by Hofmannsthal) for Reinhardt of Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme. Not surprisingly, the half-hour entertainment grew and grew, until it was a weird one-act opera that -- despite being scored for chamber orchestra -- would tax the vocal resources of the greatest opera houses. And it combined two seemingly uncombinable art forms: a deeply serious opera seria that is observed, commented on, and eventually intruded on by a troupe of commedia dell'arte musical comedians. And of course it was imprisoned inside the play, and constitued too much opera for playgoers and too much play for operagoers.

Long story short: Eventually Hofmannsthal and Strauss liberated Ariadne by creating a Prologue, set backstage in the room of the home of the richest man in Vienna where the evening's entertainment is shortly to be performed. And they created the character of the Composer, the creator of a deeply serious opera seria. The new Prologue not only explains how these two wildly different entertainments came to be scheduled for the same evening's entertainment (and, eventually, how they come to be combined) but creates for us the world of a theatrical backstage. (The always-practical Strauss arranged an orchestral suite from the incidental music he had written for the play, in its German guise as Der Bürger als Edelmann.)

We've already heard the very opening of the Prologue -- still scored for chamber orchestra, as the original opera-intermezzo was.

R. STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos: Prologue: Orchestral introduction

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Mar. 28, 1970


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: They don't make organists like Virgil Fox anymore

Virgil Fox at the console of Riverside Church's grand Aeolian-Skinner organ

by Ken

Somehow I wound up with at least two and maybe three copies of a CD reissue in the "RCA Living Stereo" series: the album of Encores recorded January 27-30, 1958, on the grand Aeolian-Skinner organ of Manhattan's Riverside Church by that master showman of the organ Virgil Fox (1912-1980). When one of those copies, still sealed, suddenly popped out in the open, it got me to thinking.

While most of the selections would be sneered into oblivion by today's musical intelligentsia, I had a feeling it would be both more fun and more musical than the music being generated contemporarily in what word has it is a new golden age for the organ, with incomparable genius organists composing new horizons for this grand old instrument. The only thing that would be more exciting is if any of the music was the tiniest fraction as interesting as these little baubles.

So I thought today we'd just arrange a series of musical snapshots from the album, like these organ arrangements of three thrice-familiar little pieces.

BACH: Jesu, joy of man's desiring (arr. from final chorale of Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben)