Shony Alex Braun – Continental Varieties

Keeping February rolling with this record I got for a dollar.  Lot of songs that are kind of mainstays of this blog so buying this was a no brainer.

The gypsy violinist of this record, Shony Alex Braun, was born in Transylvania,  in 1930.  I am not sure how truly gypsy he was, but he was half Jewish and as a result, survived the Holocaust serving time in both Auschwitz and Dachau. Braun credits his ability to play music as the reason for his survival.  He would later win a Pulitzer Prize for his composition “Symphony of The Holocaust” on 1994.  He moved to the US in the 1950’s and had a good career as a musician, composer, and actor.  He would die in Los Angeles in 2002 of pneumonia. The story below relates to how,  during the Holocaust, he was in a room with SS officers who wanted him to play for them.  Struck by nerves, he forgot every tune he knew.  When they threateningly approached him, he began to play the Blue Danube, despite both playing an instrument larger than he was used to and never playing that song before.  Pretty amazing story.

This album, released by Impromto Records, came out sometime but I am not sure when.  My best bet is the 1950’s.  Backed by his Continental Ensemble and pianist/arranger Gregory Stone, the album is a collection of very famous instrumental standards from around the world. All the ones I like are here, including “Autumn Leaves”, “Granada”, ” La Vie En Rose”, “Dark Eyes”, and “Havah Nagilah”.  Braun’s violin is excellent in that gypsy style.  Good arrangements.  Overall good album.  I also liked the brief history and influences of the composers of the tunes on the back cover.

Well, as much as I like those songs above, and despite how good Braun’s versions were, I decided to go a different route and post “Valse Pizzicato”, written by George Boulanger.  The song showcases Braun’s skill with the picking technique, a technique scorned by most violists of the time according to the back cover.  Pretty good little track.

Satisfactory.

Tullio Serafin and the Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus- La Traviata

Happy Boxing Day.  This was $2.  I got is because at the time I knew La Traviata was first on the schedule to be performed this year at The Houston Grand Opera.  I thought it my be a good idea to listen to a few highlights before seeing this work.  I also thought it would make for a good commentary as well after seeing it. As a side note, as I have been writing most of the posts for the second half of 2017 way ahead of schedule, I am writing this one on Christmas.

Hurricane Harvey left many things in town in disarray, and the Wortham Theater, home to the HGO was unfortunately not spared. Although props, stages, and costumes had been saved, the lower levels of the Theater flooded and repairs are not due to finish until the end of the season.  But being the ever so resourceful people we Houstonians are, the 2017-18 season moved to a make-shift venue, the HGO Resilience Theater at George R Brown Convention Center.  Don’t get me wrong.  I totally applaud the tremendous effort that went into finding a quick temporary solution and I am glad that the shows are going on as scheduled.  The seats, however, are pretty rough.  It is a bit uncomfortable to sit for 3+ hours.  I also thought there could be more signage as it took me a while to find the entrance to my event at the convention center.  Finally, there is not real clear area to enjoy a smoke whereas the Wortham Center had the lovely gazebo.  That being said, again, I applaud HGO for keeping the season alive. 

That brings us to this work, Verdi’s La Traviata or “The Fallen Women”.  Based on a novel by Andre Dumas, this opera tells the story of a French Courtesean who struggle with the pressure from her lover’s family as well as illness.  It was first performed in 1853.  Verdi at the time, was living with a woman out of wedlock which may have influenced some of the direction of the work. The first  audience was a bit less than positive (although I believe this was more a function of the singers rather than the work), but over time, this has grown to be one of the major and most popular works of opera.

As with many operas, I compared my thoughts with my buddy Scott, who used to sing in the chorus of the HGO.  He felt the story was lacking.  I thought contrary (although I did find it odd that after telling her boyfriends father that she was dying, the father says that she is young and can find a new boyfriend.  Did I stutter?  What part of me dying did you not understand?)Likewise, he enjoyed the ending where I felt it was a bit flat.  Overall, I really liked the production , which was done in a style of the period.  I should probably also mention that I also really enjoyed Handel’s Julius Caesar, which had a more contemporary staging and was my first opera with counter-tenors.

There are a good number of musical highlights, as noted on this album.  Perhaps the most popular song (or at least most recognizable) is “Libiamo” (The Drinking Song” which has been used on commercials and movies for some time. 

It is presented on this album along with other highlights from the Rome Opera House under the Italian conductor Tullio Serafin (1878-1968).  The lead role of Violetta is handled by Spanish soprano Victoria De Los Angeles (1923-2005).  The role of her lover Alfredo is done by tenor Carlo Del Monte.  Finally the role of Alfredo’s father is performed by baritone Mario Sereni.  Apparently, this has been a popular opera to record as well as there are quite a few recordings over time.  This one, by Angel Records appears to have come out in 1956.

As stated above, I did quite enjoy this opera and it probably helped that I listened to this album beforehand (which I also did enjoy).  I had a few ideas about the sample, but ultimatley went with “Imponete”, a duet from Act Two between Germont (Alfredo’s father) and Violetta.  In this moment, Germont is begging Violetta to leave his son alone as he worries that her standing as a courtesean will prevent any decent man from marrying his daughter. It was a pretty good part of the opera and made for a good part of this album.

Satisfactory.   Looking forward to more of the works this year from the HGO.

Chitti Babu- Musings of a Musician, Vol II Accompanied by his Disciples

I got this with a handful of other Indian albums at the melting pot of used records that is Sugar Land Half Price Books.  I think the title, plus the artists’ stable of musicians on the back drew me to this purchase.  It was $4.00.

Chitti Babu.  It is a fun name to say.  I think I will do it again  Chitti Babu. Anyway, Chitti Babu was born in 1936 in Kakinada in the Indian State of Andnra Pradesh.   Born to musicial (or at least supporting of music) parents, he studied the classical Southern Indian style of Carnatic music.  In order to support himself, Chitti Babu worked in film as an artist/ composer/ and musical director.  However, it is his classical playing for which is most reknown, winning various awards and touring the world.  According to Wikipedia, Chitti Babu, in the world of Carnatic music, became a legend in his own time.  Pretty heavy statement.  With that being said, Chitti Babu died of massive cardiac arrest in 1996 at age 59. Also, he is no relation to the comedian Chitti Babu, who is also dead.

If you think the instrument on the cover is a sitar, then you are quite ignorant my friend.  It is a Veena.  The Northern Indian Veena, which plays like a stick zither, is used in Hindustani music and for the most part , has largely been replaced by the sitar.  In Southern India, however, the Veena functions more like a lute and is still popular in Carnatic music circles.  Also according to Wikipedia, the Veena has become synonymous with the artist on this record so when you say Veena, you are talking Chitti Babu.

The webpage below is an excellent source of information on Chitti Babu and greatly expounds on the information above.  I suggest checking it out.  One takeaaway I got was a quote from Chitti Babu himself, ” Music starts with M and in my opinion the M is for melody.  If You remove that M out of music, it makes USIC (you sick)”.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Link to webpage on Chitti Babu

Anyway, here is this effort from 1972, as the title would suggest, accompanied by his disciples (a very lofty way of saying students), Shelia Pathy, Shanti, Kala, Hema, and Lakshmi.  It should be noted that Chitti Babu had many disciples over his life and many of them became important Veena musicians in their own right.  Not sure why they are all female on this record, but then I again, I am quite sure why.  But back to this album, side one features five classical raga movements in a traditional Indian form.  Side two on the other hand, features six songs that are more western in nature.  Truth be told, I really liked side 2 and picked around 4 of the 6 for possible samples.

In that vein, I decided to use “Fifth Movement: Raga: Sankarabharanam” from side 1 (or at least what I think is the fifth movement).  From side 2, I went with “Rhythms Indiana” and “Of The Rocks” which I believe is my favorite.

Great little album from Chitti Babu.  had to say it one more time.  Satisfactory.

 

Werner Muller and his Orchestra- Germany

This was $2 and purchased with the slew of other German records in accordance with the upcoming Oktoberfest celebrations.  Well maybe not so upcoming now, but at the time of writing and purchasing, yes.

This is a very interesting album brought to you by those fine folks at London Records.  Mixed in recorded in phase 4 stereo, this album is a smorgasbord (yes I know this is a Swedish term) of German music.  from Wagner to Weill, from marches and polkas to schlager and night club ballads, this record has a piece of everything.  The exact kind of thing this blog encourages.  Conducted by Berlin born, Werner Muller (1920-1998), this was released in 1965.

Muller’s Space Age Pop page

For a sample, I was drawn to Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries”, partly due to the fact that I mentioned it in an earlier post this week, but mainly in tribute to Bugs Bunny as well as that beacon of tolerance, Elmer Fudd.

Good album.  Satisfactory.

Fritz Reiner- Die Walkure Act II

This was $2.50. I meant to tie it to the Ring Cycle I saw at the Houston Grand Opera.  Over the last four years, the HGO has put all four operas the consist of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.  I am not sure I totally picked up on the cycle aspect of this when I saw the first opera.  However, by the end, I was more clear to me.  It was a pretty big production for the HGO and my experiences at the operas  have been documented on this blog.

Well, despite the fourth, Gotterdammerung, being my favorite, the second, Die Valkure is perhaps the best known.  It tells the story of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde who give birth to the hero of the cycle, Siegfried.  At the same time, it shows the exile of Brunnhilde, who is later rescued by Siegfried who also falls in love with her despite technically being his aunt.  This fact never seems to escape me.  Wagner wrote these operas in reverse order but so he would have written this third.

For not being an expert on Wagner or opera, where you might ask, is the basis for the claim that Die Walkure is the best known of the cycle?  I am basing this on the strength of “The Flight Of the Valkeries” perhaps the most famous piece not only of this cycle but in all of opera.  Most people either know this from Bugs Bunny or Apocayplse Now. I also did not put two and two together but it was also used quite cleverly in The Blues Brothers. Note both clips have profanity as well as a disregard for proper physics.

 

Well, here is this piece from 1936 and conducted by Fritz Reiner.  Reiner was a Hungarian Jew who moved to the US in 1922.  He would reach the height of his career as the conductor for the Chicago Symphony orchestra in the 1950’s/60’s. At the time of his death (1963 at age 74), he was preparing the Met’s version of Gotterdamerung.

Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962), who plays Brunnhulde, was a Norwegian opera singer who ranks among the best voices in the 20th century.  Her performance as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde has become the stuff of legend.

Lotte Lehman (1888-1976) also appears on this record in the role of Sieglinde which is considered among her defining roles. She left her native Germany in the 30’s to emigrate to the US due to the fact that her step-children were Jewish.

 

The role of Wotan was handled by Friderich Schorr, an Austrian-Hungarian bass-baritone of Jewish decent, who became the Wagnerian bass-baritone of his generation. I point out the Jewish back grounds of these performers as a testament to the human spirit as at the same time of this recording while the Nazis were on the rise and Hitler was pushing the works and ideals of Wagner, the three of  best Wagnerian performers at the time (and of the century for that matter) were of had Jewish ties. Flagstad, on the other hand was widely criticized for returning to occupied Norway during the war years.

This album is the second Act which is noted for its prelude, a monolgue by Wotan, and Brunnhilde’s announcement of Siegmund’s death.  For sample, I went with that prologue followed by Wotan speaking with Brunnhilde and instructing her to protect Siegmund.  This piece does reference “Ride” pretty heavily.

Pretty good album.  Since it was three years since I seen this, I forgot a lot of the aspects about this work.  Overall, satisfactory.

Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Pro Arte Orchestra- Gilbert & Sullivan- The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and Patter Songs

This fine old collection was $5.  I bought it way, way right before I started writing this blog.  Yet, I still remember the cashier remarking how it reminded him of Raiders of The Lost Ark and the Indiana Jones franchise, as the minor character of Sallah, played by John Rhys- Davies, is fond of singing Gilbert & Sullivan numbers.  I found it a bit odd not only that the young tattooed clerk could connect this but could connect lines to HMS Pinafore.

On that note, a month back (or longer depending on when you read this), I attended The Houston Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of The Gondoliers.  I felt the production was quite good and very entertaining but as I went to the Sunday matinee, I was quite concerned that the audience was mostly over 85 and thought that perhaps appreciation for G&S was dying.  A friend of mine pointed out that Sunday matinees are mostly older crowds and the G&S are not going anywhere.

So then there is this record conducted by esteemed British conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) who participated in his first G&S production at age 10.  He conducts the Pro Arte Orchestra with assorted soloists and the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus.  I am not sure when this came out other than after Sargent’s passing but it seems to be a collection earlier recorded works, most notably two of G&S’s most famous works, The Mikado and HMS Pinafore.

So to start off with samples, from the Mikado, I went with my favorite song from this piece (which is never on any of the albums I buy), “The Sun Whose Rays…”.  It is sung my Elise Morrison.  From the HMS Pinafore, I went with “I Am The Monarch Of The Sea…. When I Was A Lad”, sung by George Baker.

In terms of the patter songs, I wanted to use a number from “The Gondoliers” to tie it in to  the story above but I felt the album should have put different numbers.  There are a couple good patter songs that involve the Gondoliers and their wives which I felt could have been used on this.  Oh well, In their place, here is “In Enterprise Of Martial Kind”, sung by Geraint Evans with the chorus.

I really wanted to post “My Eyes Are Fully Open” from Ruddigore, but I felt this version was to tepid and slow.  And for the most part, that is my criticism of this collection.  The patter songs as well as G&S’s catalog really works when done in rapid fire.  All the songs really could have used a but more speed.  So meh.  Sorry.

Baptista Siqueira- Nordeste/ Jandaia

This was $2 with discount.  I got it for some flavor of Northern Brazil which musicaly is quite different from the parts I have been to.  Why two foreign classical records in the same month you may ask? I am not sure myself.

The Northeast Region of Brazil, affectionately known as Nordeste was the first to be discovered and inhabited by Portuguese colonists.  Known for its hot weather and rich culture and folklore, it also has some of the prettiest natural sights as well as some of the hottest weather in the country.  The region makes up 18% of the coutnry, 28 % of the population and 13% of the GDP.

The composer of these pieces, Baptista Siqueira (1906-1992), was a musicologist and composer that source lists from Paraiba in Nordesste  His father, who had the same name, was a conductor as well. He studied music in Rio de Janerio, wrote books on music, and composed at least three operas, three symphonies, three symphonic poems (which I believe this is one), and a ballet among other works. according to one badly translated source, it is generally noted that the son had a better  life than the father. He also had a brother who was a composer and musicologist.

A link where I got information about this and Siqueira

This is a collection I am guessing of two pieces.  The first piece “Nordeste”, a symphony for the solo piano,in three movements, which I am guessing is a musical tribute to the fore mentioned region and is probably technically more of a concerto.  The second side features a symphonic poem, “Jandaia”, which is a municipality on the state of Golas which is in the center west region of the country. The piano, at least on the first side, is provided by Murillo Santos.  Henrique Morellenbaum acts as the regent.  I am not sure what the role of the regent is but as I am too lazy to take this up any further, I am leaving it at that.  The Orquestra Sinfonica Do Rio de Janerio provides the rest of the instrumentation. Other than this is a Brazilian record from Rio, I am unsure of anything else about it.

Truth be told, I was really taken by both compositions so I included the introduction and first movement of “Nordeste” as well as “Jandaia”.  Both seem to paint a rather lush picture of climate, topography, and geography which I would imagine the region to contain, whether accurate or not.

Anyway, decent little pickup.  Satisfactory.

Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra- Saturday Night Fiedler

This record, normally $6, was bought during Half Price Book’s Memorial Day Sale so with discount, it came out to $4.80.  Call it inflation, but I have realized an increase in second hand records over the last year.  So I am in the ethical quandary of either raising my spending limit to $6 or lying about the prices of records.  Anyway, I got this on the suggestion of sorts from my friend Scott.

Yes, my friend Scott told me about this record as this as well as the Ethel Merman disco album (posted on this blog in 2014 I believe), were in his father’s record collection.  So when I found a copy, I took it up to legendary Houston spot Dan Electro’s, (where Scott is also a co-owner) and we gave the record a spin.  It was insisted by Scott that we listen to both sides.

This led to a pretty decent conversation regarding pop orchestras, in which I theorized that pop performance, for the most part will get scant attention and effort from classical symphonies that perform them.  This is based on articles I have read for this blog from conductors of orchestras focused solely on pops.  Oddly enough, I ran into a woman later than night whose mother was in the Houston Symphony.  She confirmed what I had thought, that pops was just something they were contractually obligated to play and that is where it ends (although I had 10 minutes of what may have been the second most asinine conversation of recent times to get this answer).

As Scott would say, this was probably Arthur Fiedler’s ultimate album.  The liner notes were written on June 9, 1979.  A month later Fiedler wound die of cardiac arrest.  He had been in failing health for some time.  Part of me wonders if he would have liked something more traditional to end his career with.  The other part of me thinks that this is probably as good as any way for the most famous pop conductor to go out on.

Anyway, this record, recorded live at Symphony Hall in Boston Mass, features long standing pops conductor Fiedler and his Boston Pops with their take on the disco craze of the time.  Fiedler always did have a knock for translating current popular music in the orchestrated form. This record came out while the genre of disco was in decline.  But here it is, regardless.  Side one contains a medley of songs from the disco high watermark moment, the movie Saturday Night Fever. The second side contained a disco-esque arrangement of to Bach classic’s, “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and “Air for the G String”.  Interesting stuff.

For a sample, I went with the latter, which I think Scott really liked anyway, simply titled “Bachmania”.

I do not like posting Fiedler’s record due to the high amount of auto correct I get on his last name but decent enough album.  Satisfactory.

Dvorak- Slavonic Dances

This was $2.00.  After seeing a performance of Dvorak’s Rusalka, his work had been on my radar.  

When the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote the Slavonic Dances, he was virtually unknown outside of Prague.  After winning an Austrian State prize for composition, one of the judges, Johannes Brahms was impressed and recommended him to his publishing firm, Simrock.  Simrock commissioned Dvorak to write a sequel to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances from 1869.  He first wrote Op 46 in 1878.  Op 72 followed in 1886.  Both were successful and well received.

This record features both Op 46 and 72 as played by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.  It was released on Vox Records in 1961. The music is pretty stirring and although it used Brahms’ work as a starting reference, the music is purely Dvorak.  For samples, I went with movement #2 from Op 46 and movement #7 from Op 72.

Good little record.  Satisfactory.

The Moody Blues- Days Of Future Passed

This was unbelievably only a dollar,  which is strange to me considering it was in pretty good shape.  I mean it was one of the biggest records of its period, at least the biggest one for the Moody Blues, I believe.  At the time of writing this, I am watching Game 7 of the Oilers-Ducks so I may be in and out of this post.

This was The Moody Blues’ second album. After not finding a lot of success as a R&B band, a few members shuffled and a new larger sound was formed with a more symphonic edge. Essentially, it was the beginning of prog rock. In order to capitalize on this sound as well as payback the debt the band owed the Decca on advances, the band agreed to make a record of Dvorak’s “Symphony No 9”.  It would be released on new subsidiary, Deram and used as a model to showcase the new Deram Studio Sound format.

The band was given creative control of the project but decided to abandon it for a different project, a pop record with orchestral interludes based on the concept of a day(Note”:  this story has been disputed). Anyway, the band recruited Peter Knight and the London Festival Orchestra to provide the interludes.  The result was this record, which was a huge success for the band.  “Nights in White Satin” also became a massive hit and was the only instance of interplay between the Blues and the orchestra.

Pretty good album.  Kind of dated concept now, but in 1967, I imagine it was pretty radical.  I liked the album.  I went with “Lunch Break: Peak Hour”, mainly because it is brief, but also because it is a good example of both Orchestra and band.

Good album. Satisfactory. Well, the Oilers, sadly enough did not make it.  I know to a reasonable person, just making it as far as the did was a big accomplishment, given their record in recent years. Well, I guess I was just expecting a Cup this year after the way they played.  Losing Game 5 hurt.  But, still, got to give credit to a good young team who will be a force to reckon with next year.