WDBX Opera Overnight – Rossini, Weber

English: Title page of the original libretto o...

Title page of the original libretto of The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini (Image via Wikipedia)

We’re going to start tonight with one of the great pieces of music in the entire operatic canon, Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, or we can use its English title, The Barber of Seville.  The full title is The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution.  Using a libretto by Pierre Beaumarchais that was actually the first part of a trilogy of plays that also gave us Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, it premiered in Rome in 1816.  It was also one of the first Italian operas to be performed in the United States, being premiered in New York City in 1825.  Interestingly enough, its 1816 premiere was booed and hissed, an organized effort by a rival composer who had already used the play in an opera of his own.  But the second performance was an unqualified success, and that success has continued to the present day.

Tonight’s recording features Kathleen Battle, Placido Domingo, Frank Lopardo, and Lucio Gallo, with The Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the conduction of Claudio Abbado.

Carl Maria von Weber

Carl Maria von Weber (Image via Wikipedia)

One can expect that a composer doesn’t grow up to anticipate starting a new era in composition – indeed, such composers probably aren’t aware of the significance of their achievements.  But Carl Maria von Weber found himself at a fulcrum point of time.  He was a musical heir of Mozart (Mozart actually married Constance Weber, one of Weber’s cousins), and he was noted as a brilliant pianist, as a composer for woodwinds (his woodwind compositions are an important part of woodwind literature) and of vocal music, and as an excellent conductor and arranger (Berlioz makes references to him in his Treatise on Instrumentation).  Given these conditions, it is no surprise that our next opera is considered one of the first important German Romantic era operas, and as such was an important influence on composers such as Wagner (who performed at Weber’s reburial in Dresden) and Strauss.

English: Set design for Act 2 (Wolf's Glen) of...

Set design for Act 2 (Wolf's Glen) of the opera Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber, as performed in 1822 in Weimar, Germany (Image via Wikipedia)

Weber premiered Der Freischütz in 1821, with a libretto by Frederich Kind that was based on the German folk legend of the Freischütz.  The role of the Hunter requires a strong tenor voice (in this instance, Peter Schreier), and it notable for the portions at the end of Act two that depicts the supernatural scene at Wolf’s Glen, which at the time ranked as some of the most intense musical depictions of the day, and even now can be found to be somewhat startling, such is the brilliance of the orchestration.

Tonight’s performance is a 1973 recording with Gundula Janowitz, Peter Schreier, Edith Mathis, and Theo Adam; Carlos Kleiber conducted the Staatskapelle Dresden.  It should be noted that, like with many recordings of German operatic works that use Singspiel for the dialog that advances the plot, the dialog speakers are different from the singers.  However, the dialog, like with most Singspiel works, is so clearly articulated that I can imagine them being good for those wanting to learn German.


The Galaxy – Zarathustra speaks!

English: Bassist Chi Cheng of Deftones perform...

Bassist Chi Cheng of Deftones performing at the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden. (Image via Wikipedia)

It has been a while since I’ve been able to play some Deftones.  This is mainly due to circumstance, as I’ve had some Deftones with me at the show for the last few weeks.  I’m pleased to hear that longtime Deftones bassist Chi Cheng, who was seriously injured in an auto accident a few years ago and has been in a “minimally conscious state” for 4 years, is showing improvement.  We can continue to maintain hope and continue to send our prayers to him, his family, and the Deftones crew.  In the meantime, we can enjoy their continually excellent music.  Tonight we heard You’ve Seen The Butcher (from their most recent album Diamond Eyes, with former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega sitting in for Chi), Korea (from their excellent White Pony), When Girls Meet Boys (from their self-titled album), and Royal (again from Diamond Eyes).

English: Photo of Richard Strauss, published i...

Photo of Richard Strauss, published in Modern Music and Musicians, University Society, New York, 1918 (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve been listening to some Richard Strauss at home over the past few days, and it has put me in the mood for that unique compositional style that Strauss utilized.  One of his great compositions was Also Sprach Zarathustra, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche‘s work of the same name.  It written in August 1896 and premiered in November of that same year.  The work plays an interesting part in the history of sound recording, as it was the subject of an early experiment in high fidelity recording in 1944 (conducted by Strauss himself), and was the subject of the first stereophonic recording in 1954, as conducted by Strauss’ friend Fritz Reiner.  The piece was later used as the opening theme for Stanley Kubrick’s great movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (using a 1959 recording by Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic). Tonight’s recording is a May 1968 recording of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, under the conduction of Zubin Mehta.  It is doubly appropriate to play this particular piece tonight, as we approach the 16th Anniversary of the Galaxy (the anniversary date is March 3rd), and this at one point was our theme song for the show.

Charles Mingus - Bi Centenial, Lower Manhattan...

Charles Mingus - Bi Centenial, Lower Manhattan July 4, 1976 (Image via Wikipedia)

There is a certain passion that can be sensed when one listens to the music of Charles Mingus.  Indeed, Mingus’ compositional style is easily identified to the experienced ear, a quite unique and individual voice like no other in the history of music.  This is because Mingus knew exactly what he wanted his music to sound like, and knew exactly how to achieve that sound from a group of individual musicians.  To that end, Mingus tended to work with a select group of musicians on his recording dates, many of whom had been with him for years and who were familiar with his compositional techniques (and with his wildly varying degrees of mood).  Mingus was one who had big ideas – in his words, he wanted to build “tall buildings” in music, and over time his writing became more and more daring.

Tonight’s recording is a fine example of just that – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, his excellent 1963 album in one sitting.  A six-part suite that uses many instrumental colors to conjure a sound tapestry as bold as any other instrumental offering put out during that decade.

We close the show with some more jazz, something similar to Mingus, but again with the same sort of individualist bent that Mingus himself valued – some Eric Dolphy (a musician that Mingus recorded and toured with frequently.  From the great 1964 album Out to Lunch, we heard Something Sweet, Something Tender and Gazzelloni.

Or, at least I THOUGHT that we would close out the show with some Eric Dolphy.  But we ended up having three minutes left over – the perfect amount of time to stick in some Helmet.  So we heard In The Meantime, from their 1992 album Meantime.

Pete’s Place Playlist – 2/20/12

Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls “Sora Wima” from Breeding Resistance (Delmark, 2004). Chicago musicians on the Jazz Record Mart’s home label. Guitarist Jeff Parker, especially, plays all around Chicago.

Randy Weston, “African Village/Bedford-Stuyvesant” from “The Spirits of Our Ancestors” (1992). The master work from the stately (6′ 6″) piano player, who spent major portions of his life in Africa absorbing music.

Abdullah Ibrahim, “Bra Timing from Phomolong” from Ekaya (Blackhawk, 1984). The original LP by Ibrahim’s Eyaya (home) band. Never put on CD. Hard to find. Worth looking for. Maybe Pete’s all-time favorite jazz record.

Crusaders “Put It Where You Want It” (1974). 70s groove jazz at its best.

Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, “Hot House” (1945). Original be-bop.

Trombone Shorty, “Hurricane Season” from Backatown (2010, Verve), Shorty’s major label debut. Young funk-jazz player at the top of the local New Orleans scene.

Ken Vandermark/Hamid Drake, “Street Named Hell” from Spaceways, Inc. (Atavista, 2000). CD of Sun Ra and George Clinton songs. Avant, but you can dance to it.

Randy Weston, “Blue Moses” from Spirits of Our Ancestors (1992). Extended composition … and exotic blowing.

Ali Farka (guitar, vocals) and Tourmani Diabete (kora). A reminder of fantastic Carbondale visit by African percussionist and kora (21-string gord instrument) last August.

Herbie Hancock, “Watermelon Man” from Headhunters (1973). Fusion/African update of Herbie’s 1964 soul-jazz hit (a much bigger hit when covered by Mongo Santamaria).

Abdullah Ibrahim, “Sotho Blue” from Ekaya. As fellow South African Dave Mathews says, music from “some place very old.”

Billy Cobham, “Stratus” from classic 1973 fusion LP Spectrum. Tommy Bolin, latter of T-Rex, on guitar.

WDBX Opera Overnight – Handel

So called „Chandos Portrait“ of George Frederi...

So called „Chandos Portrait“ of George Frederic Handel, formerly attributed to James Thornhill. (Image via Wikipedia)

A few days after last week’s show, wherein we heard a wonderful rendition of Georg Friederich Handel‘s Hercules, I discovered that Handel’s birthday is coming up on February 23rd (he would be 327 years old).  As I do like to use birthdays and other such anniversary occasions as a musical programming device (something that I’ve done on The Galaxy for years), I am breaking a personal rule of thumb and playing some more Handel this week.  Of course, its not like the recipient of such special favors is undeserving, as the two works that we have for tonight are more than deserving of special attention.  Not only are they excellent performances of Handel’s great art, but they are also relatively recent recordings that feature a bevy of quality modern talent, something that I’ve always enjoyed doing.

We started the show with a wonderful recording of Handel’s 1718 opera Acis and Galatea.  Composed while Handel was the house composer at Cannons in Middlesex to a libretto by John Gay, and using a story that he had used in a 1708 serenata, the work was revised and adapted by Handel on several occasions over the years.  For a number of years it was his most popular dramatic work, and his only work for the stage that never left the general repertory (Mozart made an arrangement of the piece in 1788).  While most performances use a modified arrangement, including some Handel arias that were not written for the piece, tonight’s recording uses “the Original Cannons Performing Version of 1718”.

The recording, a lovely package that offers an SACD layer as well as standard stereo, was a finalist in the Baroque Vocal category in the 2009 Gramophone Awards, and also won an Opus d’Or.  It makes striking use of smaller vocal and instrumental ensembles, with the soloists also forming the choir (quite unusual these days), and features Susan Hamilton, Nicholas Mulroy, Thomas Hobbs, Nicholas Hurndall Smith and Matthew Brook; the Dunedin Consort and Players was directed by John Butt.  It should be noted that this is one of a series of striking performances of Baroque-era pieces by this ensemble.  They have also made notable recordings of Messiah, and Bach’s Matthaus-Passion and B-minor Mass.

Česky: Titulní strana opery Ezio. English: Tit...

A title page from a printed copy of the Ezio libretto (Image via Wikipedia)

For our second opera, we heard his 1732 composition Ezio.  Set to a libretto by Metastasio that had been used multiple times in the 10 years prior (and which would be used multiple times for the next 50 years, including two separate operas by Christoph Gluck; a title page from one of those later works can be seen at left), Ezio is notable for the complete absence of vocal ensembles, making it an excellent sample of opera seria.

Unlike tonight’s earlier opera, this opera was notably unsuccessful, and in fact may have been Handel’s worst earning opera, seeing only five performances before being shelved (it would not be resurrected until 1977).  However, like tonight’s earlier opera, it comes to us through a lovely recent recording, part of a series of Handel recordings by Alan Curtis with Il Complesso Barocco.  Also like the previous recording, it makes striking use of a smaller instrumental ensemble.  The soloists were Ann Hallenberg, Karina Gauvin, Sonia Prina, Marianne Andersen, Anicio Giustiniani, and Vito Priante.

The Galaxy – All the music you can Handel, and more!

Portrait of George Frideric Handel from the Ro...

Georg Frideric Handel, from The Royal Collection (Image via Wikipedia)

When understanding the depth of the works of Georg Frideric Handel, I think it is good to start with some of his keyboard works.  Handel had written most, if not all, of his material for keyboard prior to 1717, but did not publish his first volume of keyboard compositions until 1720.  This was prompted in part because, as he put it in the preface to the volume, “Surrepticious (sp) and incorrect copies of them had got abroad.”  Eventually, he would publish and republish a number of harpsichord works, both as individual pieces and as larger suites.  Tonight we heard first an individual piece, the Passacaile in G minor, HWV 432, then we heard the Suite in F minor, HWV 433, both performed by harpsichordist Bob van Asperen.


A band named after an animal this big should be heavy, right? (Image via Wikipedia)

For several weeks now, I’ve been trying to insert some Mastodon into the playlist, primarily material from their most recent album, The Hunter.  I finally managed to do so tonight, mixing a few new tracks in with some material from older albums Blood Mountain and Leviathan.  We heard Black Tongue (from The Hunter), Hand of Stone (Blood Mountain), Blood and Thunder (Leviathan), Dry Bone Valley (The Hunter), Capillarian Crest (Blood Mountain), and ended the set with Hearts Alive, from Leviathan.

I love it when I have the opportunity to premiere new material, and I have the opportunity tonight to play material that is both old and new at the same time.  Allesandro Striggio (b. 1536/37, d. 1592) was a member of the court of Duke Cosimo I di Medici, and was a friend of Vincenzo Galilei, the father of the infamous Galileo Galilei.  Striggio’s son, of the same name, would eventually write the libretto for Monteverdi’s Orfeo.  He wrote both madrigals and dramatic music, and by combining the two is credited with creating the musical form known as madrigal comedy, an important precursor to opera.  The first mention of tonight’s work, the Missa Ecco si beato giorno, comes in early 1567, when Striggio made a rather difficult journey from Florence to visit Vienna, Munich, and Paris as part of a diplomatic mission for Cosimo I de’ Medici, impressing those in attendance (including the great composer Orlando di Lassus, who was at this time working in Munich).  He eventually made his way to London, where the mass is believed to be one of several works performed.  Enough of an impression was made that noted English composer Thomas Tallis composed his own 40 voice masterwork Spem in Alium in response.  Striggio’s mass was believed lost until musicologist Davitt Moroney unearthed it in Paris in 2005.

For further reading:

At San Quentin

Johnny Cash at San Quentin album cover (Image via Wikipedia)

We finished the show with a Johnny Cash set, taken from his Live at San Quentin album.  The San Quentin album was one of his first recordings without his longtime guitarist Luther Perkins, who had passed away 7 months earlier.  The differences between the San Quentin album and the previous Folsom Prison album are striking, as Cash replaced Perkins with not one but two guitarists (including Carl Perkins), and also added a drummer.  We heard Big River, I Still Miss Someone, Wreck of the Old 97, I Walk The Line, Darlin’ Companion (with June Carter Cash), I Don’t Know Where I’m Bound, Starkville City Jail, and San Quentin.