REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Anton Eberl; Broadway: Company

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Eberl Symphony in E-flat Major from 1803

Concerto Koln, YouTube

Anton Eberl

Anton Eberl (1765-1807) was an Austrian composer with 200 works, many of them now lost. He was acclaimed as a pianist and teacher, knew Mozart, was a very close friend of Beethoven and much loved by others during his lifetime.

The composer and his wife traveled to Rus­sia, living in St. Petersburg for several years. But his home was Vienna for most of his life.

Eberl died of scarlet fever in 1807 at the age of 41. Afterwards, for over 167 years, he went into obscurity for mysterious reasons until the slow-moving revival of interest, in 1971, in his legacy. Performances and recordings have peaked during the last decade.

Until hearing the highly recommended above YouTube recently, I did not know of him and his music; the Symphony’s individuality, charm and beauty are undeniable. Concerto Koln’s rendition without a conductor is a very good one.

Company

Original Broadway cast recording, recorded May 3, 1970, Sony/Columbia, cd remastering of original LP released in 1998.

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Company, is, for me, one of the finest classical masterpieces in existence, along with Mahler’s 5th Symphony, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, the Brahms D minor PC, Sinatra’s Watertown, Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, the Sibelius’ 7 Symphonies, Beethoven’s own 9 and his 5 PCs, Gershwin’s Concerto in F and the Puccini Tosca and Madame Butterfly with several etceteras. This original Broadway cast recording, supervised by the composer and the phenomenally gifted producer – then employed by Columbia records – Thomas Z. Shepard, is one worth having on the shelf and worth hearing countless numbers of times by a discerning connoisseur of truly beautiful recordings of great music.

Its classics include the eloquent duet, Barcelona, sung by Dean Jones as Bobby, a bachelor living a life of quiet desperation; and Susan Browning as April, a lonely stewardess whose potential for true love keeps being unrequited. Susan Browning died in 2006 at 65 while Dean Jones passed away in 2015 at 65 – both lived good lives and are very much missed .

Others are Being Alive, The Ladies Who Lunch, Little Things You Do Together, Another Hundred People, Getting Married Today, Someone is Waiting, and the opening Overture, one riveting piece of music on its terms, played, cast- sung, and conducted by the exceptionally gifted Harold Hastings, who died of a heart attack in 1973, at the young age of 57.

After a Boston tryout, Company opened at the Alvin Theatre April 26, 1970, generating 690 performances. Mark Kirkeby’s liner notes for the 1998 CD reissue are fascinating, along with Wiki pieces on the musical and Stephen Sondheim.

A quote from the composer- “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Farther Down the Road series contains over 60 volumes

The album, Farther Down the Road

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Farther Down the Road, Volume 2

CBS Special Products, cassette, recorded 1972-1985.

The above was one of a cassette/CD series under the same title of more than 60 volumes, sponsored by Rotella, a line of lubricating products for the heavy duty engines inside extremely large trucks. As with the entire series, this week’s second volume was an anthology of country/western recordings, distributed only through gas stations and truck stops and given to any customer purchasing a minimum of three gallons of the Rotella lubricating oil. Its selections were:

Johnny Cash – One Piece at a Time
Janie Fricke – He’s a Headache
The Gatlin Brothers – Houston
Barbara Mandrell – Midnight Oil
Charlie Daniels Band – Devil Went Down to Georgia
Willie Nelson – Midnight Rider
Tammy Wynette – Another Chance
Ronnie McDowell – Watchin’ Girls Go By
Charly McClain – Men
Merle Haggard – Are the Good Times Really Over ?

My favorites are those by Cash, Nelson and Wynette, the anthology itself being a good one.

A quote from Graham Greene’s essay on Saki, but referring to the novelist who wrote Tale of Two Cities and other such books – “Dickens developed a style so easy and natural that it seems capable of including the whole human race in its understanding.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Bach selections

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Bach selections

from The Joy of Great Music, Album 15, FW-515, LP, 1980 series of records usually peddled in supermarket chains.

Johan Bach

The above album contains the following examples of Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685-1750:

Side 1, Saint Matthew Passion excerpts. Soprano Laurence Dutoit, alto Maria Nussbaumer, bass Otto Weiner, with Ferdinand Grossmann conducting the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and Choir.

Side 2, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Major. Organist Walter Kraft.

Both originally Vox releases from the 1950s.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is roughly three hours long but contains incomparable stretches of beauty in its arias, choruses and instrumental writing. The singers, especially bass Otto Wiener (1911-2000), are in peak form while Grossmann’s Viennese groups do good work. The performance is a large-scaled one, as opposed to smaller ones in recent years, yet a distinctive entry on its own terms and deeply moving.

Walter Kraft

Kraft’s performances of the Toccata, and the E-Flat Prelude and Fugue are solid.

Another LP from the Vox label’s exemplary catalog; the Bartok Bluebeard’s Castle, with Herbert Hafner conducting the Vienna Symphony Symphony, soprano Ilona Steingruber, and bass Otto Weiner again. Vox, OPX 100, 1962 release.

Based on a blood-curdling legend from the Middle Ages, the 1918 opera Bluebeard’s Castle is one roaringly exciting listening experience. This performance is a haunting atmospheric one, despite some critics taking issue with the singing in German instead of the original Hungarian. The 1910-20 World War 1 decade experienced a superb roll call of first performances – Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Janacek’s opera Jenufa, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, Rite of Spring and Soldier’s Tale and Puccini’s Trittico.

A Goethe quote pertinent to artistic creativity, “To be of all ages, be then of your own.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – The Odd Couple

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Odd Couple

starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau etc. Released 1968, transferred to DVD.

The zany Pigeon Sisters, Gwendolyn and Cecily.

I have known about The Odd Couple since its release 50 years ago; that it’s very funny because Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were exceptionally gifted actors in comedy roles, two personal favorites being Lemmon’s Good Neighbor Sam and Matthau’s Cactus Flower and both, unfortunately, rarely seen nowadays, if at all; and because many movie watchers have found it very funny.

But I did not realize how very funny until I watched the complete film for the very first time this past week. Jack Lemmon’s performance as Felix, the neat sociopathic control freak and Walter Matthau’s as Oscar, the scorched earth slob were the peak ones of their lifetimes. Their supporting cast as the four card-playing cronies and the two Pigeon Sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn, contributed memorably to its constant second-by-second humor. And Neil Simon’s original was the cornerstone of all this.

Three scenes stick out – the card game antics before and after Felix shows up at Oscar’s apartment, Felix’s and Oscar’s dinner party hosting of Gwendolyn and Cecily and the ballistic confrontation between the two men when their accumulated grievances escalate to the point of no return.

Two quotes: Oscar: “Murray, lend me $20 or I’ll call your wife and tell her you’re in Central Park, wearing a dress.”

Felix: “Everybody thinks I’m a hypochondriac. It makes me sick.”

The Odd Couple: Jack Lemmon as Felix Unger, left, and Walter Mathau as Oscar Madison.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Christmas Albums

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Joy of Christmas

Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic and Mormon Tabernacle; Columbia MS 6499, stereo LP, recorded 1963.

A Golden Treasury of Christmas Music

Sir Alexander Gibson, chorus and orchestra; Columbia Record Club P2S 5170, two LPs, recorded 1967.

Leonard Bernstein

This week’s Xmas LPs, both released in the 1960s, are very good examples of seasonal music performed with taste, intelligence and vibrant beauty. Joy of Christmas features the late Bernstein, at that time music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducting the orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their one time collaboration.

The 16 songs include the familiar staples and a few not so well known. High points are the Animal Carol, a lovely one that is not often heard nowadays as during my childhood many decades ago; the strictly orchestral showpiece Carol of the Bells; and an a capella Away in a Manger combining two different musical settings.

Sir Alexander Gibson

Golden Treasury is a two-record set offered in its U.S. release only to members of the now-defunct Columbia Record Club out of Terre Haute, Indiana, most likely as long as they were “members in good standing.” This collection of 36 songs has the late Sir Alexander Gibson, whom I have written about in an earlier issue of The Town Line, conducting an unnamed chorus and orchestra in both carols and popular songs, utilizing traditional and unpredictable arrangements.

Examples include:

  • White Christmas, in a choir/orchestral popsy arrangement with trombones added and similar to one that might combine Nelson Riddle and Norman Luboff.
  • The Holy City, gently subdued with woodwinds, trumpet, snare drum, and double bass.
  • O Holy Night, saxophone, harpsichord and orchestra.
  • Hallelujah Chorus, orchestra only.
  • Joy to the World, a much more traditional chorus and orchestra but riveting rather than routine.
    And so forth.

The two albums have 10 selections in common. Even though their availability is spotty, they can be bought on internet sites for prices ranging from cheap to grossly overpriced.

Satirical verses from a Tom Lehrer Yuletide song – “On Christmas Day you can’t get sore/Your fellow man you must adore/There’s time to rob him all the more/The other three hundred and sixty four!”

Merry Christmas!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Berlioz; Xmas quote from Borge; Band: Abba

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ

Andre Cluytens conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra with chorus and soloists. EMI, Recorded 1964, 2 CDs.

Hector Berlioz

André Cluytens

Composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) left a Christmas oratorio, the above-listed Birth of Christ and quite exceptional in its own sublime beauty. The work focuses on three episodes of the Christmas story- Herod’s dream and massacre of the innocents; the flight of Joseph, Mary and their infant into Egypt; and the hospitality provided by an Ishmaelite family in the Egyptian town of Sais.

Its vocal solos and choruses abound in melodic richness. The baritone aria, depicting the evil Herod’s dream and sung by Ernest Blanc, is an eloquent one with Berlioz’s matchless orchestral scoring. The harp and flute duet and a capella chorus; Roger Soyer’s Joseph; Victoria de los Angeles’s Mary; and Nicolai Gedda’s Narrator add up to a work that, for me, has sustained numerous rehearings throughout the years.

Andre Cluytens’s 1964 set has been nicely remastered and reissued a number of times. It is available through Amazon and its vendors at inexpensive prices .

Xmas quote from Victor Borge

Victor Borge

“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year. “

Abba: Arrival

Polydor 2344058, LP, recorded 1976.

The quality of Abba’s songs is wide ranging, from good to sublime, as it was 40 years ago when I first heard them. Arrival is one of eight albums released before they disbanded in 1982. The marriages of the two couples comprising the group, Benny and Anni and Bjorn and Agnetha, ended becau

se of the pressures from their phenomenal worldwide popularity.

This album’s 10 songs included Dancing Queen, Money Money Money, Why Did It Have to be Me, and the title song, while the arrangements, range of musical instruments and sheer sound contributed to a major ‘70s pop classic.

ABBA

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Christmas at the Brooklyn Tabernacle

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Christmas at the Brooklyn Tabernacle

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and Singers, with the London Studio Orchestra; Warner Alliance 9460042, CD, recorded 1995.

Brooklyn, New York’s Tabernacle church has this very good choir as part of its weekly services and worldwide ministry. This cd is one that should please those who enjoy the group’s singing.

The following list of five CDs feature the alto saxophone of the jazz musician Lee Konitz, with comments at the end. 1. Subconscious – Lee, Prestige 0JCCD1862./ 2. Konitz Meets Mulligan, Pacific Jazz. CDP7468472./ 3. Jazz at Storyville, Black Lion BLCD760901./ 4. The Real Lee Konitz, Collectables COLCD6370./ 5. Another Shade of Blue, Blue Note 7234982222.

Still living and, as far as I know, active musically, Lee Konitz had a strong influence on the alto saxophonists Paul Desmond and Art Pepper, although Konitz was younger than both of them. He and Charlie Parker were good friends but he was his own man, whereas other altoists fell under Parker’s Sway. I really like his combination of intelligence, vibrant musicianship and beauty.

The five titles, in addition to more than 200 other ones, attest to his productivity for over 70 years. For reasons of space here, those curious check further on my five very recommended choices.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Christmas Eve with Burl Ives & G.K Chesterton

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Christmas Eve with Burl Ives

Decca, DL 8391, mono LP, released 1957.

Burl Ives

One very endearing album of the many Burl Ives (1909-1995) left in his discography was this astutely balanced program of 11 Xmas titles, familiar and not so familiar. The six familiars – Silent Night, There Were Three Ships, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, What Child is This?, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and – what else!- The Twelve Days of Christmas – are the Yuletide cornerstones.

The other five rarely heard songs – Friendly Beasts, Jesous Ahatonia, Seven Joys of Mary, Down in Yon Forest and King Herod – have special qualities of their own, regardless of any rarely heard status.

In addition to himself on this mid-’50s session, Ives brought along colleagues that included guitarist Tony Mottola, singer/arranger Jimmy Carroll, and the other well-known, but never as famous Ray Charles with His Singers. And, the main reason for its desirability, the arrangements are vibrantly alive, not the cliched, boring once over lightlys that still often infest the seasonal music experiences.

An unattributed quote on the back of the cover summed up the man who was Burl Ives: “He’s a big guy and has a punch like a mule kicking. His smile fills a room and his laugh shakes the chandeliers. But he’s quiet, too, and he can listen. He listened to his mother and his father, who were both singers. He listened to people singing all over the country. And his song-bag is full. He can sing all night and never sing the same song twice. And every song is better than the last one.”

G.K Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

One of the best qualities of G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was his gift at writing a few sentences and leaving readers, such as myself, wanting more. A quote from his 1922 essay, What I Saw in America: “Americans make fun of their own institutions; and their own journalism is full of such fanciful conjectures. The tall building is itself artistically akin to the tall story. The very word sky-scraper is an admirable example of an American lie.”

P.S.: Two unintended, but, for me, very intriguing coincidences between Chesterton and the above Burl Ives that I discovered while writing this column today, November 21, 2018.

Chesterton and Ives shared a very similar height and girth.

Ives was born on June 14, 1909; Chesterton died on June 14, 1936. Of course, neither here nor there!

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Tchaikovsky; Band: Depeche Mode

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Tchaikovsky

5th Symphony
Anton Nanut conducting the Ljublana Symphony Orchestra- Point Classics, 265023, CD, released 1994.

The catalog of recordings of this Symphony is teeming with very fine ones. This entry can be added to the honor roll. I have written previously in this column and elsewhere about the merits of Anton Nanut, who passed away after a long illness at the age of 84 on January 13, 2017.

Nanut’s approach is one of architectural balance; intelligence in pacing, phrasing and shaping; understated beauty; and brooding drama. I have listened to this three or four times in the last two weeks and found it wears very well with repeated hearings.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky

When I was 12 during the spring of 1964, a woman residing then down the street from my house gave me four very good 78 rpm sets of classical music. One was the justly famous 1944 RCA Victor album of Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony of the 5th. She also called it the most beautiful Symphony she had ever heard in her life.

For those who might be curious about the other three sets, as I would be under similar circumstances, I will not stint their very appropriate interest:

The Victor early ‘40s Stokowski/NBC Symphony Stravinsky Firebird Suite and nicely orchestrated Tchaikovsky Humoreske as filler on side 6.

Another Victor, Bach’s Brandenburgs 2 and 5 from the mid to late ‘40s with Koussevitsky conducting BSO members.

The Columbia 1940s two records of Lily Pons singing four arias from Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment.

Depeche Mode

Speak and Spell
Mute records, C stumm-5, cassette, released October, 1981.

Depeche Mode is an English electronic band, with a variety of influences in their own music; they have been performing and recording for almost 40 years. Using synthesizers with expressive results, their music is quite listenable and captivating.

Their 1981 cassette, Speak and Spell,was, and still is a beautiful example of their work, with two hit singles, New Life and Just Can’t Get Enough.

Depeche Mode

Critical reactions to the album were mixed. Melody labeled it “a great album…one they had to make to conquer fresh audiences and to please the fans who just can’t get enough.” But Rolling Stone magazine considered it “PG-rated fluff.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Novelist: Jim Thompson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Jim Thompson

Pop. 1280, 1964 crime novel, roughly 217 pages.

Jim Thompson

Vastly underrated during his lifetime, Jim Thompson (1906-1977) wrote over 30 novels mainly set in the “golden triangle” of Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Most of his characters were clueless misfits, self-serving blowhards and nihilistic villains.

Pop. 1280 features a sheriff of one small town in the 1950’s Deep South, being used as the first person narrator of the entire novel. He conveys his questionable integrity best himself via the story’s opening paragraph. “Well, sir, I should have been sitting pretty, just about as pretty as a man could sit. Here I was, the high sheriff of Potts County, and I was drawing almost two thousand dollars a year – not to mention what I could pick up on the side. On top of that, I had free living quarters on the second floor of the courthouse, just as nice a place as a man could ask for; and it even had a bathroom so that I didn’t have to bathe in a washtub or tramp outside to a privy, like most folks in town did. I guess you could say that Kingdom Come was really here as far as I was concerned. I had it made, and it looked like I could go on having it made – being high sheriff of Potts County – as long as I minded my own business and didn’t arrest no one unless I just couldn’t get out of it and they didn’t amount to nothin’.”

This excerpt is one example of how Thompson’s characters were extremely funny yet quite creepy.

An admirer, Stephen King wrote the following accolade:

“The guy was over the top. The guy was absolutely over the top. Big Jim didn’t know the meaning of the word stop. There are three brave lets inherent in the foregoing – he let himself see everything, he let himself write it down, then he let himself publish it.”