REVIEW POTPOURRI: Dylan and Vee; Conductor: Lorin Maazel

by Peter Cates

Dylan and Vee

Bob Dylan

At a 2013 concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bob Dylan paid tribute to Bobby Vee (1943-2016), who was in the audience. Dylan played piano as part of Vee’s backup band for two gigs in 1959 and the two singers had remained friends and performed together on occasion over subsequent decades.

Dylan, who had performed with so many legends in concerts, described Vee as “the most beautiful person I’ve ever been on the stage with.”

One could point out a world of difference between Bobby Vee’s Rubber Ball and Bob Dylan’s Mister Tambourine Man; it would also be a waste of time and space. Instead one admires the tribute from one American music statesman to another.

The interest in Bobby Vee came after recently listening to a Liberty seven-inch 45 record of two of Vee’s megahits back in the very early ‘60s when he and two other Bobbys, Rydell and Vinton, were bombarding the Billboards and airwaves.

The songs, Run to Him; and Walkin’ with My Angel, were written by Gerry Goffin and his ex-wife Carole King, they being famous for But Will You Love Me Tomorrow. And both songs were given superb production work by the Liberty records founder Snuff Garrett (He signed to the label singer Julie London and Alvin and the Chipmunks) with some of the finest session players in the business and the Johnny Mann Singers doing backup.

Bobby Vee

Even more impressive was Vee’s singing with a beautifully projected vocal register, clear articulation, characterful phrasing and vibrant warmth. Not only did I listen to my very good copy of the 45 but also to the remastered sound, derived from the original source material during later decades, to be heard on YouTube which had outstanding sound lacking in the old 45s.

I also listened to Youtubes of Vee’s very captivating hits, Rubber Ball, and the classic The Night Has a Thousand Eyes and several others that weren’t quite as good as material but were still given top notch arrangements.

At the 2013 concert, Bob Dylan sang an early hit of Bobby Vee, Suzie Baby, and it can be heard on YouTube, along with Vee’s original recording. I actually liked Vee’s better. Dylan’s own singing at the age of 72 just wasn’t what it used to be but it was an important historical moment.

The two singers did critique each other’s musicianship in a pithy manner:

Dylan – Vee “had a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell.”

Vee- Dylan “played pretty good in the key of C.”

Bobby Vee died in 2016 at the age of 73 from Alzheimer’s which he had been suffering from for several years. His wife died the previous year from a kidney ailment.

Lorin Maazel

Conductor Lorin Maazel (1930-2015), for good or bad, has been one of the most fascinating individuals who ever directed a symphony orchestra. He succeeded George Szell (1897-1970) as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1971, staying ten years before becoming director of the Vienna State Opera and, as far as I am concerned, successfully followed perfectionist Szell’s very hard act.

In 1976, Maazel and the Clevelanders recorded a set of the Brahms 4 Symphonies, Haydn Variations and Tragic and Academic Festival Overtures. It was reviewed in high fidelity along with another set of the Symphonies and 2 Overtures but lacking the Haydn Variations that was released the same year and featured Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) leading the London Philharmonic.

Both sets were trashed by the record critic whose ears, as far as I was concerned, were screwed on wrong. I own shelves of different Brahms Symphonies and I have found that both Maazel and Jochum conducted very exciting performances that brought out the balance of rip-roaring romantic emotions in Johannes Brahms’s own psyche and the sternly crafted architecture that this composer imposed, based on his admiration of the 18th century examples of Bach, Handel and Haydn.

The sets remain among my favorites. Both Jochum and Maazel conveyed a love of this composer’s inspired music but brought a differently personalized individuality to the performances, unlike some conductors of recent years who copy cat each other with dull performances and wouldn’t let themselves go emotionally if their lives depended on it.

There are, however, some annoying quirks in Maazel’s conducting of these pieces – a ridiculously fast tempo in the last movement of the 1st Symphony, some limp phrasing in the first movement of the 2nd movement that drags it out and, at odd moments, a ho-hum manner with phrasing and detail.

But these annoying moments are few. All in all, a set worth seeking out for the curious listener.

During Maazel’s Cleveland years, he recorded prize-winning sets of Prokofiev’s complete Romeo and Juliet ballet and Gershwin’s complete Porgy and Bess, along with a really good Beethoven 9 Symphonies that was pretty well ignored by the critics.


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