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Archive for the ‘Sam’s CD Reviews’ Category

by Sam Juliano

When a freak accident claimed the life of Polish composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda at the age of 38 in 1969, the film community lost an invaluable talent at the peak of his artistic powers and a young man was cut short well before his time.  Indeed, director Roman Polanski, in the liner notes to a 1997 Komeda tribute album wrote: “Krzysztof Komeda was not only a valued professional collaborator but a close and dear friend, and it is my abiding regret that his untimely death robbed me of him in both those capacities.”  Komeda developed a personal style that brought the jazz form a new prominence in a communist country that frowned on what was seen as an American creation.  Komeda expanded the jazz parameters by injected a generous dose of ‘slavic lyricism’ and poetic atmosphere that eventually gained the young composer a following in his native country and abroad.  One of Komeda’s most enthusiastic fans was none other than Polanski himself, who courted the fellow Pole to score his first film, Knife in the Water, after engaging the composer on his student film, after many months of attending him on the nightclub circuit.  By that time the composer had received a few other offers (which he accepted) and he came through for Polanski with a low-key jazz score to serve as a counterpoint to the mounting tensions in Knife, employing saxophone and a string-bass driven sound.  The mournful romanticism of the main theme is what most remember most compellingly from the score, but the music throughout is exceptionally applied.  Polanski again called on Komeda for his 1963 Cul-de-Sac, allowing the composer to again write a nifty  jazzy composition, with a dominant use of the moog, bongo and warbling horns.  At around that time Komeda was also composing for the Danish director Henning Carlsen, contributing scores to Kattorna, People Meet and Sweet Music Fills the Heart and the director’s masterpiece, Salt (Hunger), for which a provocative chamber music design was written.  Komeda’s most famous album to this day remains his landmark jazz work “Astigmatic” (1965) which is noted for it’s extraordinarily sublime coordination of piano harmonies and rhythms.  Komeda also worked with Polish titan Andrzej Wajda, penning the score to Innocent Sorcerers, which exhibited the experimentation of form and dark tonalities typical of some of his earlier film music. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

This post is a contribution to the third annual For the Love of Film blogathon and fundraiser, which will be running from May 13-18. This year, hosts Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath have dedicated the week to Alfred Hitchcock, whose early (non-directorial) work “The White Shadow” will be the beneficiary of any money earned during the event.  The film preservation theme of course is at the center of this cinematic lament.  We can certainly hope for  a miracle. Be sure to donate!]

Printed prominently on the CD artwork and in the elaborate booklets included in the “Brigham University Film Music Archive Collection” launched in 1995 and still running series of film music releases is this specification: All proceeds from this limited edition compact disc go towards the acquisition and preservation of film music elements.  The series now includes a relatively-scant 14 releases, each a miracle of production, in almost all instances produced from master tapes and manuscripts that were donated to the university, and are presently managed by the curator, James D’Arc, who has sereved as producer for each of the releases.  The published “mission statement” of the project reads:

The Film Music Archives (BYU/FMA) exists to acquire, preserve, catalog, and make 
available to scholars and other interested parties original motion picture music manuscripts and recordings that document the history of music composed and recorded for motion pictures. (more…)

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Philidor: Sancho Panca (CD) ~ Perry Cover Art

by Sam Juliano

The appearance of eighteenth-century opera on CD is a blessing for both fans of opera comique and those looking to broaden the horizons of  a form that takes risks far too infrequently.   The French composer Francois-Andre Danican Philador is thought to be the first to achieve real distinction in a style that eventually merged with Italian opera in the early nineteenth century, in the form of comedy buffa.  Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Don Giovanni are seminal works in the later category.  Philador’s major contribution to the emergence of the opera comique as a respectable musical genre, is the application of realistic characters and situations.  It can be concluded that he handled his limited orchestral resources cleverly, and the vocal lines are rich, melodious and descriptive.

History does relate that there were charges of plaguerism against Philador, published years after his death from the likes of Berlioz and other music critics that he had plundered the work of Gluck, Galuppi, Pergolesi and Jommelli.  The fact that Philador had actually seen Gluck’s Orfeo opened him up for accusations for music that he wrote for Ernelinde and Le Sorcier, two operas that bear more than remarkable similarities.  But both the dubious degree of intent and the non-consumation of such charges should stop the skeptics in their tracks, and allow Philador’s standing to hold sway for this style and time period.  The composer’s most famous (and best) opera is Tom Jones, composed in 1765, and presented in three acts.  Sancho Panza, which was recently recorded and released by Opera Lafayette with Ryan Brown conducting, is considered a more obscure Philador work, but it has gained in reputation over the past decades.  Antoine-Alexandre Poinsinet (1735-1769) created the libretto of Sancho Panca from a particularly mean-spirited passage in Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  The knight of the mournful countenance has promised his simple-minded squire, Sancho Panza, the governership of an island for his faithful service – a dream that the duke and dutchess features in Part 2 fullfill as part of an elaborate series of tricks played on Don Quixote and Sancho.  When faced with the real demands of governing the imaginary land -the island of Barataria – Sancho quickly renounces all interest in being a governor. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

    Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny developed both the subject matter and the musical style of the opera comique in the middle years of the eighteenth century.  The composer is known to have been greatly influenced by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, an ‘opera seria’ that exerted enormous influence on the direction of music during this period of rapid expansion, in which the genre was transformed from a marked reliance on popular melodies to a time of exceeding musical creativity.  The Italians introduced the French to the idea that libretti be designed to serve and enhance the music, reforming the role of the composer, who had a subservient role in the earlier comedie en vaudevilles.  Monsigny’s earlier works, composed circa 1759 to 1761, were basically comic intrigues revolving around disguises, deceptions, misunderstandings and reconciliations.

     In 1762, Monsigny departed significantly from this overtly comedic style to a one that incorporated elements of humanism and moral enlightenment.  Indeed, the virtues of the common folk, and more importantly personal freedom and equality were themes then embraced by the philosophers of this period.  The musical content of Monsigny’s works – unsurprisingly – became more complex as a result, and a number of vocal ensembles were added.  It can’t be denied that the composer’s style is repetitive, but his skills as a melodist, the comic spirit evident in his earlier work and the immediacy of dramatic expression his his later works made his a formidable figure in French opera from any period. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano
    
     Philip Glass is widely regarded as the most influential composer of the late part of the 20th century, yet his reputation was anything but secure during his maiden period, where many continued to liken his style to overt minimalism.  Glass himself has since distanced himself from such a constrictive, even unflattering appraisal, choosing instead to define many of his main lines as following patterns of ‘repetitive structure.’  While some listeners have tuned out to the composers pulsating redundancy, others have found the music oddly infectious, building in Ravelian intensity, to soul-stirring climaxes.  Rock bands, film composers and his stylistist compatriot John Adams have all testified to Glass’ considerable influence on their own work. 
     
     Glass has written for a wide variety of forms, including instrumental and opera, and has penned some celebrated film scores, three of which received academy award nominations.  But it was his modernist operas that have, perhaps, left their most lasting mark on the musical landscape.     With Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten, Glass completed in the early 80’s what he described as his “portrait” operas, which are works that portray men whose personal vision transformed the thinking of their times through the power of ideas rather than by “military force.”  The music in these opera blends mathematical clarity with a kind of mysterious beauty, that some have seen as mystical.  The music showcases a circular process that evolves into a repeating cycle that continuously delays resolution.  The process employs both additive and subtractive formulas.  The result, like most of Glass’ music before and since is slow to engage, but it builds to almost spiritual intensity. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Composed during the peak period of Mozart’s career, in the last months of his life, the four horn concertos remain today as a major section of the horn player’s repetoire.  Written for the composer’s friend, Joseph Leutgeb, the compositions have always been though as particularly difficult to perform, even on the period instruments of the day.  It is a testament to Leutgeb’s considerable skills, that they were successfully negotiated.  Comparatively speaking, the ‘French horn’ was a newer instrument for Mozart to write for, as it generally began appearing in the early 1700’s with chromatic enhancement in baroque orchestras, after it made its debut as a hunting device in France.

    Leutgeb was a noted virtuoso, who was known to serve as the principal horn in Salzburg during Mozart’s earlier years.  By 1770 he was largely involved in solo work, and was having a successful run in Paris, where the Mercure de France praised his ability “to sing an adaggio as perfectly as the most mellow, interesting, and accurate voice.”  He is reported in February 1773 to have joined Wolfgang and Leopold Mozart on part of their Italian tour, and in 1777 he moved to Vienna, where he kept his musical activities on track, while simultaneously managing a cheese store.  Mozart’s manuscripts reveal both a mischievious humor and deep respect for his childhood companion, whom he described as ‘unswervingly loyal.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     He’s often been referred to as the “energizer bunny” of early music and the sunniest of conductors.  The London Independent refers to him as “one of the finest Baroque conductors of his generation” while The New Yorker considers him “an expert in 18th century style.”  He is known throughout the world for performances that weds authority with passion, erudition with effervescence and curatorial dependability with evangelical exuberance.  Yet, Nicholas McGegan’s most accessible attribute with contemporary audiences is his realization that the music of “yesteryear” shouldn’t be presented in dogmatic terms, but rather in a style that won’t alienate music lovers.  To accomplish that, McGegan has invariably favored more conventional symphonic forces than than the ones committed to a more restricted employment of period instruments, while still managing to retain the more austere and spiritual aspects of the music written during that time. (more…)

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