The Left Banke, “(Just) Walk Away Renée”

I remember when The Left Banke’s one-hit-of-wonder-ness “Walk Away Renée” was all over AM radio in the summer of 1966 (peaking at No. 5).

Featuring a classical string quartet (two violins, a viola, and a cello), a harpsichord, and an alto-flute solo on the bridge, it’s fair to say that “Walk Away Renée” sounded like nothing else on the charts at that time. To put this song into its contemporary context, the Beatles’ US television appearances on the Ed Sullivan show had been in February of 1964. So, by June 1966, the “British Invasion” (of the US music industry) was in full swing.

Silly me; until I recently began researching, I had assumed that the members of the group The Left Banke were British. (Because of the fey or twee spelling of “Bank” as well as their mop-top hair and “mod” clothing… .) However, it turns out that they were New Yorkers.

“Walk Away Renée” interests me for at least three reasons. One, it fits into my continued ruminations on the “Paradoxical Pleasure” of listening to sad songs. Secondly, “Walk Away Renée” was one of the first hit songs in the “Baroque Pop” genre. Thirdly, ten years later (in 1976), “Walk Away Renée” inspired a rock song that still gets lots of airplay today. (More on that in due course.)

There have been cover versions of “Walk Away Renée” recorded by The Four Tops, Southside Johnny, Rickie Lee Jones, Herman’s Hermits, Marshall Crenshaw, Sylvie Vartan, Vonda Shepherd, Badly Drawn Boy, Billy Bragg, and Ann Savoy with Linda Ronstadt. Rolling Stone, the L’Osservatore Romano of the rock era, declared “Walk Away Renée” to be the 220th “Greatest Song of All Time.” Pretty good for a rather small-scale song principally written by “Mike Brown,” a very lovesick 16-year old.

More after the jump.

Continue Reading →

Rita Payés and Elisabeth Roma: “A Rita”

Here’s an opportunity to celebrate excellence in various disciplines, and the greatness of the human spirit!

Every now and then I stumble upon a musical performance that just fills me with so much joy, and then I hasten to pass the word on. What a talented young lady, and what a talented mother she has! Before watching this, I would have wagered that the phrase “sensitive bass-trombone playing” included a contradiction in terms; but what a pleasure to be proven wrong.

Here, Rita Payés sings (in Portuguese) and plays trombone, while her mother Elisabeth Roma does a sterling job of accompanying on classical guitar the 1966 Bossa Nova song “A Rita.” “A Rita” is a break-up song that was on singer Francisco “Chico” Buarque de Hollanda’s first LP. Chico’s sister Heloísa Maria Buarque de Hollanda, BTW, married João Gilberto. She made her recording début on the (criminally underappreciated) Stan Getz/João Gilberto LP from 1976 The Best of Two Worlds. BTW2, the charming family name Buarque de Hollanda (I believe) means “Dutch Boat.”

BTW3, all praise and honors to the technical crew on this music video. The sound is pristine–whoever placed the microphone to capture the sound from the back of the trombone bell certainly knew what he or she was about. A spot mic pointed inside the bell would have been a disaster. No editing, no autotune, 100% organic—WNTL? (What’s Not to Love?)

Ms. Payés has an eye-wateringly expensive DSD-only SACD out (Amazon’s price is $64.99, but there are a few CDs left on eBay). Will somebody please fill the right people in on hi-res downloads, please? That outing includes Rhode Island native Scott Hamilton. Circa 1976 I heard him at Joe’s Upstairs in downtown Providence. Scott’s band back then was called the Hamilton-Bates Blue Flames. I’ve never heard any Scott Hamilton project that was less than inspired, so I hope that wider circulation can be made possible.

In the meantime, please spread the word about this perfect little YouTube!

# # #

EDIT AND APOLOGY: I goofed in reading too quickly and getting the idea that the eBay items were SACDs also. THEY ARE CDs. I wanted to get the blog post up quickly, and I made a mistake, and I apologize! I have changed the text above.

UPDATE: Acoustic Sounds now has the DSD-only SACD for $39.98. I have changed the link above to Acoustic Sounds, and here it is again.

Auner Quartet: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, String Quartet No. 2 in a, Op. 13

The musical form I had the most commercial success in (as a classical-music record producer and label owner), was the string quartet. Granted, my remarkably successful string-quartet recordings consisted of quartet arrangements of sacred and traditional Christmas music. But those recordings are a lot more “classical” in character than “crossover” in character. In other words, no Frosty and no Rudolph. My three original JMR Arturo Delmoni & Friends Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas CDs have been reissued by Steinway & Sons Recordings as a 3-CD set.

Whatever happens to me from here on out, evidence of my devotion to the string-quartet form will live on. That’s because I am the dedicatee of Morten Lauridsen’s (to-date) sole work in that genre, a transcription for string quartet of his chamber-choir chanson “Contre Qui, Rose.” “Contre Qui, Rose” is one of Lauridsen’s settings of Rainer Maria Rilke’s French-language poems. Lauridsen chose among the Rilke poems that mentioned roses for his 1993 cycle Les Chansons des Roses. The story continues after the jump link. Continue Reading →

Fedor Rudin: Paganini Caprice in A minor, Op. 1, No. 5

Congratulations to Fedor Rudin! The Vienna State Opera has appointed him to fill one of their vacant co-concertmaster positions. I am tempted to say “Even better” that in parallel with that, he will be on probation for two years as an (I assume co-) concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic. (So, yes, I have a slight bias in favor of symphonic music.) But being a concertmaster of one of the world’s great opera companies is not small potatoes; and come to think of it, neither is being a concertmaster of one of the world’s great ballet companies (as is Arturo Delmoni, of the New York City Ballet).

Readers with long memories may recall that I published a guest editorial taking the Indianapolis Violin Competition to task for giving prizes to violinists who “played like competition winners.” Mr. Rudin’s selections by one of the world’s top opera companies and by one of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras makes me feel validated that I published an opinion piece that singled him out as someone who was unfairly denied advancement to the Final round.

So here we have a video clip from four years ago of Mr. Rudin playing Paganini’s legendarily difficult fifth Caprice, with a degree of smoothness I find rather mind-boggling. Interesting cultural note: Paganini’s fifth Caprice is beloved of “shred” guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen.

After the jump there are images from a public-domain score of the sheet music for Paganini’s Caprice No. 5. Continue Reading →

Khatia Buniatishvili: F. Liszt, “Ständchen” (piano transcription after Schubert)

Khatia Buniatishvili (born 1987) chose the music of Franz Liszt for her 2011 Sony Music début CD. So I think it fair to assume that Liszt holds a special place in her heart (an assertion that is validated by a quick perusal of her heart-on-sleeve personal website). My impression had been that she was a pianist who felt the gravitational pull of the monuments of the virtuoso repertoire–her website’s home page features an announcement for her recent recording of Rachmaninoiff’s second and third concertos.

So I was as surprised as I was delighted (and moved) by stumbling upon a live-performance video of her (I surmise) giving a pensive encore (I assume, before the expected blazingly-fast, final encore) at the Verbier Festival: Liszt’s restrained and wistful embellishment upon Schubert’s D 957 No. 4 “Ständchen” (“Serenade”)(“Leise flehen meine Lieder”), which is one of the small quiet glories of the vocal repertoire.

My beau-idéal in pianism is Ivan Moravec; and I must say that this clip is the only thing I have heard from a young player before the public today that reaches Moravec’s level of inwardness and quiet contemplation. Brava.

# # #

Light Eternal—The Choral Music of Morten Lauridsen (Trailer)

Friday, November 9 (2018), Deutsche Grammophon will release the CD Light Eternal—The Choral Music of Morten Lauridsen. Amazon’s pre-order price for the CD is $12.59, which is a truly excellent price. But this CD would be a bargain at full list price. There is also a 24/88 hi-res PCM download from HDTracks, reasonably priced at nearly 90 minutes of music for $20.98 (There are two bonus tracks with the download). The album will also be streaming from Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. And if you don’t mind reduced sound quality and the occasional advertisement, the album appears as an authorized playlist on YouTube. That’s right! You can hear the whole thing before you buy it!

My experience in producing and selling classical-music recordings is that most people don’t have formal training in music history or music theory, but they do want beauty in their lives, and they recognize it when they hear it. This is one of those recordings. If you care about choral music, especially contemporary American choral music, or if you simply want to add some beauty to your life, please vote with your wallet and buy this CD (or download), and also please consider buying half a dozen, a dozen, or more, as stocking stuffers (or, as “holiday,” or even non-holiday gifts). Lauridsen’s music is contemporary music that honors the entire tradition of choral singing, from O magnum mysterium‘s soundworld, which to me calls to mind the soundworld of Allegri, to Madrigali—Six FireSongs on Italian Renaissance Poems, which is perhaps best described as modernism—but with a heart and a soul.

Trailer embed and track listing after the jump. Continue Reading →

Trio Wanderer: Schubert Trio, op. 100 & “Trout” Quintet

Trio Wanderer:
Franz Schubert, Trio, op. 100, D. 929; “Trout” Quintet, op. 114, D. 667
(
Vincent Coq, piano; Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin; and Raphael Pidoux, cello.
With Cristophe Gaugué, viola and Stéphane Logerot, double bass in op. 114)
CD Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908748
Streaming of these performances from the original CD releases is available from Tidal.

Trio op. 100 recorded at The Arsenal, Metz, July, 2000; quintet recorded at IRCAM Paris, June 2002. Jean-Martial Golaz, producer and engineer.

Poor Alex North. Stanley Kubrick hired him to compose a score for 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, when it came time to give the movie its première, to his embarrassed chagrin (he actually was sitting in the audience) North discovered that Kubrick had decided to ditch North’s score and stick with his own cut-and-pasted “guide” score.

Kubrick had assembled his “guide” score from a wildly disparate selection of pieces or movements—from Ligeti to Richard Strauss to Johann Strauss II to Khachaturian, and then back to Ligeti. So North, at the time a rather successful film composer whose credits included A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misfits, and Spartacus, was left holding the bag in public, at least in terms of professional reputation (and almost doubtless in various financial senses). Reportedly, Kubrick was so difficult for North to work with that North supervised the recording sessions for his score while lying in a hospital bed brought in for the purpose, because of stress-induced muscle spasms in his back.

I don’t think the same thing could have happened with Kubrick’s under-rated Thackeray adaptation Barry Lyndon. After the surprising success of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s soundtrack LP, I think Kubrick always would again decide to pick his own music—and brook no opposition. And because Barry Lyndon is a costume drama set in the mid-18th century, it is likely Kubrick did not get any pushback from studio executives about using classical (and some folk) music. For Barry Lyndon, Kubrick chose music from Irish traditional-music greats The Chieftans; and from Schubert, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Frederick the Great, Vivaldi, and Paisiello.

As I have written before, I think that the climactic third and final duel scene in Barry Lyndon inspired Ridley Scott’s penultimate scene (“Tears in Rain”) in the original Blade Runner film. Not incidentally, the final duel in the film Barry Lyndon was entirely Kubrick’s own invention; it does not appear in Thackeray’s novel.

A Trio Wanderer Schubert Trio op. 100 slow-movement live performance video, and more commentary, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Ioana Cristina Goicea: Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

The Internet radio station I listen to most often is Bavarian Radio’s Classical channel. To get to it, click here and scroll down to the “Radio” section of the home page, and then click on the “BR Klassik” tile. A pop-up window will appear with the BR player application. I should do a separate blog entry on br.de; for the moment, all I need to tell you is that its programming is a refreshing breath of fresh air, especially if you are sick of US commercial (or, for that matter, much of “public”) classical radio, where the “Mozart Minute” is followed by “Drivetime With Dvorák.” A welcome feature of br.de is frequent delayed broadcast of live concerts.

So, the other morning I clicked on the BR Klassik tile, and I was greeted by the familiar sounds of the first movement of Brahms’ violin concerto. In mere seconds, my ears were decisively grabbed. I played a little game with myself, not looking at the player app and trying to guess the identity of the violinist. Hmmm… this one’s a toughie! Sounds like a studio recording… . A huge and complex tone–one could imagine one was listening to chords on a pipe organ. Effortless technique. Thoughtful interpretative touches. A musical conception of the work as a whole, and not merely as a sequence of technical challenges. No playing fast, only for the sake of playing fast. Hmmm. Not Oistrakh, not Menuhin, not Mutter. But a first-rank player, no doubt.

OK, I give up. Oh. Ioana Cristina Goicea.

Now, the 2018 winner’s performance of the Brahms concerto from the German Music Competition (held this March in Siegburg) does not appear to be available on demand. So I have posted the next best thing, a performance of the Tchaikovsky (from the Michael Hill International Violin Competition) that exhibits all of the virtues noted above. Ms. Goicea, born in Bucharest, is reportedly still pursuing her graduate studies in Germany. All I can say is, she’s one to watch—and more importantly, to listen to. Will some international concert management firm please sign her, pronto?

# # #

Dan Bern: “Jerusalem”

My post about Gidon Kremer & Co.’s chamber-orchestra version of Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” (from the soundtrack of Marco Bellocchio’s film version of Pirandello’s Henry IV) had as its jumping-off point a rumination on the Nobel Prize in Literature. After listing many literary luminaries who never got the award, I did say, “Still and all, there are a few unimpeachable selections (Bob Dylan, in my opinion, is most definitely not among them).”

In my opinion, handing the award that should have gone to James Joyce but never did, to Bob Dylan, just sealed the deal as far as the Nobel Literature Prize’s being a cross between the Nobel Peace Prize and a popularity poll. Who is next? Danielle Steel? (After all, she has sold 800 million copies of her more than 150 books.)

So, I have long thought that it was past high time that Mr. Zimmerman could use being taken down a peg or two. I am hugely glad to report that Dan Bern has done just that for us (and if “Jerusalem” is not a Bob Dylan Parody, time is out of joint… ).

Dan Bern’s “Jerusalem” has it all: the mind-numbingly repetitious guitar playing; the whiny vocal; the total self-absorption of the lyrics; the apocalyptic grandiosity of the vision; and, most of all, the passive-aggressive approach to affairs of the heart (“Accept my love, don’t test my love/ ‘Cause maybe I don’t love you all that much”). I particularly love that the singer’s therapist’s name is Dr. Nusbaum, which is close to the German for “Nut Tree.”

One might quip that the specialty of Dan Bern’s house is “Filet of Bob Dylan.”

Well done!

(Thanks to Positive Feedback Online‘s Clark Johnsen for introducing me to this song.)

# # #

Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica: Astor Piazzolla, “Oblivion” from “Henry IV”

I think that the assertion that the Nobel Prize in Literature is essentially silly (and therefore, we are fools for taking it seriously) has something to be said for it. (Those happen to be the positions of the British novelist and translator Tim Parks.)

Not one of: James Joyce, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Henry James, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Mark Twain, Nabokov and Chekhov made the cut. But strange omissions compete with strange awardings—John Steinbeck “got the gong” (a slang term for a large medallion), yet James Joyce did not? Furthermore, the requirement that a candidate must be alive to receive the prize meant that late-blooming (or posthumously published) authors such as Kafka, Proust, Calvino, and Mandelstam could not even be considered.

Still and all, there are a few unimpeachable selections (Bob Dylan, in my opinion, is most definitely not among them).

In my opinion, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Solzhenitsyn, Faulkner, and Hermann Hesse all deserved the money and the medal. I even think that Sigrid Undset (who?) was a deserving recipient. Undset’s massive (1400 pages) Medieval trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter should be much better known. I am tempted to say that if you loved The Lord of the Rings, you should try Kristin Lavransdatter. (In the period when she was “working up to” Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset had published a Norwegian translation of the Arthurian legends.)

For what all this has to do with Gidon Kremer and Astor Piazzolla, please click on the jump link. Continue Reading →