World Cup Fever: Um a Zero

In honor of today’s big tilt between Germany and Argentina, a video of the classic tune “Um a Zero” (“One to Nothing”) by the fascinating one-named Brazilian composer Pixinginuha, forever memorializing in music the 1919 futbol Finale between Brazil and Uruguay….and the first international title ever for the Brazilians. Check out this amazing trio led by clarinetist extrordinaire Paquito D’Rivera..

I first learned about Pixinguinha doing an NPR taping session with Yo-Yo Ma & Co around the “Obrigado Brazil” release.  (Talk about a “supergroup:”  Yo-Yo, Paquito, the Assad Brothers, bassist Nilson Matta, percussionist Cyro Battista, pianist Kathryn Stott, singer Rosa Passos….it was a pretty memorable session!).   There’s more about the pioneering Brazilian “instrumentalist, composer, orchestrator, and maestro” on the website choromusic.com, dedicated to the uniquely Brazilian style of music:

“If you have 15 volumes available to speak about all types of Brazilian music, you can be sure it won’t be enough. But if have room for only one word, then it’s not all doom and gloom; write quickly: Pixinguinha.”

 

Below is the link to the entire piece on NPR’s Morning Edition – and if you can still get your RealPlayer to work, you can hear the special version of “Um a Zero” we recorded as well, with Paquito again out front…

Yo-Yo Ma’s ‘Obrigado Brazil’

 

Juke Box

JukeBoxFred  First cut on the terrific Italian Cafe CD that’s been getting a lot of spins at El Rancho Roedeo. And what a nice discovery to see a c. 1958 “video” from the crooner Fred Buscaglione:

Inspired by Hollywood icons Clark Gable and Mickey Spillane, and  a devotee of American jazz and swing, Buscaglione personified the laid-back, devil-may care spirit of postwar Italy.

And can you not love these lyrics?

 

Per sentire una canzone con te
ed averti solamente per me
il mio braccio ti darò e con me ti porterò
in un piccolo e nascosto caffè

Che e la macchina dei dischi che và
tanta musica per noi suonerà
con Sinatra e Johnny Rave
Franky Lane e Doris Day
ogni cuore suonerà

Juke Box e una magica invenzion
Juke Box pochi soldi una canzon
Juke Box un gettone la felicità

 

A Mongolian “Meditation”

Xian Angelo YuAfter the posts of about the fiery Prokofiev concerto performance from Symphony Hall, thought I’d share another side of the remarkable artistry of the young violinist Xiang “Angelo” Yu.  Last year we invited him into the Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH, where he not only shared the story of his Mongolian origins with host Cathy Fuller, he also played this breathtakingly beautiful version of the Meditation from Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs…for solo violin alone.

Soon afterwards, Angelo was invited to be a Young Artist in Residence at Performance Today, a series that I’m proud to say continues after we launched it at NPR in the late ’90s with pianist Mia Chung, and has over the years featured such terrific ensembles and artists – all preparing live-for-radio recital programs – as guitarist Jason Vieaux, the Sejong Soloists, the Borromeo and Pacifica Quartets, pianist Jeremy Denk, and many, many more!

Truth To Power II: Angelo Yu plays Prokofiev

This was the performance at the Symphony Hall concert by Hugh Wolff and the NEC Philharmonia (which happened to take place on Sergei Prokofiev’s birthday) that got the rock’n’rollers in the control all excited — this no-holds-barred performance by NEC Artist Diploma candidate Xiang “Angelo” Yu of the Violin Concerto No. 1.  A piece that Prokofiev wrote around the time of the Russian Revolution (e.g., 1917), but not premiered until several years later in Paris.

The story goes that Prokofiev’s concerto took a while to catch on, particularly because despite the fact that the Paris premiere was led by no less a figure than Serge Koussevitsky, the soloist was not one of the major virtuosi of the day. As the late Michael Steinberg put it in his invariably-excellent program notes:

Marcel Darrieux, Koussevitzky’s Paris concertmaster, was a solid musician and an able violinist, but he lacked the spark to make a convincing case for the piece, 

Might’ve been a different story if Angelo had played it!

Check out his thoughtful comments at the start of the piece, too, skillfully brought out by my co-conspirator James David Jacobs….

May 23 Birthdays: Alicia de Larrocha and Jean Françaix

For your Friday enjoyment: A fabulous performance from 1997 of the seemingly-ageless Alicia de Larrocha (74 at the time) playing the Ravel Piano Concerto in G with Jesus Lopez-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony. As someone learning the ropes in the television world, I’m coming to appreciate really great camera work in shooting orchestras – far easier said than done! After a little rooting around on the Interwebs I discovered it was the handiwork of Brandenburg Productions, in tandem with Cincinnati’s PTV Station WCET 48.  (Turns out it was the CSO’s national television debut.)   For an example of the terrific camerawork, check out the beautiful harp close-up at about 5 minutes in.

Then there’s De Laroccha. Her usual ferocious technique, but at her age it’s also economical and elegant. No wasted movements or theatrics from this stately Queen…but utterly faithful to the energy and verve embedded in Ravel’s music!


nicolenarboniAs for Jean Françaix (1912-1997). I had always admired the froth and effervescence in his music (and he wrote for virtually every combination of instruments known to man), as well as the man’s craft, wit, and unpretentiousness. Then I got to know it a lot better when I got involved executive-producing a CD devoted to his complete piano works with pianist Nicole Narboni.  (You can also check out her video about the project here.) Like his Cinq Bis (Five Encores”)  – wherein the composer offers a tongue-in-cheek Chinese Menu of choices for pianists to play, depending on the success of the recital.   As Nicole explains in her liner notes:

Perhaps the most comical of all the works contained on this disc are the Cinq Bis, or Five Encores, from 1965.   In the preface, Françaix  quotes the 18th-century French author Nicolas de Chamfort …Quand vous êtes sur une scène, si vous n’êtes pas un peu charlatan, l’assemblée vous jette des pierres… (“When on the stage if you are not a little of a charlatan, the crowd will stone you.”)
These pieces have all the elements of great encores.  Pour Allecher l’auditoire (“To entice the audience”) is a sarcastic warm-up; Pour les dames sentimentales (“For romantic ladies”) is a wonderful combination of silly and serious.  The last three Bis are best saved for a third or fourth curtain call:  En Cas de succès  and En cas de triomphe  – no translation required!.  The fifth and final of the Bis, En cas de délire (“In case of delirium”)  suggests a scene from a Victor Borge concert…

Besides Nicole, the only pianist I know who plays these “Cinq Bis” with any regularity is the excellent Aussie pianist Simon Tedeschi…the acclaimed “stunt double” for actor Geoffrey Rush in the David Helfgott biopic Shine.  (Those were Simon’s hands you saw tickling the ivories in the close-ups!)  Here you can watch his fingers fly through all five of the Françaix encores!

 

 

 

 

Pickin’ Banjos: Celebrating “Great Galloping Gottschalk”

Today’s birthday to celebrate is that of American original Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Check out the nice web piece my WGBH colleague Cathy Fuller put together a couple of years ago, pairing up Gottschalk’s iconic (and, I would say, groundbreaking) 1855 composition The Banjo with Gloucester, Mass., painter Fitz Henry Lane’s New York Harbor,  “composed” during the same year, and now hanging at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.   As Cathy puts it,

The year is 1855, and the two artists come from very different circumstances. One of them was forced to stay in one place all his life; the other was famous for globetrotting.

The painter Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865) lost the use of his legs before his second birthday. The paralysis was thought to have come from ingesting poisonous jimsonweed. He would never recover.

The musician Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) became America’s first traveling virtuoso – a pianist/composer who did an unbelievable amount of touring. He gave uncountable concerts in Europe, Central America, South America and Cuba. Sometimes called the “Chopin of the Creoles,” he worked into his music the syncopations of Louisiana and the Caribbean, creating pieces that anticipated jazz and ragtime. His music really had little to do with Chopin’s, but his spectacular control of the instrument was caricaturized by images of a wild pianist with hundreds of flying fingers.

 

Music and Art: Louis Moreau Gottschalk & Fitz Henry Lane

Actually, there IS a pretty significant connection between Chopin and Gottschalk, as we discovered in one of our Radio Chopin episodes called “Chopin Comes to America.”   Sample grab:

When Gottschalk was 13, his father packed the young piano prodigy off to Paris to study at the world-famous Conservatoire which at first REJECTED his application, his examiner declaring, “America is a country of steam engines.”

But Gottschalk chugged through and by 1845, he was making his Paris debut at the Salle Pleyel. On the program: Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor. In the audience: the composer himself.

Chopin met Gottschalk after the concert, and heaped praise on the young American, predicting a brilliant future for the teenaged pianist. Hector Berlioz was there too, and spoke of Gottschalk’s “exquisite grace, brilliant originality, and thundering energy.”

Episode 14: Chopin Comes to America

As for his signature piece, it’s amazing what a wide range of interpretation it gets, and if YouTube is any indication, how much it represents “America” to foreign audiences as much as any work by Copland, Gershwin, or Bernstein. I first discovered Gottschalk through the mid-70s by pianist Ivan Davis, a few of which you can find on YouTube.  Later, in DC, I was blown away by the sound and incredibly solid playing by pianist Lambert Orkis, who recorded a lot of Gottschalk on the composer’s instrument of choice: a 9-foot Chickering, made right here in the Hub of the Universe.

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As for recordings of more recent vintage…. I usually admire the unusual repertory – and performances by the eccentric Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris.  But he seems to take the “Serenade Grotesque” subtitle a little too much to heart, dropping and adding notes as he pleases while he buzzes through it like he’s on a bullet train to Bejing.  Irish pianist Philip Martin, on the other hand, gives it an almost ponderous opening at this performance in Mexico City.  And then there is this highly nuanced (and nicely shot) performance by Dutch pianist Regina Albrink.  I’d never heard her playing before but i’ll be listening for more after hearing this!