Thursday, April 30, 2020

Spam Roundup April, 2020

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

And your point?

These examples raise nonsequiturs to an art form. 

- There isn't any known antagonistic unintended effects of zinc oxide cream.. [This in response to a review of Renaissance dance music..]

- At this moment I am going away to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming yet again to read other news.. [Can't wait for the lunch update.]

- Your computing device search causal agent algorithms opt highly-organic data and commercialism arrangements. proceeding can be the new guy on the go.[Highly-organic data -- that's what this new guy's all about.]

Rave reviews for "Lumbering along"

As you read the comments, keep in mind they were
supposedly inspired by a post about this toy truck.
The response to The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to be disproportionately enthusiastic. Really, it's just about a cheap vintage toy. 

- Magnificent put up, very informative. I wonder why the opposite specialists of this sector don't notice this. You should proceed your writing. I am confident, you've a huge readers' base already![I think this post's a magnificent put on. ]

- Thankfulness to my father who told me concerning this webpage, this blog is really amazing. [Wow. Intergenerational spam.]

- I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in penning this site. I'm hoping to check out the same high-grade content from you later on as well. [Now see, if they'd put the words "high-grade content" in quotes, I would have taken this for a real comment .]

- Hurrah! At last I got a webpage from where I know how to actually get useful data concerning my study and knowledge. [Can you really get an advanced degree in Japanese penny toys?]

In conclusion, my fellow Americans...

 - Take up your content out location. Don't focalize on acquiring this difficulty occurs, you'll in all likelihood try to be related active whether they are saving far national leader cruciferous plant for party. [I can think of two parties that might be better-led by cruciferous plants.]

Remember -- don't focalize on the acquisition. Rather, opt for highly-organic data. That's the key to "high-grade content." That's all for this month!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Mieczyslaw Weinberg late string quartets strong stuff

The Silesian Quartet tackles two difficult works in this installment of their Mieczyslaw Weinberg quartet cycle. Wienberg was alone and isolated in the late 1970s. His mentor and friend Shostakovich was dead, and increasingly his scores were rejected for performance.

The two quartets in this release seem almost distillations of his anger, sadness, and frustration. String Quartet No. 14 has five attached movements that seem to tumble from one idea to the next. Chords grind against each other, mercurial mood swings abound, and complex motifs rub shoulders with bland, simple tunes.

I often say Weinberg's music reminds me of Shostakovich's. In this case, it sounded more like Alfred Schnittke's. I felt the same way about String Quartet No. 15, completed in 1979. Here Weinberg freely mixes tonal and atonal passages in almost a stream of consciousness manner. And yet it works.

I found both quartets compelling -- especially as performed by the Silesian Quartet. They gave full vent to the pent-up emotions of the music. Bows dug viciously into strings; tutti attacks almost seemed savage at times. And yet the quartet could play tenderly and softly when needed. The Silesian Quartet perfectly captured the emotional storm these quartets express.

In this release, the Three Palms for soprano and string quartet is sequenced between the two quartets. This 1977 work makes a welcome respite. While it's an aggressively modernist work, it has a quiet, lyrical quality the quartets lack. Joanna Frieszel displays phenomenal technique in bringing this music to life.

Late Weinberg might not be everyone's cup of tea. But if it is, buy this release and drink deeply.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: String Quartets Nos. 14 and 15; Three Psalms
Silesian Quartet; Joanna Freszel, soprano
CD Accord ACD268

Monday, April 27, 2020

Michael Rische plays C.P.E. Bach - No apologies necessary

In the liner notes for this release, pianist Michael Rische writes, "The musician of our time has in his mind, consciously or not, the musical thinking of Debussy and Ravel, of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, and of Messiaen and Ligeti – a large radius of musical experience that reaches into the present day and suddenly reverberates in a piano concerto by [Carl Philipp Emanuel] Bach."

Well okay then. These days, playing pre-Classical keyboard music on historically accurate pianofortes seems to be the norm. So I can understand Ricshe feeling the need to justify these recordings with a modern piano.

But he didn't really need to. His performances make the case quite nicely. Rische takes full advantage of his instrument, shaping the music with thoughtful phrasing and subtle dynamic changes.

The Piano Concerto in D major, Wq.11 was completed in 1743. Bach wrote it in the new empfindsamer Stil. The effect of this "sensitive style" is heightened by Rische's playing (and the expressive qualities of a modern piano).

Accompanying Ricsche is the Berlin Barock Solisten. The ensemble comprises of Berlin Philharmonic, and they're just the right size for these works. They balance the sound of the modern piano well, creating a pleasing ensemble blend.

CPE Bach was a talented composer, and these works demonstrate the high degree of his skill and imagination. And Michael Ricshe presents compelling performances of these works on his chosen instrument. No apologies needed.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Keyboard Concertos
Michael Rische, piano
Berlin Barock Solisten
Hanssler Classics HD19041

Friday, April 24, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 4

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make classical quartets this month's theme. One could easily fill up a month of postings with nothing but great string quartets. But I decided to explore further.

A piano trio is made up of four musicians. So is a vocal quartet, a percussion quartet, a brass quartet, and so on. I decided to seek out some of the more unusual quartet compositions. And while I do include some string quartets, they're not written by the usual suspects. 

Here are my #Classicsaday selections for the fourth week of #ClassicalQuartet

04/20/20 Doris Pejacevic (1885-1923): Piano Quartet in D minor, Op. 25

The music of this Croatian composer was performed extensively throughout Eastern Europe during her lifetime. This 1908 quartet was written when she was just 23.

04/21/20 Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873-1945): Six Horn Quartets, Opus 35

These quartets date from 1910, while Tcherepnin was conductor of the Mariinsky Theater, and head of the Conservatory at St. Petersburg.

04/22/20 Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972): String Quartet

Erkin was part of the "Turkish Five," composers who integrated Turkish folk music and modes into traditional Western classical music forms.

04/23/20 Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937): Introduction et Variations for Saxophone Quartet

This French composer/organist/conductor is noted for many things (like conducting the premiere of Stravinsky's Firebird). His saxophone quartet is a repertoire standard.

04/24/20 Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767):'Paris' Quartet in E minor, TWV 43:e4

The Paris quartets is a collection of chamber works in two sets. The name was added by the editors of Telemann's catalog in the 20th Century.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Emil Mlynarski Violin Concertos deserve wider audience

In Poland, Emil Mlynarski (1870-1935) is a major musical figure. He was the founding conductor of the Warsaw Symphony in 1901. He was also a virtuoso violinist who studied with Leopold Auer. And he studied composition with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsokov. Mlynarksi's noted for incorporating Polish traditional music into his works.

This release features his two violin concertos. Mlynarski completed his Violin Concerto No. 1in D minor in 1897. As a violinist, Mlynarski was a rising star, and this concerto is a real showpiece of his skill.

Polish violinist Piotr Plawner performs with a keen sense of musicianship. While there are some extremely difficult passages in this work, he never loses track of the melodic line. It helps pulls the work together, particularly in the cadenzas. to

Mlynarski revisited the genre in nineteen years later. His Violin Concerto No. 2 in D major seems a more fully-developed work. The orchestra has more to do, and Mlynarski seems to use them more effectively. The form is also looser, giving the music an elegiac and sometimes improvisatory feel.

The technical tricks seem to have been dialed back as well. There's still plenty for Plawner to do, though. His playing in this work is wonderfully expressive, making the lyrical passages sound exceptionally beautiful.

My only quibble with this release is that the ensemble has a slightly hollow sound to it. Perhaps the mics should have been a little closer? But that's minor. Otherwise, a fine release of two concertos that should be better known outside of Poland.

Emil Mlynarski Violin Concertos
Piotr Plawner, violin
Arthur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra; Lawel Przytocki, conductor
DUX 1616

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Quattro Mani excel with Stefan Wolpe two-piano music

The personal nature of this music makes this volume of Stefan Wolpe one of the most important, I think. Stefan Wolpe met pianist Irma Schoenberg in 1927. Through 1942, when they separated, they had a professional and personal relationship. Schoenberg enabled Wolpe to flee Nazi Germany and rescue his music besides.

She inspired the March and Variations for Two Pianos. Wolpe's two-piano score for the ballet "The Man from Midian" was written for Schoenberg and Wolpe to perform together.

The first three of his Studies on Basic Rows were dedicated to Schoenberg (Irma, that is). And of course, the two-piano version of the first two studies was for them to perform together.

The Quattro Mani doesn't quite duplicate the chemistry between Wolpe and Schoenberg must have brought to their performances. But they come very close. To my ears, it sounds as if Wolpe built conversations into these scores. Steven Beck and Susan Grace seem to pick up on that, tossing motifs back and forth with easy familiarity.

The March with Variations developed along with the relationship. Wolpe wrote the march in 1932 but added variations over the course of the year -- a year that involved an escape to Czechoslovakia, a tour of Russia, study with Webern, and immigration to British-controlled Palestine. As the work progresses, each variation seems to become more complex, more atonal, though never quite achieving the Webern ideal.

"The Man from Midian" is a ballet with an incredibly complex history.  The Ballet Theatre commissioned Darius Milhaud to write a score for a ballet about Moses. Milhaud titled his work Moïse, and later arranged it as a concert suite, Opus Americanum no. 2. In the meantime, the choreographer Euguene Loring left the company and mounted his own production of the ballet, this time using Stefan Wolpe.

The score was originally for two pianos and is set in two movements. Each movement features several short vignettes (eight in the first, eighteen in the second). Wolpe uses motifs to denote the major characters, modifying them as the drama demands. Sometimes the music is incredibly dense and atonal, other times it's quite simple and consonant.

As I listened, my respect for Quattro Mani grew. This is quite difficult music and required a great deal of precision. Beck and Grace not only delivered but did so with elan.

They also deliver fine performances of the Studies on Basic Rows. This is atonal music by the numbers and can sound lifeless and academic. Beck and Grace play these studies with just enough expression to elevate the scores from exercises to music.

Stefan Wolpe: Volume 8, Music for Two Pianos
Quattro Mani
Bridge Records 9516

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Sweetly nostalgic chamber music from Robert Fürstenthal

The story behind these works is fascinating, and critical to appreciate them properly. Robert Fürstenthal was a young Viennese composer whose career was just taking off. Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and the Jewish Fürstenthal fled to the United States. He became an accountant and abandoned composition.

Only after reconnecting with his first love in the 1970s did Fürstenthal start writing again. And it was as if the intervening years never happened. Fürstenthal -- in the 1970s -- wrote in the same style he abandoned in the 1930s.

If these works were programmed with other compositions of the 1970s, Fürstenthal's music would sound hopelessly old-fashioned. But that misses the point. Fürstenthal wrote from the heart, and that gives these works an authenticity that trumps modernity.

Fürstenthal's late-Viennese style features unassuming lyrical melodies cushioned in rich, warm harmonies. In this second collection of Fürstenthal's chamber music, we a set of instrumental sonatas, along with two notturnos for piano trio.

The Notturno in D-flat major is a quiet, elegiac work that reminded me strongly of Schubert. Its companion, the Notturno in D major is equally beautiful, though here the influence seems more Brahmsian.

The release features four sonatas; one each for flute, violin, oboe, and viola. Each has its own distinct character, showcasing the solo instrument to good advantage. I think these works would make wonderful additions to the instruments' repertoires. Here's hoping this Toccata Classics series will help make that happen.

The Rossetti Ensemble also recorded volume one, and in my review, I commented on their heartfelt performances. If anything, I think they sound even better here. By now the ensemble is very familiar with Fürstenthal's music. That understanding is clearly informing these performances.

I wonder if Fürstenthal wrote any orchestral music. Based on the quality of his chamber music, those are works I'd very much like to hear.

Robert Furstenthal: Chamber Music, Volume Two
The Rossetti Ensemble
Toccata Classics TOCC 0542

Monday, April 20, 2020

Josetxu Obregón's portrait of Antonio Caldara, cellist

Antonio Caldara was a cellist, but he didn't write exclusively for the cello. In the early 1700s composers wrote what they were paid to. Caldara's best remembered for his operas, oratorios, and cantatas. And those are the works that usually get recorded.

Josetxu Obregón has put together a program that showcases Caldara's affinity for his instrument. The program includes some of Caldara's instrumental works featuring the cello.

It also has arias that include a cello obbligato. And there are some selections from his Lezioni per il Violoncello con il suo Basso. 

Obregón's early music ensemble, La Ritirata plays to their usual high standards. I especially like the sound of Obregón's baroque cello. A good thing, since that's the thread that runs through all the tracks.

Obregón plays with sensitivity, bringing warm, expressive tones out of his instrument. It does have a different quality than a modern cello, a bit higher and thinner, perhaps. But it's still a beautiful sound.

Mezzo-soprano Luciana Mancini performs three arias with Obregón and La Ritarata. Her dark, creamy voice perfectly complements the cello obbligato in these selections.

The works are arranged to provide contrast and variety throughout the program. Overall though, my impression was one of serene beauty. A wonderful collection of works that showcase an under-appreciated side of this Baroque master.

Antonio Caldara and the Cello
Josetxu Obregón, cello and direction
La Ritarata
Glossa 923108

Friday, April 17, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 3

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make classical quartets this month's theme. One could easily fill up a month of postings with nothing but great string quartets. But I decided to explore further.

A piano trio is made up of four musicians. So is a vocal quartet, a percussion quartet, a brass quartet, and so on. I decided to seek out some of the more unusual quartet compositions. And while I do include some string quartets, they're not written by the usual suspects. 

Here are my #Classicsaday selections for the third week of #ClassicalQuartet

04/13/20 Mary Howe (1882-1964): Allegro Inevitable

Howe was one of the many American composers who studied with Nadia Boulanger. One of her interests was incorporating American folk music into her works.

04/14/20 Julius Rontgen (1855-1932): String quartet in A minor

Rontgen was a student of Franz Liszt. He was an accompanist for Pablo Casals. He and his sons also performed together as a piano trio.

04/15/20 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Mozart Adagio and Allegro for Woodwind Quartet, K. 594

Mozart originally wrote this work for a mechanical clockwork organ. The clock played a piece when it struck the hour. Mozart's work was one of several by other composers that were put in rotation.

04/16/20 Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943); String Quartet No. 1

This work was actually a student piece, written around 1890. Rachmaninoff was greatly under the influence of Tchaikovsky at the time, as you can hear in this work.

04/17/20 Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806-1826): String Quartet No. 1 in D minor

Arriaga was nicknamed "The Spanish Mozart." Like Mozart, he wrote brilliantly and quickly -- and had a short life. His three string quartets were his only works published during his lifetime.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Nothing mechanical about Eugene Zador's Sinfonia Technica

Eugene Zador has a remarkable CV on -- ninety-two credits for film scores and orchestrations. And all uncredited. Zador emigrated from Hungary in 1939, and like his compatriot, Miklós Rózsa ended up in Hollywood. In fact, Zador orchestrated most of Rózsa's best-loved scores.

But his work at MGM was his day job. He saved his name for his classical scores. Like other Hollywood transplants, such as Korngold and Rózsa, Zador never ventured too far from Post-Romantic tonality. He did, however, manage to keep the cinematic style out of his music.

The Music for Clarinet and Strings is a 1970 work commissioned by the St. Louis Symphony. Clarinetist Pál Sólyomi delivers a lithe and animated interpretation of Zador's score. Zador often drew on Hungarian folk music. The finale marked Alla zingaresca, does indeed have a gypsy-like quality to it.

And the 1967 Trombone Concerto does as well. Zador wrote, "Flavoured by Hungarian
folklore, the piece conveys a variety of moods in each movement." Zador's Hungarian flavoring is used sparingly. The work (to me) has a more Mid-Century Modern feel to it. Trombonist András Fejér concentrates on the beauty of the melodic line, making this a most engaging performance.

The 1931 Sinfonia Technica represents Zador experimenting with industrial-inspired music, which was all the rage. Despite movement titles like "Bridge," "Telegraph Poles," "Water Works," and "Factory," the work has a somewhat soft focus.

In many ways, it reminds me of Bohuslav Martinu compositions written around the same time. And that's not a bad thing at all.

Eugene Zador: Sinfonia Technica
Music for Clarinet and Strings; Trombone Concerto
András Fejér, trombone; Pál Sólyomi, clarinet
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MAV; Mariusz Smolij, conductor
Naxos 8.574108

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Fake Bands, Reel Music Part 3 - Fake Headliner Bands

Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 4 pm I'll be hosting a special program for the WTJU Rock Marathon. I'll be featuring music -- and the artists that perform it -- specifically for movies and TV shows.

Fake Headliner Bands -- Movies 

A fictional band -- or artist -- can be the subject of a serious film. "That Thing You Do!" is a 1996 film that tells the story of the Wonders, a one-hit-wonder band from Pennsylvania. The movie perfectly captures the pre-British Invasion pop scene of 1964. The Wonder's hit (written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne) became a legitimate hit in 1996, peaking at #22 on the Billboard charts.

The film also captured the styles of other early 1960s' genres. "My World is Over" mimics Dionne Warwick's Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, and is sung by Jackie DeShannon. Surf guitar, girl group ballads -- even TV show crime jazz is referenced.

In "Eddie and the Cruisers," a reporter tries to solve the mystery of what happened to Eddie Wilson. This 1983 film featured music from Eddie's group, ca. 1963. John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band played Eddie and the Cruisers for the soundtrack.

The 1991 movie "The Commitments" tells the story of Irish working-class youth Jimmy Rabbitte. He manages to put together a soul band with local talent. The group almost makes it, but falls apart due to lack of, well, commitment. Even though all of the songs are covers of 1960s soul, it's just too well-done not to include.

The 1970 "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" was originally meant to be a sequel to the 1967 "Valley of the Dolls." But it soon changed into something else. It tells the story of three young women who make up The Kelly Affair, a rock trio. They come to Los Angeles and fall prey to the rock-n-roll lifestyle. The group renames themselves the Carrie Nations and almost makes it to the top before the overwrought drama brings everything crashing down.

The Kelly Affair/Carrie Nations tunes were written by Stu Phillips (best known for "Knight Rider"). The Strawberry Alarm Clock also appeared in the film an on the soundtrack album.

Fake Headliner Bands -- Live-Action TV

Sometimes, the fictional group is front-and-center, their name embedded in the title. TV versions are easy to name. Live-action candidates include The Monkees and the Partridge Family. In both cases, members of these groups had stronger chops than critics gave them credit for.

With the exception of Mickey Dolenz, the other three Monkees were all experienced musicians. Mike Nesmith was perhaps the most successful, having written "Different Drum" for the Stone Poneys (with Linda Ronstadt).

The core of the Partridge Family was Shirley Jones and her stepson, David Cassidy. Jones had a long career in musical theater and movie musicals. Cassidy was starring in a Broadway production when tapped for the TV show, a career he resumed after it was canceled.

A lesser-known TV show band was the 1882 Fox series The Heights. The eponymous band was a group of twenty-somethings trying to escape their blue-collar jobs through music. It only lasted one season, canceled just as a song from the show became a hit. "How do you talk to an angel" credits The Heights as the band, with Jamie Walters (who played Alex O'Brien) singing lead.

One of the most bizarre live-action series featuring a band was Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. This 1970 Saturday morning kids' show featured chimpanzees. Lancelot Link, agent of A.P.E. battled the forces of C.H.U.M.P. in two ten-minute adventures each week. Each episode also included a musical number by Link's band -- the Evolution Revolution.

Fake Headliner Bands -- Cartoons!

While there have been a number of cartoon bands (all voiced by studio musicians), not all meet my criteria. The Archies were certainly the most successful, but the characters only played together in music segments between the stories -- the series wasn't about a band per see.

A better case might be made for the Hardy Boys. In this 1969 series, the main characters of the books are all in a band, who solve mysteries on their way to various gigs. Each story included both a mystery and a musical segment. The songs were released as an album "Here Come the Hardys" in 1969, with four singles that modestly charted.

The Banana Splits were a shameless ripoff of the Monkees, dumbed down to what the producers thought young children would find hilarious.

Josie and the Pussycats work on all levels. The show was about the band itself, and each story featured a musical number. The franchise also translated well to the big screen.

Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson play modern versions of the characters, the music updated from late 60s bubblegum to early aughts alt-rock. Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo) provided lead vocals for the soundtrack.

And now a word from our sponsor 

Perhaps the oddest fake group to qualify is the Glass Bottle. The group was formed for a 1970 ad campaign. Glass manufacturers wanted to get kids to switch from aluminum cans to glass bottles -- really.

In addition to doing some super-hip ads, the band also cut an album. "I Ain't Got Time Anymore" reached #36. A real hit from a fake band.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Fake Bands, Reel Music Part 2 - Fictional bands and biofics

Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 4 pm I'll be hosting a special program for the WTJU Rock Marathon. I'll be featuring music -- and the artists that perform it -- specifically for movies and TV shows.

Fictional groups as characters

A fake band can serve various roles in a film.

"Animal House" was set in 1963. Soul band Otis Day and the Knights perform for a white fraternity party. Later, some of the brothers see them advertised at a roadhouse. They burst in, not realizing it's an African-American establishment. Hilarity (of a sort) ensues.

Frankie Avalon's head was often turned in the American International beach movies. In 1965's "Beach Blanket Bingo" it was Linda Evans. Evans played Sugar Cane, a singer doing publicity stunts to promote her latest album. She performs numbers from it backed by the Hondells in the movie. Jackie Ward provided Evan's singing voice.

A more curious example is found in 1964's "Bikini Beach." In answer to the British Invasion, Frankie Avalon plays two roles; Frankie the surfer, and Peter Royce Bentley, AKA Potato Bug. Both via for Annette Funicello's attention. The Potato Bug is an amalgam of the Beatles. His songs pastiche the sounds of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." At one point both Frankie and Potato Bug sing a duet, each in their own style.

In the 2007 rom-com, "Music and Lyrics," Hugh Grant plays Alex Fletcher, still trading on his fame as a member of PoP. Based on Wham!, the group's sole hit "Pop Goes My Heart" is performed in the opening credits in an 80s-style music video.

"Groupie Girl" is a 1970 UK drama, based on the memoirs of former groupie Suzanne Mercer. The heroine falls in with a number of bands. English Rose (created for the film) gets an extended sequence for their song "Yesterday's Heros."

Biofics - thinly disguised biographies 

Sometimes an artist will play a slightly fictionalized version of themselves. In "Purple Rain," Prince plays The Kid, but really -- it's Prince. And the rest of the cast also plays basically themselves. Apollonia Kotero as Apollonia; Morris Day as Morris, Jerome Benton as Jerome and so on.

Eminem plays Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith, Jr. in "8 Mile." The story of Jimmy is essentially Eminem's as well.

But biopics don't have to be autobiofictional. Several movies have told fictionalize versions of very real artists.

Bette Midler played Mary Foster Rose, a self-destructive singer. This 1979 movie was reworked when the Janis Joplin Estate denied the producers the rights to her story. Songs of the era are mixed with original music, all lending themselves to Midler's Joplin-like delivery. "The Rose" was written by Amanda MickBroom.

"Grace of My Heart" was a 1996 film starring Illeana Douglas. Her character, Denise Waverly has a life quite similar to Carole King's. Both start as songwriters and eventually emerge as performing artists with the release of a seminal album in the 1970s.

The score imitates the various eras -- early 60s pop, mid-60s California sound, and of course, the piano-based sounds of Carole King's "Tapestry." Score contributors included Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and Jill Sobule.

"Dreamgirls" was a smash Broadway musical, becoming a film in 2006. In this case, the fictional biography is of a group. The Dreamettes are based on the Supremes. Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen wrote the Broadway score, rearranged by Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas for the film. The end result is a score that parallels the historical development of the Motown sound. The rock-solid cast included Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce Knowles, and Jamie Fox.

In "Almost Famous," the biographical basis for the movie isn't the band, but the reporter who followed it. Director and writer Cameron Crowe had been a journalist for the Rolling Stone in his teens. The movie tells the story of a teenage journalist covering a band on tour, trying to get a cover story for the Rolling Stone.

In real life, Crowe covered the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Poco, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Those bands are blended together to create Stillwater for the film.

A Star is Born (again and again)

The first version of this film was made in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Gaynor's trying to break into movies, and March is a matinee idol. Her star rises while his fades, dooming their romance. The 1954 version (Judy Garland and James Mason) made it a musical.

The 1976 version transformed it further. The lead characters became musicians rather than actors. Barbra Streisand played Esther Hoffman Howard to Kris Kristofferson's self-destructive rock star John Norman Howard.

In 2018, Lady Gaga as Ally Campano and Bradley Cooper as alcoholic Jackson Maine play the leads. In both these versions, the stars performed -- and in some cases -- wrote the songs their characters sing.

Next: Fictional Bands as headliners

Monday, April 13, 2020

Fake Bands, Reel Music Part 1 - Mockumentaries

Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 4 pm I'll be hosting a special program for the WTJU Rock Marathon. I'll be featuring music -- and the artists that perform it -- specifically for movies and TV shows.

Fictional musicians were a staple of the movie industry since the introduction of sound. Al Jolson played Jakie Rabinowitz, a fictionalized version of himself in 1927's "The Jazz Singer." But with the advent of rock and roll, the concept of fictional artists grew and expanded.

"Fake Bands, Reel Music" takes a look at how fictional groups really rocked.

Mockumentary Movies

When asked to name a mockumentary about music, many people respond, "Spinal Tap." And rightly so. What made Carl Reiner's 1984 film such a masterwork is the obsessive attention to detail. The movie features songs by the band from the early 60s, the Summer of Love, and into heavy metal. And each track is stylistically correct, sound exactly like the era its meant to invoke.

Guest, McKean, and Shearer would become part of a repertoire company who collaborated on a number of successful documentaries, such as "For Your Consideration" and "Best in Show."

One of their films, "A Mighty Wind" (2003) follows three folk music groups as they gather for a tribute concert. The Folksmen (McKean, Guest, and Shearer) are based on the Kingston Trio. Their misguided attempt to go electric couples the Byrd's jangly guitar with earnestly flawed lyrics.

Also featured are Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as Mick and Mickey, an Ian and Sylvia soundalike.

John C. Reilly starred in 2007's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The film is a comedic take on documentaries about Johnny Cash, Roy Oberson, and other early sixties stars. The film's unusual in that it mixes real celebrities (played by others) with the fictional musicians. Marshall Crenshaw and Van Dyke Parks contributed to the ostensively decade-spanning score.

The Rutles began as a skit created by Eric Idle (Monty Python) and Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Band). This Beatles pastiche, with songs written by Innes, soon took on a life of its own. The group toured and had two UK hits.

Their 1978 TV movie "All You Need is Cash" is a satirical mockumentary of the Beatle's career. Included in the cast was George Harrison as the interview, Ron Wood, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd. Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and Roger McGough appear as themselves.

Small Screen Mockumentaries

"Documentary Now!" is a half-hour mockumentary series starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. Each episode parodies a famous documentary film, with a keen eye to detail.

"Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee" mirrors "History of the Eagles." Armisen and Hader's Blue Jean Committee is a perfect amalgam of the Eagles, America, Steely Dan, and the 70s So-Cal sound.

"Final Transmission" was based on the Talking Heads documentary "Stop Making Sense." Armisen and Hade, with help from Maya Rudolph, nail the New Wave sound of their inspirations.

John Mulaney plays a version of Stephen Sondheim for "Original Cast Album: Co-Op." It's based on the documentary of the recordings sessions for "Company." The episode features several Sondheim-like numbers that all ring true -- and explain why "Co-Op" was canceled (according to the story) after one performance.

At the height of the boy band craze, MTV produced "2Gether," a mockumentary TV movie. The title group was a by-the-numbers boy band, each member selected to fill an archetype; the heartthrob, the shy one, the cute one, the older brother, and the bad boy. 2Gether became a TV series, running on MTV for two seasons. They also released two albums.

All of the actors sang for the recordings.

Their single "The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)" charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and in 2000 they opened for Britany Spears on her summer tour.

Next: Fictional groups as characters

Your Morning Shag - Carolina Beach Music Classics!

For the 2020 WTJU Rock Marathon, I'll be hosting a special program on WTJU-FM. Wednesday morning, April 15 from 7-9 am you can enjoy "Your Morning Shag."

This shag has nothing to do with Austin Powers. Rather, the shag means something special on the East Coast. It's a dance developed along the Carolina beaches in the 1950s that remains popular today. (Actually, the scene extended from Virginia through Georgia, though concentrated in the Carolinas).

According to some, the shag became popular because you could dance it on the sand -- ideal for summer beach parties with vacationing teens and college students. The basic shag is a simple six-step pattern with many variations.

In the beginning, Top 40 hits that had the right shuffle tempo were used for beach dances. The Drifters, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, and the Tymes all became beach music favorites.

 Start with this...

 ...end up with this.

 In the early 1960s, Motown groups such as the Temptations and the Four Tops filled the bill. When the writing team of Holland/Dozier/Holland left Motown to form their own label, one of their first groups was the Chairmen of the Board. The Detriot-based band, with lead singer General Norman Johnson, transitioned into a Carolina institution.  

Several blue-eyed soul bands had national hits that became part of the beach music canon. Spiral Staircase, the Swinging Medallions, and even UK-based Foundations contributed Carolina beach classics.

 Regional bands also sprang up, not only capturing the sound but also writing lyrics specific to the area. Greenville, North Carolina's Band of Oz catalog includes "Shaggin," "Ocean Boulevard," and "Southern Belles." The Poor Souls from Charlotte, NC had several regional hits, including "It Ain't the Beat, It's the Motion," and "My Girl Stormy."

 And of course -- for this Virginia-based program -- we can't forget Bill Deal and the Rhondels. Hailing from Portsmith Virginia, their three national hits remain beach music classics.

Join me and Nick Rubin Wednesday morning, 7-9 am on April 15 for "Your Morning Shag." And when you call in or go online with your pledge to WTJU, let us know which beach was your favorite:
  • Virginia Beach
  • Carolina Beach
  • Nags Head
  • Cape Hatteras
  • Myrtle Beach
  • Other

Friday, April 10, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 2

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make classical quartets this month's theme. One could easily fill up a month of postings with nothing but great string quartets. But I decided to explore further.

A piano trio is made up of four musicians. So is a vocal quartet, a percussion quartet, a brass quartet, and so on. I decided to seek out some of the more unusual quartet compositions. And while I do include some string quartets, they're not written by the usual suspects. 

Here are my #Classicsaday selections for the second week of #ClassicalQuartet

04/06/20 Libby Larson (1950 - ): Four on the Floor

Larson says her 1983 work was inspired by boogie-woogie. The unusual quartet is comprised of violin, cello, double bass, and piano.

04/07/20 Jean Francaix (1812-1997): Woodwind Quartet

This 1933 work is for what has become fairly standard makeup of a woodwind quartet: flute, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.

04/08/20 Louis Spohr (1784-1869): String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 29, No. 1

Spohr wrote 36 string quartets. This work is No. 7, the first of three quartets in the Op. 29 set.

04/09/20 Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935): Music for Four Stringed Instruments

Loeffler's work is for a standard string quartet, though he chose not to call it that. It was written in Memorium to a casualty of World War I.

04/10/20 John Cage - Quartet

This 1935 work is for percussion quartet. Cage wrote it while studying with Arnold Schoenberg, though it shows none of his influence.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Kerry Turner Complete Works for Horn appealing and engaging

Kerry Turner and his wife Kristina Mascher-Turner are both members of the American Horn Quartet. Kerry Turner is also a talented composer whose best work, in my opinion, is for the horn.

This release collects a variety of Turner's chamber works for the horn -- solo horn, horn duets, and horn with piano.

Turner writes in tonal style, often using modal harmonies and scales. His music usually features a strong rhythmic pulse, often with syncopation. For me, though, the real interest is in what Turner does with the horn.

As a performer, he's intimately familiar with the possibilities of the instrument. And while there's plenty of technical challenges, they're always in service of the music. The end result is music that is immediately appealing, and often thrilling.

Not only does Turner know his instrument, but he also knows his performers. Candles in the Darkness, for example, was composed for Kristina Marscher-Turner, who performs it here. And she sounds great.

The Suite for Unaccompanied Horn was written as a jury piece for a competition -- a competition that Turner judged. He performs the work on this release, showing one and all how it's supposed to sound. I don't play the horn, but I heard quite a few of the traps Turner built in the piece, such as extreme and sudden register leaps.

One of the most beautiful works on the album (I think), is the Chaconne for 3 horns. Turner and his wife are joined by Frank Lloyd. According to the liner notes, Kerry wanted to write a piece "with every possible sound and color available on the horn."

He succeeded. But as with all of his music, the technical challenges aren't problems to solve. They're integrated into the work, and their successful execution simply furthers the beauty of the music.

For horn players, this release will be a must-have. But I recommend it to anyone who's interested in quality chamber music. You will not be disappointed.

Kerry Turner: Complete Works for Horn, Vol. 1
Kerry Turner, Kristina Mascher-Turner and Frank Lloyd, Horns
Lauretta Bloomer, Piano
Naxos 8l579050

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Career-spanning Clarinet Music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg

This release features three works that span the composer's career. Mieczyslaw Weinberg wrote his Sonata for Clarinet and Piano as a student work. His Chamber Symphony No. 4 was his last completed composition. The Clarinet Concerto is a mature work, written in 1970.

Taken in order, the three works trace the development of the composer. The 1937 Clarinet Sonata has -- I think -- a little bit of snark to it. Weinberg references older musical styles while tweaking them with little dissonances and odd harmonies. It's a youthful composition and at times a high-spirited one.

By 1970, Weinberg was a different person. Like his friend Shostakovich, his creative inclinations were constrained by Soviet orthodoxy. He was only partially successful coloring within the lines.

This concerto, for example, is mostly tonal. Yet it seems to constantly be pulling towards atonality with sliding chromatic harmonies and extended chords.

By 1992, Weinberg was finally free to write what he wanted to. And the results are fascinating. Weinberg's work was considered old-fashioned at the time. His language is still tonal, but it's a free, wide-ranging tonality.

His use of instruments is quite unusual. It's primarily a work for string orchestra. And yet he overlays a clarinet obbligato onto it. And he also adds percussion -- sort of. The score has a triangle that plays only four notes.

It's an odd combination that nevertheless blend to create something quite beautiful and unique.

In the liner notes clarinetist, Robert Oberaigner says, "Weinberg wrote very skilfully for the clarinet, expressively staging the dynamic range of the instrument and writing beautiful vocal lines in the low register."

Quite so. and Oberaigner plays to perfection. His tone is warm and mellow in the low registers. And its clear and clean in the upper register without being shrill.

Obreraigner also wrote that the conductor, Michail Jurowski, was a friend of Weinberg. He "brought me closer to the many facets of this music, gave everyone involved deep insights into the link between Weinberg’s music and his life."

Those insights are what appealed to me most about this release. The performances communicate those deep emotions that Weinberg was often required to suppress. The emotions that give his music its power.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Clarinet Music
Clarinet Concerto; Clarinet Sonata; Chamber Symphony No. 4
Robert Oberaigner, clarinet; Michael Schöch, piano
Dresden Chamber Soloists; Michail Jurowski, conductor
Naxos 8.574192

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Sympathetic performance of Felix Woyrsch Third Symphony

This is the second release in CPO's Felix Woyrsch symphonic cycle. Woyrsch, active in the early part of the 20th Century, was a Keeper of the Flame. Like his friend Johannes Brahms, Woyrsch wanted to work within established classical music forms. But like Brahms, Woyrsch didn't perfectly preserve past forms. Rather, he stretched them in interesting ways -- without breaking them.

Woyrsch's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat minor was completed in 1921. Woyrsch appreciated the music of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Superficially, this symphony doesn't hint at that appreciation. And yet the work is highly chromatic. The aggressively dissonant harmonies resolve tonally.

But for me, the overall effect is a work that really strains against the limits of tonality. That struggle is what gives this big, full-bodied work its emotional impact.

Also included is an earlier work, Three Boecklin Phantasies op. 53. Woyrsch wasn't the only composer to draw inspiration from Bocklin. Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Max Reger also wrote works based on his art.

Woyrsch's 1910 work presents impressions of three paintings, all of which are heavy with atmosphere. Worysch's orchestrations are quite evocative, especially in the final movement, "Spiel der Wellen" (Playing in the waves).

The painting depicts sea nymphs and mermen in a churning ocean. The foreground merman leers, the foreground nymph looks away frightened. Woryrch's music is lively and animated, but with a subtext of unease. The movement is both playful and menacing -- just like the painting.

The Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester directed by Thomas Dorsch performs credibly. As with many CPO recordings, the recorded sound seems a little soft-focused (to my ears). I personally would have preferred more detail in the sound. But that rounded warmth also seems well-suited to Woyrsh's music.

Felix Woyrsch: Symphony No. 3, Op. 70
Three Boecklin Phantasies op. 53 
Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester; Thomas Dorsch 
cpo 777 923-2

Monday, April 06, 2020

Alessandro Scarlatti Cantatas and Recorder Sonatas Nice Blend

This release presents a well-thought-out program of music by Alessandro Scarlatti. There are five works: three solo cantatas with two instrumental sonatas. The mix is quite effective -- especially as the cantatas have fairly extensive instrumental passages.

Soprano Roberta Invernizzi sings with a clean, clear sound. Even her upper register has a warmth I found quite appealing. It blended especially well with the mellow tones of the recorder. Invernizzi also invested a great deal of expression into her performance.

She effectively communicated the intent of the text -- even to a listener (like me) who doesn't understand Italian. "Quella pace gradita" has some exceptionally beautiful interplay between the soprano and the obbligato violin.

The Collegium Pro Musica also delivers some fine performances. When accompanying Invernizzi, they strike the right balance between foreground and background. The ensemble steps forward during the instrumental interludes and retreats -- but not too far-- to make room for the vocalist.

This release has some fine examples of Scarlatti's work. If you're not familiar with this particular member of the Scarlatti family (son Dominico is the best-known), this is a good place to start.

Alessandro Scarlatti: Cantatas & Recorder Concertos
Roberta Invernizzi soprano
Collegium Pro Musica; Stefano Bagliano, conductor
Brilliant Classics 95721

Friday, April 03, 2020

#ClassicsaDay #ClassicalQuartet Week 1

April is the fourth month of the year. And so the Classics a Day team decided to make classical quartets this month's theme. One could easily fill up a month of postings with nothing but great string quartets. But I decided to explore further.

A piano trio is made up of four musicians. So is a vocal quartet, a percussion quartet, a brass quartet, and so on. I decided to seek out some of the more unusual quartet compositions. And while I do include some string quartets, they're not written by the usual suspects. 

Here are my #Classicsaday selections for the first week of #ClassicalQuartet

04/01/20 Peter Schickle (1925 - ): Last Tango in Bayreuth

Schickle is best known for his alter ego, PDQ Bach. But even when he composes under his own name, there's still a lot of humor in Schickle's work. His favorite instrument is the bassoon. So what could be better than four of them?

04/02/20 Eugene Bozza (1905-1991): Trois pièces pour une musique de unit

French violinist and composer Bozza was best known for his chamber music. This three-movement work is for a woodwind quartet -- flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon.

04/03/20 Steve Reich (1936 -): Drumming

This work is considered one of the first minimalist masterpieces. It's for four players. But they're not always playing four instruments.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Roxanna Panufnik -- Love Abide an exotic blend

There are several things I've come to expect from a Roxanna Panufnik choral composition. Music that realizes the full potential of the human voice. Music that's beautifully crafted with innovative harmonies and voice leading. Music with a carefully chosen text and usually -- taken in context with the music -- has a profound message.

"Love Abide" did not disappoint. As Panufnik writes, the album celebrates "music, texts, and chants of a diversity of faiths," all united by the common theme of love. Some of those connections are obvious, some quite subtle.

I've also come to expect some things from the Signum Classics label -- such as exceptional choral ensembles impeccably recorded. Again, "Love Abide" didn't disappoint. Panufnik's music pulled from a variety of traditions. It seemed only logical that the recording would feature a variety of vocal ensembles.

The a cappella octet VOCE8 delivered intimate, crystalline performances. "Love Endureth" features close-knit harmonies, often with two adjacent notes sounding. VOCE8's precise intonation revealed the expressive quality of such dissonances. And their blend with Kiku Day's shakuhachi in the "Zen Love Song," was amazing. The warmth of this bamboo flute blended seamlessly with the voices.

The chamber choir Exultate Singers provided much fuller sound for Panufnik's "Magnificat" and Nunc dimittis." Fuller, yet transparent -- to the benefit of the music. The Colla Voce Singers also had a full sound, but one that was more homogenous.

I suspect the Love Abide Children's Choir was created for this recording. If so, they did a good job assembling it. The voices blended wonderfully on their own (as in "Schola Missa de Angelis"). And they changed the timbres of the adult choirs they were paired in subtle and interesting ways.

I believe Roxanna Panufnik is one of the most important choral composers of our time. Give this release a listen and see if you agree.

Roxanna Panufnik: Love Abide
Colla Voce Singers; Love Abide Children's Choir; London Mozart Players; Lee Ward
Signum Classics SIGCD564

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The ethereal beauty of Peteris Vasks Viola Concerto

Peteris Vasks is one of my favorite contemporary composers. He has a distinctive voice, and his works always deliver emotionally (to me, anyway). The two compositions on this release are no exception -- though they are exceptional.

The Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra was written in 2014 and premiered by its dedicatee, Maxim Rysanov. Rysanov is both the soloist and conductor for this world premiere recording.

In the concerto, Vasks plays to his strengths. The music slowly swirls in gossamer strands, coalescing from time to time for greater emotional impact. Vasks also weaves in folk-like melodies that temporarily ground the music.

How best to describe this work? Imagine if Arvo Part had rewritten Ralph Vaughan William's "Flos Campi." The viola is the center of the work, fluttering through the orchestra's sound cloud like a butterfly. Maxim Rysanov's playing gets to the emotional center of Vasks' music. At times it's almost heartbreakingly beautiful.

Also included is Vasks' First Symphony, "Voices." While the composer's style is consistent between the two works, it's easy to hear the growth between the two works. The music closely followed the movement titles: voices of silence, voices of life, voices of conscience. The sound clouds in this work aren't as transparent as they are in the concerto.

The "silence" movement features hushed strings, often playing harmonics. The second ("life") is full of conflict, with clumps of instruments grinding against each other. "Conscience" begins with small motifs that bubble up, eventually coming together in an insistent tutti. The work then slowly descends back into a semblance of "silence."

The Sinfonietta Riga turn in some tremendous performances. Vasks' music is one of subtle and often delicate changes. The orchestra plays with sympathy and precision. That precision ensures the effect Vasks wants comes through unmarred. There's nothing to distract the listener from the pure emotion of the music.

This is an SACD recording and for good reason. To truly appreciate Vasks' music you have to hear all the details. If you don't buy a physical disc, be sure to download this music at the highest resolution possible. It matters. 

Peteris Vasks: Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra
Symphony for Strings "Voices"
Maxim Rysanov, viola and conductor; Sinfonietta Riga