Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Historically Vital, Epically Sweeping Film Music Album from Daniel Hope

Violinist Daniel Hope‘s latest release, Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album (streaming at Spotify), isn’t just a fascinating and rewarding listen: it’s a important historical document. Film preservationists race against the ravages of time to salvage rare celluloid; likewise, Hope’s new recordings of film music by Jewish expatriates, mostly from pre-and post-WWII Hollywood, have historical value for that reason alone. What’s just as important is how vividly Hope underscores how Jewish composers’ contributions were as vital in defining an era in filmmaking as their colleagues on the theatrical side were. What’s more, this new recording, made with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the baton of Alexander Shelley, is much cleaner and higher quality than any old, mono celluloid version could possibly be. Many of these pieces are not heard all the way through in the films, and while there were stand-alone soundtrack albums for some of the movies whose music is featured here, others had none, all the more reason to savor this.

As you would imagine from the filmography chronicled here, it’s a lavish, Romantic ride. The album opens with Miklós Rózsa’s ripe, vibrato-fueled 1959 love theme from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Hope leading the way with a crystalline, guardedly hopeful, soaring tone. Likewise, his highwire lines light up Rózsa’s lush, flamenco-inflected 1961 Love Theme from El Cid. And yet another romantic theme – this one from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, from sixteen years earlier – shows that Hungarian-born composer had his ecstatically crescendoing formula well-refined by then.

Taken out of context, Thomas Newman’s interlude from the immortal plastic bag scene in American Beauty is remarkably plaintive, a quality enhanced by this performance. The swing-era standard As Time Goes By, popularized in Casablanca, wasn’t written by Max Steiner, the composer of that film’s score, but by Tin Pan Alley song merchant Herman Hupfeld: Hope chooses it to end the album, in a stark solo rendition. A sad Henry Waxman waltz from the 1962 weepie Come Back, Little Sheba foreshadows it

The source material here reaches beyond mainstrean Hollywood. There’s also a majestic, string-driven version of a Walter Jurmann Weimar ragtime piece; Eric Zeisl’s striking overture Menuhim’s Song; and a surprisingly Celtic-tinged instrumental ballad by Werner Richard Heymann.

Not all the composers here are Jewish, either. John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List adds context, along with an achingly lush 1988 Ennio Morricone set piece from Cinema Paradiso that draws a straight line back to his predecessors here.

And the album isn’t just film scores. German crooner Max Raabe sings a marvelously deadpan version of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his work with Andres Segovia, gets a shout via a rippling take of Sea Murmurs, from his Shakespeare Songs suite. Erich Korngold – whose Hollywood success springboarded a career in serious concert music – is represented first by a dynamic version of his Violin Concerto in D. Hope dances and weaves over an alternately sweeping and gusty backdrop as a dramatic melody with all the hallmarks of a movie title theme rise to the forefront. The Serenade from his ballet suite Der Schneeman (The Snowman) is more low key, with a similarly heart-on-sleeve ambience. Virtually everything here will sweep you away to a land that time happily hasn’t forgotten – if you tend to find yourself immersed in something on Turner Classics at three in the morning, do yourself a favor and get this album.

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December 15, 2014 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Timeless Relevance and Challenging Sounds from Ensemble Pi

It’s always a good sign when a challenging ensemble sells out the room; it’s even better when the program is important on more than just a musical level. Such was the case last night at the Cell Theatre in Chelsea where Ensemble Pi put on their annual peace concert. It was fun, and entertaining…and politically charged. The theme, What Must Be Said turned out to be a Gunter Grass quote, read in its entirety in the original German, the gist being that Israel ought to be subject to the same nuclear inspections as Iran. To which should be added, every nation possessing weapons, or power plants, of mass destruction let’s not forget what happened on 3/11.

That was the politics. The music addressed the global struggle for freedom, sometimes acerbically, sometimes gnomically, sometimes in between those extremes. Pianist Idith Meshulam and violinist Airi Yoshioka opened the evening with Susan Botti’s Lament: The Fallen City, a reflection on areas fallen victim to natural or manmade disasters.The violin played droning microtones against the center as the piano melody began still and built from there: in the early going, it reminded of Kayhan Kalhor’s horror-stricken Silent City. From there the duo took it to an agitation that eventally turned into a sort of ragtime disguised with twelve-tone harmonies, jaunty Americana on a knife’s edge.

Three songs by Kristin Norderval followed, from a forthcoming opera based on the life of architect and human rights crusader Patricia Isasa. In her native Argentina, “disappear” can be a transitive verb; Isasa was one of the few who returned after having been “disappeared” during the pre-1983 dictatorship’s reign of terror. Soprano Emily Donato gave dignity – and a viscerally thrilling crescendo – to Isasa’s teenage dreams of building a new city, conducted with tango-tinged verve by Eduardo Leandro, the piano and violin joined by Isabel Castellvi on cello, Cristian Amigo on guitar, Daniel Binelli on bandoneon and Kevin Norton on an army of percussion instruments. Daniel Pincus sang a sarcastic, faux-martial number from the point of view of the judge who sent Isasa away – and who later got sent away for doing that. The composer then sang an irony-drenched, shapeshifting, microtonally-infused number whose most powerful lyrics unfortunately got lost in upper-register pyrotechnics. Since the opera is a work in progress, it makes sense to say that – audiences need to hear a song’s most resonant line, don’t they?

Meshulam then backed a wry and vividly relevant puppet show, performed by the troupe Great Small Works, based on the life of composer Hanns Eisler, who was deported from the US during the McCarthy era. Titled Eisler on the Go after the song that Woody Guthrie had written about him, it underscored the continued relevance of Eisler’s artfully corrosive songs written with Kurt Weill, three of which were sung by Norderval. Just the icepick precision of Meshulam’s menacingly altered boogie-woogie lefthand in the mordant Supply and Demand made the concert worthwhile (for those who missed last night’s show, they’re doing it again tonight).

The evening closed with a couple of piano miniatures, one with a creepy, Satie-esque minimalism, and then the first movement from Eisler’s Sonata No. 3, which heavily referenced the energetic otherworldliness of Eisler’s teacher Arthur Schoenberg. In the worlds of serious music, especially indie classical, self-absorption can get out of hand. So it was refreshing, often to the extreme, to see a show like this one.

November 10, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment