Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Kai Schumacher Plays Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Unconventional virtuoso playing a suitably unconventional composition. Kai Schumacher was a good choice to record Frederic Rzewski’s iconic 1975 homage to revolutionary ideals, considering the diversity of his background (conservatory, new music and fulltime gig as keyboardist in scorching German rock band Trustgame). The rock comes in handy here because this is a very physically demanding piece, requiring the pianist to play percussion, vocalize and do all kinds of messing around with sustained overtones. It’s proof that didactic music sometimes makes good listening. Essentially, it’s about how revolutions reach critical mass. Parts of it are rigorously mathematical, carefully grouped into growing clusters of notes to symbolize the growing numbers embracing a paradigm shift, but even more of it is unabashedly Romantic – no matter what ideology you give something, ultimately it’s the way it sounds, the way it comes across that determines whether the people sing along.

After the intial theme – famous Chilean composer Sergio Ortega’s revolutionary song, from which this pieces takes its title – ideas sprinkle themselves out from the upper registers, leading to a few staccato, seemingly random plinks – are they lost in space? No. They come back slowly. Twelve-tone rows cascade in jarring sequence, pregnant pauses go on for what seems like ten or fifteen seconds at a clip, and the various interwoven themes – Hans Eisler’s Solidarity Song, and the Italian Red Brigade anthem – move in and out of focus. A waltz and a deviously bouncy atonal fugue sandwich one of those pregnant pauses. Crescendos alternate between triumphant heroic themes and mad dashes of dissonance. Melody tantalizes much like the promise of post-revolutionary normalcy but obstacles keep it from reaching fruition. Schumacher keeps a level head and plays all but the most savage passages with an understatedly smooth attack, employing a vast range of dynamics for emphasis rather than launching into any kind of garish pyrotechnics. By the time the Cadenza comes around he’s been charged up by eight stabbing minutes of staccato noir cabaret and latin folk tune permutations to the point where there is no stopping anymore and the fireworks finally kick in, ablaze in hard-rocking Rachmaninovian fury.

As Schumacher relates in the liner notes, the piece concludes with a somber restatement of the Ortega theme –  a measure of defeat, or of defiance no matter what the odds? Maybe the listener’s interpretation might determine that. To paraphrase Aurelia Shrenker (whose own paradigm-shifting vocal duo project Æ with Eva Salina Primack we just reviewed), wouldn’t it be cool if this song was one that everybody knew?

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March 10, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surfing with Cellos: Quattrocelli in Their New York Debut, 4/17/08

Harsher critics would have called this a pops concert: among the selections in the group’s impressively diverse set at Trinity Church were several movie themes. Just about anything with the slightest bit of melody sounds good if played on the electric guitar, and the same could be said for the cello. But it was  German cello quartet Quattrocelli’s playful, often astonishingly imaginative arrangements that ultimately won over the crowd and earned them a standing ovation. Everybody knows the Godfather theme, but how many have heard it all the way through? Quattrocelli’s cover of that old chestnut brought out every bit of tragedy in Nino Rota’s score. Likewise, they did a full-length version of Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible, its middle section revealing itself full of bracing atmospherics worthy of Messiaen. And their cover of Misirlou – yet another composition best known to most audiences as a surf song – started out remarkably authentic, one of the players doing percussion on his cello with his fingers, evoking the dumbek (a hand drum that appears in most Middle Eastern music) which was almost undoubtedly on the original Greek version. But after the bridge, one of the cellists took it straight into Agent Orange territory, wailing furiously on the song’s famous riff while the others played subtly off the melody.

Otherwise, the group proved themselves at home with a wide range of styles. These ranged from baroque (Bach’s famous Air on a G String) to classical (two short, striking Shostakovich pieces, the Balkan dance Ball at the Palace and the hauntingly gorgeous Chitarri, which as one of the group explained became a tv spy show theme), to modernist (a jazz piece by German composer Helmuth Brandt, a Hans Eisler nocturne and a Gershwin medley wherein one of the cellists mimed a trombone while the rest of the group authentically mimicked the horn’s voicings, with hilarious results). Their encore, My Way, was uncharacteristically timid, crying out for a Sid Vicious standin to take over and put some kind of original stamp on it. But it made a point: Quattrocelli sound like no other chamber quartet in the world, and they’re fearless about it. Their next US tour promises to include works by American composers, which should be interesting, to say the least.

April 17, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment