Mercoledi Musicale

Jacques Loussier (1934 – 2019)

It seems far too often these days that my Mercoledi Musicale posts are in memorium in their nature. Many of the great musicians that I grew up with are leaving the scene but fortunately their music making remains. The remarkable French jazz pianist Jacques Loussier left us last week at the age of 84. He had retired from perfoming in 2011 when he suffered a stroke during at performance at the Klavier-Festival Ruhr.

Laurent developed a fondness for Loussier and his brilliant takes on the works of Bach back in the 1990s and many of the recordings made by the Loussier Trio were, and still are, never far from our changer. The original Trio sold over 15 million records and performed in the range of 3000 concerts in the 15 years they were together. The original trio disbanded in the mid-70s but Loussier revived the group in 1985 for the tricentennial celebrations of Bach’s birth. Their most popular recording was this take on JSB’s Air on a G String.

At the age of eleven he heard a piece from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach and fell in love with it. In an interview, he recalled ” … I found I loved to play the music, but add my own notes, expanding the harmonies and playing around with that music.” Though best known for his take on and obvious love for Bach he found inspiration in Satie, Vivaldi, Mozart, Handel, and Chopin.

He also composed the soundtrack scores for over 100 film and television including one of my favourite early TV series: Thierry la Fronde. Though I have to confess that my fondness for the adventures of the King’s Outlaw had more to do with Jean-Claude Drouot’s chest hair and buns than Loussier’s theme music. Ah the innocence of youth!

March 13 is Ear Muff Day – and given the temperature outside it would appear a goodly number are celebrating those appendage warmers.

Mercoledi Musicale

Most Thursday nights we head over to Baba’s Lounge – a small, at times cramped, bar/restaurant on the second floor above Cedars, a really good Lebanese restaurant. We have our favourite seats at the bar, Tommy and JD the bartenders/waiters pretty much know what we’ll be having for dinner and in the way of adult beverages. We chat with friends, other regulars, and many of the musicians then settle back to enjoy an evening of Island Jazz. Dan Roswell, a really fine sax player, has been producing jazz evening there for sometime now – as well as our annual summer PEI Jazz & Blues Festival.

Our friends Marlee and Evan setting up for a Thursday night session at Island Jazz last fall.

Last week was a tribute to lyricist, songwriter, and singer Johnny Mercer. Looking at his list of what have become standards it would be easier to list the composers and media he didn’t write for. I thought I knew the bulk of them but I don’t honestly ever think I’d heard this number he wrote in 1962 with Doris Tauber. And I’m surprised I’d never heard this incredible version by Dinah Washington.

Mercer and Judy Garland had an off and on again relationship for many years and he claimed she was his inspiration for more than one song. He once said that the song the most reflected his feelings for her was I Remember You.

March 6 is National Crown Roast of Pork Day. Apparently it is the butt of many jokes here on the internet.

Mercoledi Musicale

Last week I posted several music videos of Eileen Farrell, a crossover artists par-excellence from the past. And earlier this week my good friend David over at I’ll Think of Something Later posted several videos of Anita Rachvelishvili, the Georgian mezzo-soprano, who is well on her way to becoming one of today’s major opera stars. And if today’s MM is any indication a major crossover artist as well. They do say that Gershwin is a test of any singer and frankly in my mind she passes the test. And the work of pianist/conductor Nikoloz Rachveli and his crew is pretty damn fine on this and her other jazz recordings.

She first came to notice and notoriety in 2009 when as a 25 year old she opened the season at La Scala as Carmen along with tenor-heart throb Jonas Kaufmann in a controversial production by Emma Dante. I had thought of heading up to Milan but decided I really didn’t need to see another Carmen. More fool me – by the time I decided that maybe I should see what the buzz was about there wasn’t a ticket to be had! I had missed my chance to see two superstars of today’s opera world.

As David note she is a dramatic mezzo in the great tradition but rather than show the fireworks that she is capable of – and anyone who heard or saw her Amneris in Aida or the Princess in Adriana Lecouveur from the Met can tell you she has all the power and brilliance of a Roman Candle – I’d post a video that shows her in a more lyrical light. From a Bastille Day Concert in Paris she sing an aria from Sappho, a Gounod rarity.

Should I ever get another chance to see her on stage – and I never say never – I won’t be passing it up again.

February 27 is Anosmia Awareness Day.

Mercoledi Musicale

I grew up listening to opera – mostly on the radio and mostly from the Metropolitan Opera – in the 1950s and 60s and it was a “Golden Age”. Now I know every opera quee.. lover maintains that the previous generation of singers were “Golden Age” gods and goddesses but when I look at the list of performers I heard every Saturday I can’t help but believe that it was a true “Golden Age”: Callas, Tebaldi, Björling, Milanov, Tucker, Stevens, Berganza, Sutherland, Horne, Corelli, Price and this lady: Eileen Farrell.

The daughter of vaudevillians Eileen Farrell began her career in 1941 at the age of 21 when CBS offered her a half-hour radio programme. It was a mixture of classical and pop and guest artists were opera and popular singers including Frank Sinatra. She appeared frequently on radio programmes again performing everything from opera to pop. She also dubbed the voice of Eleanor Parker in Interrupted Melody the story of the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence. She appeared briefly in the film as a student struggling to hit a top note – a real feat of acting! She never missed a top note in her life.

These three selections are from her radio days and are remarkable for the absolute clarity of her diction. In an interview with Charlie Rose in 1993 she emphasized the importance of diction in any sort of music – whither it be aria or song you were telling your audience a story.

She made her stage debut in Opera in Tampa and went on to sing in Chicago, San Francisco and finally at the Met. Though her discography is extensive she recorded very few complete operas though thankfully there are off-the-radio transfers and pirated recordings of many of her performances. Always comfortable as a cross-over performer, many of her later recordings were popular, jazz and blues albums. She claimed that the great Mabel Mercer was a major influence on her approach to popular music. She told Charlie Rose that the pinacle of her professional life was a joint concert she gave with Mercer in 1982. Here she shows what she learned from Mercer in a classy and classic performance of a Gershwin standard

But when I was twelve or thirteen the voice that thrilled me sang opera though never Tosca. Listening to this you can believe she lived for her art. Or maybe it was just what she said to Charlie Rose: I love to sing!

On this day in 1913: King O’Malley drives in the first survey peg to mark commencement of work on the construction of Canberra.

Mercoledi Musicale

In which we once again look at a lost penny!

After the final chord, I looked up. The Master’s darkly glowing gaze was fixed upon me penetratingly. Yet suddenly a benevolent smile broke up his gloomy features, Beethoven became quite close, bent over me, laid his hand on my head and repeatedly stroked my hair. “Devil of a fellow” he whispered, “such a young rascal!” I suddenly plucked up courage “May I play something of yours now?” I asked cheekily. Beethoven nodded with a smile.

– Franz Liszt on meeting Beethoven

Though traditional thought says otherwise, Beethoven did smile and it would appear that on more than one occasion he laughed. In a post that begins with the excerpt I’ve quoted above from Liszt’s diary Professor David Dennis explains where our misconception of a dour, raging Ludwig Von came from. A quick left click on LvB above will take you to his post.

If another legend is to be believed LvB was also a bit of a penny-pincher and on one occasion when a brand new penny (groschen) fell down a drain he immediately sat down at the clavichord and expressed his rage in this little piece: Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice (Rage over a lost penny in the form of a caprice).

Of course this story is as unfounded as the “grumpy old curmudgeon” spiel. Beethoven called the unfinished piece a Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio (Rondo in the Gypsy style, almost a caprice). The “Rage” title does appear on the manuscript but not in Beethoven’s hand. It appears it was added by his friend and unpaid secretary Anton Schindler in one of his less than honest attempts to cash in on the unpublished manuscripts that he inherited on the composer’s death.

It is often played as a virtuoso encore piece by pianists as an excuse to show off their furious technical agility (a few names spring to mind). I’ve chosen the 1964 Kempf version because he treats it as what it is – a rondeau, energetic and full of humour and just a touch of romanticism. He shows his own genius without obscuring the genius that was Beethoven.

On this day in 1955: Israel obtains four of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls.