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Original Cast Records  

Marc BLITZSTEIN (1905-1964)
The Marc Blitzstein Centennial Concert
Song (1925) [1:48] 1 *
What’s the Matter with Me? (1929) [2:59] 2
The Way You Are (1935) [2:34] 3
Hard to Say (from Reuben, Reuben(1955)) [1:37] 3
Lovely to Get Back to Love (1945) [1:37] 4 *
War Song (1945) [2:05] 1 *
from Idiots First (1962):
Under the Sky [1:11] 5 *
Who Will Close the Door? [2:37] 5 *
How I Met My New Grandfather [2:53] 5 *
From Nine Whitman Songs (1926-7):
As if a Phantom Caress’d Me [1:43] 5
After the Dazzle of Day [1:30] 5
As Adam [1:24] 5
From Sacco and Vanzetti (1959/2001):
Memorial Day [1:37] 5 *
With a Woman To Be [4:40] 5 *
Torremaggiore-Villafalletto Trio [1:45] 3 *
I’ve Got the Tune (1937):
Prologue [0:25] 6
Scene 1, The Street [5:06] 2, 3, 6
Scene 2, The Salon [5:27] 3
Scene 3, The Meeting [9:30] 2, 5
Scene 4, The Neighbor [3:47] 5,6
Scene 5, The Street [5:36] 5
The Nickel Under the Foot (1936) [2:55] 7
* Music completed by Leonard Lehrman
Helen Williams (soprano); Victoria Tralongo (soprano); Cameron Smith (tenor); Bill Castleman (baritenor); Joshua Minkin (baritenor); Lars Woodul (baritone); Robert Osborne (bass-baritone); John Craven (piano); Leonard Lehrman (piano); David Hessney (piano); Don Levine (percussion); Katya Brous (speaker); The Solidarity Singers of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council; The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus; The Workmen’s Circle Chorus / Leonard Lehrman
rec. (1)  9 October, 2004, American Music Research Center, Boulder, Colorado; (2) 5 March, 2005, People’s Voice Cafe, New York City; (3) 27 February, 2005, Great Neck House, New York; (4) 3 April, Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach, New York; (5) 6 March, 2005, Queens College, New York; (6) 8 December, 1970, Lowell House, Harvard; (7)probably 1938

Leonard Lehrman is a talented composer and performer (a conductor, pianist and much else) in his own right; he has also done a great deal to further the memory and reputation of a man who was obviously one of his heroes – Marc Blitzstein. So much so, that Leonard Bernstein dubbed him “Marc Blitzstein’s dybbuk”– though he presumably didn’t intend to attribute to Lehrman the malice usually associated with dybbuks, but merely to dramatise the closeness of the musical association! Lehrman has completed or adapted some twenty works by Blitzstein (including a number of items on this CD); he edited – at the invitation of the Blitzstein estate – the three volumes of The Marc Blitzstein Songbook (1999-2003); 2005 saw the publication of his authoritative study Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-bibliography (Greenwood Press).
Blitzstein – who was, of course, a considerable influence on Bernstein himself – worked on, and across, the boundaries between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ music in ways that were frequently very stimulating. His earliest work was often distinctly avant-garde and experimental; he studied with both Schoenberg and Nadia Boulanger. But he increasingly turned to the composition of music in the service of – but not aesthetically limited by – his commitment to a range of social causes. Much of his best work went into a series of compositions for the musical theatre.
The setting of Brooke – one of Blitzstein’s earliest art songs - is persuasively sung by Helene Williams, and three of Blitzstein’s intriguing settings of Whitman are given powerful performances (transposed down) by Robert Osborne. The unexpected intervals and sensitivity to text make these pieces which deserve to be far better known.
Entertaining in a very different way are the delightfully camp pieces ‘What’s the Matter with Me?’ and ‘The Way You Are’, delivered by Bill Castleman. ‘Hard to Say’ is a dialogue piece more striking for its text than its music; it comes from Reuben Reuben, described by Lehrman as an “unsuccessful urban folk opera that opened and closed quickly in Boston in 1955”.
Some of the best music comes in the extracts from Idiots First, a one act opera based on a short story by Bernard Malamud, which Blitzstein began in 1962. Bernstein undertook completion of it, but then passed the task on to Lehrman. The resulting score has been produced on four separate occasions. It is to be hoped that one day there will be the chance to hear a modern recording of the whole. Even more striking are the extracts from Saccho and Vanzetti, a project close to Blitzstein’s heart (and mind) on which he worked for many years but never completed, though the Metropolitan Opera took out an option on it in 1959. Lehrman – after no less than 25 years of work on the surviving papers! – managed to put on three semi-staged performances, with piano accompaniment, as here, in 2001.  There is some beautifully yearning music in the ‘Torremaggiore-Villafalletto Trio’ and ‘With a Woman To Be’ packs a considerable emotional punch. Surely a full production will be mounted one day before too long? And recorded? Please.
I’ve Got the Tune, written for radio, featured Blitzstein himself and Lotte Lenya, no less, when it was first produced in October 1937. It is, to a degree, quasi-autobiographical, its parable-like narrative containing more than a few allusions to incidents in Blitzstein’s own life. It is the story of a composer unable to find words and singer for his tune. There is considerable satirical wit and intelligence here, some shrewd satire and some considerable poignancy.
The CD closes with a remarkable find. It is a recording on which Blitzstein performs his own song ‘The Nickel Under the Foot’; Blitzstein first played this song for a prostitute for Bertolt Brecht in 1936. It was at Brecht’s suggestion that the song became the seed, as it were, from which grew Blitzstein’s most fully-realised work, The Cradle Will Rock, a work of which we do, at least, have satisfactory recordings.
It would be dishonest not to admit that some of these performances are less than perfect and that the recorded sound is not always up to the highest standards. But it would also be dishonest not to say that such qualifications do not seriously distract from the worth of a fascinating collection of the utterly distinctive – and still underrated – music of one of twentieth-century music’s great individuals.
Glyn Pursglove



Original Cast Records  


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