George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
His Carnegie Hall Concert of 1927
A Jazz Symphony (original version, 1925) [12:32]
with Ivan Davis (pianist)
Sonata for violin, piano and drum No. 2 (1923) [8:06]
Charles Castleman (violin); Randall Hodgkinson (piano)
String Quartet No. 1 (1924) [12:59]
The Mendelssohn String Quartet (Ida Levin (violin); Nicolas Mann (violin); Katherine Murdock (viola); Marcy Rosen (cello))
Ballet Mécanique (original version 1925) [26:55]
Rex Lawson (pianolist), Leslie Amper, David Close, Stephen Harlos, Randall Hodgkinson, Joseph Joubert, Morey Ritt (piano), Jim Baker, Andy Bowman, David Carey, Cliff Hardison, Steve Little, Mark Sherman (xylophone), Gordon Gottlieb, Sue Evans and Alan Raff (percussion)
The New Palais Royale Orchestra and Percussion Ensemble/Maurice Peress
rec. 1-4 April 1990, SUNY Purchase, New York. USA. DDD
NIMBUS NI 2567 [60:46]
While most people know about the riots at the Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring fewer recall those that greeted the first performance of Ballet Mécanique by that “Bad Boy of Music”, George Antheil.
With Ornstein and Cowell, Antheil formed the shock troops of the avant-garde in the 1920s. There were riots in Paris at the Théâtre Champs Elysées in June 1926 when Ballet Mécanique was premiered. There was also unrest for the repeat the following April in New York's Carnegie Hall. Having had its salutary and no doubt calculated effect the music fell into oblivion rather like Holbrooke’s Apollo and the Seaman symphony remembered if at all for reasons not directly to do with the music. This was until American conductor and musicologist Maurice Peress located the original scores of the Antheil and revived the 1927 concert in the very same Carnegie Hall on 12 July 1989.
So it’s a case of: Iconoclasts this way please. Antheil of the 1920s cocked a snook at the pretentious and the popular. Like many a revolutionary he in later years found the philosophic mind for symphonies (CPO) and film music but my how the earth heaved and burst open when he was young! A Jazz Symphony steamrollers genre after genre. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue gets a bruising - or possibly a celebration - as does Stravinsky, Mexican mariachi bands and Broadway carousel whimsicality. In fact one only gets a proper handle on the Gershwin and on Stravinsky's Concerto for piano and wind orchestra, Ragtime and Sacre after you have heard this truly irreverent four movement Mills Bomb of a piece. The Second Violin Sonata (with drum!) is a thing of fracture and dissonance. Ragtime suddenly breaks anarchically free and once again kicking over the traces of conventionality. The First Quartet is in a single movement and bears the same refreshing influences and inclinations. Ballet Mécanique is the longest piece here and is in three movements full of ruthless pin-sharp rhythmic stuff. The orchestration is lavish in some respects: pianola, six pianists, three xylophones, four bass-drums, tam-tam, siren, eleven pitches of electric bells and three aeroplane propellers (here substituted by the recorded sound of vintage airplanes). In this work’s ruthlessly hammered minimalism we can see the genre lampooned by Holbrooke in Barrage and the Four Futurist Dances – all works predating the Ballet. The finale of the three movement Ballet is a landslide of furious and frenetic activity. You will understand the twenties more once you know this piece. This is extraordinary music from an extraordinary concert; tribute is due to Mr Peress for this grand enterprise.
This is a wonderful revival from the MusicMasters catalogue. Roll-on the plans to reissue their treasury of Lou Harrison recordings.
A conflagration of machine-age, ragtime, avant-garde and sentimentality supported by a fascinatingly indulgent liner-note.
Rob Barnett
A dazzling conflagration of machine-age, ragtime, avant-garde and sentimentality. ... see Full Review