The Medinah Sessions
William WALTON
Facade Suite [20:48]
Till Eulenspiegel Einmal Anders! (arr. Franz Hasenörl) [8:00]
Alexander SCRIABIN
Waltz in A flat (arr. Alexander Elliott) [5:54]
Serenata in Vano [6:44]
The Soldier's Tale - suite [26:34]
Threepenny Opera Suite [20:48]
Music for a Farce [12:36]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ
Le Revue de Cuisine [13:58]
Octandre [7:14]
Capriccio Espagnol [14:54]
Chicago Pro Musica
rec. Medinah Temple, Chicago, August 1983, June 1988. ADD
REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-2102 [68:15 + 69:16]

Chicago Pro Musica is, or was, an ensemble founded in 1979 by John Bruce Yeh, a long-serving clarinettist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I’m unsure if the group is still in existence. The members of CPM were all colleagues of Yeh in the Chicago Symphony. With that pedigree technical excellence can be pretty much taken as read and, indeed, all the playing on these discs is out of the top drawer. I imagine the ensemble was flexible as to membership, depending on what music was being performed. Twenty-five musicians are listed in the booklet, mainly wind and brass players. It’s a shame that we aren’t told the names of the players who took part in each performance but maybe that information isn’t available any longer. It’s worth saying at this point that the booklet contains notes on each piece which, I suspect, were written when these recordings were originally issued. Most of the notes are by Edward Kaufmann and these are excellent, discussing the music as well as the background to each composition. The notes on the works by Weill, Bowles, Martinů and Varèse are by Patrick Rucker and these, by comparison, are disappointingly superficial, giving little away about the music; that’s a pity because many listeners may be unfamiliar with those pieces in particular.
No complaints, however, about the performances. The Walton, for example, is despatched with great vitality. The tango part of ‘Tango-Pasodoble’ sways seductively before the music becomes racy. The ‘Polka’ is cheeky and the famous ‘Popular Song’ is deliciously inflected. The ’Tarantella’ brings the suite to an exuberant close.
Franz Hasenörl’s ‘take’ on Till Eulenspiegel is ingenious. “Einmal Anders!” can be translated as “another way” and this inventive, clever contraction - in more ways than one - of Strauss’s virtuoso tone poem definitely represents “another way”. Not only is the music shortened significantly but the original opulent orchestration is slimmed down to just five instruments - violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. This is Strauss after a crash diet! It sounds unlikely but actually it works rather well, especially in an effervescent performance such as this one. By contrast, there’s no compression involved in the Nielsen work, which was designed from the outset by its composer for very similar forces - clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello and double bass. Nielsen himself described the Serenata in Vano as a “humorous trifle”. It may be trifling by the side of, say, his symphonies but it’s still a very well-crafted miniature and it’s extremely well done by these Chicagoans.
The Stravinsky is not a work for which I care very much, though I admire it as a work of art. The performance here is crisp and suitably pungent in tone. “Pungent” is certainly an adjective that can - and should - apply to Weill’s Threepenny Opera Suite. This performance is an unqualified success. The second movement, ‘Moritat of Mack the Knife’ is properly seedy; there’s an excellent trombone solo in ‘Instead-Of Song’; and the ‘Ballad of the Easy Life’ has a super feel of the ’Twenties to it. The ‘Tango-Ballad’ features an oily saxophone while the ‘Cannon Song’ is given a hell-for-leather performance. 
The piece by Paul Bowles was new to me. It derives from incidental music written for an unsuccessful 1938 Orson Welles production of the stage play, Too Much Johnson by William Gillette. It consists of seven short movements and the music is mainly bright and pithy though the fifth is slow in tempo and rather touching. This is one of the cases where the notes are of little help in telling us what an unfamiliar score is about - or even the forces for which it was written. 
I enjoyed the sprightly performance of Martinů’s spiky 1927 experimental stage score Le Revue de Cuisine but even expert players such as these can’t reconcile me to Varèse.
You may wonder what on earth Rimsky’s brilliant orchestral score, Capriccio Espagnol is doing in this company. Well, it’s Rimsky but not as we know him! Composer and pianist Easley Blackwood, a member of Chicago Pro Musica, has managed the not-inconsiderable feat of reducing Rimsky’s scoring to flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, violin, cello, double bass and piano. Can that possibly work with a piece which, as Rimsky himself said “glitter[s] with dazzling orchestral colour”? Well, yes it can, though I admit I didn’t expect that it would. As annotator Edward Kaufmann says “what emerges is a musical entity sonorously transformed but persuasively effective on its own terms”. One wouldn’t want to hear the piece in this fashion too often but the arrangement has been done with skill and affection and it’s good fun.
There’s some very clever music here. These sparkling Chicago performances are well recorded and I enjoyed them very much.  

John Quinn

Some very clever music in sparkling performances from Chicago.