The Medinah Sessions
Facade Suite [20:48]
Till Eulenspiegel Einmal Anders! (arr. Franz Hasenörl) [8:00]
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]
Le Revue de Cuisine [13:58]
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
There’s some very clever music here. These sparkling Chicago performances
are well recorded and I enjoyed them very much.
Some very clever music in sparkling performances from Chicago.