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George ANTHEIL (1900–1959)
Bad Boy of Music
Fireworks and the Profane Waltzes [4:31]
Concert Pianist (narr.) [3:43]
Jazz Sonata [1:48]
Beginnings (narr.) [8:23]Sonatina "Death of the Machines" [2:03]
Scandal in Paris! (narr.) Second Sonata "The Airplane" [5:25]
To be played as fast as possible [3:01]
Andante Moderato [2:23]
Ballet mécanique (narr.) [7:08]
Sonatina für Radio [3:58]
Vienna in the Spring (narr.) [7:38]
Little Shimmy "Für mein nur einziger Böski" [1:24]
Hollywood (narr.) [4:48]
The Golden Bird, after Brancusi [4:05]
Hedy Lamarr and I invent and patent a Radio Torpedo (narr.) [9:30]
Third movement from Piano Sonata No. 4 (Finale. Presto) [3:34]
Gottlieb Wallisch (piano); Christopher Roth (English narrator); Karl Markovics (German narrator)
rec. August 2015, June–July 2016, Tonzauber-Studio, Konzerthaus Vienna, Austria
PALADINO MUSIC PMR0075 [73:22 + 77:20]

This is and is not a 2-CD set. It is in fact substantially the same CD twice over. The first is for English speakers and the second for German speakers; it says something that they are of different durations. The same music is on each disc.

American composer George Antheil used to have to make do with notoriety rather than fame. His vivid and pleasurably name-dropping autobiography pandered to this or helped create it. Bad Boy of Music was published in 1945. Naxos and CPO among others have helped right the boat with recordings of the piano music and the symphonies. That said, it's still a now rather greying outrage that continues to hang around his reputation. This aspect was revived in a replication of his 1927 Carnegie Hall concert (Ballet Mécanique among others) on Music Masters - now Nimbus. For years Antheil the orchestral composer was represented by his Fourth Symphony conducted by Goossens (Everest) but a deeper spade spit will take you to Antheil's ballet, Capital of the World on the Capitol label (now Warner-EMI). Much to my own surprise I recently heard the Antheil Fourth Symphony live courtesy of the BBCPO at Salford Quays. You can hear the world premiere broadcast of that work on an old Cala CD as conducted by Stokowski. His Hollywood dues included a sweepingly magniloquent score for The Pride and the Passion (1957 - Carey Grant, Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren).

The present Paladino project comes across as a radio programme in which the composer's words are quietly - almost resignedly - narrated by Christopher Roth. Each spell of narration is separated from the next by Gottlieb Wallisch at the piano playing works or movements from larger works all by Antheil. The storyline takes up about 50 minutes of the 73-minute English language disc. There are nine music tracks. The scores range from mechanistic pounding to pearly filigree as in The Golden Bird. Fireworks and the Profane Waltzes seems to picture a steel humming-bird acquainted with Cyril Scott. The Waltzes marry iron-clad hail with something more calm and less destructive. Jazz Sonata sounds like a Joplin rag as played by a berserker pianola. Sonatina "Death of the Machines" is a Stravinskian miniature - not sure how the title marries with the music. The mechanistic Stravinskian pieces at trs. 7 and 8 are cool essays; a cold sprint in the case of tr. 7. They remind me of two later composers: Conlon Nancarrow and Nikolai Kapustin.

Wallisch provides the booklet text which is in English and German. The cocooned sound of the engaging narration, as read by Roth, communes with the listener. The piano sound range is rendered from pounding stridency to the impressionistic equivalent of cotton-wool.

This amounts to an Antheil primer for new supplicants. It's smoothly done and the piano music is aptly salty and atmospheric. A colourful life - sweat, champagne, claques, war, Paris, Hollywood, Hedy Lamarr and inventing the radio-torpedo - is recounted in the composer's own words. Antheil was good at self-publicity - nothing wrong with that - but we should not forget another American globetrotter modernist-bête-noir, Leo Ornstein. If you would like to delve further into the Antheil archaeology then try to find the two-CD set on Other Minds (CD 1003/4-2). It let's you hear the historical SPA discs and other private recordings made during the period from 1942 to 1958.

Rob Barnett



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