Notes and Editorial Reviews
Improvised Jazz Interludes.
Stella Doufexis (spkr,
); Konstantia Gourzi, cond;
NEOS 10709 (69:20
Text and Translation)
According to conductor Gourzi, the
for this disc is: “Initially, however, I had a problem with
: the dense progress of the composition seemed too intense for me. Between the three parts I needed time—a pause for breath, a ‘distraction’—in order to really hear the next part.”
Whether or not you agree (I do not: Schoenberg wanted that pileup of density, as indicated by his
writing interludes between the sections), this is what we get here: part I (seven songs), 4:36 of piano improvisations; part II (seven songs), 4:13 of improvisations; part III (seven songs). At least this is preferable to a CD reviewed in a previous issue, on which only nine of the songs appeared, scattered throughout the disc.
is followed by the 11 Berio folk songs, played and sung without interruption. One can, of course, program out the interludes, or hear them separately. I have avoided writing “jazz interludes” because they sound classical to me—at least Gershwinesque, occasionally even Debussian. They may be improvisations, but they were developed after much study, as the pianist learned to play the Schoenberg score.
Valery Gergiev, rehearsing
Le sacre du printemps
, exhorted London Symphony musicians to “forget you know the piece.” Has
, become too familiar, too easy for performers and listeners today? Schoenberg’s once-frightening work now projects wildly colorful, almost sweet beauty; perhaps it is those jazz interludes after all. With or without them, this is a very civilized performance, somehow Gallic despite its German language. We are in Paris, not Vienna or Berlin. The conductor’s remarks suggest that this is her preference, but the vocal line agrees. Doufexis is listed as speaker for
, but she has such a mellifluous voice that it comes across as singing more than speaking. Neither she nor the instrumentalists emits any great yaps or squawks; no, squawks are certainly taboo; it is unlikely that anyone would be outraged by the piece as heard here. I prodded a fellow listener, who was bored rather than upset. But I loved it. No two performances of
are alike; there is so much to it, so many ways to do it. I can’t ever discard a recording, as each one has something unique to offer. This time it’s sweetness and light.
Berio’s 11 folk-song settings for voice and seven instruments (flute, clarinet, viola, cello, harp, and two percussionists) have become a classic. There must be a dozen recordings by now, beginning with those of Cathy Berberian, who participated in their creation. My recent favorite has been by Dawn Upshaw, on her celebrated “Ayre” disc. Upshaw gives a rather formal presentation, as if in a Lieder recital, with fully rounded tones and carefully enunciated words (she was more vivacious in a recent live performance). Doufexis sings more naturally, as if in more casual setting—one visualizes Upshaw on stage in a floor-length gown, Doufexis in a café, in a skirt and blouse. The accompanists on this disc are also more relaxed than Upshaw’s musicians. Both ways work beautifully; for the moment, I incline toward Doufexis, perhaps because her voice reminds me of Victoria de los Angeles’s beautiful instrument (one of Berio’s settings was also set by Canteloube and recorded by de los Angeles). There are many reasons for the success of Berio’s settings: he picked beautiful songs, and he set them simply if elegantly—and always appropriately. The variety of cultures and languages represented adds to their fascination.
A 32-page booklet includes song texts in the sung language: German for
; English, Armenian, French, Italian, an Auvergne dialect, an Azerbaijani dialect, and Russian for the folk songs. A note in the booklet to Upshaw’s recording tells us that the Azerbaijan love song “was transcribed from an old shellac recording by Cathy Berberian, who had no idea what the words meant.” Fine recorded sound enhances a marvelous disc.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 by Arnold Schoenberg
Stella Doufexis ()
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1912; Vienna, Austria
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