Friday, January 29, 2016

Play Bach

No. 214 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


This week’s podcast concludes our brief look at trios, with a practical application of the jazz trio (piano, bass and drums) to classical repertoire.

In past J.S. Bach podcasts, such as our look at the Brandenburg concertos from 2012 and our Bach Transcriptions podcast of 2013, we made ample mention of how many composers – most noteworthy among them being Bach himself – reused, recycled and indeed reinvented some of his works by performing them using different combinations of performers, or even entirely different settings.

Chief examples include the orchestral transcriptions of Bach’s organ music for large orchestra, or Wendy Carlos’ many Bach interpretations on the Mighty Moog and today’s choice, jazz interpretations of Bach’s music.

I first was exposed to the work of Jacques Loussier in the early 1970’s, as one of his many interpretations of Bach’s two-part inventions was used by Radio-Canada as the title music for one if its shows (I think it was l’heure des quilles, but I could be wrong…) .

Loussier started playing piano at the age of 10 and just 16, he entered the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris where he studied with Professor Yves Nat. In the late 1950's Jacques Loussier left the Conservatoire to travel to South America and the Middle East as well as work as accompanist for Catherine Sauvage and Charles Aznavour.

In 1959, Loussier began to explore a novel concept, combining his interest in jazz with his love of J.S. Bach. Only a pianist with an exceptional classical technique and deft improvisatory skill could have nurtured such a vision. He founded the Play Bach Trio, which used J.S. Bach’s compositions as the basis for jazz improvisation. The trio immediately caught the public imagination. In their live appearances, tours and concerts, plus a succession of recordings built on the cornerstone of four albums made for Decca between 1960 and 1963, Loussier’s group achieved commercial success enjoyed by only a select few jazz musicians. In 15 years, the trio sold over six million albums.

In 1978, the trio broke up, and Loussier set up his own recording studio in Provence, where he worked on compositions for acoustic and electric instruments. He also worked with musicians like Pink Floyd, Elton John, Sting, and Yes. (Allegedly, parts of Pink Floyd's album The Wall were recorded at his studio).

Today’s podcast features some of these landmark recordings, where LKoussier is joined by string bass player Pierre Michelot and percussionist Christian Garros. Loussier has also explored Vivaldi, Satie and Mozart in a jazz vein, but his clever improvisations and flawless technique shine in the Bach repertoire, which he has indulged in several times on record over the last 50 years, with a wide variety of jazz (and orchestral) partners. I’m sure Papa Bach would approve of these great interppretations!

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Night Train - Oscar Peterson Trio

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

In the third of three posts this January, we now turn to my vinyl collection and another look at trios. Inmy last post, I suggested that the “standard classical trio” consists of piano, violin and cello, however trios come in all shapes, be it the Brahms trio we featured last time, or as is the case today, the “standard jazz trio” combination of piano, bass and drums.

In jazz (as in all ensemble play, really) there are several types of trios. In addition to the piano/bass/drum trio, another type of jazz trio that became popular in the 1950s and 1960s is the organ trio, which is composed of a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and a third instrumentalist (either a saxophone player or an electric jazz guitarist). Other types of trios include the "drummer-less" trio, which consists of a piano player, a double bassist, and a horn (saxophone or trumpet) or guitar player; and the jazz trio with a horn player (saxophone or trumpet), double bass player, and a drummer. In the latter type of trio, the lack of a chordal instrument means that the horn player and the bassist have to imply the changing harmonies with their improvised lines.

Legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) redefined the jazz trio by bringing the musicianship of all three members to the highest level. The trio with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis was, in his own words, "the most stimulating" and productive setting. As Ellis was white, Peterson's trios were racially integrated, a controversial move at the time that was fraught with difficulties with segregationist whites and blacks.

All three musicians were equal contributors involved in a highly sophisticated improvisational interplay. When Ellis left the group in 1958, Peterson and Brown believed they could not adequately replace Ellis. Ellis was replaced by drummer Ed Thigpen in 1959. Brown and Thigpen worked with Peterson on his albums Night Train and Canadiana Suite. Brown and Thigpen left in 1965 and were replaced by bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes (and later, drummer Bobby Durham). 

In the 1970s Peterson formed another trio with guitarist Joe Pass and “the Great Dane” Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass. This trio emulated the success of the 1950s trio with Brown and Ellis, gave acclaimed performances at numerous festivals, and made best-selling recordings, most notably The Trio, which won the 1974 Grammy for Best Jazz Performance by a Group, and the 1978 double album recorded live in Paris.

For your listening pleasure, I chose to program the 1962-63 Verve release Night Train, which is considered one of Peterson's most commercially successful recordings. I think one of the reasons for that success was that it received very favourable air play at the time - the brief duration of many of the tracks was intentional as commercial radio stations were reluctant to play any tracks longer than a few minutes. The Penguin Guide to Jazz included it in its core collection, claiming "it's one of the best long-players of the period" and that Peterson's playing is "tight and uncharacteristically emotional".

Night Train includes stately covers of blues and R&B standards like "The Honeydripper," "C-Jam Blues," "Georgia on My Mind," "Bags' Groove," "Moten Swing," and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." 

(The YouTube video also includes six tracks recorded at the same session that weren’t released on the original vinyl LP, including "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and "Volare," as well as alternate takes of "Night Train" and "Moten Swing.")

Jimmy FORREST (1920-1980 )
Night Train (1951)

Edward Kennedy (“Duke”) ELLINGTON (1899-1974)
C Jam Blues (1942)

Hoagland Howard CARMICHAEL (1899-1981)
Georgia On My Mind (1930)

Milton JACKSON (1923-1999)
Bags' Groove (1952)

Bennie MOTEN (1894-1935)
Moten Swing (1932)

Melvin James (“Sy”) OLIVER (1910-1988)
James Oliver YOUNG (1912-1984)

Easy Does It (1940)

Joe LIGGINS (1915-1987)
Honey Dripper (1944)

Mercer Kennedy ELLINGTON (1919-1996)
Things Ain't What They Used To Be (1942)

Edward Kennedy (“Duke”) ELLINGTON 
I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good) (1941)
Band Call (ca. 1954)

Oscar Emmanuel PETERSON (1925-2007)
Hymn To Freedom (1962)

Oscar Peterson - piano
Ray Brown - double bass
Ed Thigpen - drums

Recorded in Los Angeles, Calif., on December 15 & 16, 1962
Verve Records V6-8538

Thanks to Ted Wheel for posting this video.               

Friday, January 15, 2016

Clarinet Quintets

No. 213 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


A new year begins on our Friday Blog and Podcast with two new offerings for January, a sort of mini-series of music in an intimate setting – music for a few players.

On Tuesday, we began a look at the music Johannes Brahms wrote for the clarinet, with a his two clarinet sonatas and his clarinet trio. Today, we complete the set with his clarinet quintet – that is clarinet with string quartet.

One of the earliest and most influential works for this combination of instruments is Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581, written for the clarinetist Anton Stadler in 1789. Although a few compositions for this ensemble were produced over the following years, including the Op. 34 clarinet quintet by Carl Maria von Weber, a composer famous for his solo clarinet compositions, it was not until Johannes Brahms composed his Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 for Richard Mühlfeld that the clarinet quintet began to receive considerable attention from composers.

In a past podcast we provided a performance of Mozart’s quintet, which was famously part of the final episode of the long-time serial M*A*S*H. The Mozart quintet is often paired with Weber’s quartet – as was the case on the disc I used for today’s performance by the all-Canadian group formed of clarinetist James Campbell and the Orford String Quartet.

Brahms modeled his quintet after Mozart's. The piece is known for its autumnal mood. The performance is a vintage CBC aircheck recording featuring musicians of the Toronto Symphony.

British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor possessed both prodigious talent and refined musical taste; it is worth observing that his composition teacher at the Royal College of Music, Charles Villiers Stanford regarded him as one of his two most brilliant students, the other being Coleridge-Taylor’s friend William Yeates Hurlstone, who died at the age of thirty in 1906. Stanford’s assessment of Coleridge-Taylor’s abilities represents no mean accolade when one considers that he also taught, among many others, Arthur Bliss, Frank Bridge, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, E J Moeran and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet came about after Stanford’s comment to the effect that after Brahms produced his Clarinet Quintet no one would be able to compose another that did not show Brahms’ influence. Coleridge-Taylor took this as a challenge and Stanford, on examining the result, remarked, ‘you’ve done it, me boy!’. Stanford showed the piece to Brahms’ friend Joseph Joachim who shortly thereafter played it with colleagues in Berlin.

In the character of the thematic material and in the ways in which it is developed, the influence of Dvorák is unmistakable. Coleridge-Taylor freely acknowledged his favourite composer to be Dvorák, who was in turn a devotee of Schubert, whose inexhaustible spontaneity Coleridge-Taylor almost matched. The influence of both these composers is apparent in the quintet; it is a work of remarkable subtlety and sophistication, rhythmically exuberant and complex, and uses the ensemble in an integrated way that demonstrates the composer’s utter mastery of the genre.

Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet This is music of deep sensibility that deserves to be part of this trio of like-minded works.

I think you will love this music too

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Leopold Wlach Plays Brahms

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

For our second Tuesday Blog for January, I have another Once Upon the Internet post for your enjoyment, this time a downloaded from the Japanese site Public Domain Classic a few years back.

In a pastPTB post, I discussed how in 1890 Johannes Brahms vowed to retire from composing, and how this plan turned out to be short lived. 

In January 1891 he made a trip to Meiningen for an arts festival and was captivated by performances of the Weber Clarinet Concerto No. 1 and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. The solo clarinetist was Richard Mühlfeld, and Brahms began a fond friendship with the man whose playing he so admired. The beautiful tone of the instrument inspired him to begin composing again less than a year after he retired. The fruits of their friendship were four remarkable additions to the still modest clarinet repertoire of that time.

This week, I will be featuring all four of these works – indeed, in my Friday Podcast I have programmed the clarinet quintet, and in this post, I have lined up the two clarinet sonatas and the clarinet trio, all three works featuring the late great Austrian clarinetist Leopold Wlach (1902-1955), whose primary claim was a long-standing seat in the venerable Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

In the summer of 1894 at his Bad Ischl retreat, Brahms completed the sonatas that form his op. 120 (and the last chamber pieces Brahms wrote before his death). These are considered two of the great masterpieces in the clarinet repertoire. Brahms’ experience in writing his Clarinet Quintet three years earlier led him to compose the sonatas for clarinet and piano because he preferred the sound of that combination over that of clarinet with strings. The form of the clarinet sonata was largely undeveloped until after the completion of these sonatas, after which the combination of clarinet and piano was more readily used in composers’ new works.

In this 1953 mono recording, Mr. Wlach is partnered with Austrian pianist and regular on our Blog, Jörg Demus.

When we think of the “classical” piano trio, we think piano, violin and cello. However, Brahms’ op. 114 trio is written for a less travelled combination: clarinet, piano, and cello, and is one of the very few in that genre to have entered the standard repertoire. In spite of this unusual instrumentation, music historians and scholars don’t view this trio as a highlight of Brahms’ chamber repertoire.

The overall mood of the piece is somber but includes both romantic and introspective qualities. It also incorporates a considerable amount of arpeggio patterns in its theme, complimented by conversation like passages in the upper register of the cello. The first performance of the trio (December 12th, 1891) featured Mühlfeld with Robert Hausmann on cello and Brahms himself on piano. In the featured 1952 mono recording, Wlach is partnered with cellist Franz Kvarda and pianist Franz Holetschek.

Happy Listening!

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Sonata in F Minor, op. 120, no. 1
Clarinet Sonata in E-Flat Major, op. 120, no. 2
Leopold Wlach, clarinet
Jörg Demus, piano
(Originally released as Westminster ‎– W-9023)

Clarinet Trio in A Minor, op. 114
Leopold Wlach, clarinet
Franz Kvarda, cello
Franz Holetschek, piano
(Originally released as Side B of Westminster ‎– W-9017)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Programming Notes for January-March 2016


As I stated in my 2015 Year In Review post, for the next little while I’m going to steer clear of “commitment dates” for my blog and podcast posts, to give me more flexibility as I progress a new project that will be unveiled after Earster.

Here are some of the posts I have planned in the coming months – sorry Opera Fans, nothing slated here for OTF on OperaLively.

  • I am planning a two—part series where I will program all four of Brahms’ chamber works for clarinet – the two sonatas for clarinet and piano, the clarinet trio and the clarinet quintet. The sonatas and trio are part of a Once Upon the Internet post, and the quintet is programmed as part of a montage on clarinet quintets (along with quintets by Weber and Coleridge-Taylor). (PTB and NEW PODCAST)
  •  Segue from the trio combination proposed by Brahms, a look at the “Jazz Trio” (piano/bass/drums) in both a jazz-swing setting (with the Oscar Peterson Trio) and the “Play Bach” experiment by Jacques Loussier and friends. (PTB and NEW PODCAST). 
  • Another segue off the quintet theme will explore a pair of piano quintets by Pierné and Schubert (NEW PODCAST).
  •  A pair of Tuesday Blogs will explore old MP3.COM downloads featuring solo piano music by Tchaikovsky and Chopin.
  •  More Vinyl’s Revenge – great vintage album featuring Henryk Szeryng (Mozart violin concertos).
  • A look at the Classical Symphony (NEW PODCAST)
  •  The Music of Lent – an organ music montage featuring Bach, Sweelinck and Buxtehude, Bach’s great Mass in B Minor (NEW PODCAST and PTB)
  •  A short homage to Otto Klemperer – a vintage vinyl recording of two Schubert symphonies and – on Easter Sunday – Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (PTB and NEW PODCAST)

I will update this page if programming changes in the coming weeks, and also to include links to “repatriated” posts from our PTB and OTF series.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Elena Kuschnerova Plays Tchaikovsky

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This month I have three Tuesday Blog posts lined up – two of them explore trios, and this one explores some of the piano music of Peter Tchaikovsky.

When we think of Tchaikovsky, we think of his ballets and his great orchestral works, but often neglect his quite substantive piano catalog , which includes two piano sonatas, and numerous “collections” of anywhere between three and eighteen piano pieces. The most famous of these collections is his set of twelve “characteristic scenes” dubbed “The Seasons” which, if you ask me, should be more aptly titled “the Months of the Year”.

The set, written between December 1875 and May 1876, was first published in monthly instalments in the Saint Petersburg publication Nuvellist, which was issued on the first day of each month. Their publication was preceded by a framed announcement in bold type on the cover of the December 1875 issue (No. 12): 

Our celebrated composer P. I. Tchaikovsky has promised the editor of Nuvellist, that he will contribute to next year's issues a whole series of his piano compositions, specially written for our journal, the character of which will correspond entirely to the titles of the pieces, and the month in which they will be published in the journal...
Today’s installment of Once Upon the Internet provides the complete cycle, along with a few “extras” –Dumka ("Russian Rustic Scene"), Méditation from his Eighteen pieces, op. 72 and the Theme and Variations from his Six Pieces, op. 19.

Per our customary approach, the titles chosen were once downloaded from “the original MP3.COM” almost 15 years ago, and feature the Moscow-trained pianist Elena Kuschnerova from live recital recordings. According to her official website Elena was born into a musical family, and started her pianistic education when she was 5, playing her first concerto with orchestra at the age of 9 (The f minor concerto by Bach under the baton of Emin Khachaturyan, recorded by Moscow Radio). She excelled at the elite Moscow Central Music School where she studied with Tatiana Kestner, also the teacher of Andrei Gavrilov and Nikolai Lugansky, and later at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Sergei Dorensky. Elena Kuschnerova was influenced by the great and controversial Russian composer Alexander Lazarevich Lokshin (1920-1987), who wrote a variation cycle for her.

PianistenProfile (Pianists' profiles) characterize her piano playing with superlatives: “highly developed technique, strong attack, composition-true clarity and seriousness,…seamless interpretations”.

Happy Listening!

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

The Seasons (Времена года)
'12 characteristic scenes', Op. 37a (TH 135)

Thème original et variations Op. 19 (TH 133), no. 6

Dumka (Doumka) in C minor, Op. 59 (TH 145)
"Russian Rustic Scene"

Méditation, Op. 72 (TH 151), no. 5

Elena Kuschnerova, pf

(Live performances)

MP3.COM - 02-10-27