Classical Reissue Reviews
SCRIABIN: Poem of Ecstasy; AMIROV: Azerbaijan Mugam – Houston Sym. Orch./ Leopold Stokowski – Everest/ Countdown Media STRAVINSKY: Ebony Concerto; Symphony in Three Movements – Woody Herman and his Orch. (Ebony); London Sym. Orch./ Sir Eugene Goossens (Sym.) – Everest/ Countdown Media
Published on November 7, 2013
SCRIABIN: Poem of Ecstasy; AMIROV: Azerbaijan Mugam – Houston Sym. Orch./ Leopold Stokowski – Everest/ Countdown Media SDBR 3032, 33:06 ****:
STRAVINSKY: Ebony Concerto; Symphony in Three Movements – Woody Herman and his Orch. (Ebony); London Sym. Orch./ Sir Eugene Goossens (Sym.) – Everest/ Countdown Media SDBR 3009 ****:
Here are two more of the almost 75 Everest reissues just released from Countdown Media of Hamburg, Germany. (The original Everest releases amounted to about 100 LPs.) Although digital mastering on the Scriabin CD was done by Bernie Grundman and Len Horowitz, and on the Stravinsky CD was done with top flight equipment in Germany, I find the sonics absolutely identical to the reissues of the same recordings in the 20-bit SBM remasterings in the 1990s from Omega/Vanguard. (The one difference I did hear is that one of the versions reversed the two channels on the Ebony Concerto.) The Scriabin was recorded on 3-channel 35mm film, but the Stravinsky used 3-channel half-inch tape. There have been other reissues of the Everest material, but after the original Belock LP releases, sonics usually took a downward turn except for the Classic Records reissues and both the Omega and these new reissues on CD.
The Poem of Ecstasy is one of Scriabin’s four greatest orchestral works, and combines elements of a symphony with a tone poem. Scriabin’s friend Altschuler described it as having three divisions: 1) His soul in the orgy of love; 2) The realization of a fantastical dream; 3) The glory of his own art. Scriabin was nuts but his music is quite an experience and The Poem of Ecstasy is a good place to start if you are new to it. None of the recordings of the work out there can possibly match this echt-Stokowski version, beautifully preserved on 35mm film. (Though it’s too bad we can’t hear it in its hi-res original three-channel format.) The publicity says that the recordings are also available digitally on both “Mastered for iTunes” and on Amazon’s disc-on demand service. I don’t usually get involved in digital downloads, but neither of those sound like hi-res sources to me (at least 96K/24-bit). However, HDTracks has real hi-res downloads of the Everest titles.
The Amirov pieces are about 14 minutes of Azerbaijan folk exotica. The mugam is associated with an ancient form of Azerbaijan music and involves various modes, scales and fixed melodic patterns. The composer used melodies he had written down from Azerbaijan folklore, and the work as six movements.
The Stravinsky CD has the same cover design with the 35mm sprocket holes on the left side, which really is misleading since this recording was not made on 35mm film, and is not quite up to the fidelity standards of the Scriabin CD. Stravinsky wrote the Ebony Concerto especially for the Woody Herman Band in 1945 and in a way it fits right into the “chamber concert jazz” that people like Alec Wilder and Raymond Scott were doing at that time. In three short movements it combines jazz elements with the composer’s usual neo-classical style, and seems in some ways a longer version of his earlier Ragtime. This is of course is the definitive version, with the actual Woody Herman Band.
The Symphony in Three Movements is a much more chromatic work, showing the first tendencies of the composer to explore the new world of serial music, as he later did. The Symphony was written for the New York Philharmonic, and Stravinsky conducted its world premiere in NYC in 1936. The orchestra is somewhat reduced, with major attention given to the piano and harp. Though the work has no program, it seems to have in some of its sections strong balletic possibilities. Stravinsky himself said that traces of despair, hope, continual torments, tension, cessation and relief may be found in the Symphony. I’ve always enjoyed its concluding chord, which is a shocking change to a fully tonal and rich Hollywood-style finish.
Again, though these new reissues have less music on them than the Omega/Everest reissue CDs of the ‘90s (for example, the Soldier’s Tale Suite shares with the Ebony Concerto, plus Milhaud’s The Creation of the World), they are all only $9 each and the others are at exorbitant prices if available at all.