Music Chronicle II
Dhuga, U. S., The Hudson Review
Music Chronicle II
WHY ALL THE FUSS ABOUT WYNTON MARSALIS ' ALL RlSE, commissioned by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic? The thing-I can't think by what other noun to call it-was first performed on December 29, 1999, at Avery Fisher Hall; and on this July 9, 2004 Opening Night concert at Tanglewood, we were supposed to have been edified anew: "The 20th century has been one of communication. The 21st will be the century of integration." So announces Marsalis in the boggling program. Though smartly arranged in a blues form-twelve movements to the twelve bars-the continuity of the thing is little helped by two intermissions: perhaps those quidnuncs who have long been heralding the Death of the Attention Span are right after all.
Marsalis claims, "I don't strive to combine many different styles in a 'world-music' type of mélange. I only try to hear that they are the same." But are they really the same? Or is Marsalis' pretension to creating a sort of musical universalism merely solipsistic (where the stress in "I only try")? One simply cannot make different ethno-musical elements conform in a single whole as if those elements were "the same," as if the words from the ill-named seventh movement of "All Rise," viz. "The Halls of Erudition and Scholarship (Come Back Home)," actually have universal resonance:
Raise your heart to feel the Love of our Lord.
Let God be what God is in you.
Little David come play your harp, And the angels sing.
I hear Gabriel a blowin' his horn, baa-bee-doo-bee
Doo-bee-baa-bee doo-bee-doo baa-doo-bee doo-bee doo-bee
A taabla player from, say, Horshiarpur, might very well ask, "Who is David? And Gabriel? And what is doo-bee-baa?" Never mind the lyrics' too-clever-by-a-half attempt to be "meta" ("What ho! Marsalis is blowing his horn-just like Gabriel!"). The music's insistence on its own universalism and "integration"-programmatically heralded in the very title "All Rise"-masks what is really little more than a mélange (after all) of beebop and gospel with flimsy lyrics. If any reader can explain to me the sense of "But don't you think that you can feel my song, / Lest you comfort me," do please write in, and I'll send you a fiver.
Masur was superfluous tonight: his movements did not in any way correspond with what the players themselves were doing. Two of the movements, I should admit, I did quite enjoy: the third, "Go Slow (But Don't Stop)" and the fourth, "Wild Strumming of Fiddle," displayed some excellent piano work by Eric Lewis of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The nicely named alto saxophonist Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson produced an apposite sound reminiscent of the great Benny Carter from his Art Tatum days. But just when the orchestra began, so to speak, to swing, there came one of those intermissions-after which, unhappily, we did not pick up where we left off. The rest of the evening my ears were numbed by the incessant, senseless "Zum, zum, zum, I am, I am, I am, / I am, I am, I am, I am." Doo-bee-doo indeed.
Tanglewood was not only more palatable but excellent on July 30, when Richard Goode performed Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor, KV 291, with Edo de Waart-chief conductor of the Netherlands Opera-leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Goode has himself recorded several of the Mozart concertos with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. While I regard Goode's recording of Piano Concerti nos. 18 in B-flat major (K 456) and 20 in D minor (K 466) as definitive,1 my version of preference for no. 24 has always been the lively, brisk recording of Artur Schnabel from June 1948 with Walter Susskind leading the Philharmonia Orchestra.2 To my mind it is in this 24th of Mozart's piano concert! more than in any other that the pianist has the most melodic impact upon, and autonomy from, the orchestra: it is no wonder that Sviatoslav Richter quipped, after his performance of the concerto on August 8, 1971 at the Palais Princier de Monaco, "I can't say that Matacic's [the conductor's] accompaniment was to my liking-Mozart isn't his cup of tea" (as if a conductor were but an accom- panist! …