Obscurities On The iPod: Paul Specht, Jane Archibald’s Haydn And That Other Bach

Paul Specht
Retro-Specht (1925-31)
Vintage Music Productions
Paul Specht led one of the most popular bands of the Jazz Age, and Retro-Specht is a sample of what made Specht a mainstay of gramophones and dance floors.  Most of these sides are geared for commercial audiences of the time, with lyrics ranging from sentimental to humorous, sung by animated vocalists (some apparently right off the vaudeville stage) over a rhythm more “peppy” than “stomping.”  Specht originals such as “Static Strut,” “St. Louis Shuffle” and “Cornfed” would receive hotter treatments from other groups, while Specht ‘s upbeat, cleanly executed aesthetic emphasizes the tune proper.  There are also some novel ensemble touches throughout, such as a violin peaking out from within the brass and reeds, or the use of three part soprano sax sections (for example on “Honey Bunch”).  Specht never hired star soloists or distinct arrangers like his contemporaries Jean Goldkette and Ben Pollack, and therefore never received the same critical accolades.  These recordings remain firmly in their time, and a good way to dip into the past.

Jane Archibald

Jane Archibald, Orchestre Symphonique de Bienne/Thomas Rosner
Haydn Arias
ATMA Classique
Haydn’s operas can seem lightweight next to the historical and musicological heft of his symphonies and quartets. Taking the arias heard here on their own terms i.e. entertainment (that dirty word!) composed for Haydn’s patron Esterhazy, makes for a charming example of the composer’s melodic wit and sense of lyricism.  The opening “Al Tuo Seno Fortunato” (“To Your Joyous Breast”) might as well be a concerto for voice, an excuse for sprinting coloratura despite a cliche text.  Vocalist Jane Archibald starts strong and stays that way.  Some listeners may find her unadorned delivery too detached, but the soprano’s surefire technique and light (never thin) voice lets Haydn’s music speak for itself.  “Filomena Abbandonata” (“Philomena Abandoned”) is an elegant statement of despair, and Archibald conveys a young girl’s first flowering of love in the recitative and aria from L’Isola Disabitata with credibly girlish restraint rather than showy histrionics.  The Orchestre Symphonique Bienne under the direction of Thomas Rosner ably accompany Archibald and contribute a few instrumental overtures.  Not much groundbreaking, but plenty of beauty and fun.

Harmonices Mundi/Claudio Astronio
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Complete Harpsichord Concertos
Brilliant Classics
W.F. Bach may be the earliest known case of “a low down dirty shame.”  Bach’s eldest son struggled professionally and personally in his own time, and many critics who have forgiven him for selling off his father’s works still place him firmly in his dad’s shadow.  This collection reveals a composer equally influenced by his famous father’s athletic, technically polished works as well as the easy lines and lighter textures developing around him.  At the same time W.F. Bach sticks to his own melodic and thematic guns.  The first movement of the F minor concerto surges forward over hammering sturm und drang chords, before inserting keyboard fireworks and ensemble counterpoint that do the elder Bach proud.  The Concerto in F is a more modern outing, playing sunny orchestral passages off against Galant solo episodes, and the “Concerto in F for Two Harpsichords” unfolds as a tuneful dialog between two keyboards.  Harmonices Mundi’s one player per part scoring is intimate yet powerful enough to keeps things in the hall rather than the chamber.  Harpsichordist Claudio Astronio handles his solos with confidence and flair, knowing just where to push the emotional envelope.  He illuminates works by a “transitional” composer and shows that in W.F. Bach’s case, influence does not preclude individualism.

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4 thoughts on “Obscurities On The iPod: Paul Specht, Jane Archibald’s Haydn And That Other Bach

  1. tronepone says:

    As usual, insight informed by your own careful listening. We should also remember that, but for Specht, there would have been no Georgians.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeiKAyTPJ7I As the contributor says, “If this is what you could hear in the cocktail lounge of the Hotel Alamac in New York City, why would anyone go to the ballroom?”
    Add the few dozen Georgians sides under Guarente’s leadership to those under Specht’s name, and the relative “jazziness” of the entire organization is seen more clearly.

    • M. Figg says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for YOUR further insight and including more great music. Many people believe Specht’s Georgians were the first “band within a band.” Admittedly I haven’t done the research, but if not the first they are definitely one of the earliest, and more importantly a very distinct, entertaining small group.

  2. Anna Shlimovich says:

    I am so glad to see a positive review of Jane Archibald! I saw her in “Der Rosenkavalier” in La Scala last October, she was singing Sophie (Joyce di Donato was Octavian and Anne Schwanewilms Marschallin) – and she was simply superb. I loved that production – everything was perfect, and I have it on YouTube, especially this best duet from the opera – Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren (Presentation of the Rose) with Jane Archibald and Joyce di Donato:

    However, one of autumn issues of “Opera News” magazine they pounded on that performance – Achibald had a wide vibrato, etc they said. I was astonished to see how they besmirch a La Scala performance, and realized once more how the world of music was governed by politics – since “Opera News” is truly an agent of NYC Met, they obviously like to slander the rival in Milan. It is a pity. In the same issue they highly praised Boston “Beatrice and Benedict” which was at best adequate. How unbecoming…

    Anyway, the truth prevails and of course Jane Archibald is a great singer. I will try to get that CD you reviewed – thank you.

    • M. Figg says:

      Thanks as always for reading and commenting, Anna! And thanks for including the great clip from a performance which ‘most’ critics had nothing but accolades for. I look forward to seeing Archibald live, and I hope you enjoy the CD as much as I did.

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