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, Orchestre Symphonique de Bienne/Thomas Rosner
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
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.