Switched On – Stoned Autopliot: Light Vessel Automatic (FRNTR)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Martin Buttrich is known primarily for the ability to deliver a dancefloor belter, whether in a solo capacity for labels such as Planet E, Cocoon, Poker Flat and Four:Twenty, or in collaboration with fellow producers such as Timo Maas and Loco Dice.

His new alias Stoned Autopilot might come as a surprise, then, for fans of the Los Angeles-based producer. Under its umbrella he casts the net wider, including firm nods towards jazz and chill out music, all the while making an album that hangs together as a single structure just as well as it does at being a collection of 13 tracks.

What’s the music like?

Both assured and extremely listenable. Buttrich has clearly honed his craft in the down tempo area, and these productions show an original thought process and a really impressive mastery of the sounds and textures at his disposal.

On occasion you can feel the warm Californian climate coming through – it does so immediately in the dreamy June, Flawless and the dappled light evoked through Sun Of Sunshine, and also Purple Jack which makes a strong impression later in the album.

Other productions are more cinematic, and on the superb Ending For Us, Buttrich uses descriptive cello lines and vocals to make a track full of character. Better Days draws out a leading piano line to really good effect, while Jazzalude really enjoys its percussive excursions and freedom over a longer structure.

Perhaps most importantly, Light Vessel Automatic doesn’t take itself too seriously, and through the album you get touches of humour, irreverence and a lighter mood that makes Buttrich’s music work on several levels. Lighter tracks such as Indecisive breeze past attractively, needing little effort but maintaining the warm temperature.

Does it all work?

It does – a really rewarding mixture of serious and lighter tracks brought together as a convincing chill out album. It works just as well in the foreground as it does in the background.

Is it recommended?

It is, a really enjoyable album proving Martin Buttrich’s versatility as a producer, and his refusal to play along with established formulas. Well worth getting!

Listen

Buy

You can buy this release from the Juno website

In concert – Simon Höfele, CBSO / Kevin John Edusei: Street Music – Stravinsky, Ellington, Zimmermann & Rota

Rota La Strada – Suite (1954, rev. 1966)
Zimmermann Trumpet Concerto ‘Nobody Knows de Trouble I See’ (1954)
Ellington (orch. Henderson) Harlem (1950-51)
Stravinsky Petrushka (1910-11, rev. 1947)

Simon Höfele (trumpet), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Kevin John Edusei

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 1 December 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Tonight’s concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was one with a difference, Kevin John Edusei directing a programme which avoided the Austro-German mainstream with a vengeance as it surveyed music with a distinctly ‘alternative’ outlook.

Federico Fellini’s La Strada accords with the realism of post-war Italian film, yet its acutely emotional undertow makes it equally prophetic and Nino Rota’s score embodies both aspects with its heady dance-music but also a plangent inwardness in those passages for solo violin (eloquently rendered here by Philip Brett) where the tragic relationship between Gelsomina and Zampanò is made explicit. The suite Rota subsequently derived from the music’s later incarnation as a ballet remains among the most significant of his output for the concert hall.

While Rota looks to popular idioms, Bernd Alois Zimmermann utilizes jazz in his Trumpet Concerto, its (later appended) subtitle denoting the spiritual as underpins much of its content and comes to the fore at crucial junctures. The subtly varied orchestration – with saxophones, Hammond organ and ‘rhythm section’ featuring electric guitar – is complemented by that for the soloist with its range of mutes and a virtuosity new to the classical domain which Simon Höfele despatched with alacrity born of conviction. The respectively brooding and headlong initial sections created an expectancy fulfilled by a climactic episode which was taken a little too fast for its layering of jazz rhythms to come through unimpeded, though the final section lacked nothing in evocative power as it subsided edgily towards a close of muted anguish.

Duke Ellington’s Harlem may now have become relatively familiar in concert, but few such performances can have conveyed the sheer panache as was evident here. Edusei traversed the numerous brief sections of this ‘Tone Parallel’ (commissioned but never conducted by Arturo Toscanini) with innate appreciation of their musical as well as scenic potency that culminates with a rhythmic energy whose effect was undeniably visceral. A little audience participation, moreover, did not go amiss in the final pages where the orchestra duly gave its collective all.

From social, via racial and cultural to psychological alienation. Stravinsky may have intended Petrushka as a vehicle primarily for balletic or orchestral display, but the inner two of its four tableaux, defining the contrasting psyches of Petrushka and the Moor as they compete for the attentions of the Ballerina, provide acute character portraits delineated here with needle-sharp clarity (not least by pianist James Keefe – his crucial obligato contribution vividly embedded within the orchestral texture). Nor did the outer tableaux lack for atmosphere – the sights and sounds of St Petersburg’s Shrovetide Fair palpably in evidence, Edusei securing more poise and pathos than was usual from the relatively utilitarian orchestration as Stravinsky revised it. The closing stages of Petrushka’s death and apparition felt spine-tingling in their immediacy.

This resourceful reading concluded what is sure to prove a highlight of the orchestra’s current season. Other concerts might attract larger attendances, but the attentiveness of those younger listeners present confirmed this as precisely the kind of event the CBSO should be presenting.

You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website. Click on the artist names for more on Simon Höfele and Kevin John Edusei

Switched On – Marcel Dettmann: Fear of Programming (Dekmantel)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Fear of Programming sounds like a frank confessional – and certainly isn’t an affliction you would wish on an electronic musician!

Yet for Marcel Dettmann, the Berlin techno veteran, his first album in ten years has been assembled with what seems like the minimum of fuss.

What’s the music like?

After a floated introduction, Dettmann wastes no time in getting down to business. Suffice To Predict is spacey, and contrasts nicely with the volleys of percussion and displaced harmonies unleashed by Renewal Theory.

Dettmann sees little reason to change his previous winning formula, and it is a good decision given the conviction with which he goes about his writing. With its bumpy beat and booming vocals from Ryan Elliott, Water is an excellent track, while the brooding square waves of Reverse Dreams are also excellent, complemented by the percussion-heavy x12.

Much of the writing has a minimal approach which works really well, especially the bubbling (Batteries Not Included). Dettmann’s music for the head is good too – witness the swirly textures of Picture 2020, which work especially well on headphones.

Does it all work?

It does – Dettmann gets the right balance between getting the feet to move and getting the head to explore.

Is it recommended?

It certainly is. Great to have him back!

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Listening to Beethoven #215 – Triple Concerto in C major Op.56

View of the Augarten Palace and Park, Vienna by Johann Ziegler

Triple Concerto in C major Op.56 for piano, violin, cello and orchestra (1803-4, Beethoven aged 33)

1 Allegro
2 Largo (attacca)
3 Rondo alla polacca

Dedication Joseph Franz von Lobkowitz
Duration 38′

Listen

written by Ben Hogwood

Background and Critical Reception

It is fashionable in recent times to look down on Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, but despite its perceived critical failings it was an innovative work for its time. Lewis Lockwood notes how, “We can readily connect the Triple Concerto with the symphonie concertante that had prospered in France and in French-influenced centres such as Bonn and Mannheim in the later eighteenth century, and which stayed alive until about 1810.”

Beethoven had performers in mind when writing the piece, too – the violinist Georg August Seidler, cellist Anton Kraft (the senior figure in the cello-playing family) and almost certainly Beethoven himself, at the piano. Jan Swafford traces the origins of Beethoven’s thinking to the baroque concerto grosso, describing the work as ‘gorgeous but peculiar, expensive and impractical to perform’. Commentators are united in drawing a link to Beethoven’s intentions at the time of composition, where he was looking to move to Paris and impress the musical hierarchy there. The concerto would have been in his arsenal for sure, but while staying put it quickly lost its allure – with no public performance until 1808, at the summer concerts in Augarten (above)

The Triple Concerto has a substantial structure, with a first movement almost 20 minutes in length – then a relatively brief Largo in A flat major which leads directly to a Rondo alla Polacca finale. The key choice is instructive, A flat having been used for the slow movements of the Pathetique sonata and the Piano Concerto no.1. Commentators have noted how prominent the cello in this piece – and in their excellent book Beethoven’s Cello, Marc D. Moskovitz and R. Larry Todd spend time examining its role.

Along with Lewis Lockwood, they see the Triple Concerto as a forebear to techniques used by Beethoven soon after in his third Cello Sonata, Op.69, with Lockwood going further to bring in the two piano trios Op.70.

Thoughts

Listening to the Triple Concerto is a pleasant if undemanding experience – and if the listener is in the right mood an enjoyable concert experience is in store. It certainly is a long first movement, its 20 minutes an extraordinary length of time for a concerto even when there are three soloists involved. Although it can seem very drawn out at times there is a very appealing warmth, especially when the cello is to the fore. Its themes are invested with a great deal of warmth, complemented by the violin and then trumped by the piano.

The second movement feels like a flash in the pan, for it is only 5 minutes in length (roughly 15% of the work) but it has an appealing tenderness and lyricism. The Rondo alla Polacca is a ‘safe’ C major, though there is some dancing as the soloists have fun together.

The musical language of the Triple Concerto feels relatively basic – back in C major as we were in the Piano Concerto no.1 – but the interplay between the soloists is where the chief interest lies. The language feels quite basic – we are in C major as we were for the first piano Concerto – and the length of the piece is considerable. Yet, in the right combination of soloists and orchestra, the Triple Concerto can still be an appealing proposition.

Recordings used and Spotify links

David Oistrakh (violin), Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker / Herbert von Karajan (EMI)
Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Royal Northern Sinfonia / Lars Vogt (Ondine)
Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Pierre Fournier, Géza Anda, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Ferenc Fricsay (Deutsche Grammophon)
Beaux Arts Trio, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Bernard Haitink (Philips)
Urban Svensson, Mats Rondin, Boris Berezovsky, Swedish Chamber Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard (Simax)

The Triple Concerto discography is dripping with illustrious soloists, sometimes starry individuals in search of a winning trio showcase, or artists who have formed a genuine musical chemistry together. Of the versions listed above, there are some high voltage collisions that prove an intoxicating experience – none more so than the irresistible combination of Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Richter and Karajan.

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1804 Spohr Violin Concerto no.2 in D minor Op.2

Next up Piano Sonata no.23 in F minor Op.57 ‘Appassionata’

Playlist – Semyon Bychkov

by Ben Hogwood (photo (c) Marco Borggreve)

Semyon Bychkov turns 70 today…and in recognition of one of our finest living conductors, here is a link to watch this most erudite musician conducting the WDR-Sinfonieorchester Köln in William Walton’s First Symphony:

Here too is a playlist gathering together some of his finest recordings, from the early days with Philips to his most recent release, an account of Mahler’s Symphony no.5 with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for Pentatone. Along the way we hear excerpts or complete works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Mendelssohn, Dutilleux and Rachmaninoff. It is a wonderful listen, I’m sure you’ll agree!