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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973


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Record section heading

Prometheus, The Poem of Fire: Alexander Scriabin. Soloist Vladimir Ashkenazy with the London Philarhominc Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel. Reviewed by Gordon Campbell. Decca Recording.

With some artists it gets hard to judge their music apart from the ideas you've built about their personality. I mean, with Dylan, is it music or his personality that you respond to? It's impossible to separate what he does from who he is. The person, the voice, the performance, the composition all just flow together. No one signs Dylan like Dylan, right? Because no one else is Dylan, and that's half the show.

Scriabin is a similar case. I'm not sure how' much of the unearthly quality I hear in his music comes from what I've heard of the mad, mystic elements in his personality. From his earliest works Scriabin glorified art as a form of religion, and his final sketches for his planned "Mystery" described it as "a liturgical act" in which "music, poetry, dancing, colours and perfume" were to be used "to unite performers and audience in one supreme, final ecstacy." His Third Symphony was intended to represent "the evolution of the human spirit from pantheism to unity with the universe," and many other works, such as "The Poem of Ecstacy" and this one under review have similar theosophical programmes.

In his original score for "Prometheus" Scriabian included a part for "colour organ". On the keyboard for this instrument each note had a certain colour valve, worked out by analogy between the number of vibrations by which the ear recognises pitch, and the number of vibrations which the eye must receive to distinguish a particular tint. As the regular pianist played the piece the colour pianist projected the note-colours onto a large screen behind the orchestra. The ancestor of the light show. This was back in 1908. But there were problems. Chords of bright individual notes would combine to produce a muddy white, and the colour pianist, of course, could not be sensitive to the difference between a pianissimo and fortissimo note. Modern light shows aim to respond to the main emotional directness of the music, a much more sensible and accurate idea.

Near the end of his life, Scriabin tended to justify Rimskey—Korsakov's claim that he was half out of his mind. He set himself up as a messiah, whose function was "to sound the final chord of our race, reuniting it with Spirit". Theosophists claim his death at 43, from an infected cold sore on his lip, was due to the Dark Powers, who were a little uneasy about this "Mystery" thing he was planning.

So we're left with just the music. And who better to play it than Vladimir Ashkenazy, who has been carrying out a one-man campaign to get Scriabin recognised as a composser of the first rank. Whether you arc interested in the theosophy or the music "Prometheus" is the best example of both. But its not easy music. It takes a little time and energy to become aware of the ethereal elegance, that strange sense of timelessness between the notes. Ashkenazy calls it "space music"; which catches it pretty well. Or as a theosophist friend said the other week "you gotta pick up on this Scriabin cat, because man he's really in contact with the other side."

Medusa's head

Heartbreaker: Free. (Island IL-34759) Reviewed by Richard Best.

Like Canned Heat and the immortal "Goin' Up the Country", Free will be remembered for a first-rate single, "All Right Now", an album, "Fire and Water" and not much else.

"Fire and Water" was good 'cos it sounded like a record of potential smash 45's. Andy Fraser played dense bass that hung around for ages in things like "Mr Big" and Paul Kossoff was something more than Mr Regular Lead Guitarist.

Now, Tetsu Yamauchi plays bass ( and tries ever so hard to carry on the Fraser fable) and an anonymous Rabbit grinds out simple-minded obligatory solos on lead.

"Heartbreaker" is Free's sixth in a long line of blues-based slogger 1p's. At its best, it's weighty, thick stuff — at its worst, luke-warm muzak.

The only more-than-adequate track is the ominous "Wishing Well" (".....the only time that you're satisfied/ is with your feet in the wishing well"). It's that good it might almost have come out of a Rodgers/Kossof writing binge. Actually it didn't — Tetsu had a hand in it somewhere.

Then there's seven more tunes, and minus the mildly stunning "Heartbreaker", they're kinda dull. "Come Together in the Morning" has one of the boringest refrains yet and "Muddy Water" just drones along: "I was born under muddy water/ I didn't know right from wrong/ My ma said now look here son/ I'll show you how it's done." Now, that was the essence of Free in the good days and 'gettin yourself a woman then losin her'.Three years later and maybe its a little overworked.

Buy the single "Wishing Well" if you can be bothered switching speeds on your record player. All said and done,"Heartbreaker" is really a hit 45 with seven tag-alongs to fill it out.

Previn Plays Gershwin:

London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn, Pianist and Conductor (WRS). Reviewed by Felix Manskleid.

The United States in the 1970's can claim to possess at least as many composers of world renown as any European country. When only 40 years ago an American was asked by an Englishman "With all this passionate love of music among you Americans, where are your American composers?", his reply was that composition "had been imported in America at the very peak of its complexities and that our composers instead of beginning back where the Europeans started, in simplicity, have begun in complexity and tried to make it more complex. It is perhaps too soon to know whether this is a success or a failure."

When Dvorak arrived in America in 1892, the fervour of nationalism was then sweeping European countries. He was appalled at the imitative practices of American composers and intended to prove to the Americans that American music could be fashioned from the strains of the Indian, Negro and British background of the country. The result was "The New World Symphony". But although based on authentic folk themes, the work was written in a style which was thoroughly Central European and by no stretch of the imagination, American music.

It was only later with the consolidation of the American heritage that the names of composers such as Harris, Macdowell, Ives, Copland, Piston, Ruggles and Gershwin started to make themselves known, due to an identification with the spirit and the mood of the nation. Over the years, interpreters of Gershwin have been trying to "update" his music with varying effects not always successful. Although these renditions by Previn are pleasing, they can hardly be considered exciting. I miss the majestic, breath-taking sweep of his largo movement as originally performed by Paul Whiteman in "Rhapsody in Blue", an achievement rarely equalled by any other ensemble and the some-what "wading" manner of the orchestra in the "Concerto in F" is at times disconcerting.

The London Symphony Orchestra derives its strength in the more subtle passages and this may be the reason why "An American in Paris" comes across very well in its gay and dreamy ballet-like sequences. As a musician familiar with the jazz and classical techniques, Previn could have been expected to do better. The distinguishable Gershwinesque features such as the feverish handling of clustered notes, the unpredictable climaxes and understatements and soaring outbursts are unfortunately not fully taken advantage of to lift these concert works out of their depth into a slightly bolder setting.


Concerto for Sitar & Orchestra. Ravi Shankar, sitar; Terence Emery, bongos. London Symphony Orcehstra/ Andre Previn. Reviewed by Felix Manskleid.

Ravi Shankar is 5'3" tall, barely a foot longer than his sitar. "When I play," he once said, "I really lose contact with the outside world. I try to feel things within me. It is a feeling of extreme sadness — the very sad longing to be with something that I have not been able to attain and that is why I try to get near and nearer. I feel a certain peace... it is the height of ecstasy." He was once told by notables such as Casals, Segovia and Heifetz that Indian music was pleasant, but repetitious and monotonous. Somebody even called the sound like a "cat miaowing". This of course made him furious and his many attempts as a composer were to prove that the music of his country is rich varied and deep. The Concerto is based on four raga movements, the raga belonging to the Indian musical tradition, largely an oral one, dating back some 4000 years. It is mainly of an improvisational nature consisting of melodic forms of rising and falling movements composed of an octave or a series of five to six notes. The raga is not considered as entertainment in the proper sense of the word, but celebrates the ritual of daily living. The performer is granted complete freedom of expression so that he is guided by his own conception and as the music is created on the spot, it can generate a feeling of trance and excitement. This Shankar manages to do effectively as a soloist and indulges in what could be described as a "jam session" with his partner, Terence Emery on bongos. This composition allows for orchestral participation and this specific score is written in concerto and even sonata forms which lend a westernised effect to the complete arrangement, even though the emanating sounds are suggestively pseudo-oriental. This brings to our mind the pastiche of musical communication such as the one by which Rimsky—Korsakov tries to paint musically an "Eastern" picture in "Shcherazade". If this is so, I would assume that Shankar has made a concession to European taste in this Concerto.