“Pourquoi, Madame?” Salon music of Georges Boulanger, others
performed by Prima Carezza
Tudor Recording AG Zurich
My first impression upon opening a package from Jerry Bowles of Sequenza21 with a solid yard of CDs that needed review, and found “Pourquoi, Madame?“ among them, was disbelief. What on earth did Jerry have in mind? Early 20th century salon music on a website devoted to all the current -isms in music (Minimalism, Modernism, Post-Modernism, you name it)? It all went together like Tokay and Evian. By the usual standards of Sequenza21, you’d have to call it a sinful delight.
This is good, old-fashioned gypsy music of the kind you would hear in palm courts and salons in the years before Nazism condemned it as “degenerate” and Modernism in music rejected it as old-fashioned – a double whammy. (Okay, so “Gypsy” is really a misnomer, since these people who immigrated to Europe in the first half of the Christian era were really from India, not Egypt, and should properly be called “Romany.” ) This heart-on-sleeve music with its luminous glissandi soaring to the heights and plunging to the depths of human emotion entertained and moved audiences for generations.
How wonderful to have this musical ethos re-created for us in stunning arrangements by the European trio known as Prima Carezza, consisting of Michaela Paetsch-Neftel and Klaus Neftel on violins and WiesÅ‚aw Pipczynski on accordian (Yes, I said “accordian.” Read, you avante-gardists, and weep!) Stylistically, they take this vibrant music as far as it will go. Which is all to the good, since you can take it over the top without doing any noticeable harm. With gypsy passion, nothing succeeds like excess.
More than half the pieces on this program are by Georges Boulanger, which was the pseudonym of Gheorghe Pantazi (1893-1958), born in Romania to a Greek father and a Romanian mother. A sensational violinist as well as composer, Boulanger was the epitome of the sophisticated Romany musician, serving up that tradition to a wider audience. His pieces include the luxuriant Tango-serenade Mein Herz, the soulful Zigeunerstí¤ndchen (Gypsy Serenade), the dreamlike waltz Zufriedenheit (Contentment), a lively Krach Csí¡rdí¡s, an effervescent Tokay, and even Afrika, a slow serenade incorporating the distinctive rhythms of American blues. His Pizzicato-Walzer calls forth from Prima Carezza not only the string technique of the title but also deft flute-imitations. Selections by other composers include Mariska (Franz Lehar), Hora martisorului (Grigoras Dinicu), and the exuberant (and immediately recognizable) Csí¡rdí¡s by Vittorio Monti.
Listening to this music, I felt invigorated, as if I’d drunk a heady wine or been injected with a healthy dose of Vitamin C. Now, I feel physically fit and ready to wade through an acre of Minimalists. Bring ‘em on!