Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Not a very good representation of Antheil's marvellously ima
Discophage | France | 04/09/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"As good as it is to have an alternative complete recording of George Antheil's "La Femme 100 têtes", to measure up to Benedikt Koehlen's excellent reading on Col Legno (Piano Pictures: Satie Sports & Divertissements / Antheil La Femme 100 têtes), this one, recorded in 1998 and released as Pianovox PIA-511-2 (Sony being only the distributor), outside of any consideration of availability, is not competitive.
First, at 40:38 total timing is shamefully short, under the pretence that this is a collection of short recordings, ranging from 25 to 40 minutes. What for? Is it priced accordingly? The only true rationale I see to it costs less to its producer, but that circumstance alone puts it out of the running, unless the interpretation were of truly superlative standard - and it isn't.
Written in 1932/3, Antheil's composition is an uncompleted attempt (only 44 out of the projected 100 pieces were composed) to illustrate musically Max Ernst's book of surrealist pictures bearing the same title - often mistakenly translated in English (and by Antheil himself, whose French, as it appears in his famous autobiography "Bad Boy of Music", is very approximative) as "The Woman with a Hundred Heads", whereas its literal meaning in French as in English would be a cryptic "The Woman One Hundred Heads". As all the commentators indicate, it also means, thanks to a phonetic play on words, "The Woman without a head" ("La femme sans tête"), but also (which I've never seen indicated) "The Woman stubbornly persists" ("La femme s'entête"). It is a series of short, monothematic preludes (the longest is 2', the shortest zips through at 10") with varied moods (the indications range from "Sad", "Toughtfully" and "Nostalgic (Twisted slowly)" to "Furioso", "Electrical", "Bawdy Ferocious Tempo"). The mechanistically hammering pyrotechnics of the earlier "Bad Boy" are still much in evidence, but now tempered in some pieces by a more poetic and dreamy mood. Other composers fugitively come to mind - Scriabin's "Poems" and related piano composition, Prokofiev (the Sonatas and the "Visions fugitives"), Shostakovich (Sonatas, Aphorisms Op. 12, Preludes op. 36) and even Schoenberg's opus 11 or Webern (as in the rarified textures of Nr 13 "Nostalgic (Twisted slowly)") - but Antheil's style is entirely personal, and wonderfully imaginative.
Nagano - a pianist with Pierre Boulez' Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris - is muscular, articulated and snappy, but rather dry. He plays these preludes like abstract "contemporary" music rather than poetically evocative pieces. The approach works better in the more motoric and pounding pieces, to which he brings snap and staccato (try # 26 "Onward Christian Soldiers") and impressive articulation (# 12 "Brilliant clean") to the point of brilliance even in more pensive and contemplative number such as # 7 ("sad"),
However, he lacks poetry and dream (# 9 "sad", # 27 "Dreaming thoughtfully"). Worse still, for all his muscularity, snap and articulation, Nagano often adopts tempos that are too much on the slow side, in blatant contradiction with the titles and at times even giving the impression of plodding, as in Nr. 14 "Brilliant (Fast, tricky)", 16 "lights flashing", 17 and 34 "brilliant" (indeed two brilliant take offs of a Czerny or Hanon trite exercise in scales), 19 "fast, on even piano throughout", 23 "well articulated", 28 "Knocked and brilliant" (compare his 0:53 to Koehlen's 0:29), 44 "Cruel (Quick)". For the flashy brilliance implied by these titles, go to Koehlen.
The same interpretive values are at play in the two other - very short - pieces. In the 1922 "Jazz Sonata", Nagano's tempo is slow to the point of ponderousness (compare his 2:08 to Koehlen's - admittedly slightly precipitous - 1:33) but at least it enables him to play with clarity and machine-like articulation, thus observing Antheil's indication to play "as rapidly as it is possible to execute cleanly and with even touch and dynamics like a player piano" The same is true in the Sonatina "Death of the Machines", with moderate tempos and razor-sharp articulation, here at last very effective.
But for 1'55 of music, the price to pay is rather high.