Everybody from Frank Sinatra to The Doors has covered Kurt Weill (at last count, “September Song” alone has been crooned by 50 singers). But the original operas, with growly diva Lotte Lenya as the early leading lady, can’t be matched for their rawness and brutal tin-can classicism. This all orchestral recording, by Siegrfried Landau and the Westechester Symphony Orchestra, pairs suites from The Three Penny Opera with renditions of Kurka’s Weill-esque anti-war satire. The cover art depicts a quintet of Weimar-era jazzmen who, but one, are for some reason painted a shade of aquamarine.
Philip Glass’s 1983 mixed-media operetta, with violin solos by Paul Zukofsky, in 3 acts. The cover design comes from stills shot by the (in)famous Eadweard Muybridge, who is the basis of the work, and one of the inventors of modern motion pictures.
A 1968 release of John Cage’s quiet Concerto for Prepared Piano & Orchestra and Lukas Foss’s equally subtle series of orchestral variations in the Baroque mode. Both composers are challenging and known to make audiences disgruntled and uncomfortable (Cage’s 4:33 is, after all, the musical counterpart to Duchamp’s infamous “Fountain”) and both were about as avant-garde as you could be. The Nonesuch wraparound gatefold art sleeve here blends the classical and the abstract in a fitting collage harkening to dadaist pastiche.
Pierre Boulez, the great exponent of modern music, especially his own, gives an uncharacteristic Baroque performance of Royal Fireworks Music, on Columbia Masterworks. Rounding out the recording is the Concerto Grosso in F from the Op. 6 series, and the overture to his opera “Berenice”, which flopped on arrival in 1737 at Covent Garden Theatre. Two-time Grammy nominee Henrietta Condak did the amazing design for this 1980 reissue. The titular festive explosions pour forth flowers and phoenixes, while a zodiacal sun is being spewed out at the center. It’s awesome in every sense.
Idil Biret’s early album featuring solo works by Ravel and Stravinsky. Includes Gaspard de la Nuit and the classical-modernist Petrouchka (3 Scenes), from the latter’s burlesque opera. And so obviously the sleeve should depict a horrifying taloned creature emerging from a cave.
An all Baroque compilation of works by Bach, Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi and more. Quite a busy cover design from Doug Samson: a pinup, a cherub, a baboon’s face, a high-heeled foot coming out of the side of a staircase, in the retro-est pastels. Part of a series that includes “Mahler’s Head” and other classical Heads. To clarify the title and the record label’s name, the back cover reminds us that “The Orphic Egg has cracked many times/Once when it cracked out sprang–The Baroque Head.” Whatever that means.
Westminster strikes again with a bizarro sleeve for Daniel Barenboim’s recording of the enigmatic Diabelli Variations. The winning entry in Anton Diabelli’s competition to see who could compose the best 32 variations on a simple original theme, Beethoven’s response was a monumental series (it would become an integral part of the solo repertoire) and appeared in 1824 as Op. 120. The composer is made up here to resemble some kind of cake-topper robot monster with an angry face, and there’s nothing not strange about any of it.