"The Classic Ocarina"
Music of Beethoven, Sor, Offenbac, Sllivan, Verdi, Schubert, Satie, Wagner, and traditional songs
The Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet/Michael Copley, director
DORIAN DOR 93260 (F) (DDD) TT: 61:22

"Sawing to New Heights" - Music for Saw and Piano by Steve Margoshes
Dale Struckenbruck, saw/Steve Margoshes, piano
4TAY 4025 (F) (DDD) TT: 48:26

Erna Sack - The German Nightingale
Music of Johann Strauss, Arditi, Flotow, Millocker and others
Erna Sack, soprano; avarious orchestras/conductors
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120722 (B) (M) TT: 67:21

"The Benson Orchestra of Chicago" - Volume I

Here are four oddities that may appeal to collectors intrigued by the unusual. I first heard of Michael Copley when he was a member of the Cambridge Buskers on a DGG LP that included a miniature performance of the Zarathustra fanfare, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and other big-scale orchestral works trimmed down to less than the basics. It was quite amusing at the time, and now the Cambridge Buskers (later named the Classic Buskers) CDs and LPs are, in a mild way, collector's items. Copley has sterling credentials as a serious artist and has recorded Vivaldi recorder concertos and Bach's Brandenburgs. He obviously has a sense of humor (he states that "small is beautiful and that a lot of music is too long and played on instruments that are far too big"), evidenced by his program notes for this CD. He points out that the ocarina is an "astoundingly ancient instrument, probably more than 10,000 years old." The "Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet" consists of Copley, Giles Lewin, Peter Martin and Evelyn Nallen, and in these performances they are assisted, on occasion, by an ensemble of two each of violins and violas, cello, accordion, guitar, harmonium and piano. Most of the pieces on this CD are capsule versions (the finale of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 takes but 2:25). Doubtless much expertise is involved in performing on these instruments, but does anyone really care? It's a full-price CD.

Sawing to New Heights with Steve and Dale is another odd-ball CD containing 13 tracks of music for saw and piano composed by Steve Margoshes who plays the piano for Dale Struckenbruck's performances on the saw. Sounds produced are rather like those from a theramin. A quote in the CD notes says "these sounds will lift your spirits into an otherworldly space that is guaranteed to smoothe the soul. It's like an ageless soprano singing eternal new melodies without having to draw a breath...." Margoshes is the composer of the musical Fame, an orchestrator of considerable renown. Some of his music has been recorded on Albany and Hyperion. Struckenbruck (identified on the CD as "Musical Sawist") learned the "instrument" from his father who was "a classical virtuoso of the saw." Unfortunately there is no information whatever about how the saw is used as an instrument. Are there different sizes, styles and techniques? It would be rather interesting, perhaps, to know more about how this is accomplished. No question whatever that the sounds it produces are often quite lovely; doubtless there would be much use of this instrument in film music. There are 13 tracks including I Want to Make Magic, Neapolitan Serenade, Procession for Two, Fatima's Theme, A Chinese Melody, October Song and A Song Without Words. If you're intrigued, perhaps you won't mind that playing time is only 48:26 and that three of the songs were previously issued on CD.

German coloratura soprano Erna Sack (1898-1972) sang in her local church choir, studied at the Prague Conservatory and later in Berlin, working with tenor Oscar Daniel whose students also included Maria Cebotari, Herbert Janssen and Göta Ljungberg (Sachs musically had little in common with these fine singers). From 1928-1930 Sacks sang with the Berlin City Opera. Her career really started in high gear in 1930 when her uncanny ability to sing those stratosopheric high notes (including "C" above high "C"!) was recognized, even by Richard Strauss who wrote a new cadenza for her to sing as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. She appeared at La Scala, the Paris Opera, Covent Garden and other major opera houses. After World War 2, Erna Sack lived partly in Germany and later became a citizen of Brazil. For some years she made many concert tours world-wide eventually retiring in Bavaria until her death in Mainz. It's difficult to understand why she was so famous during her career. Aside from those high notes (which she usually added to arias) there was little of quality in her voice. She had a tendency to scoop into notes from below, particularly later on in her career. My college R.D. told me when he was reviewing in Chicago many years ago he was assigned to cover one of her concerts, which he found distressing. "Her voice gave me a headache," he said, and I can understand why. You will too if you listen to this Naxos Nostalgia CD; a little goes a very long way, but it's a welcome addition to the catalog for the curious, particularly as the LYS CD (002) devoted to Sack, which contains a number of the same recordings, apparently is no longer available. You also will find Sachs included on a Preiser CD (89976) called Four Famous Sopranos of the Past, which also contains recordings by another coloratura specialist, Miliza Korjus, and two other major sopranos: Erna Berger and Adele Kern. Naxos' transfers, by Peter Dempsey, are excellent in every way.

The Archeophone Records label is providing a great service for nostalgia collectors, and doing it the right way. "The Benson Orchestra of Chicago, Volume I, 1920-1921," part of their Jazz, Dance & Blues Series, is a packed CD (79:33) offering 26 recordings by the famous "hotel orchestra" The Benson Orchestra. The group made their first recordings in September 1920 and for a few years was second only to Paul Whiteman in issuing popular dance records on the Victor label. Archeopohone's superb CD notes tell the story of this orchestra, its importance in the jazz/dance band music scene, and gives detailed information about all of the performers, comments about the music and total information about each recording including matrix numbers plus recording dates for all items on the CD. Even included is a listing of rejected matrices from these sessions. The transfers are magnificent as we have come to expect from this fine label. Honest, the fact that my name is Benson and I'm originally from Chicago, has nothing to do with reviewing this CD. Many years ago, a friend gave me a 10" 78rpm disk by The Benson Orchestra featuring My Little Bimbo with Chili Bean on the second side. Now, on rare occasions when I might wish to hear it, I can simply listen to this new CD.

R.E.B. (April 2004)