Gavriil Popov: Symphony No. 1, op. 7 (1934)

December 10, 2010

Gavriil Popov:  Symphony No. 1, op. 7 (1934)
CD:  CD:  Popov: Symphony No. 1, etc., London Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein (Telarc CD-80642)

[Shostakovich] began to speak with sadness about his “lost health”, but did not linger long on this subject and quickly turned to reminiscences of the composer Gavriil Popov.  “Now there was a talent.  His First Symphony, which had a lot of magnificent stuff in it, was banned at the time by the Fighters against Formalism.  I have been appointed chairman of the Popov Memorial Committee; it is essential that his works are played.”

— Isaak Glikman, describing a 1972 conversation with Shostakovich in Story of a Friendship

The Russian composer Gavriil Popov was born in 1904 and died in 1972, by which time early, suppressed Soviet musical works, at least by Shostakovich, had been reappearing in the USSR over the past decade.  I don’t know if Popov’s first symphony saw the light of day then, but it was swallowed by the same political sinkhole as Shostakovich’s major works of the 1920s and early 1930s (chiefly The Nose, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and the fourth symphony) and was equally deserving of restoration.  After his first symphony was banned after its single public performance in 1935, Popov’s career, from what little I know of it, followed a similar track to Shostakovich’s:  A bend into a more conservative style, a good deal of compositions for film and for thoroughly acceptible official occasions.  He never developed Shostakovich’s international reputation — whether he could have is one of the many might-have-beens that come up when you learn about this or that Soviet artist who was squelched by the state — and his first symphony remains obscure, although it now has Leon Botstein’s excellent 2004 recording with the London Symphony to advocate for it.  I’m including the work in my listen-through of Shostakovich’s works because Shostakovich’s fourth symphony obviously imitates much of its “magnificent stuff” in style and structure (I think it’s Alex Ross in The Rest is Noise who most aggressively makes that point of the authors I’ve read on the subject, although I don’t have the book at hand) and, more generally, because I want to cover a few works by other Soviet composers to see how Shostakovich fits in among his peers.  It’s also a great work to go through; I’ve been listening to it quite a bit over the past couple of years, especially in the past few months when I’ve wanted a Soviet-orchestral fix during my self-imposed Shostakovich rationing, and listening through it closely last night was just a lot of fun.

Popov built his symphony on a grandiose scale, in three movements totaling fifty minutes; the style channels Prokofiev’s 1915 Scythian Suite but with more mass and sharper edges.  The first movement, lasting for nearly half of the work’s total runtime itself, kicks off with an orchestral outburst and immediately falls off into a skittering introduction:

The first movement is rhapsodic and hard to track, as it kneads its musical material over and over until it’s barely recognizable.  Its initial impression is all surface effects:  Wind-heavy timbres, dramatic pauses, high dynamic contrasts.  After getting more familiar with it I notice the movement’s structure more, how it rises and falls.  The opening leads into an almost Romantic upswelling about three and a half minutes in, which builds into a sunburst of grinding orchestral sound; this darkens and settles down, only to lurch back into motion and peak in a glorious, twisting, noisy episode at the movement’s midpoint.  This finally narrows down for good in the movement’s last five minutes, as the opening figure sprouts back up but settles into murky quietude, disturbed a little by repetitive, worrying figures in the low strings.  The music’s greatest fault is its tendency to get loud and stay there for long, seemingly arbitrary stretches of time, but its sheer excess is also its greatest charm.

The slow second movement opens with a gentle, slightly exotic melody that unspools in the woodwinds, owing much to the high-bassoon beginning of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  The musical energy ebbs and flows as in the first movement but at a lower level, percolating for a bit before lowering again into romantic-modern softness, and finally dwindling to a minor-key close.

The ten-minute third movement is the easiest to take in at once and the most outwardly charming.  It jumps into motion from the start and, within a minute, whips up into a kaleidoscopic frenzy.  Around the 1:30 mark the trombone introduces a clownish, heavy-footed dance figure and passes it on through the orchestra.  I think of such episodes as “bear polkas”, borrowing a phrase from a Paul Celan poem, for their ungainliness and sense of subdued menace; Popov here lacks Prokofiev’s gift for melody or Shostakovich’s facility for carnivalesque mugging, but I like this one a lot.

The dance material gets worked over for a bit and then, about six minutes in, the movement is sucked into the whirlpool-like beginning of the symphony’s coda, which rapidly builds to a gleaming, brushed-steel climax:

The work’s final minutes move like a massive clockwork that nearly shakes itself apart, all chiming percussion and titanic brass tones that heat up into a last, incandescent chord.  It’s become one of my favorite symphonic finales out there — it’s not a delicately nuanced one, obviously, but I like the earnestness of this type of unselfconscious orchestral gigantism, and there is a subtlety in how Popov’s music sounds both ecstatic and ragged around the edges.  It’s a fantastic example of monumental, industrial-grade Soviet musical modernism; it’s a shame that Popov wasn’t allowed to continue working in this vein.

Advertisements

Opus 42: Five Fragments (1935)

December 7, 2010

Five Fragments, op. 42 (1935)
CD:  Shostakovich: The Execution of Stepan Razin, etc., Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz (Naxos 8.557812)

For the past few years I’ve been a little bit familiar with the Five Fragments from this album, not that the work demands much familiarity.  But it works well as a companion to the bigger stuff on this album by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony (a band I still haven’t heard in concert, despite being only one major city away from me), the classical-ouevre equivalent of a B-side, and the musicians give a good account of it.

The five short pieces, sketches for Shostakovich’s upcoming fourth symphony, make a ten-minute exercise in the general style of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, though in their stylistic details they differ somewhat — I imagine Shostakovich was working out a couple of different angles.  The first two fragments point most clearly back at the sound worlds of Lady Macbeth and The Nose, particularly the ominous tension of the former’s first act.  The central Largo, though, achieves something else than the earlier style:  With slow traces of melodic lines and chords hanging in the air as though vaporized, it creates an static, pensive atmosphere that, running for a comparatively long four minutes, anchors the entire set.  The piece that follows it continues in something like the same mood, but with less aim and interest.

Some hard-edged solo fiddling in the final Allegretto shows off a jumpy figure that makes its way in some form into the last movement of the fourth symphony — the only material in the fragments so used, I think — as well as an attitude that comes back in biting folk-dance episodes in several of Shostakovich’s string quartets:

Fun enough stuff; my reaction to it is mainly the same joy of recognition I feel towards anything unmistakably in the composer’s style.

Opus 41a: Girlfriends (1935)

December 6, 2010

Girlfriends, op. 41a (1935)
CD:  Various soloists, Camerata Silesia, The Katowice City Singers’ Ensemble, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mark Fitz-Gerald (Naxos 8.572138)

Lev Arnshtam’s Girlfriends is another of Shostakovich’s early film collaborations available in its un-subtitled entirety on the Internet but I opted instead for the music without images, because I want to get to know Mark Fitz-Gerald’s disc and, with Love and Hatred and Maxim’s Youth in recent memory and still more films (the rest of the Maxim Trilogy!) looming ahead, I want to pace myself on the intriguing but also sort of tiresome act of watching a propagandistic, somewhat dated, frequently incomprehensible movie in discrete and sometimes slow-to-download chunks.  Actually, between Maxim’s Youth and Girlfriends I may have picked the wrong one to watch in full, as this score — largely reconstructed from the original film soundtrack by Fitz-Gerald — is the richer and more varied one, a mix of chamber music, large orchestra work, novel solo instruments, and revolutionary song.  As in The Golden Mountains, Shostakovich deploys a pipe organ, in a voluntary accompanied by brass instruments that heralds the 1919 civil war; as in Alone, Shostakovich makes a rare use of the theremin, in an unstable rendition of the Internationale, then the Soviet national anthem, that plays as the titular girlfriends (serving as nurses) and some wounded soldiers flee from the enemy by train.  Whether the effect is more comical or unsettling in the film I don’t yet know, but in its pure audio form the electronic solo wavers neatly between the two:

I’ll eventually need to watch the film, too, to take in the contrast between the vintage recording of the score and Fitz-Gerald’s thoroughly contemporary, clean-lined account.  Based on the past films I’ve watched there’s a lot of charm in that older, warblier sound, but my tastes in vocal music are very much a product of my times, I think, and I appreciate the lucid, filigree-free (and, certainly, well engineered) solo and ensemble singing on the Naxos album:

Our enemy did not mock you,
At your death you were surrounded
By your own people, and we,
Your friends, closed your eagle eyes.

That excerpt (text translated by Anastasia Belina) comes from the revolutionary song “Tormented by a Lack of Freedom”, one of a couple such numbers that Shostakovich incorporated into the Girlfriends score and, notably for Shostakovich theme-spotters, one he much later worked into the emotionally searing medley of his eighth quartet.  The film score actually has a more direct relationship to his string quartet writing:  Music from the 1938 first quartet serves as the movie’s introduction, which seems uncanny until you read in the booklet essay (by John Riley, he of the ever-helpful film handbook) that the usage dates from a 1960s restoration.  There is original quartet music in the film, though, sometimes augmented by other instruments, and it presents a view of the composer’s emerging chamber music sound, as well as the expressiveness of his general middle-period style:

All in all it’s a fine forty-five minutes of music.  I expect its joys would be diminished outside the context of Shostakovich’s career and the music, designed to coexist with moving images without overwhelming them, suffers on its own as most film scores do (I learned this phenomenon well enough from playing John Williams’ official Jurassic Park soundtrack CD over and over at a tender age), but it very much supports Riley’s thesis that Shostakovich’s cinematic work deserves more credit and attention than it usually gets.  If nothing else, the ties between it and his string quartets — that most respected, intimate, consistently high-quality body of Shostakovich’s work — puts the lie to the idea that his film music can all be dismissed as perfunctory, politically expedient stuff.  It’s a neat facet of his compositional personality to get to know, all these years after becoming so deeply attached to his music.

This Week: Dereliction of Shostakoviction

December 1, 2010

As an end-of-year deadline looms at the office, my work life turns out to be more or less consuming this entire week, so, despite great interest in Shostakovich’s film score for Girlfriends and a desire to make it through to the fifth symphony before my Christmas break begins in mid-December, I’m going to put my listening on ice for the week and dig back in with opus 41a on the 6th or 7th.

Another not-hearing-Shostakovich note:  Yo-Yo Ma plays one concert this weekend with the Oregon Symphony, performing Shostakovich’s first cello concerto, but I will not be attending since the show was sold out more or less from the moment it was announced and Ma’s rock-star popularity puts scalped tickets, if any there be at this point, beyond my budget.  So an umimpressive critical-listening effort on my part, all in all.

No opus number: Jazz Suite No. 1 (1934)

November 24, 2010

Jazz Suite No. 1, sans opus (1934)
CD:  “Shostakovich: The Jazz Album”, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly (London 433 702 – 2; currently issued on Decca)

When I bought Riccardo Chailly’s “Jazz Album” in high school, in the early stages of my Shostakovich fervency — I think I was familiar with the fifth, tenth, and thirteenth symphonies by then, and probably not much else — I had high hopes that the Soviet composer would prove to be a polystylistic master of the symphonic jazz idiom, another Gershwin or Bernstein.  The fact that the album’s opener, the first jazz suite, contains a waltz and a polka dashed those hopes somewhat even on examining the CD packaging in the store; Elizabeth Wilson’s note in the booklet essay that “the music hardly corresponds to the accepted understanding of jazz” (which I recall reading before listening to the album, most likely in the car on the way home from Border’s) seemed a pretty frank disappointment of those teenager’s hopes for a Russified Rhapsody in Blue.  But it took listening through to the middle of the final piece in the suite, the foxtrot, to grasp just how wacky Shostakovich’s concept of jazz is:

Only for this listening expedition did I finally look up what instrument is squeakily crooning over a sliding trombone — it’s a Hawaiian guitar, which Shostakovich had used once before in his Golden Mountains film score — but I’ve been at least used to the effect for years.  On that initial listening it seemed funny, rather cutesy, and generally inexplicable.  I imagined then, as I still do now, a lazy hound dog in some cartoon set on the banks of the Mississippi circa 1940.

Since then I’ve learned to place the jazz suite within the larger body of Shostakovich’s light music but it’s remained an unusually charming example for me, due to its relatively good tunes, instrumental novelty and — not least — small size.  Even at that, hearing its opening waltz again this week made me fear that I’d killed my taste for the composer’s dance music, at least temporarily:  Working through five years of such material, especially the declawed works starting with The Bolt, is the music-listening equivalent of eating your way through a crate of increasingly stale petit-fours.  It doesn’t help that the waltz’s main theme also sees a lot of use in The Limpid Stream, written around the same time, although it’s winsome enough if taken at a smaller dosage; it also shares a four-note opening descent with the later, more sly, recently much more famous “second waltz”:

The polka, though, cleansed my brain of any toxicity:  It’s just a really good light-orchestra track, varied and charming and amiably melodic.  If you don’t the handoff in the middle of it between one operetta-like saxophone tune and another, you’re not going to like any of this stuff.

The foxtrot is a longer and heavier dance number in a minor key but Chailly keeps the music light and quick, letting the darker hue add piquancy without turning the music into vaudevillian drama or a sad clown routine, as a couple of other recordings do.  It’s really enjoyable music, probably an ideal introduction to Shostakovich’s lighter side (along with the rest of the album; see also the “Tahiti-Trot”) and, if you’re not diving too deep into the composer’s oeuvre, one of the only works you need.

Opus 41: Maxim’s Youth (1934)

November 23, 2010

Maxim’s Youth, op. 41 (1934)
Film on YouTube (ten-minute segments) via SHOSTAKOVI.CH: The Page of Shostakovich

As Love and Hatred did, Maxim’s Youth provided me with a web-enabled, unsubtitled, Harvey-Keitel-in-U-571-like, “Everything’s in Russian!” sort of home video experience: Kozintsev and Trauberg’s 1935 film lacks an accessible DVD release, so it’s back to the YouTube library at the SHOSTAKOVI.CH fan site for me. This time I availed myself of John Riley’s plot summary beforehand, to whatever extent that helped: Maxim, a waggish young factory worker, wakes up politically after a pair of industrial accidents, organizes covertly, demonstrates, goes to jail, and ultimately escapes to carry on his work. The story is a Soviet archetype but the film, the first in a trilogy, was very popular in its time, and the character of Maxim apparently became something of a folk hero, one not always entirely understood by the citizenry to be fictional. More useful is Riley’s description of Shostakovich’s involvement in the soundtrack, for which he acted more as a co-curator than as a composer. A popular waltz tune serves as Maxim’s theme song and most of the soundtrack corresponds to action within the film itself: Characters sing and very frequently play the accordion, dance tunes play from behind closed doors, pastiches of industrial sound set an appropriately proletarian mood.

The exception to that is the nighttime sleigh ride in the prologue, set to the only music in the film that Shostakovich composed himself. He mashes up four melodies for the scene, including a polka that he would reuse down the line in a galop in his operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki and a song (sung by a giddy woman in the middle of the scene) called “I am a Footballer!”. The prologue’s exuberant satire of a gaggle of decadent bourgeoisie recalls the visual energy of the directors’ earlier New Babylon more than any Shostakovich film collaboration I’ve watched since then. In fact the scene seems to have little reason to lead off the film other than that it looks nifty, a formalist appetizer before the directors settle into the film’s plainer, more populist attitude, aided by the absence of Shostakovich’s thick orchestral sounds.

The other notable scene for Shostakoviphiles highlights the song “You Fell as a Victim”, which the composer used prominently within his eleventh symphony two decades later. Here it serves within a long, initially very moody sequence in which a worker is killed in a factory accident. Maxim, initially backed only by a soundscape of keening whistles, comes to the factory floor and sees his fallen comrade, whose status as martyr is sealed by a shaft of sunlight; the assembled workers then spontaneously begin singing the revolutionary song as they bear the body away in a funeral procession that boils over into political demonstration.

I was pretty bored by the film by the end. Most likely that’s because I don’t know what any of the words mean, less of a handicap than commonly thought, I suspect, when watching narrative movies but a handicap nonetheless. Or perhaps it’s because the film becomes more somber and self-constrained as it works towards its didactic close; perhaps too because most films have trouble sustaining their energy and novelty all the way through to the end. For all that, the film has a number of evocative sounds and, more so, a visual panache that I find hard to define; the filmmakers’ editing is consistently snappy, as in their earlier New Babylon and Alone, and there is some striking, dramatically shadowed close-up photography of the actors. Boris Chirkov in the title role has enough high-spirited charisma to carry many scenes for me even though their finer details were incomprehensible due to the language barrier. In contrast to when I watched Love and Hatred a week ago, I didn’t push myself to try to understand what precisely the story is. Instead I took in the movie’s visual and auditory pleasures, when present (including the gritty but still somewhat fantastical factory setting, with its chorus of hooters and its tiny steam locomotives) and let myself be carried along, half distracted, through it’s duller stretches. It’s a satisfactory way to watch a film.

Thanks-a-kovich

November 22, 2010

I’m planning another short week of Shostakovich blogging with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up on Thursday.  Along with braving the pre-holiday grocery store crowds I hope to get through the composer’s first jazz suite and his music for the film Maxim’s Youth, which by my count will round out my survey of his works from 1934, another prolific year for the composer.

I’m happy that with the cello sonata I’ve reached the opus-forties, an auspicious if arbitrary group of eleven Shostakovich works (two film scores share op. 41).  Besides the sonata, of which I’m a newly minted fan, the pieces include the fourth and fifth symphonies and the first string quartet.  Those works, not coincidentally, correspond to a political low point in the mid- to late 1930s, for Shostakovich and for the USSR, but they mark his metamorphosis from a composer of operas and ballets into a composer of more abstract symphonies and chamber music.  His career as a film composer remained relatively constant through that time.  Doing some back-of-the-envelope scheduling, I hope to cover about that much musical ground before I take a longer break for Christmas next month.

No opus number: Moderato for Cello and Piano (1930s)

November 19, 2010

Moderato for Cello and Piano, sans opus (1930s)
mp3 download:  Lynn Harrell (cello), Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)  (Decca 475 7425)

The Moderato for Cello and Piano, composed sometime in the 1930s and discovered alongside the cello sonata’s manuscript in the 1980s, is probably destined to remain an obscure footnote to that larger work.  The two-and-a-half-minute Moderato shares the lyricism of the sonata’s first movement:  The cello part often sounds like a wordless aria with piano accompaniment, not unlike Katerina’s emotional outpourings in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk — my impression is certainly colored by the cello’s quoting of her fourth-act aria in Shostakovich’s eighth string quartet — although the Moderato also veers into salon-music sentimentality as well.

The melodies fail to make an impression and it ends up as a forgettable piece, not surprising for material untouched for decades by a composer who never let a promising musical idea lie unused in obscurity if he could help it.

News of Orango’s Premiere

November 19, 2010

An update on Orango, Shostakovich’s unfinished satirical opera about an ape-human hybrid:  The L.A. Times ran an article yesterday announcing that its prologue, completed by Gerard McBurney, will be premiered in December 2011 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, in a semi-staged concert produced by Peter Sellars.  Quite a high-profile introduction for the long-forgotten project.

The comments in the article by McBurney and Shostakovich scholar David Fanning (who damns Shostakovich’s manuscript pretty hard with faint praise) reinforce my expectation that the new music is going to sound much like Declared Dead and the composer’s other, also frequently ill-starred theatrical works of the early 1930s:  hastily drawn, a little bit chaotic, musically thin.  I do hope to make it to the show, though, schedule permitting — “sounds like Shostakovich” is enough for me, at the end of the day, and even mediocre music can make for gripping entertainment in concert in a way that recordings never quite can.

I’m intrigued, too, by what Sellars will bring to the project.  I know his work almost entirely through his collaborations with John Adams (also from a video production of Weill and Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins and from hearing him speak at length when he visited a seminar I was in in college) and I wonder how his characteristic humanism will play against the young Shostakovich’s music, whose satire (despite the towering exception of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) often lacks earnestness and whose overt political gestures are merely skin-deep.  I’m interested to see and hear what the artists will put together out of it; collectively they will have spent a lot more effort to bring the opera to the stage than did Shostakovich himself.

Opus 40: Sonata for Cello and Piano (1934)

November 19, 2010

Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 40 (1934)
CD:  “Sonatas for Cello and Piano”, Pieter Wispelwey (cello), Dejan Lazic (piano)  (Channel Classics CCS 20098)

I’m very glad to have reached the cello sonata.  Shostakovich’s music for stage and screen has its pleasures but my project leaves me little control over my focused listening, and these mid-November days right after the fallback to standard time from daylight savings have me in the mood for contemplative, chamber-sized music.  I listened through the sonata three times through between Monday and Tuesday (this post goes up late due to some technical difficulties), hearing it for the first time ever in blustery cool weather and then steady rain — too often while driving, but that’s what my schedule this week affords — and it’s both an engaging work of art and an apt companion to the season.

Shostakovich turned into a formidable composer of chamber music but to this point in his career he’d written little of it, at least in part because the Soviet Union’s cultural arbiters hadn’t yet settled the question of whether such small-scale music was too individualistic for the needs of the state and its mass audiences.  His Aphorisms and 24 Preludes, vehicles for his career as a pianist, seem to contain his most personal music so far.  (The first symphony and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk speak with a great deal of emotion and personality, too, but more dramatically so.)  The cello sonata, though it’s more romantically lyrical than the equilibrium his style would hold through the 1940s and ’50s, is the first of his works that I recognize as middle-period rather than early Shostakovich, in its directness of expression and in its symphonic expansiveness despite its chamber size.

A long Allegro non troppo opens the sonata with grace, although it casts shadows too:  The elegant opening theme, in a move that would become typical in the composer’s string quartets and elsewhere, quickly becomes subject to darker-hued dramatics.  A more expansive, upward-reaching second theme, lovelier than is typical for Shostakovich’s melodies, quiets the mood.  The piano introduces it under unabashedly sentimental sighs from the cello, before the instruments trade it off:

That second theme recurs wistfully in between developmental episodes.  The movement ends on a dark note, as the cello slowly restates the opening theme; Wispelwey gives the passage a spectral presence.

The opening of the second movement also sounds remarkable on this disc, a cold, droning whirlwind of a round dance:

The movement lightens in places but despite its motion it frequently sounds hollow, drained of all mirth.  The eight-minute Largo that follows forms the emotional core of the piece.  It is dark, nocturnal music, characterized by searching melodic lines and pulsing rhythms in the piano.  It reaches back to the unsettling Cradle Song that ends Aphorisms and to the murky atmosphere of the Japanese songs, but it also looks forward to the more harrowing Nocturne of the first violin concerto:  A few passages give off a loamy warmth but there is little solace to be found in this musical night.

The fast-moving fourth movement bears the closest resemblance to the puckish but edgy items within the 24 Preludes, although it recalls the first piano concerto too; the former cinema pianist pops out of its theatrical outbursts.  This last movement lacks the concerto’s sunny mood, though, running back and forth between nervous glee and something more like existential panic, especially in some running figures near the end that recall the frenzy of the second movement.

Wispelwey and Lazic have a very fine, full sound on this album.  In particular, the disc picks up a rich range of sounds from the cello body (perhaps enhanced just a little by my noise-reducing headphones and factory-standard Honda Civic speakers).  The two cut appropriately punchy, hard-edged entrances for the sonata’s more theatrical sections, honing the music’s angst; in its less explosive stretches they draw out Shostakovich’s broad, thoroughly mature range from lyrical warmth to psychological darkness.  The album also includes excellent accounts of Prokofiev’s and Britten’s cello sonatas, which I listened through a few weeks ago in sunnier weather.

In spite of its depths, Shostakovich’s sonata has a simplicity of a piece with The Limpid Stream and most of his other works since Lady Macbeth.  That simplicity of expression, increasingly demanded of him (although it seems to grow more organically as well as he moves past a youthful bomb-throwing phase), is stronger and more organic here, as the composer finds a direct musical channel for his emotional ambiguities instead of trying to spike a watery balletic punch.  Although plenty was happening in the USSR in 1934 to fuel dark thoughts in Shostakovich and his fellow Soviet citizens, I don’t hear it as straight autobiography or as a testament to that historical moment — he wrote too much light music alongside it for that, however much you read those as mere sops to the state.  Rather, it seems like a space where he could give voice to his anxieties without, due to its abstractness and more conventional musical development, drawing too much official ire, at least for a time.  It’s music very much worth hearing, and a fine accompaniment to this time of year.