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P.D.Q. BACH (1807-1742)?
Oedipus Tex & Other Choral Calamities
Oedipus Tex: Dramatic Oratorio for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra (S. 150)
Classical Rap (S. 1-2-3)
Knock, Knock, choral cantata (S.4/1)
Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach (S. 100)
Pamela South (soprano)
Dana Krueger (mezzo)
Frank Kelley (tenor)
The Greater Hoople Area Off-Season Philharmonic and the Okay
Chorale/Newton Wayland
Professor Peter Schickele
rec. 22, 24-25 April 1990, no recording location given.
TELARC CD-80239 [64:29]


Telarc’s wonderful catalogue of P.D.Q. Bach’s work has been around for some time now, and this title now re-appears on the ‘specially priced Telarc Classics’ series. There is no change to the presentation other than the announcement and website address on the inside of the jewel case. For the uninitiated, P.D.Q. Bach is the fictional, hilariously incompetent and plagiaristic alter-ego of ‘serious’ composer Peter Schickele, whose work in this field has won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording.

I’ve been a diehard P.D.Q. Bach fan for ages, and while I dearly love the old Vanguard Classics recordings the first thing to be said about the entire Telarc series is that the sound engineers have always provided his work with far superior, often demonstration sound quality. I challenge anyone to try out the ringing telephone in the first introduction on this disc, and watch as your guests and friends look around in confusion, trying to locate an invisible phone.     

Oedipus Tex has more refinement and subtlety than some earlier choral works, such as the ‘Bluegrass Cantata (S. 6 string)’. For a start there is something like a story, and brilliant ideas such as the solo horn part, which, superbly played by Brice Andrus, begins on mouthpiece alone and gradually adds pieces of tubing in successive movements, finishing with a whole horn in the finale. This work apparently ‘proves’ that the Greeks pre-dated the Spaniards in the American Southwest by more than a millennium. Among its many unique qualities is the continuo accompaniment, consisting of cello and keyboard harmonica, which has an interesting sound colour like a pocket portativo. Musical riches are here to be discovered as well, from the dramatic opening ‘Tragedy’, with its sprightly ‘T-R-A-G-E-D-Y’ fugal section and typically dry comedy percussion. ‘Wrong’ modulations and resolutions in recitatives never fail to raise a smile, and the finale with its combination of ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ and ‘I’ve been working on the railroad’ is a stroke of genius.     

Classical Rap, performed by Grandmaster Flab and the Hoople Funkharmonic, deals with the trials and tribulations of the citizens of New York’s Upper West Side. Vivaldi-style pizzicati, scratching the Four Seasons, the ‘Halleluja’ chorus and Pachelbel references are a giggle, but the parental ‘Advisory, inane lyrics’ label on the booklet is the funniest thing on this track as far as the text goes, unless you are a New York citizen.

Knock, Knock, once you’ve ‘got the joke’ might pale if it were not for the wonderful choruses which follow each increasingly extended recitative – to the point of sheer agony in ‘So this guy’. With P.D.Q. Bach you always have highly informative and scholarly booklet notes, and we learn that this piece may have been appreciated by ‘Wein-am-Rhein’s only member of the nobility, Prince Fred of the house of Hangover.’ Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach does what it says on the tin, being a mock celebration of J.S. Bach by the ‘the son who had been most ignored by his illustrious father – the son whose tone-deafness was so uncharacteristic of members of the Bach family as to raise doubts as to his legitimacy.’

All lovers of good parody can find much to enjoy here. P.D.Q. Bach fans will already have decided for themselves, but I find – as a brace of for instances ‘Two pianos are better than one’ has more musical staying power, and ‘WTWP Talkity Talk Radio’ more laughs per minute. The telephone answering machine legal arguments attempting to persuade the pool-playing ‘Hambert, Rendricks & Loss’ to take the case for the defence might seem just a little forced now, but never mind. We all love Professor Pete, and who would want to be without P.D.Q. Bach’s most desperate attempt ‘to defend his reputation against the attacks of his detractors …. after hearing Oedipus Tex, we must all agree that he was just as successful (in this) as were the defenders of the Alamo.’

Dominy Clements    


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