George Dreyfus . . .Live!

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Artist/s: George Dreyfus (bassoon, vocals and percussion), Paul Grabowski (electric piano and ARP synthesizer)
Category: Classical, Eclectic, Film Music, New Music
Label: Move Records MD3300
Reviewed by

“A reissue of an LP from 1972, Live! is an entertaining mix of George Dreyfus’s promiscuous musical practices encompassing composition, song, dance and bassoon acrobatics.”

The package also contains a score (described as “suitable for use as a 21st-century wall hanging”) of one of the standout tracks, Deep Throat. On the back of this are highly critical program notes written in the third person, by a person unacknowledged.

George Dreyfus (r) with Rodney Hall, 1968

The title of the product is somewhat baffling as the recorded performances are devoid of applause, coughing and jaffa rolling. However Deep Throat has throat-clearing sounds built into the lyrics that are based on critical notices of the composer’s first two symphonies, as follows:

Symphony Number One may well (possibly) be a clearing of the throat (Aargh) for Symphony Number Two (Aargh).

I imagine how crook the throat’ll be after fourteen Dreyfus symphonies.

No Dreyfus “live” release would be complete without his hit single, Rush, the theme for the eponymous TV series of 1974. Here we hear it in a version for bassoon and ARP Synth which has more gravitas than the glitzy original recorded by Brian May and the ABC Showband. Hearing the ARP reminded me of the term we used in the 1970s for the sound of many analog synths: “poxy”.

Conducting, in Germany

Other arrangements for bassoon and electronic keyboards of Dreyfus’s screen scores include the themes for Break of Day (1976). Let the Balloon Go (1976) and Power Without Glory (1976). The pick for me is the moving theme for the 1973 mini-series, Marion.

I’ve never been to one of George Dreyfus’s solo shows, upon which I imagine this album is based, so I was surprised to learn that he was a professional singer. Dreyfus doesn’t have a particularly appealing voice or anything like trained vocal technique, but he can deliver lyrics (in both English and German) very effectively in a “musical comedy” acting style. He gives a delightful rendition of his theme song from The Adventures of Sebastian the Fox (1963), a valiant version of his “Ballad of a Dead Guerrilla Leader” from The Gilt Edged Kid (an opera that the Australian Opera [now Opera Australia]commissioned but never staged), and an energetic performance of his setting of Christian Morgenstern’s anti-WWI poem “Das Knie”, a 42 second vignette upon which he also plays bassoon and percussion and, in a live context, dances. It’s impressive but I’m not sure I would go as far as the writer of the program notes who describes it as “the greatest music event since Johann Sebastian Bach’s B Minor Mass”.

Despite the poxy synth sounds, Paul Grabowski gives sympathetic and often virtuosic support to Dreyfus’s front-line efforts.

Although I’ve only met George Dreyfus once, I feel I have made a contribution to his career. In a radio interview after the publication of my 1982 book on Peter Sculthorpe, I described it pompously as “the first serious book on an Australian composer”. In 1984 George’s first memoir appeared. It was titled “The last frivolous book”.

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