Tag Archives: Alban Berg

[88] Alban Berg / Igor Stravinsky – Violin Concertos

12 Dec

It takes me only a moment to place why these awkward, off-putting sounds feel so familiar – this is the music that H. P. Lovecraft must surely have been hearing in his head while writing “The Music of Erich Zann”.

Mark Kaplan and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

Mark Kaplan and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

That the short story was written more than a decade before the Violin Concerto is no barrier where the great old ones are concerned . . .

The hauntingly beautiful string sounds are full of unnatural corners and half remembered fears, a stunning juxtaposition of appealing and appalling.  My 5-year-old daughter on hearing this piece could not decide whether it made her sleepy or afraid.

It sketches an image somewhere between terror and the rightness of everything.  Words clearly do not do justice to the complexities, the emotional affect of either the composition or the performance.

The Stravinsky Violin Concerto that follows the Berg – both performed flawlessly by Mark Kaplan – is almost an afterthought under these circumstances, the controversial composer sounding almost traditional after the genius of Berg’s horror.

I am so taken by the Berg piece that I am sure I am not giving Stravinsky a fair shake, but I can’t bring myself to care.  The price of admission was more than covered in the half hour of the opening two movements.

What the Stravinsky does achieve is to allow the listener a return to the mundane world, rejoining reality rather than floating away untethered before the disc ends.

It is almost enough to make you believe the Great Old Ones are real, and still out there dreaming of waking.

Next Week:  Luciano Berio – Simfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 88 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 88 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (71 of 88 = 81%)

[87] Alban Berg – Wozzeck

5 Dec

Spiky, angry, atonal and loud.  But, oh my is this fun.

Hamburg State Philharmonic conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

Hamburg State Philharmonic conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

I just can’t take my focus away from these performances while they play.  I understand that there is a plot here, that the eponymous soldier is not so slowly, not so subtly going mad, but it doesn’t matter.  I am listening to this for the pure physical sound alone.

There is not a single note, not a moment’s interval that is expected, and the vocalists deliver this unbelievably difficult score with passion and precision and power.

And did I mention volume?

The voices are rich and nuanced and beautiful – this is hugely important since the melodies (for want of a better word) are complex beyond the point of comprehension, harsh and intentionally hard to penetrate.  The enjoyment comes here from the performers rather than, as is perhaps more traditional, from the music.

The constantly surprising next note is what engages.

Here is another recording (like Spiritual Unity in the Jazz world) where I can understand someone not enjoying the experience, but where everyone should absolutely give it a chance, if only to see where the outer limit of their tolerance for discord might lie.

There is something refreshingly arbitrary about when I feel the need to recommend a recording, when I do not.

While there have been many, many albums on the list that are simply wonderful and should be a part of any musical vocabulary as well as a handful that I would not wish on anyone ever, there have also been an unexpected number that live in a fascinating grey zone.

This is not my favorite sound.  I am not humming the tunes as I go about my day, not desperate to get home and share it with my girls.  But there is something exhilarating about discovering this something new, something other, an excitement that has not always been present when Tom Moon has eased me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown.

Why here and not elsewhere?  I am honestly not sure I can articulate it.  But I promise to keep trying . . .

Next Week:  Alban Berg – Violin Concerto

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 87 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 87 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (70 of 87 = 80%)


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