Tag Archives: Austria

[73] Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartets Opp. 131 and 135

29 Aug

My wife and I recently watched “A Late Quartet”.  In the back of my mind I was aware that, for this blog, I would soon be listening to a recording of the pieces featured in that fascinating movie.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic

However, the perfect personal performances seen and heard on screen bear no resemblance whatsoever to the huge and hearty sounds that Leonard Bernstein urges from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The reason is obvious.  Bernstein has transposed Beethoven’s work – originally written for a viola, a cello and two violins – to an entire string section of a modern orchestra.

The sound is big and bold and yet still nuanced, the many parts of the orchestra coalescing into a pleasing whole.  But something – the melody? the lack of intimacy? – fails to grab me the way the same pieces did in the movie.

I do not follow the internal story, the structure of these pieces intuitively as I did so viscerally, so immediately with the “Archduke”.  It’s not something I can easily articulate, but this recording doesn’t resonate with me in a meaningful way.

Am I unfairly comparing this purely audial experience with all of the visual and interpersonal storytelling that went hand in hand with this music in “A Late Quartet”?  It is entirely possible.

Am I still reveling in the afterglow of discovering the “Archduke”?  I certainly could be.

But whatever the reason, I don’t expect to feel the desire to revisit these String Quartets in the future, although I might watch the movie again.

However, I am certain that I will enjoy my next visit with Bernstein a few months from now . . .

Next Week: Ludwig van Beethoven – Missa Solemnis

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 73 = 12%)
Heard before blogging? No. (11 of 73 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (58 of 73 = 79%)

[38] Johann Sebastian Bach – The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1

27 Dec

My first impression of these piano snippets is of a collection of scales and exercises meant for an advanced student looking to improve their technique. Not so surprising since this is precisely what Bach has composed here, and how he used these pieces with his charges.

The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1

The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1











But even before I delve into the history of these pairs of Preludes and Fugues in every key, they begin to get under my skin, to capture my imagination with their variety, their small but perfectly formed structures. They are worlds apart from the complexities of Bach’s solo violin works, beautiful and distinct.

Austrian pianist, Till Fellner, plays with a warm, light touch and I find myself wanting to hear these sketches late at night as I drift away. The difference in approach between these solo pieces and Martha Argerich’s piano concertos is striking – an entirely different technique for an entirely different style of composition.

I certainly can’t fall asleep to Argerich’s passionate attack!

Still, the tunes and technique alone might not be enough to launch this recording into the Recommended column, but the story that goes along with the sounds highlights the importance beyond merely what is heard.

With this work, Bach may have helped codify the sound of music as we know it today.

The Well Tempered Clavier is his attempt to show the artistic possibilities for equal temperament tuning of the piano – ” which standardized intervals between pitches to make a uniform scale” – rather than the arguably more natural just intonation.

By any indication, he appears to have succeeded.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 38. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 38. 11%)
Recommend? Yes. (32 of 38. 84%)

Next Week: Johann Sebastian Bach – Mass In B Minor


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