Tag Archives: Classical

[162] Elliott Carter – Symphonia

20 May

Symphonia is a conversation between the various instruments which is difficult to comprehend but impossible to ignore.

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It is clear that there is an energetic and fascinating debate going on here, which happens to be in a language that the listener does not speak.  This in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the bright and inventive piece.

As that listener I sit back and enjoy the discussion, wondering what the topic might be, grinning as one performer or another scores a telling point.

I find myself in the same mental state that I visit when watching some of my very favorite plays by Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.  The call and response, the back and forth has that same wonderful rhythm as well as the absurd yet aesthetically pleasing meaninglessness which somehow sounds important or profound.

All that is missing is Beckett’s philosophizing and Pinter’s vulgarity . . .

[Long pause.]

I am reminded once again at the universal nature of music, especially instrumental music – how it is used to communicate feeling, idea, occasion.  Even when, as here, it is not understood intellectually it can still be felt viscerally, intuitively.

In instrumentation and execution, this Modern Classical piece is at times indistinguishable from experiential Jazz.  For some reason this pleases me greatly.

Next Week:  Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick – Byker Hill

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 162 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 162 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (136 of 162 = 84%)

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[150] William Byrd – Harpsichord Music

26 Feb

The harpsichord has such a distinctive sound, the proto-piano, at once ancient and refined.

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The performance here is careful and calculated, every note given its proper time and space and consideration even when the fingers occasionally offer a trill or an allegro run.  Byrd’s compositions highlight the limitations of the instrument, and in doing so uncover a quite charming sound, the delicacy of the individual notes worked together into a solid and indestructible structure.

There is an architectural quality to the music – functional, even workmanlike, but also beautiful.

Here is music which does not disturb my co-workers, which I can play at my desk while I work, which nonetheless does not disappear entirely into the background.  It is such a specific sound, so melody driven yet dominated by the instrument itself, that whenever my ear does catch a moment, it is pleasing and intriguing in equal measure.

While not a sound I would have sought out, nor one I expect to revisit often, Harpsichord Music is a recording which in some ways reminds me again why I began this quite ludicrous undertaking, almost three years ago to the day.

It is an excuse, an opportunity to spend some time with an artist, a genre I would otherwise have passed by, enjoying it in the moment, expanding my palette, growing my experience.

Next Week:  The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 150 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 150 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (125 of 150 = 83%)

[139] Anton Bruckner – Symphony No 7 in E Major

4 Dec

After a slow and steady build, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s recording of Anton Bruckner’s most famous work reveals a bright and uplifting composition – nuanced, layered and wonderful.

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I instantly enjoy this sound, this leisurely exploration of a melody like a sunrise.  The quality of the production and performance gives the intimacy of a concert hall through the precise wonder of hi-tech speakers or headphones.

The tempo is consistent and comforting throughout, allowing the listener to fall through the musical page and picture the personal imagery so strongly suggested by these sweeping strokes of sound.  Everything here is vibrant and lively, crisp and precise without ever losing all the joy and spontaneity you could ever wish for in a symphony.

It breathes.

Moon describes some of what is heard here as “ominous”, but the word I prefer (also used by Moon) is “thoughtful.”

Brucker allows the music and musicians the time and space to build and grow and explore, never hurrying, never stalling.  It is quite a feat, and worthy of your listening time.

Next Week:  Jeff Buckley – Grace

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 139 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 139 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (115 of 139 = 83%)

[126] Johannes Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2

4 Sep

A quiet opening catches my attention, and the tinkling piano brings a smile to my face.  When an unexpectedly abrupt run and stab up the keys begins, I am fully engaged.

We are 90 seconds into the first Allegro movement of Piano Concerto No. 2.

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Here is an orchestra apparently with something to say, a conductor and pianist willing to let them be heard.  It is not so much call and response as point and counterpoint.  The orchestra states its position and the piano rebuts and refutes.

I am sure there is some sort of structure being adhered to, but to my ear the mood and tempo ranges far and wide, seemingly at will.  Again, I find myself intrigued.  It is all so pretty.

And I enjoy the feeling of never knowing what I am going to hear next.

As playful as it is brooding, as light and airy as it is dense and heavy – it almost sounds like schizophrenia might feel.  The switchbacks and sonic reversals ensure that the piece is constantly interesting, with a warm inviting sound making it a pleasure to sit back and let composer and performer take you where they will.

I wish I better understood what I have been listening to for the last month or so.  Brahms has a sound that appeals to me, but as with almost all of the Classical composers to date (certainly all except those behind a handful of pieces I knew well before embarking on the list) I do not have any real context in which to place him, no real objective way of comparing one piece to another, even within my own head.

So I will have to settle for “I like what I like”, without necessarily knowing why.

Next Week: Anthony Braxton – For Alto

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 126 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 126 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (104 of 126 = 83%)

[125] Johannes Brahms – Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108

28 Aug

When it comes to Brahms, it seems my preferences lie along “less is more” lines.

Here, as with the Sonatas for Cello and Piano, I am able to focus on the fragile melody and precise playing in a way I was not with the big Symphonies.  Once again there is an almost extrasensory connection between the two performers, driving and pushing each other to ever greater heights, yet always remaining firmly under control.

The violin is more clearly, and appropriately, the star here.  It soars and swoops within the framework provided by the piano, winding and creeping like a vine, engulfing and beautifying the structure.

The swell of the music makes me smile, spontaneously, unexpectedly, repeatedly.

Really, what more could you possibly ask for?

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 125 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 125 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (103 of 125 = 82%

[124] Johannes Brahms – The Four Symphonies

21 Aug

I listened to these pieces for 14 hours yesterday.

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And while I did at times notice moments of elegance and interest, at the end of the day the whole thing just washed over me unlike waves on a beach.

Yes, unlike – the beach is gradually changed by the water.  I was not.

Perhaps, once more, it is timing.  These large, abstract pieces fare poorly in comparison with the stunning and intimate piano and cello pieces just past.

Or perhaps it is just my mood.  Maybe I’m not feeling symphonies today, or at least not ones which I do not recognize.

And this is the final straw – this lack of recognition, the fact that after hearing each piece half a dozen times and more, I do not find myself humming passages, am not anticipating favorite moments as I did throughout the Beethoven Symphonies, both familiar and new to me.

In picking this Recording for the 1,000 Tom Moon praises the subtlety of the composition and performance.  I guess sometimes I don’t want subtlety.

Sometimes I just want to be hit in the head.

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 124 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 124 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (102 of 124 = 82%)

[123] Johannes Brahms – Sonatas for Cello & Piano, Opp. 38, 99, 108

14 Aug

This may have been exactly what I needed right now.

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In the midst of a hectic and at times overwhelming summer, these contemplative and compassionate tones are literally music to my ears.  Both piano and cello are beautiful in tone and melody, interacting playfully and mournfully – sometimes simultaneously.

For Classical pieces, they sound decidedly modern, the interplay seeming almost Jazz-like.

All here is grace and fluidity which clearly must be a good thing.  It is never obvious who has the lead – the two instruments, the two instrumentalists share the stage equally and effortlessly, revealing a give and take that evokes a powerful sense of balance and harmony.

And the melody!  Each tune tells a story, expressive and enveloping, with enough depth to withstand endless exploration and examination.  I may still be faking it when it comes to the Classics, but I certainly do know what I like when I hear it.

If you believe that you don’t like Classical music, if you have no idea where to start, you could do far worse than taking a listen to these accessible and hugely enjoyable tunes performed with a warmth and comfort which, to my mind, make them essential.

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – The Four Symphonies

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 123 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 123 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (102 of 123 = 83%)

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