Tag Archives: Italy

[165] Enrico Caruso – 21 Arias

1 Jan

Here it is, folks. The recording that killed my desire to keep blogging for more than three years.

165 caruso

A name so huge, singing music so immense, that I couldn’t fathom why it was leaving absolutely no impression on me. Was I tired of the weekly deadlines? Did I not like classical vocals as much as I thought I did? Did I just run out of time?

Four years ago I was in the thick of a Masters degree. Three years ago I took on a new improved role at work. Two years ago my daughter, now 10, hit an age where we could play the kind of boardgames together that I love to play.  It seems, in hindsight, that something had to give, and 1,000 Recordings was it.

So are we still blaming Caruso?

Caruso is certainly not the reason I am coming back to the blog. I’m writing again, at least, I want to be writing again. I had an agent request a query and the first 50 pages of My Messy And Magnificent SciFi Thing (working title) and realized that the most recent polish was another thing that fell by the wayside a couple of years back. Flexing my writing muscles on a weekly basis can only be a positive thing. And while I was thinking that I should start writing again I ran across a CD, bought more than two years ago in anticipation of reviewing it for the blog: Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music.

I realize I still want to discover it.

Not just listen to it. I want to hear it, examine it, explore it and share it. And a peek at other albums upcoming reveal favorites like Johnny Cash and Tracy Chapman, as well as names I feel I should know more about, like Neko Case. And to get to them I have to get through a few hundred words on Caruso.

I queue up 21 Arias on my ubiquitous Spotify app and hit play.

The recording quality is . . . strange. Caruso sang over a century ago and these recordings were originally made on wax. They have been remastered and restored, and the result is a sound that is more modern than it should be, yet still ever-so slightly off to the contemporary ear. I believe that, in part, it was this juxtaposition which initially put off my tired ear.

The arrangements are beautiful, the singing pleasing, and many of the songs are ingrained into my pop culture consciousness. But even as a vocalist, it is not clear to me why Caruso is considered the best ever. He can belt, he has enormous range, and there is emotion, at least in an operatic, melodramatic sense. So, as I realize I have said before during the course of this endeavor, the recordings make me wish I could watch the performance in context, could see the action and follow the story.

That said, I am no longer left with the feeling of nothingness which led to my hiatus. I let the music play, again and again, and it washes over me in warm waves. I am engaged, listening, thinking about what I am hearing, and it was this sensation I had lost when last I heard these tunes. I am once again eager to be immersed in sounds outside of my everyday, to hear something absolutely different to the 90s rock and 80s pop, with the occasional shining gem of new music (often by one of those 80s or 90s artists I so gravitate towards) that I quickly and comfortably default to.

Caruso is never going to be a favorite of mine, but I am glad to have given him a second chance, to spend a week or so with him, and to share my thoughts with you. For these reasons, I return to 1,000 Recordings to endorse Tom Moon’s recommendation, relieved and excited to be back in the saddle again.

Next Time: Pablo Casals – Bach: Cello Suites Vols. 1 & 2

Owned before blogging? No. (12 of 165 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (21 of 165 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (138 of 165 = 84%)

[82] Vincenzo Bellini – Norma

31 Oct

It’s official.  I’m going to have a really hard time with the Operas in this list.

Tullio Serafin conducting the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra

Tullio Serafin conducting the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra

Whenever I have taken the opportunity to attend an opera in person, it has been an amazing experience – the spectacle, the performances, the story telling.

I am not feeling any of this listening to Maria Callas and friends on this 1954 recording.  In fact, I’m not feeling much of anything.

Opera is about telling a story, moving an audience, hitting the heights.  Listening to these old fashioned sounds without context leaves me cold.  Even Callas’ clean and impressive range can’t keep me interested, since it is forever before her first appearance, and even once she is included there are far more tracks without her than with . . .

I listen to Broadway and West End cast albums all the time – they are some of my favorite albums – but in almost every case I have bought the album after seeing and loving the show.

So perhaps a recording of The Magic Flute or A View From The Bridge might move me in a way that this (and The Death of Klinghoffer before it) does not.

Or perhaps I’d just be better off going to see a modern production of the Operatic recordings Moon highlights . . .

Next Week:  Bembeya Jazz National – The Syliphone Years

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 82 = 11%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 82 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (66 of 82 = 80%)

[54] Cecilia Bartoli – The Vivaldi Album

18 Apr

The album opens with the clean high tones and crisp instrumentation of one of the most familiar tunes in Classical Music – the beautiful celebration of Spring from The Four Seasons – paving the way for me to enjoy the rest of these far more obscure pieces of Vivaldi’s Opera.

Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli











I grew up listening to and attending performances of light opera – from sublime professional productions, to amateur ridiculous ones (and sometimes vice versa) – so I am well versed in the trilling of a soprano, the overblown emotion so often on display.

Bartoli’s vocal acrobatics on the other hand are controlled, precise and immensely enjoyable, but her instrument is only the most obvious highlight of this impressive blending of composition and technique.

It is the compelling melodies that shine out, brightening up my day whether at my desk at work, or having dinner with my girls. 

After the unresolving chords of Bartok, each nugget of melody is all the more welcome, painting a pleasing picture and leaving me wanting more, even after multiple plays.

The cliché, “a breath of fresh air” is startlingly appropriate at this time.

Bartoli, aided beautifully by Il Giardino Armonico, colors each song with passion and purpose, achieving the impressive trick of making something insanely complex and challenging appear simple and effortless.

Next Week: Count Basie and his Orchestra – The Complete Decca Recordings

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 54. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 54. 7%)
Recommend? Yes. (42 of 54. 78%)

[36] Johann Sebastian Bach – The Brandenburg Concertos

13 Dec

Warm and sprightly.  Beautiful and relaxing.  These six piece form a very pleasing listening experience.

The Brandenburg Concertos

The Brandenburg Concertos











While the tunes themselves are not familiar, the style, the melodic acrobatics are welcome and comforting.  There is a little of the “background music” phenomenon I encountered with Cannonball Adderley, but it is an extremely enjoyable change of pace at my desk.

Each of the concertos has a different instrumentation which keeps the sound varied and interest high as I listen straight through these performances by the Concerto Italiano.

There is a different level of connection to these flowing constructs than I instinctively find with the visceral rock, jazz and blues recordings I discover on my blogging.  At once the connection is intellectual and somehow subliminal.  Feelings sketched out rather than clearly stated.

Classical music effects me in a different way – neither better nor worse, just different.

Did I say the tunes were unknown?  I mistated in one large and significant case.  The opening section of Concerto #5 is burned into my brain through its use in the at once highly entertaining and hugely educational Disney Junior show, Little Einsteins.

Each week four kids (a conductor, a dancer, a musician and a singer) travel through the world of a famous work of art while chasing a famous piece of music.  Bach’s piece here provides the soundtrack for a Birthday Machine, and I am unable to stop myself from singing the silly but catchy lyrics that the kids add to this classical tune:

“Round and round and turning turning turning turning clapping clapping up down.”

The piece also reminds me of my surprisingly strong affection for the sound of a harpsichord!

I am interested to compare and contrast how different these Concerto are to the next three recordings – also by Bach – that led Moon to include all four in his list of 1,000.  To date only John Adams has rated more than one album on the list – two pieces in two very different styles, one Classical, one Operatic, neither recommended.

Fingers crossed.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 36. 6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 36. 11%)
Recommend? Yes. (30 of 36. 83%)

Next Week:  Johann Sebastian Bach – Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin


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