Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today is International Blasphemy Day

Seeing as I've already invoked the unholy name of Dawkins today, there's also this:

Blasphemy Day International is a campaign seeking to establish September 30th as a day to promote free speech and to stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal.

Edit: I had offered a brief blasphemous contribution at this point, but I've removed it because I think it's out of keeping with what I want for this blog.

Meanwhile, in Judaea:

This post isn't about Alicia de Larrocha

Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha has died at the age of 86, but this post isn't a reflection on her artistry, or a reminiscence about that time I saw her perform in wherever-it-was. Reading the news of her death reminded me again of how unlike the stereotypical classical music person I appear to be. The truth is, I don't have anything to say about de Larrocha's artistry, nor anything to reminisce about. Yes, I am right now listening to her Decca recording of Albeniz's Iberia, and it is a fine thing indeed. But I have nothing to say about the pianist. The "fine thing" that I am listening to is a piano work by Albeniz, played in such a manner as to impress me. If you tell me that de Larrocha "owned" the piano music of Albeniz and Granados (and if you've heard of de Larrocha, you know this) then I will agree that it certainly sounds like she owned it, but on the other hand I haven't heard anyone else perform it, and even if I had I wouldn't have known the music well enough to offer much of an analysis. What I'm saying is, I don't know enough to disagree with you. Which I think makes me not a stereotypical classical music person. These are the ones who know; the ones who have made those comparisons and are ready with an opinion. Example: well, you've heard de Larrocha in Albeniz, but what about her Rachmaninov 3 with Previn? I happen to have this in my collection - a cheap Belart release from years ago when I was looking for a first recording of that work - but if you ask me whether it's a good option for Rach 3, I'm just going to shrug. Yes, back in the days of Nereffid's Guide I would have done a little research and got back to you, but my actual personal knowledge is pretty much nil.
I don't see this as a bad thing, though. I've always come to classical music for the music rather than the performers. On a general basis, I'd much rather hear a new work, or a new composer, than hear a new performance of a work I know reasonably well. So I've never really given myself the opportunity to develop in the direction of collecting multiple recordings of certain beloved pieces, or spending hours on YouTube, or whatever it is I should be doing. I'm happy expanding my horizons wider rather than deeper (clumsy metaphor, sorry). I do, of course, pay close attention to the critics and use them to help me pick a good recording, on the grounds that a bad performance of an unfamiliar work is still a bad performance and one that won't do the work any favours. And while I sometimes do feel my ignorance when reading a critic give an incisive analysis of why one particular pianist outshines all others in a particular piece, I draw some comfort from the knowledge that it's all totally subjective anyway.
Alicia de Larrocha's Rach 3 with Previn? "breathtaking", according to the Telegraph obit; "eccentric", according to Rob Barnett on MusicWeb.

Dawkins does Wodehouse

I'm almost finished The Greatest Show on Earth and will probably write something about it here, but in the meantime, here's Dawkins in a brilliant homage to PG Wodehouse: "The Great Bus Mystery".
Sample quote:
“Einstein, Jarvis? You mean the one with the hair and no socks?”
“Yes, sir, arguably the greatest physicist of all time.”
“Well, Jarvis, you can’t do better than that. Did Einstein believe in God?”
“Not in the conventional sense of a personal God, sir, he was most emphatic on the point. Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”
“Gosh Jarvis, bit of a googly there, but I think I get your drift. God’s just another word for the great outdoors, so we’re wasting our time lobbing prayers and worship in his general direction, what?”
“Precisely, sir.”
“If, indeed, he has a general direction”, I added moodily, for I can spot a deep paradox as well as the next man, ask anyone at the Dregs.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Speaking of Tournai...

July 2007.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This week I listened to

Vivaldi: Complete sacred music, volume 1
soloists; The King's Consort/Robert King

Finally made a start on the box set. This being Vivaldi, there are of course plenty of highlights - such as the "Et misericordia eius" from the Magnificat RV610a and the joyful beginning of the Dixit Dominus RV594. These are all big-scale choral works, none of them particularly well known. But this is the great thing about the major Baroque composers - you can pretty much pick a work at random and find something to enjoy in it, even if it's not one of the composer's finest.

Wagner: "Ouvertures et monologues celebres"
José van Dam; Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus

A freebie (I think it's free here). A good introduction to, or summary of, some of Wagner's best bits for baritone. It's fair to say this is more noteworthy for van Dam than for the orchestra, who don't quite manage to go the final yard the way you need to when Wagner is being Wagner. Having said that, there is a kind of crispness to their playing that I like.

Alfvén: Symphony no.2; Swedish Rhapsody no.1
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi

Good stuff. The rhapsody, "Midsummer Vigil", seems to be the most recorded of Alfvén's works, and I suppose it occupies the lower tier of popular classics - not exactly well known as such, but tuneful enough to make it onto orchestral compilations. The symphony's got several memorable hooks too. According to the sleeve notes, Alfvén vowed "I shall show those scoundrels that I know how to compose". If you like symphonies that end with a chorale fugue, you'll love this.

Hindemith: Sonatas for solo viola and for viola and piano
Kim Kashkashian; Robert Levin
ECM New Series

This double album pretty much sums up my difficult relationship with Hindemith. The first disc, which covers the solo music, is somewhat forbidding and not always immediately appealing, while the second is a lot more accessible. No, on balance I like Hindemith - luckily my first introduction was the Symphonic Metamorphoses, which I heard on the radio and then bought on a Decca CD with the Violin Concerto and Mathis der Maler Symphony, so I held him in affection from the start. The thing with Hindemith is you never really know what you're going to get. Some day I'll have a big Hindemith collection and do a proper appraisal.

Messe de Tournai
Ensemble Organum/Marcel Peres
Harmonia Mundi

Highlight of the week's listening. The Tournai Mass comes from the early 14th century and represents the first known case of all the mass movements being compiled in a single manuscript. It's the work of several composers, though, so Machaut's Notre Dame Mass from a little later is the first unified mass setting. Aside from the interesting historical context, though, this is a great listen. Ensemble Organum (and Harmonia Mundi) have managed to capture the sound that seems most right to me for this sort of music - a handful of male voices, not too many to sound like a big choir, but enough to give good depth and volume, and an immediate acoustic that doesn't plonk you at the far end of a cathedral. You know what, I'm going to go ahead and call this one Essential Listening, with capital letters. Heck, let's even add colour. This is Essential Listening.

Stupid Contes

Spent some time yesterday being driven demented trying to find the full track/performer details on the album Offenbach Anthologie vol.4, which is a collection of historical excerpts from Les Contes d'Hoffmann and was a free download from a few weeks ago (I think it should still be free if you register). I know, I know, gift horses and all that, but Jesus I had to jump through some hoops to sort this thing out. The tracks aren't tagged, the artist details on the site are wrong, the tracks are listed in the wrong order, and some of the file names don't properly match the track name. Thank God for Google, through which I found the album with track details on Now, that wasn't perfect either, because some of the track times were wrong, and unfortunately though there is an image of the back cover the resolution's not good enough to make out the track listing, but I got there in the end. So in case some other sad individual is out there Googling and trying to make head or tail of's hopeless nightmare, here's the proper track listing, with as much artist information as I could get:
1 Entr'acte de l'acte III (Giuletta)  3.59
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
2 Drig! Drig! Drig! 2.48
Hippolyte Belhomme; David Devries; Louis Nansen; Henri Danges
3 Il était une fois à la cour d'Eisenach 2.39
Gaston Micheletti; Orchestre du Theatre National de l'Opera Comique/Gustav Cloez
4 Il etait une fois a la cour d'Eisenach (Es war einmal am Hofe von Eisenach) 4.22
Rudolf Schock; Orchester der Staatsoper Berlin/Artur Rother
5 C'est elle, elle sommeille 2.50
Miguel Villalba; Orchestre du Theatre National de l'Opera Comique/Gustav Cloez
6 J'ai des yeux 3.03
Andre Balbon
7 Les oiseaux dans la charmille 4.50
Janine Micheau; Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire Paris/Roger Desormiere
8 Les oiseaux dans la charmille (Phöbus stolz im Sonnenwagen) 4.28
Miliza Korjus; cond Franz Schonbaumsfeld
9 Belle nuit, oh nuit d'amour 3.03
Leila Ben Sedira; Marinette Fenoyer; cond Maurice Frigara
10 Belle nuit, oh nuit d'amour (Schöne Nacht, du Liebesnacht) 4.02
Margarete Teschemacher; Margarete Klose; Orchester der Staatsoper Berlin/Erich Orthmann
11 Amis, l'amour tendre 2.38
Otokar Marak
12 Allez, pour te livrer combat... Scintille diamant 3.36
Louis Richard; Bruxelles Orchestre Symphonique du Theatre de la Monnaie/Nils Grevillius
13 Allez, pour te livrer combat (Leuchte, heller Spiegel mir) 3.11
Joel Berglund; cond Nils Grevillius
14 Elle a fui, la tourterelle 3.15
Germaine Feraldy; cond Eugene Bigot
15 C'est une chanson d'amour 6.28
Gaston Micheletti; Emma Luart; Orchestre du Theatre National de l'Opera Comique/Gustav Cloez
16 C'est une chanson d'amour (Hörst du es tönen mit süßer Melodie) 3.19
Herbert Ernst Groh; Emmy Bettendorf; cond Frieder Weissmann
17 Tu ne chanteras plus? 8.18
Germaine Feraldy; Abby Richardson; Louis Guenot; cond Elie Cohen
18 Antonia, ciel, ecoute (Antonia, Himmel, so höre) 4.23
Margarete Teschemacher; Margarete Klose; Willy Domgraf-Fassbaender; Orchester der Staatsoper Berlin/Erich Orthmann
19 O Dieu, de quelle ivresse 2.11
Miguel Villalba; Orchestre du Theatre National de l'Opera Comique/Gustav Cloez
20 O Dieu, de quelle ivresse (O Gott, mit welchem Entzücken) 2.46
Rudolf Schock; Orchester der Staatsoper Berlin/Artur Rother
21 Musique de scène de l'épilogue - Entr'acte de l'acte II (Olympia) 3.03
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
(Note that there are several occasions where there are 2 versions of the one piece of music; in all cases, a performance in French precedes one in German). Now, how do these tracks correspond to the tracks? To confuse us even further,'s file names all start with what you might think is the track number but isn't! And what's more, a bunch of them all start with 01. So the list below, matching the track order above, gives the initial digits of all the file names, plus a clarifying piece of text for all those whose initial digits are 01:

01 Drig! drig!
01 Il etait
01 Les oiseaux
01 Belle nuit
01 C'est une chanson
01 O Dieu

Mrs Nereffid's comment: "I hope after all this effort you actually like the album".

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Nicolai opera discovered!

Oh, I hope they don't correct this one on eMusic: The Misery Wives of Windsor!

Edit: Aww, eMu says on the message board it's going to fix it. A shame: that scene where Alice Ford smashes Falstaff's feet with a sledgehammer is one of the most shocking in all opera.

Orpheus in North County Dublin

Last night saw my first foray into the world of opera-in-cinema, as Mrs Nereffid and I went to Swords to see a live relay of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo from La Scala. Seems an appropriate choice for a first foray - I mean the fact that it's the oldest still-performed opera, not that Swords is a dark hell full of unhappy souls.
The production is a new one from Robert Wilson, and the cast includes Georg Nigl as Orfeo, Roberta Invernizzi as Eurydice and Music, and Sara Mingardo as the Messenger and Hope, with Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting (not sure if it's Concerto Italiano - they seem to have gone uncredited). I wish there were a few more pictures of the production on the web, but you get a rough idea from this little one, which is the set for the first part. These are the nymphs and shepherds, striking various sort of Mannerist poses. That was the general style for the whole production, which I gather is not surprising from Wilson: basic sets, with significant use of lighting. Everything was very static: the performers moved in slow motion and most of their physical expression came from (gloved) hand gestures. The second part was even more basic than the first - the underworld was mostly a black backdrop, Orfeo and Hope being lit by spotlights and Charon appearing initially as a silhouette against a blue panel. We both thought the whole thing was wonderful, very much an experience rather than just a spectacle. It always fascinates me how people criticise films and such with "it was slow". Well, you could call this production very slow, but that was what made it so compelling.
Musically, of course, it was wonderful too. Alessandrini made an acclaimed recording of L'Orfeo a couple of years ago, so there were no fears about his contribution. The only major solo role is that of Orfeo; he doesn't actually have much to do in the first part, whereas he wholly dominates the second. Austrian baritone Georg Nigl, a singer previously unknown to me, was totally convincing, and his "Possente spirto" was a real show-stopper. The two others that I thought stood out were Sara Mingardo's Messenger (she got some of the warmest applause at the end) and Luigi De Donato's imposing Charon.
So, a great night. But get this: Aside from the two of us, there were four other people in the cinema! Seriously. OK, it was a Wednesday night, and it's not Puccini, but still. What on earth to make of this? Was the show just not advertised adequately? Were music lovers simply unaware of its existence? I always scan the cinema schedules in the paper on a Saturday, which was where I found out about it. I'm assured by my parents that opera-in-cinema performances are always well attended in Dungarvan, for Christ's sake, so what's north Dublin's excuse? Were all the cultured elite in Dundrum instead? I'm absolutely mystified.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bach cantata cycles

There's a new compilation of Bach cantata choruses out from John Eliot Gardiner on his Soli Deo Gloria label, which got me thinking about the comparison of completed cycles that I did a couple of years ago. It's still visible on eMusic, but I thought I'd stick it here as well. The thread contained an interesting discussion, mostly between ChrisW and JFLL, as to whether Masaaki Suzuki was to be preferred in Bach because he was "temperamentally and intellectually closer to Bach" - these were ChrisW's words, which JFLL disputed. My full post on the cycle comparison follows:

So this debate intrigued me sufficiently that I had to explore further. Time for a blindfold listening test to determine which of the Bach conductors I prefer. I chose 4 pieces I hadn't heard before and that were available from eMusic in performances by not only Suzuki and Gardiner but also Rilling and Koopman. For each of the pieces, my glamorous assistant (Mrs Nereffid) played the 4 performances in an order unknown to me.

The 4 pieces, chosen for variety as well as for being at different points in the recording projects, were

The soprano aria "Erfullet, ihr himmlischen gottlichen Flammen" from BWV1
The chorus "Die Elenden sollen essen" from BWV75
The bass aria "Schweig, aufgeturmtes Meer!" from BWV81
The alto aria "Man nehme sich in acht" from BWV166

And the results?
Well, Rilling came fourth, and by a long way, too. This old-fashioned Romantic view of the music just doesn't work for me.
Gardiner was my 3rd choice for 3 pieces, and my 2nd choice for one, but actually he wasn't far behind the others in every case.
And Koopman and Suzuki basically fought it out for the rest; it was close, but I went with Suzuki 3 times and Koopman the other.

What makes it more complicated is that I generally found Gardiner's recordings the most "interesting". He seems to play with the dynamics a lot, and the orchestral readings seem to have more individual character than the others. I certainly didn't find them superficial. But this was why I tended to prefer Koopman and Suzuki, I think - they seemed to match my notion of how the music should sound. Ironically, Gardiner's Bach performances show me what a good conductor of Handel he is.

Why did Suzuki win out over Koopman? As I said, it was close. Aside from "Die Elenden sollen essen", in which Koopman was in too much of a hurry, I didn't detect major interpretative differences. I'd be inclined to attribute my preference for Suzuki to recording clarity and preferable soloists. Interestingly, the one place I rated Koopman over Suzuki was in the soprano aria. I actually enjoyed the Suzuki more, but I was nagged by the feeling that Carolyn Sampson's performance was just a smidgin too erotic for the context.

It's worth noting that my wife, who has quite different tastes in music, came to more or less the same conclusions.

So... "Suzuki is temperamentally and intellectually closer to Bach"? I don't know. All I can say is "The musical results produced by Suzuki are temperamentally and intellectually closer to my idea of what the music is supposed to sound like", which I suspect is the most any of us can say about any conductor. I have to say - call this ignorance or atheism - I couldn't detect anything specifically Lutheran or Anglican about any of the performances.

This was a very entertaining and enlightening listening experience - I'd recommend it to anyone with a few downloads to spare.
JFLL then followed up:
Nereffid, I'm a bit puzzled at your saying that you found Gardiner more 'interesting' (unless the quotes are signalling a veiled criticism!) and more individual orchestrally, but then go on to say that that is why you preferred the others. Do these qualities make the performance somehow less 'Bach-like'?
To which I replied:
My point about calling Gardiner "more 'interesting'" relates to the dramatic qualities that he brings to the music. It's not a criticism. I'm reluctant to say that it's "less 'Bach-like'" but it was my (subjective) impression that this theatricality wasn't inherent in the music - that Gardiner was adding a layer on top of what was there already. Although this extra layer was enjoyable, there was a slight sense that I was listening to a performance of the music, rather than just listening to the music. As we agree, it's just a case of my idea of what the music "should" sound like. If I had all the time in the world I'd get to know all Suzuki's performances first and then go to Gardiner to see what he did with the music.
To clarify the statement "my idea of what the music "should" sound like": that's not a prejudice I had going in, but something that I concluded having listened to the various versions. The comparison did reveal a preference for Suzuki but in practical terms it's unlikely I'll be buying all the cantatas en masse. When I'm in the mood for a new cantatas disc any evaluation is on a case-by-case basis, rather than an automatic "Suzuki first". Gardiner, Koopman, and of course others not engaging in complete series, notably Herreweghe, all offer something, and I don't expect to spend my time listening to any of these conductors saying "I wonder what Suzuki would have done?" They're all fine in their own right, and it's only when they're directly compared that the differences become clear.

Monday, September 21, 2009

100 Best Yeah Whatever

I meant to write something about this a while ago: the Sunday Telegraph's "100 Best Classical Recordings" list, from back in August. Here's the list, sans commentary:

1 Beethoven Fidelio (conductor Otto Klemperer) EMI
2 Mozart Così fan tutte (conductor Bernard Haitink) EMI
3 Mozart Die Zauberflöte (conductor Otto Klemperer) EMI
4 Puccini Tosca (conductor Victor de Sabata) EMI
5 Rossini La Cenerentola (conductor Riccardo Chailly) Decca
6 Strauss Der Rosenkavalier (conductor Erich Kleiber) Decca
7 Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin (conductor Semyon Bychkov) Philips
8 Verdi Don Carlos (conductor Claudio Abbado) DG
9 Verdi Falstaff (conductor Herbert von Karajan) EMI
10 Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen (conductor Daniel Barenboim) Warner

1 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 4 (soloist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli) EMI
2 Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos 3 and 4 (soloist Mitsuko Uchida) Philips
3 Beethoven Violin Concerto (soloist Itzhak Perlman) EMI
4 Brahms Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2 (soloist Leon Fleisher) Sony
5 Elgar Cello Concerto (soloist Jacqueline du Pré) EMI
6 Grieg and Schumann Piano Concertos (soloist Stephen Kovacevich) Philips
7 Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, K 364 (soloists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman) DG
8 Mozart Piano Concerto No 23 in A, K 488 (soloist Solomon) Testament
9 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 (soloist Sviatoslav Richter) DG
10 Sibelius Violin Concerto (soloist Leonidas Kavakos) BIS

Piano solo
1 Chopin Martha Argerich The Legendary 1965 Recording EMI
2 Albéniz Iberia (Alicia de Larrocha) Decca
3 Bach Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould) RCA
4 Bartók Romanian Folk Dances (Zoltán Kocsis) Philips
5 Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata (Rudolf Serkin) Sony
6 Brahms Klavierstücke Op 116-119 (Wilhelm Kempff) DG
7 Debussy Préludes Books 1 & 2 (Krystian Zimerman) DG
8 Rachmaninov 24 Preludes (Vladimir Ashkenazy) Decca
9 Schubert Sonata in B flat, D 960 (Clifford Curzon) Decca [or Orfeo]
10 Schumann Fantasy in C (Sviatoslav Richter) EMI

Early and Baroque
1 Vivaldi The Four Seasons (Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante) Virgin Veritas
2 John Dunstaple (Orlando Consort) Metronome
3 Josquin des Prez Missa Pange lingua (The Tallis Scholars) Gimell
4 Tallis Spem in Alium; Lamentations; Mass and Motets (Magnificat) Linn
5 Buxtehude Organ Works (René Saorgin) Harmonia Mundi
6 Claudio Monteverdi L’Orfeo (Emmanuelle Haim, Le Concert D’Astree) Virgin Veritas
7 Purcell Dido and Aeneas (Andrew Parrott, Taverner Choir and Players) Chandos
8 Bach Brandenburg Concertos (Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert) Archiv
9 Pergolesi Stabat Mater (Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto Italiano) Naïve

1 Bach Mass in B Minor (Andrew Parrott, Taverner Consort and Players) Virgin Veritas
2 Bach St Matthew Passion (William Mengelberg, Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir) Naxos Historical
3 Handel Messiah Pinnock (The English Concert and Choir) Archiv
4 Mozart Requiem (John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists) Philips
5 Schubert Complete Sacred Works (Wolfgang Sawallisch, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir) EMI
6 Berlioz Requiem (Leonard Bernstein, Orchestra Nationale D’Ile de France, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra) Sony
7 Mendelssohn Elijah (Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus) EMI
8 Brahms A German Requiem (Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra and Choir) EMI
9 Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle (Marcus Creed, RIAS Kammerchor) Harmonia Mundi
10 Verdi Requiem (Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus) BBC Legends

1 Beethoven Late String Quartets (Busch Quartet) EMI
2 Bach Cello Suites (Pablo Casals) EMI
3 Bach Complete Violin Sonatas and Partitas (Nathan Milstein) EMI
4 Haydn Op 76 String Quartets (The Lindsays) ASV
5 Beethoven Complete Violin Sonatas (Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer) DG
6 Schoenberg, Schubert Verklärte Nacht; String Quintet (Hollywood String Quartet) Testament
7 Bartók Complete String Quartets (Tokyo String Quartet) DG
8 Elliott Carter String Quartets One to Five (Pacifica Quartet) Naxos
9 Mozart Complete String Quintets (Talich Quartet) Calliope
10 Brahms Schubert Piano Quintet Op 34; Piano Quintet 'The Trout’ D 667 (Amadeus String Quartet, Clifford Curzon) BBC Legends

20th Century
1 Stravinsky Rite of Spring (Sir Simon Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) EMI
2 Debussy La Mer (Serge Koussevitzky, Boston Symphony Orchestra) Pearl
3 Ives Symphony 2 (Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic) DG
4 Bartók Orchestral Masterworks (Sir Georg Solti, London Symphony Orchestra) Decca
5 Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Mstislav Rostropovich, London Philharmonic Orchestra) EMI
6 Messiaen Vingts Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus (Yvonne Loriod) Erato
7 Ligeti Études (Pierre-Laurent Aimard) Sony
8 Andriessen De Staat (Lucas Vis, Nederlands Blazers Ensemble) NBE Live
9 Boulez Répons, Dialogue de L’Ombre Double (Boulez, Ensemble InterContemporain) 20/21 [DG]

1 Beethoven Symphonies 5 and 7 (Carlos Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) DG
2 Haydn Symphonies 93-104 (Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) EMI
3 Mozart Complete Symphonies (Karl Böhm, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) DG
4 Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (Zubin Mehta, London Philharmonic Orchestra) Apex
5 Brahms Complete Symphonies (Kurt Sanderling, Dresden Staatskapelle) RCA
6 Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 (Evgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) DG
7 Bruckner Complete Symphonies (Günter Wand, Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra) RCA Red Seal
8 Sibelius Complete Symphonies (Sir Anthony Collins, London Symphony Orchestra) Beulah
9 Strauss Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Also Sprach Zarathrustra (Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra) RCA Victor
10 Mahler Symphony 9 (Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) DG

20th-Century English
1 Vaughan Williams Symphony 5 (Dona Nobis Pacem LPO/ BBCSO/ Vaughan Williams) Somm
2 Elgar The Dream of Gerontius, Sea Pictures (Janet Baker, Richard Lewis, Kim Borg, Hallé Orch & Sheffield Philharmonic Choirs, LSO/Barbirolli) EMI
3 Elgar Symphony 2 and Short Pieces (BBCSO/Boult) EMI
4 Elgar Violin Concerto (Yehudi Menuhin/LSO Elgar) EMI
5 Elgar and Vaughan Williams Barbirolli Conducts English Music for Strings (Sinfonia of London, New Philharmonia) EMI
6 Britten War Requiem (Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Bach and other Choirs, LSO/ Britten) Decca
7 Delius Brigg Fair, Appalachia etc (LPO/Beecham) Naxos
8 Turnage Twice Through the Heart, Hidden Love Song, In Torn Fields (Sarah Connolly, Gerald Finley, LPO Marin Alsop) LPO Live
9 Finzi Dies Natalis (Toby Spence and Scottish Ensemble) Wigmore Hall Live
10 Tippett A Child of Our Time (Faye Robinson, Sarah Walker, Jon Garrison, John Cheek, CBSO & Chorus/Tippett) Collins

1 Schubert Winterreise (Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore) EMI
2 Schubert, Wolf (Irmgard Seefried) BBC Legends
3 Schubert (Bernarda Fink) Harmonia Mundi
4 Schubert A Voyage of Discovery Hyperion
5 Schubert (Lucia Popp) EMI
6 Schumann, Brahms (Kathleen Ferrier) Naxos
7. Strauss (Christine Brewer, Roger Vignoles) Hyperion
8 Wagner, Mahler (Kirsten Flagstad, Vienna Philharmonic) Decca
9. Un Frisson Français (Susan Graham) Onyx
10 Brahms, Schumann (Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) Wigmore Hall Live

Yes - that is only 98. The other 2 are apparently "compilations", although they don't actually say which ones! They mention a few Handel recitals plus the Best Classical Album in the World... Ever! so I suppose you can sort of pick your own pair.
That's not the only thing wrong with the article. For a start, the tone is quite bizarre. While the brief comments on the recommendations themselves are presented straightforwardly, the introductions to each section, along with some little boxes called "The Classical Rules", are in a sort of tongue-in-cheek style that seems to be trying to ape The Bluffer's Guide, although not very well (example: "For the most ambitious social climbers among you, scratchy old reissues are a must. Try Dutton, Testament and Naxos Historical". Seems sort of snide, especially when you consider how many historical recordings are included in the list). I wonder if the article's authors (Igor Toronyi-Lalic, John Allison, and Michael Kennedy) actually wrote these bits too? They're odd because they're clearly aimed at people who don't know much about classical music, whereas the list itself doesn't quite seem that way.
The second problem is the underlying premise. Newspapers and magazines love these lists. It gives them a chance to be authoritative and definitive, and it nicely fills some space without requiring much, you know, journalism. But everyone knows it's impossible to compile a list of 100 best anything. And things are complicated by the way they've divided the list into sections - OK, it ensures good representation of various genres, but nine "20th century" versus ten "20th century English"? Oh, wait, this is the Telegraph after all.
A couple of the classical music forums have had some fun belittling the whole endeavour (here and here), although some of their criticisms inevitably are to do with some of the choices made. If it's the case that you can't compile a list of 100 best anything, then surely it's a corollary that you can't really say "oh, well this should have been there instead" - my subjectivity trumps your subjectivity! Seeing as I'm very much not a "you have to have this performance of work X" sort of person, I don't have any particular objection to the individual choices. Having said that, those individual choices add up to an overall impression, and that's where I start to object.
First, over a fifth of the albums on the list are marked as "deleted". The neophyte may well ask, "if they're so important, why are they not available?". Perhaps their deleted status elevates them a little higher - not only are they good, they're rare too, and even more worth seeking out. But in practical terms, the list of 98 has now shrunk down to the mid-70s!
Second, there does seem to be a tendency towards older recordings. Nothing wrong with that per se, and again let's assume all the performances are indeed great, but the overall impression is not one of classical music as a vibrant, living thing. Maybe it's my relative youth - a lot of the great performances were recorded long before I was born or before I became interested in this music, so I haven't lived with them as "classics" for decades. Perhaps when it comes to "classics" I should be more backwards-looking. But the general theme seems to be of an art that might not be capable of many more great achievements.
The main thing about the list for me is that it provokes a rather complicated feeling that can be largely summed up in the phrase is that it? I don't know, there's something boring about it. Yes, these are all great pieces of music, and these are all (for the sake of argument) great performances, but... pffft.... those 98 albums don't come anywhere close to summarising the concept of "classical music" as it exists in my head. Now, I do accept the general notion of a "canon", and that the Telegraph list is a not unreasonable attempt at defining some key components of it. But the "canon" is always going to be a nebulous concept, and more than that, while we may generally agree on parts of the canon, each of us has a quite different canon in our own minds (maybe "canon" is the wrong word here - let's call it a "roster" instead, just to pick the first word that came to mind). I look at the Telegraph list and I don't see - say - Prokofiev, or Janacek, or Reich (OK, he is mentioned in one of those little sidebar-y things), or Palestrina, or Machaut, or Telemann, or etc etc etc. Weirdly, by only focusing on (for the sake of argument again) the greatest masterpieces, the list somehow does classical music a great injustice. Because for me, and for all of us (duly noting that there are no doubt some exceptions), the wonderful thing about classical music is all those byways, all those composers and works you file under "lesser known" or "unjustly neglected". Yes, we love the "canon", but ask us "what should I listen to?" and prepare to be deluged, not just with a first flood of suggestions, but then a constant torrent of "oh, and that reminds me of..." and "well, you can't mention that without also including this" and "well, what about...?" The 100 Best Classical Recordings may be, as the blurb says, "music no classical fan should be without", but it really is the barest of minimums.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Separated at birth?

Tim Robbins and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau?

Friday, September 18, 2009

This week I listened to

David Matthews: Music of Dawn; Concerto in Azzurro; A Vision and a Journey
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba; Guy Johnston (cello)

Nominated for a Gramophone award, although I did have my eye on it before that. Music of Dawn is a quite impressionistic piece full of colour, while A Vision and a Journey is a more robust sort of piece but somewhat along the same lines. These 2 pieces I liked, and he uses the orchestra well (what would you expect from someone who helped edit Mahler's Tenth?), but the Concerto didn't do much for me.

Mozart: Serenade no.10, 'Gran Partita'; Divertimento K252
Linos Ensemble

This was a BBC Building a Library choice - fortuitous as I'd been looking for a good version on eMusic. In the absence of clear advice, I'd almost settled on Herreweghe's period-instrument one, which did get a nod too. Not knowing much of the work beforehand all I can say is that this one is certainly a fine disc, and the sound of the ensemble seems just right.

Handel: Chandos anthems nos.5, 7 & 8
soloists; The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

Of course the link between label and work is irresistible, but as far as I know this is the only recording of the full set. Handel sort of strays into Bach cantatas territory here, although it's fascinating to hear how quickly he settled into the English idiom. I will have to complete the set myself at some point (will it be easier or harder when the album-capping comes in? I downloaded the anthems on different accounts... it's complicated...)

Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; Elisabeth Grummer; Philharmonia Orchestra/Karajan
Past Classics

This is the classic now-out-of-copyright 1953 recording by EMI. Only 3 tracks! You get what you pay for, though - the sound isn't exactly splendid, and there are a couple of very obvious defects in the children's chorus near the end. Presumably these were simply recorded from LPs. Incidentally, parents beware! Hansel und Gretel is a gateway opera and may lead your children on to more sinister things, like Wagner!

Schubert: Piano sonatas D845, D850 & D959, etc
Imogen Cooper

I have been disgracefully ignorant of Schubert's piano sonatas, but this double album has gone a long way to rectifying that. The late A major sonata is alarmingly good, reminding me of how amazed I was when I first started exploring his lieder. These are live recordings from a set of recitals Cooper gave in London last year; 2 more double albums are forthcoming.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A handful of gems

Last night I did some catching up on long-overdue listening - to wit, some "sampler" CDs I burned in the wake of last January's Nereffid's Guide Awards. Eight months ago!
A few highlights, all of them single tracks:

Kaija Saariaho: Notes on Light. IV. Eclipse. (emusic link)
Great tone-painting - wonderfully captures the fading light, the falling temperature, and the overall weirdness of a solar eclipse.

Michael Gandolfi: Y2K Compliant. III. Joyous Reverb. (emusic link)
A good, lively piece, but even better is that three minutes in, we hear shimmering strings, slowly singing "In dulci jubilo", chorale-style. An unexpectedly lovely and, yes, joyous moment.

Laurence Crane: Derridas. Jacques Derrida goes to the beach. (emusic link)
Minimalist piano that could in theory be merely pretty, like Einaudi, but it has a relentless percussiveness about it that I like.

Mark Applebaum: Martian Anthropology 7. (emusic link)
Modern music's strange, isn't it? This is just tweets and clunks and burbles, which usually I don't like. But I like this one - it makes me smile.

That was the modern section. Here's some songs:

Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied I, D224 - Christopher Maltman; Julius Drake. (emusic link)
Well, you can pretty much pick Schubert's lieder at random and find a gem, can't you? The halting piano ending is what does it for me here.

Schubert: Winterreise. "Der Leiermann" - Christoph Pregardien; Pentaedre. (emusic link)
This is a chamber version, adding an extra layer onto an already haunting song. Has a touch of Mahler to it, perhaps?

Elgar: Sea Pictures. "Where corals lie" - Konrad Jarnot; Reinild Mees (emusic link)
Hey Janet Baker, you don't own Sea Pictures! This one has an RVW kind of vibe to it in its baritone-and-piano form.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let's invent a new superstition

Today when I came to pay for the shopping, the amount I had to pay was identical (aside from the decimal point, obviously) to the PIN of the debit card I was paying with. This happened last year with my credit card. The chances of such an event are... oh, who cares. Let's just call it SPOOKY and say that when such a phenomenon happens, it's a sign of good luck. Or bad luck. Whichever.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Vangelis's theme from Cosmos has been in my head a bit lately - I was reminded of it by Arvo Part's Music for a Great City, on the "A Place Between" album.

A 1960s band so obscure that their music is not even available on iTunes

Via plong42 on emusers: "Chuck Klosterman Repeats The Beatles".

Sample quote:
Even the most casual consumers will be overwhelmed by the level of invention and the degree of change displayed over their scant eight-year recording career, a span complicated by McCartney’s tragic 1966 death and the 1968 addition of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, a woman so beloved by the band that they requested her physical presence in the studio during the making of Let It Be.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The small warbly man does have a point, though

Chris de Burgh was mightily pissed off by the Irish Times review of his recent show at the Gaiety. Oh yes he was. You might say he was high on emotion, even. Or, punning at a slight remove, "Chris de Burgh sees red".
Now, look, I dislike the pompous creep as much as the next man (while acknowledging that I did like most of the Spanish Train album), but in his assault on Peter Crawley he does make one point worth examining: "To have gone to the Gaiety with your mind made up is unprofessional of course, but to totally ignore what actually happened and launch a personal attack is so transparent that any reader can see that it was pointless even writing it, as you were the only person who attended the show that night who didn’t ACTUALLY WANT TO BE THERE!!" Yes, in caps, but only 2 exclamation marks.
I'm inclined to agree with ol' Chris on this one. Crawley's review was funny, and certainly matches my conception of what a Chris de Burgh concert would be like, but it does raise the quesion of how dismissive of a performer a critic can be without also being dismissive of the intended audience. At that point, the critic becomes just some person with an opinion. It seems OK to do this with "low art". I can't imagine the Irish Times publishing a review of, say, Beckett's Endgame by someone who thinks 20th-century theatre is shit. I'd love to see one, though. Think of the vigorous debate that would ensue!
Or, as Chris de Burgh so eloquently put it, "La, la la la, la la la, la la la".

The Last Night

I've seen pretty much none of the Proms this year, for various reasons, but I did manage to see the entirety of last night's Last Night. Mezzo Sarah Connolly gave us Dido's Lament (with the chorus at the end of it) and a marvellous Songs of a Wayfarer, while Alison Balsom performed Haydn's trumpet concerto. I think perhaps trumpet music is better heard than seen - it just looks too effortful! The first half ended in grand style with Villa-Lobos's Choros no.10 - full-on Braziliana. Then the second half kicked off in grand, grand style with Malcolm Arnold's A Grand Grand Overture, which featured such guest artists as David Attenborough (floor polisher) and Goldie (2nd rifle, I think). Presenter Clive Anderson raised the possibility that this might have been the same floor polisher as used in the first performance, which would I suppose make it a period instrument. Sarah Connolly impressed again, in full Nelsonian regalia, with Rule Britannia, done apparently for the first time in a version Arne would recognise as his own. They're still doing the annoying link-up with the Proms in the Parks, which I just don't think makes for good television - the constant switching between venues for the various fanfares was just distracting. Still, the outdoor stuff did mean we got actual fireworks to accompany Handel's Royal Fireworks Music, which replaced the usual British Sea Songs bit (hurrah! no annoying horns from the audience!). We stayed for Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory but, as usual, switched off when the national anthem started, as good Irish people should (heh).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Abraham and Isaac

The Old Testament doesn't exactly want for nasty tales of appalling behavior, but the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18) is probably one of the worst. This story alone pretty much eliminates the OT as a source of moral guidance. Reading it again, I'm struck at how matter-of-fact the story is. Unlike Bob Dylan's take on it (God said to Abraham "kill me a son"/Abe said "man you must be puttin' me on"/God say "no", Abe say "what"/God say "you can do what you wanna but/The next time you see me comin' you better run"), Abraham just gets straight to doing what he's ordered - no questions asked. Which of course makes him almost as monstrously evil as God. Granted, we might not expect Genesis's Bronze Age desert-dwelling author to give us deep insight into the subtleties of human character. But still: Abraham never flinched.
So if one were to set this story to music, there is great potential for a sort of horror story, with a threatening deity, a murderous father, and a terrified child. But what Benjamin Britten does in his canticle "Abraham and Isaac" is something different: although there is great drama there, it's ultimately a rather beautiful work, moving for its tenderness rather than its terror. Britten wrote this work for performance by Peter Pears and Kathleen Ferrier, taking the parts of father and son, respectively; the 2 voices combine to eerie effect for the voice of God. The text comes from the medieval Chester Miracle Play, and so there's much more dialogue than in the biblical original. Of course, this is not the only work of Britten's to feature a potentially fatal relationship between a man and a boy, but that's a whole other story...
The work starts out with God issuing his command, and Abe doesn't say "what" this time either: "My Lord, to Thee is mine intent/Ever to be obedient". To some innocuous-sounding music, Abraham brings Isaac to the place of sacrifice. So far, same deception as in the Bible, but then the story diverges. Isaac notices there's no lamb available to be sacrificed. Genesis has Abraham say "My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering", whereas in Chester the reply is "Thereof, son, is none upon this hill". Then the terror sets in, with Isaac saying "Father, I am full sore affeared/To see you bear that drawne sword", to which Abraham replies "Isaac, son, peace, I pray thee/Thou breakest my heart even in three". This is a much more human father; over Isaac's pleas he says "I must thee kill!" and later "God hath commanded me today/Sacrifice, this is no nay/To make of they bodye". In the Bible, Abraham just silently ties up his son and places him on the altar, whereas in this telling, he is making it clear that this is God's will, not his, and Isaac soon accepts his fate. Now the music becomes tender, with the father blessing the son (anachronistically invoking the Trinity!), but it soon becomes almost unbearably moving, with Isaac's lines beginning "Father, do with me as you will...", as they prepare the sacrifice and say "farewell" to each other. We then enter the darkest section, with the deed about to be done, and this is where the Chester/Britten version diverges most from the Biblical one: where Genesis is a cold-blooded "Then he bound his son and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son", the Chester play has Isaac cry out "Ah, mercy, father, why tarry you so?" - yes, the mercy is to kill him quickly - and then as the son sings "Almighty God in majesty! My soul I offer unto Thee!" the father is singing, in aguish, "To do this deed I am sorrye". At this point, of course, God intervenes, and there is a happy ending (except for the sheep, obviously). The work ends with the 2 singers stepping outside their characters and singing "Such obedience grant us, O Lord!"
Which is, for my money, exactly the opposite of the moral lesson of this story. If, in order to be obedient, you must try to murder your only child - or indeed anyone - then this is surely not something to be encouraged. But apparently people think such slavish obedience to God is to be desired. Or claim they do; how many people would actually go through with it like Abraham did? In fact, although the OT account seems devoid of character insight, Genesis 22:12 gives a very clear explanation as to Abraham's motivation, and from the mouth of God himself: "now I know you fear God". Yes: fear, plain and simple. Not love of God, or respect, or awe, or loyalty (and, incidentally, multiple Bible translations all have it as "fear", so it doesn't seem to be one of those ambiguous things like the unicorn/ox/buffalo/rhino in Job). And I think Britten's canticle makes that pretty clear. For a start, all of Abraham's explanations to Isaac make it clear he doesn't actually want to do this - it's simply "God hath commanded me", and Isaac accepts this with phrases like "you muste needs do so". Perhaps you could say Abraham isn't accepting responsibility for his own actions. But perhaps he isn't responsible. Listen to the music of the 2 characters: in many places their music is similar. When Isaac is pleading for his life, Abraham's response is a slower, more resolute version of Isaac's music. And at the climax, their music is essentially the same. This says to me that at this point Isaac and Abraham are in the same boat: one will die, the other will die inside. They are both being sacrificed; both are victims. Abraham simply has to kill Isaac - there isn't another option. Isaac may as well be suffering from a fatal illness, for all that his father can do to save him.
This certainly casts Abraham in a much better light than the straightforward reading of Genesis I began with: instead of a willing accomplice, he's a helpless pawn in the bizarre game God's playing with himself. And it means that God emerges even worse than before. Well... by this stage in the story God's long since killed almost every living thing on Earth, so perhaps his reputation can't get any worse.
End note: I was talking about this with Mrs Nereffid, and noting that Abraham himself was a victim. Ever the practical, non-Bible-reading one, she said "Of course". I said, "Well, the Bible doesn't depict him that way - it can't. When talking about God, it has to assume a certain position". "Yes", she said, "Bend over".

Friday, September 11, 2009

This week I listened to

Falla: El Amor Brujo; El Retablo de Maese Pedro; Fantasia bética
soloists; Orchestre Poitou-Charentes/Jean-Fran çois Heisser

I found this as part of my project to find good eMu versions of "basic" repertoire that I don't already have. I couldn't find a review of it, but the label's web site made it clear that the French press had showered it with praise, which is good enough for me. Then last month's BBC Building a Library chose this El Amor Brujo as the best. Neat coincidence. This has flamenco singer Antionia Contreras instead of the usual Victoria de los Angeles-style classical singer, which makes a big difference. I never actually knew what it's about: a gypsy girl tormented by the ghost of a former lover. El Retablo de Maese Pedro is a puppet-opera based on an episode from Don Quixote (there's a good article on it in Wikipedia) and uses an early-music idiom. The Fantasia bética is a piano piece, again with a strong Spanish flavour. All round, a very entertaining album.

Górecki: "Life journey"
Chamber Domaine

This was a little disappointing, in as much as the early works (from the 1950s) that take up much of the disc weren't quite as interesting as I'd hoped. Nothing too unpleasant or "modern", and repeated listening does pay off. But the 2 pieces that stood out were the first 2, both from the 1990s and more characteristic of the Górecki of the Third Symphony (although the Requiem certainly might surprise you with its loud and raucous moments, more like Shostakovich). Overall, though, the album is a useful survey of the composer's chamber music. The "polka" being requiem'd is not the dance, by the way; it means "Polish woman".

Herrmann: Vertigo (original soundtrack)
City of London Sinfonia/Muir Mathieson
Hollywood (out of copyright!)

This hardly needs recommendation, does it? Hurrah for the still-extant EU copyright laws: this one went public domain on January 1 of this year. Actually I'm not quite sure how legal this particular issue is, though. It's certainly the original recording, but the track listings match the RSNO/McNeely recording on Varese Sarabande, rather than the original 1958 album or the subsequent reissue, which included a lot of unreleased material. If the Hollywood label has copied the reissue, then they've breached copyright. Ah, who cares: the only ones being screwed would be Universal Music - boo hoo.

Britten: The Five Canticles; 3 Purcell realisations
Anthony Rolfe Johnson; Michael Chance; Alan Opie; Roger Vignoles et al
(bought on CD)

This is marvellous. The 5 Canticles were written between 1947 and 1974; although they don't form a cycle as such, they do fit well together. Four take their texts from poems (2 of them by T.S. Eliot) and the other (Abraham and Isaac) from the medieval Chester Miracle Plays. Each is a gem, especially the haunting Abraham and Isaac, which cleverly has the tenor and countertenor sing in unison to create the voice of God. As to why such an unpleasant biblical story should make such a beautiful piece of music is something I want to look at in another post. The disc is neatly rounded off with 3 of Britten's adaptations of Purcell - one for each of the 3 singers here. These manage to be distinctively Britten while still sounding like Purcell. The disc is as good an introduction to Britten's vocal music as any, I suppose.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Come in, Burton Rothleder, your time is up

Wow. I know the Fanfare Critics' Corner can be a rough-and-tumble place but in the couple of years I've been reading it, I haven't seen anything like Richard A. Kaplan's assault on Burton Rothleder.
It all started innocuously enough a couple of issues ago when Rothleder presented a discussion of some aspects of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" sonata, to which Kaplan now responds with "his premise is flawed, his argument ill-conceived and specious, and, not least, his analysis of the Adagio third movement is a hopeless muddle". OK, I don't have the musical knowledge to judge these things, but... "it represents a demonstration, indeed a celebration of musical ignorance so breathtaking in its scope that I believe it should not be allowed to stand unchallenged". Yikes! Kaplan then gives several pages of analysis of Rothleder's comments, and goes on to take a brief look at some of his other reviews: "Rothleder consistently misidentifies keys... He relies heavily on pseudo-analytical discourse... He is uninformed regarding performance practice... He has little grasp of the history of recording... He has a relatively small number of recordings, mostly predating the CD era, that he uses as comparisons".
Here comes the karate-chop to the throat: "Rothleder either doesn't know or doesn't care that he displays his ignorance in virtually every review he writes... The question for Mr. Rothleder is what area of expertise does he bring to the magazine? Until that question is satisfactorily answered, I can't think of a good reason to read his contributions".
I'm hoping this will end like that scene in Shaun of the Dead, where they use LPs as weapons...
Please, Gramophone, can you get your reviewers to fight like this? Bryce Morrison still hasn't received the kicking he earned over the Joyce Hatto hoax.

CD of the Year (provisional): A Place Between

For the inaugural music post here, what better way to start than with what I'm quite sure will end up as my favourite album of 2009 - "A Place Between", the first CD produced by the Louth Contemporary Music Society. A quick glance at the contents will make it clear that this is largely an album of the "holy minimalism" associated predominantly with eastern European composers. It's as fine an introduction to this sort of music as you're likely to hear, without any of it being as it were obvious - there are several premiere recordings here, and of course Tavener, Part, and Gorecki in particular have much better-known works. As you might expect, it's a contemplative collection, without being the slightest bit bland or simplistic. Some of it's beautiful, some of it's dark-hued, and some of it's both. Actually it would make an ideal gift for someone who doesn't know (or doesn't think they like) any modern music, or whose classical comfort zone doesn't extend much beyond crossover. It deserves to be a massive hit.
Highlights? It's one of those albums where everything's a highlight, but for me the two standouts happen to be the two works by Part: "Hymn to a Great City" (Michael McHale playing both piano parts) has a good-humoured charm you don't often see with this composer; "Da pacem Domine" will be familiar to anyone who's heard the magnificent album of that name from Paul Hillier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (emusic link), but here it's in a gorgeous string quartet form.

Meet Les...

OK, the blog title doesn't mean anything as such, except as a reference to the French EMI series of CDs - "Les Introuvables de Pierre Fournier", "Les Introuvables du Chant Wagnérien", etc. Well, obviously, these are compilations of rare recordings, all put together by some bloke called Les.
I've always pictured Les as a slightly disreputable expert - a sort of Rob Cowan crossed with Del Boy.
Actually, Rob Cowan looks kind of disreputable himself in that picture, doesn't he? It's the teeth. They're telling you something: back away, slowly... he's got some old Hindemith 78s and he's not afraid to use them.

The Nereffid part of the title... I hope I don't need to explain that bit. But I must confess that this is my second attempt at a blog. The first one, I started a couple of months before the Sony/price change, er, 'incident' at eMusic. It was intended as a sort of replacement to Nereffid's Guide, but my leaving the eMusic community put the kaibosh on it. This latest incarnation won't be so focused on eMusic, although that is still where I get most of my music. Don't expect a new Nereffid's Guide, anyway.