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.

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