Saturday, October 31, 2009

In praise of Joe

I think I might have made Joe Power's day, earlier in the week. We've been "down south" this past week, which explains the light blogging. Whenever we're in Dungarvan I always visit Ben O'Neill's shop - it's official Nereffid policy to support any shop that makes an effort to sell classical CDs. This time round I bought the 6-disc Hans Hotter set, part of EMI's Icons series. Joe's eyes lit up and he exclaimed "That's my favourite CD in the entire shop!" Last time I was there we'd been talking about Hotter and Winterreise, actually, but I'd forgotten that. Joe says he himself sings "Der Leiermann" sean-nós style, which strikes me as a very good idea. He also enthused about Hotter's performance of "Schlummert ein" from Bach's Ich habe genug. Seriously, if there'd been anyone else in the shop they'd probably have wanted to buy the thing too. Joe knows, of course, that the days of the CD shop are numbered. How numbered are they? Well, we were in Cork for the last couple of days and I think a reasonable case can be made for Ben O'Neill's being the best classical shop outside of Dublin.
Now, don't get me wrong - it's a small selection, and it's mostly vocal music, and it doesn't change much over the years, and a lot of it is somewhat overpriced (for instance, you might find a dusty Hyperion album at full price that was reissued at budget price several years ago). But the selection is put together by someone who genuinely cares about the music, which is a rare thing indeed. I have no idea who decides what, say, HMV in Cork or Swords sells. You get a mix of lots of Andrea Bocelli, Katherine Jenkins, and Il Divo, and then maybe a €60 Lohengrin or something obscure like Charles Avison. They don't seem to have a clue what they're trying to sell or who's going to buy it.
So, hats off to Joe, and if you're ever in Dungarvan, call in to Ben O'Neill's and ask him about the masterclass Thomas Quasthoff did with Hans Hotter.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Deems Taylor said about Mahler

Looking through a recent American Record Guide, I came across a brief negative review by Christopher Chaffee of new music by Jacco Muller (in typical ARG style, they didn't even give his first name), in which the reviewer wrote "Hearing this music reminds me of what Deems Taylor said about Mahler" and gave a paraphrase of the following:
Prune it down until nothing is left save Mahler's musical ideas and the amount of development that they are worth, and the Ninth Symphony would last about twenty minutes. -- Some day, some real friend of Mahler's will do just that... take a pruning knife and reduce his works to the length that they would have been if the composer had not stretched them out of shape; and then the great Mahler war will be over.
That was in 1932, but Taylor had a long antipathy towards Mahler. Here's a rather more direct assault, from a 1923 review of the Seventh Symphony as conducted by Willem Mengelberg with the New York Philharmonic:
Merely because Mahler wrote a symphony one and one-half hours long, scoring it for a mammoth orchestra and had it played last night in a large hall by a first-class orchestra under a first-class conductor -- granted these facts, we still fail to see why we should devote much precious space to saying that we found the work to be emphatically the most stupid piece of music that we ever heard.

Friday, October 23, 2009

For those who came in late

I've just been reminded by a correspondent that, eMusic having dumped its Asian customers some time ago, he wasn't aware that Nereffid's Guide was gone. So, let's take a trip down memory lane and rake over some old coals while I resurrect a couple of eMusic posts I made explaining what I was about.
The first is from June 3, not long after the first announcement that eMusic had sold its soul to the devil brought Sony onboard. It was titled "... And, in conclusion, f*** you":
Oh Christ, not another new thread about the Sony/new price fiasco?
Sorry. But by the time it happens here in Europe everyone will have stopped caring, so I have to get my full piece in now.

My situation, briefly, is that it costs me just 21.4 (euro) cents per track. When we in Europe lose our grandfathering, that cost will rise by 92 percent. So something's got to give. I'll have to substantially reduce my downloads per month. I'll go from 255 to (probably) 150.

Let me just read something by a Mr Stein, who I believe had something to do with the situation:
"eMusic's customers are rabid, smart and adventurous consumers of music."
Sorry, Danny. I may be rabid and smart but I'm no longer adventurous. Those 105 downloads I'm going to have to give up? They'll be the ones I devoted to broadening my horizons, like the early jazz collection I'd been building up, or the bizarre cover versions I've compiled to entertain the guests at Thanksgiving, or the various attempts at a classical listening club. The adventure ends; "purchasing" begins!

I say all this without malice. "All good things come to an end", etc. I've been getting a wonderful deal for 3 years, and I fully understand and accept why that deal has to end. I'm glad that, unlike US customers, I have time (unspecified) to get used to the change. I'm sure there'll be some good Sony stuff for me to download, and maybe the new prices will attract some of the better classical labels that are still holding out. But with the spirit of adventure gone, I won't be so excited about eMusic as I was before.

I like to occasionally buy a CD in Tower Records in Dublin. They're expensive, but hey, they're the only place in the country with a classical selection that doesn't insult my intelligence.
I also like to order CDs from MDT in Britain. They're cheap.

But I've never set up a web site highlighting all the cool stuff they've got. Because they're just, you know, shops. Which is what eMusic will be for me once the prices go up.

So, sorry, everyone who cares:
When Geocities shuts down later this year, I won't be looking for a new home for Nereffid's Guide.

The grandfather deal cuts 2 ways: Nereffid's Guide was my way of saying "thanks" for the low prices. No low prices? No need to be grateful.
Just as well I got my spake in there, because a month later I was gone from the boards. This one is called "I'm done", and I'm presenting pretty much the whole thread here, with a little editing to keep only the pertinent responses (eg, Tim Mason made a couple of comments that he subsequently deleted):

I've just deleted all my lists, and everything on my Nereffid's Guide site.

And it felt good.

It had to be done. These last few weeks on the boards have been a rollercoaster of rage and inanity, with only the occasional sparkle of wit and intelligence. Too many posters and comments have exasparated me lately, and I want to get away from that feeling. I want to be one of the 99% of eMusic users who don't care enough to get involved. And to do that I've felt the need to sever all ties. Now I'm just a shopper. It feels quite liberating, actually.

Apologies to those of you who will be disappointed by my actions. And thanks to everyone who's entertained me over the past three years.

Drama queen.

I completely understand. I've been angry enough to delete stuff from other sites.


good work at every step. excellent decision + great to hear the "feeling good" end of it all.



I found those lists very useful, and I'm sorry they're gone, but a Nereffid's gotta do what a Nereffid's gotta do.

And after more careful reading...

You mean you deleted all that great classical music content because... just because?

Like I said before, if it makes you happy, all the best. It made for great reading and you made me more of a classical music fan so thanks for that.

Nereffid, thank you for the permission to save the Guide for my personal use. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to save all the lists I wanted. You have been my #1 classical guide at eMusic, and I shall truly miss that. I understand your need to escape the vitriol that has flooded the boards recently.

Please don't leave us isolated out here on the rollercoaster. I do hope you care enough to answer future questions about classical music.

Your actions do seem a bit petty but to each his own.

"Apologies to those of you who will be disappointed by my actions."
I generally forget rather than forgive, but I always end up forgetting. Thanks for the temporary but high quality resource.


I always enjoyed your input on the board and I'll miss that. Sure wish you'd change your mind.

Sorry Nereffid, seems melodramatic to me, I've lost a bit of respect...

Porieux (responding to SoNotASonata):
It's ok for eMusic to do what they want to do but if a customer does what they want then they deserve scorn? Sorry but that is not reasonable. eMusic actually has a responsibility to provide services....we are all paying customers and owe nothing.

If you don't like the way things are playing out, take it up with eMusic, they precipitated this mess. Not everyone just rolls over and takes whatever treatment is dished out to them...something to think about.

Wesley (responding to Porieux):
Please. I can't believe you of all people actually said "It's ok for eMusic to do what they want to do". Emusic has received almost nothing but scorn on these boards for the price increase and the way they communicated. Some of that has been from me. I'm not giving a free pass to a user for something I feel is childish and petty because somehow I believe Emusic deserved it. All his actions have done is hurt Classical music fans. He was such a great resource and he can do what he wants with his works but it's all too Ayn Rand for me.

I am truly sorry you feel this way, Nereffid. As someone that you helped turn on to classical music, this loss will be greatly felt by me. I admire and appreciate the hard work that you have done.

But, I cannot admire nor appreciate you leaving this way. What is most disappointing is that you are not angry at eMu, you are disappointed in us. I think people have expressed justifiable rage and disappointment over the way that eMu has mishandled this entire move.

I feel like your actions are a direct result of what I, or others like me, have said on these message boards. But we are only being honest about our feelings. Rightly or wrongly, we feel betrayed by eMu. It was a special community to us, and it may be gone forever. Some of it went too far, but that's what happens when emotions run high.

If you need to get away from this a little bit to clear your mind and wait for the anger to die down, fine. But, pulling your lists because you are disappointed in the level of discourse seems like you are punishing us like petulant children. Take your toys and go home if you must. I hope it felt good for you. For many of us, it's just salt on our wounds.

Well, I totally understand and support your decision, Nereffid. In my own experience it was great to get a little distance from emusic and develop new shopping and internet-time-wasting habits. Tying your music-listening and discussing activities so intimately with one site really doesn't make sense.

Katrina (responding to Wesley):
All his actions have done is hurt Classical music fans.

Well, no, one of the reasons I liked this site when I first signed up was all the good recs from other subscribers.
So it -does- hurt emusic if a wonderful reviewer pulls reviews.

Retaliation is not always childish and petty.

I'm really sorry you did that. Discontinue them and leave them to rot, yeah, but actively deleting them...

However, they were your lists. It was really up to you what to do with them. Thanks for all the good music you helped me find. Now I'm more in the dark again. If it was worth it to you, well. OK.

From the CEO,

Dear Mr Nereffid,

In view of your sterling services to Emusic over many years, and your superhuman efforts in helping Emusic subscribers and publicizing our organization, thereby enormously adding to its prestige, we have decided to grant you free life membership with unlimited downloads.

Yours sincerely,


If there were justice in this world!

kargatron (responding to Katrina):
> Well, no, one of the reasons I liked this site when I first signed up was all the good recs from other subscribers. So it -does- hurt emusic if a wonderful reviewer pulls reviews.

It hurts emusic in a tiny, statistical way, the same way that reducing one's carbon emissions helps prevent catastrophic global warming - i.e. practically not at all.

Nereffid's site helped emusic's subscribers much more than it did emusic. But I think it's greatest utility was towards the classical labels (and artists down the line) who received downloads they wouldn't have without the guide. In fact, although I'm sure some users were classical fans that would have spent their downloads within the genre anyway, others were more dabblers like me, where the guide actually diverted downloads to classical from other genres.

So removing the site causes "harm" (technically, reducing aid) inversely - first to classical labels, then to users, then least to emusic. Not that any of them had a right to the help, and I can't easily estimate the counterbalancing utility to Nereffid's emotional state, but obviously emusic is least affected among involved parties.


Many of us will be sorry to see you go. I can understand in a moment of irritation and disillusionment, deleting all of your material, but that act does nothing to eliminate the kind of rhetoric you seem to be protesting.

Sure, there are lots of things on these boards that one may find irritating, but go to almost any online forum (on any of various subjects like politics, sports, films, relationships, etc.) and you will find those same kinds of things. I don't know. Maybe an online Quaker fellowship site would be different but there can't be many of those.

In a way, I think these past few weeks have been healthy. We're now seeing more diversity of opinions expressed on these boards and the collectivism of thought and expression seems to have been loosened. Heck, even the posters with the sole message of "E Music sucks" seem to be getting a less hostile reception.

From your message I wasn't sure if you were leaving E Music completely or just these boards. If the site still has something of value for you, I would recommend staying as a member but taking a break from these boards (such things are possible. I did it for the month of May.). During my first four years as a member, I had never come to this forum, so my only concern with the site was whether or not I found offerings of sufficient quality in any given month.


I can appreciate your Atlas Shrugged gesture. I've sometimes been tempted to take down my own lists. So far I've resisted that temptation, perhaps because I think of my own lists as being of benefit more for individual users than for the emusic corporation.

Music Lover:
I think 68 said it perfectly:

good work at every step. excellent decision + great to hear the "feeling good" end of it all.

Porieux (responding to Wesley):
No, if you think these actions hurt Classical music fans, your statement (and viewpoint) should be "eMusic's actions have hurt Classical music fans" since they are the ones to blame here.

I will restate my point I guess. It's not reasonable to expect users who are paying to use this service to continue to give help for which they receive no benefit or consideration to a site which treats them with disrespect. If you have a problem with it, take it up with eMusic, since they precipitated the problem. Don't make snarky comments about users who have been selfless and have only done things to be helpful with no gain for themselves at all. What eMusic has done here is called SQUANDERING GOODWILL and blaming the users for it is just ridiculous. If the user (Nereffid in this case) has EVER done anything to help anyone here then all they deserve is thanks and not an expectation that they owe somebody something and had better continue or else they should be insulted and viewed with contempt and insults.

There is nothing to disagree with me on here, this is simple fact. Anyone who disagrees is just being selfish and childish, frankly.

Wanderer (responding to Porieux):
Well, OK, but if you read Nereffid's post he appears to be disgusted with E Music members (or at least a subset of them) not the service itself.

kargatron (responding to Porieux):
Porieux, there are no consensually accepted definitions of "simple fact" that characterize your statements here... :)

Joey Jo Jo (responding to Wanderer):
"Heck, even the posters with the sole message of "E Music sucks" seem to be getting a less hostile reception."

Because no one is defending eMusic in these threads. I used to.

tlmucla (responding to Porieux):
Sorry, Porieux, but for once I agree with Wanderer. Neriffid did not take this action because he was disgusted with eMu. If that were the case, he would have canceled his membership after deleting his lists. He took this action because he was disgusted with the victims of eMu's action - the people who were understandably angry and posted their anger on these boards.

No one disagrees with you that eMu has squandered the goodwill of its loyal customer base. But, that's not why Neriffid took this action. He took this action because "These last few weeks on the boards have been a rollercoaster of rage and inanity, with only the occasional sparkle of wit and intelligence. Too many posters and comments have exasparated me lately, and I want to get away from that feeling."

And disagreeing with Neriffid's actions based on this motivation is neither selfish nor childish.

Ultimately, the guy can do whatever the hell he wants. Who are you douchebags to go on for a dozen posts about whether you respect it or not. No wonder he's disenchanted.

YOU: Yeah, well you're reading it, asshole. That makes you a loser, too.

ME: Touché

Televiper (responding to a deleted TimMason comment):
"If I remember rightly, he said in an earlier thread that he was thinking of pulling his lists in disgust at what eMusic had done. In that light,he is more likely to have been disgusted by those who defended eMusic, rather than by those who were angry about it."

Seems weird that he would have pulled his lists for such a small minority.

Neriffid himself said: "I agree with this elephant analogy. Quite a few posters seem to be speaking from an authority they don't have. There are rather a lot of posts along the lines of eMusic should do X or if eMusic doesn't do X, then Y will happen. As if the poster actually knows."

[Nereffid interjects: I can't find the original thread in which the "elephant analogy" appeared - it was to do with the old adage about the blind men examining the elephant, and how this is relevant to any discussion about eMusic's supposed subscriber base]

tlmucla (responding to bklynd):
Who are we douchebags to reply to a thread that Neriffid started to broadcast his decision? It seems to me that he expected response.


I really wanted to stay away from this, but seeing as you've moved on to the calling-each-other-douchebags stage of the conversation I realise I should give a clearer explanation of my thoughts/feelings.

First of all, this was a complicated decision that wasn't taken lightly. The Sony debacle catalysed something that had begun several months ago. Let me take you through the process.

- I hope no one is shocked to learn that Nereffid's Guide took quite a bit of my time. I did it because it helped me choose great music to download and because it filled a gap in eMusic's editorial coverage that I felt needed to be filled. It was important to me that eMusic's classical section be promoted, especially to those subscribers who were just starting to explore such music.
- But it took too much time, and also it inspired insane thoughts like "Hey, I could get a subscription to Diapason magazine - sure, reading it would prove a struggle because my French isn't good enough, but they have a rating system so the reviews would still be useful". These were thoughts prompted by a desire to make Nereffid's Guide better for other people, not for me.
- In February I put usual business on hold and started work on my Handel Guide. Something of a niche idea, I knew, but I hoped it might inspire some interest and enthusiasm. (I was always in awe of Music Lover's promotion of that Sharon Bezaly album a few years back). Instead it proved a damp squib. Aside from any wounded pride, this at last got me thinking clearly about the time I was spending working on a site that, even at its most popular, was of interest to only a very small number of people.
- So at this stage I wasn't sure whether I should continue with the site anyway. Then came Yahoo's announcement that Geocities was to be shut down. I looked around for a new host but my heart wasn't in it.
- And then came the Sony announcement. My first reaction on reading that we wouldn't be getting Sony over here was to consider that any future Nereffid's Guide would be Sony-free and therefore less useful for US users. That was probably the final nail in an already well-sealed coffin.

So that's why there is no more Nereffid's Guide.

And why take away all the material I'd already created?

For a start, it's not about punishing eMusic.
Remember that I'm not affected (yet) by the recent changes. I'm still grandfathered, I'm not going to see any Sony, and album pricing won't be coming in here either. So my situation in terms of my subscriptions is completely the same, and I'll remain a happy customer.
But what the Sony situation means is that eMusic has broken the unwritten "social contract" it had cultivated with its community. I was initially angry about that but I'm not now. I don't feel the need to punish eMusic. I simply, and cold-heartedly, believe that eMusic is no longer entitled to any work I have produced for it, whether that work adds value or not. I used to regard the terms "eMusic" and "eMusic community" as interchangeable. But they're not.

What about the community? Am I punishing you?
I wasn't clear enough in my initial post. It's not that any one poster, or any one side of the argument, has exasparated me. There seems to me to be a general tone of rancor about the place. Nothing offensive or outrageous, just a general tone that gets on my nerves. Tempers are still a little frayed. I've lost count of how many times I've started to post something and then thought "no, someone's going to misunderstand that", or "no, that's just making things worse". Over time I'm sure it will die away, but this passion that inspires people (in the past, to leap to eMusic's defense; at present, to leap for its jugular) - it's gone for me, as a result of all the things I've talked about.

Chas - you got the hint. If anyone wants to know what was the final straw, read the post from gerrrgity just above what appears on 68's "sparklespeak" link*. It was when I read that post that I finally thought "ah, fuck it, I just don't care any more".

I'm not punishing anyone, I'm not protesting over anything. I'm not disgusted (really? where did that one come from?), or angry, or offended, or upset. If anything, I'm tired.

Like I said at the start, I didn't take lightly the decision to pull all my lists. I know people value them. But my connection to eMusic and the eMusic community is through the lists. If I want to sever my emotional involvement, then I have to take the lists away, otherwise there's always going to be something pulling me back in. I hope everyone understands that: ultimately this is a personal decision, not about anyone else.
As I said above, part of what was troubling me about the effort I was putting in to Nereffid's Guide was that I was developing a sense of obligation to the people using it. But there is no obligation. eMusic isn't entitled to those lists and - yeah, this is cold - neither are you. Everything I've done was free and voluntary. I accepted your thanks when you thanked me, and now I accept and understand your disappointment. But I don't accept any anger or any sense that I have "hurt" anyone.
Voluntary, free work = Help.
Absence of voluntary, free work = Absence of Help. Not = Hurt.
That just really pissed me off, that some people seem to think I'm obliged to them. If anything, a few of the comments here have helped remove lingering doubts I might have had.

btw, Ayn Rand? I've never read her books, so I had to resort to Wikipedia to understand the comments. Ha! I will say that The Fountainhead is (unintentionally) one of the funniest films ever made.
But will it be as entertaining as Nereffbeard's Castle?

And with that: Goodbye.

Well, best wishes, Nereffid. I agree the amount of rancor has gotten way beyond tiresome. Whatever my future relationship with eMusic will be, it will be about my relationship with music, and whether eMusic serves that in any positive way, not a referendum on them, their business practices, Sony, or anything else. The relationship with music is what brought me here and is really the only thing that matters. If I can do any good in the sharing of excitement about music that is fine, just as I would share with anyone else in passing.

Porieux (responding to Nereffid):
Well stated, once again far more eloquently than I could. Cheers Nereffid, and thanks again for your contributions.


I am one of the "silent majority" who have enjoyed your Guides and postings on this message board very much. As someone not very knowledgeable about classical music, your input has been very helpful to me. I apologize for not speaking up before now to say "thanks" for all of the time and hard work you put into your lists and Nereffid's Guide. I really wish I had said something before now, but hopefully you will check the board from time to time, and will see this.

I wish you all the best, and hope that after some time away that you will return to the message board in at least a limited way.
SecretDrummer, you have got your wish! Were you there to see it, though?

* 68stationwagon's "sparklespeak" link: I left this out here to avoid complicating the issue. It was in a thread begun by amclark2 asking eMusic (specifically the rep CathyHN) to answer specific questions posed by posters. I was one of those who posed a question, but that one didn't get answered. Which prompted the following:

Hi Cathy,

My question was Can we see a genuine commitment from eMusic to fully engage with its customers, specifically on these boards?

You answered everyone's question except that one.

I guess that means No, huh?

I think you're asking a rhetorical question, where you've already determined what the outcome should be, and you're simply trying to direct Cathy to respond in like.

Not that I'm defending Cathy or eMusic - I'm myself leaving after August - but I just think that it's not sincere to ask a rhetorical question to make a point.

hi nereffid.

i read tea leaves, omissions, stars and ouija boards. i dropped cathy's omission into my tea, sat underneath the stars and aimed my ouija board towards orion last nite. waited. stars went first. here's what they said:

composers are like stars in the night sky. you may call them some name. but are they really that name?

next up was my ouija board:

dear music lover: solti lies in rest alongside bartok. who would you like to hang alongside in the afterworld?

a. haydn
b. beethoven
c. mahler
d. no one - just a nice copy of spoch's beard tucked under my arm

finally, i looked into my teacup and there was cathy's omission mixed in with my tea leaves:

emusic customers are like stars in the sky, just because one or two sparkles brightly from where i now stand doesn't mean all the others sparkle with less intensity.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

This week I listened to Haydn

Haydn: Symphonies nos.35, 38, 39 & 59
English Concert/Trevor Pinnock

Haydn: Theresienmesse, Kleine Orgelmesse
Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox

Haydn: Keyboard sonatas nos.1-9
Ronald Brautigam

Haydn: String quartets op.33 nos.1, 2 & 4
The Lindsays

It's about time I made a proper start on the various box sets I bought this year. Rather than dipping in for an occasional listen, this week I devoted my full attention to the first disc in each of the 3 sets, plus a string quartet album, one of several Lindsays recordings I downloaded from somewhat crappy site We7, back when they gave stuff away free (with ads stuck in front of each track, which of course can be removed). So I got quite a cross-section of Haydn's work: the sonatas are from the 1750s/early 1760s, the symphonies from the late 1760s, the quartets from 1781, and the masses from 1782 and 1799.
It's probably not surprising that the lightest, least consequential music is found among the early keyboard works (entertaining, all right, but collectively they do tend to go past like so many floats in a parade), and the biggest, most imposing work is the late Theresienmesse, so called because it was composed for the Empress Marie Therese. Actually it wasn't composed for her, but it's stuck with the name anyway. The highlight for me is the bipartite Agnus Dei: it starts very dark and troubled, but the Dona nobis pacem section is remarkably confident. The companion work on the disc is the Kleine Orgelmesse, quite a short work, partly because - I didn't know this - in masses for ordinary church services, composers were allowed set the Gloria and Credo "polytextually"; in other words, various sections of the text would be sung simultaneously, so they could get through the music quicker! The two longest bits here are the Benedictus and Agnus Dei, though, which kind of holds things up near the end.
Going back to names, the string quartet op.33 no.2 is known as the Joke quartet, the joke being that you never know when the damn thing's going to end. Actually the finale of no.4's pretty funny too: it seems to be heading to a lively ending, then suddenly becomes very hesitant, reluctant even, and ends, almost embarrassed, in pizzicato, as if the players are trying to tiptoe out unnoticed.
The great thing for the listener when it comes to works like Haydn's symphonies, especially, is just how much good stuff there is - three obvious examples on the disc I listened to being the baroque-sounding Andante of no.38 (are those cuckoos in there?), the stormy opening of no.39 (in G minor, like Mozart's no.40), and the joy of no.59's finale, complete with horn calls. This is Classical music at its best.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Robert von Bahr, gentleman

I went ahead and broke my silence on the eMusic message boards. Well, I had to, to acknowledge what I called "by far the single most intelligent, honest, cogent, and customer-friendly post anyone has made" relating to the new eMusic pricing system. Of course the culprit could only be BIS supremo Robert von Bahr, demonstrating yet again why he and his company are held in such high regard.
Here's what he did. He looked at the new pricing system. He looked at the product he is trying to sell on eMusic. He sat down and worked out the best ways of getting each product to customers at a low price while still maintaining a profit. He actually came up with a plan, rather than applying a single pricing system across the board.
Sure, it sounds simple, but as anyone who's browsed on the various download sites will know, this is quite rare. There are far too many examples of "1 CD = a tenner, therefore 3 CDs = 3 tenners" pricing, which can lead to downloads costing twice as much (or more) than the physical CD. And for those of us in Europe, the "album-only" tracks on eMusic in the absence of album capping or the option to download only one album from a multi-disc set can be a real pain in the nuts. (Latest example: complete Bach organic music from Ricercar. Total of 303 tracks, and about a dozen are album-only).
You sometimes get the impression from certain record labels, especially the majors, that people who buy their music are, at best, a nuisance to be tolerated and certainly not, you know, encouraged. So it's refreshing when someone like Robert von Bahr says "I really like when the music and artistry we have worked so hard to present in the best possible recordings, are enjoyed by as many as possible".
So, hats off once again to you, Robert, and thanks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How others see us

(I discovered this on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy site)

See that little dot up near the top? That's Earth. And the bigger dot near the bottom? That's Jupiter. The picture was taken in 2003 by the Mars Global Surveyor. Go here for more details, and look at the full-sized image.
Space, as Douglas Adams reminded us, is big.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Les Introuvables welcomes you

How hard do you think it would be to send out a basic e-mail advertising this site to a bunch of contacts? If you guessed "not hard at all" then you are utterly wrong. Two attempts, and I screwed up the BCC on the second one. I am so useless.
Let's think happy thoughts instead:

Haydn just confused the hell out of me

I'm listening to the first volume of Ronald Brautigam's complete set of Haydn's keyboard music on BIS. Track 14 just came on and I thought, "wait a second, I've just heard this one!" And yes, track 14, which is the Presto first movement of the Sonata no.5 (11 in the Hob numbers), and track 13, which is the Presto finale of the Sonata no.4 (G1), are identical. Well. I very nearly wrote an outraged missive to Robert von Bahr demanding my money back. But it turns out that's how it's supposed to be - I just checked samples of another recording online. I say to you, Mister Haydn sir, WTF? W T F, sir? Actually it may not be Haydn's fault either. Sonata no.5 is of doubtful authenticity, according to the sleeve notes (although surely we can say the first movement is authentic, if Sonata no.4 is kosher?).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

8tracks mix: Les Introuvables de Nereffid #1

I've been experiencing the joys of 8tracks, a "mixtape" site that allows you to create and listen to user playlists. It's all free and legal, and a great way for me to make public some of the music I've been posting about here. What I'm going to do is, every few weeks I'll create a new 10-track playlist based on the most recent things I've been listening to.
Now, 8tracks has to jump through various hoops to make things legal, such as no mention of the actual tracks in the playlist before you hear them, and a limit on the number of times you can skip to the next track. This is all fair enough. In that spirit I won't give a detailed playlist here either - hey, it's part of the fun of being DJ'd to. To get a reasonable idea of what's in the playlist, all you need to do is look back over the blog. The last couple of weeks' music aren't in this mix - wait till the next one!
The runtime's not much over 40 minutes.

This week I listened to

Chisholm: Piano music
Murray McLachlan
Divine Art

The music of Erik Chisholm can be summed up, not unfairly, in a single word: "McBartok". Which is to say that, like Bartok, he made heavy use of folk tunes and rhythms in his work. Murray McLachlan has recorded several volumes of Chisholm's music, with more on the way. Have a look at John France's thorough review of discs 1-4 on MusicWeb. France says "this eye-opening cycle ... is one of the musical discoveries and revelations of the Twenty-First century". I downloaded a bunch of it from eMusic, mixing from the first 4 discs. So far I've listened to the Straloch Suite, the sonata "An Riobain Dearg", and the first 8 Piobaireachd. All of it's fascinating, and some of it is really good. The very enjoyable suite is based on an early 17th century lute book and as a result is populated with various old tunes, while still being clearly a modern (1930s) work. The sonata, from 1939, is a big work, its most striking movements being the highly propulsive Scherzo and the "Lament for HMS Thetis", a darkly moving piece that refers to a pre-war submarine disaster that killed 99 sailors; it's a vivid piece of water music (well, underwater, really - I don't mean that facetiously; you'll know what I mean when you hear it). The Piobaireachd are all based on bagpipe music, but again modern in nature. I don't think Bartok ever gave any of his works a title like "Maclean of Coll Putting His Foot on the Neck of his Enemy".

Field: Being Dufay
John Potter; Ambrose Field

These are electronic soundscapes based around some vocal music by 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay. This had the potential to be nothing but gimmicky crossover, but it works well, for two main reasons: Field's electronica is generally understated and always anchored to the Dufay phrases, and John Potter is in wonderful voice. That said, it's the sort of album you need to be in the right frame of mind to listen to. That said, the opening track is one of the most gorgeous things ever.

Bacewicz: Violin concertos nos.1, 3 and 7
Joanna Kurkowicz; Polish RSO/Lukasz Borowicz

Good stuff from a Polish composer I'd not heard before. The concerto no.7 has a ghostly middle movement, and the first has a vaguely classical feel, but the best of the concertos is the third, a lyrical work making use of folk tunes. It deserves to be much better known, which can also be said about the Overture that closes the disc, a good old-fashioned romp.

Kalliwoda: String quartets
Quatuor Talich

An absolute gem. Kalliwoda was, according to his Grove entry, "highly esteemed during his lifetime", although the writer concludes by saying "Many of his pieces succumbed to the fashionable demand for mere prettiness and fell into the category of popular music". The horror! While I'm not qualified to speak of the compositional technicalities of these three quartets, I can vouch for their sheer entertainment value. The first has a pizzicato Scherzo with a lovely singing interlude; the second has a lovely Adagio with one of those heart-melting melodies that seems to have existed forever; and the third's finale is the catchiest damned thing. I'm gonna have to take out the Essential Listening stick again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

This one's for Nigel

The pale-skinned monk clasped the leather-bound book tightly to his chest. He breathed heavily in anticipation, tensing each time he felt another person get too close. He could sense the eyes of the crowd all around him, and pulled the hood over his white face to better keep them away. They were jostling now, pressing forward. The monk pressed forward too. He thought about fleeing but knew it was futile; and besides, his task must be completed. He grimaced as an elbow pressed into his side, then winced as a boot nearly crushed his sandaled foot.
At last the bodies in front of him parted, and he stumbled forward into fresh air, thrusting the leather book toward the grey figure seated at the desk before him.
The monk hesitated for a moment, then opened the heavy tome to its first page and said, "Can you make it out to Betsy, on her ninth birthday? She loves all your books".
The grey figure dipped his quill in his inkpot and began to write. He sighed morosely as a pair of drops fell onto the paper.
"One of these days", he muttered, then blew on the elegant script and handed the book back to the monk, who departed.

That was an excerpt from the brand new Chief Inspector Laszlo Bíro mystery, "Scarlett Johansson in the Study with the Lead Piping", in which the leading criminal psychologist and children's author must investigate the disappearance of a beloved taxidermist. And his dog.

Nereffid's Guide Awards - progress report

Preparations for the NGAs are proceeding at speed. I'm up to date on reviews from Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, Classics Today, and MusicWeb, and they're all neatly compiled into a spreadsheet. So far there's about 1,400 discs in the list altogether, and about 54 or 90 or 177 of these can be considered contenders, depending on the inclusion criteria. I was hoping for a bit more than 54 under the most exclusive regime, but the three "serious" print publications have yet to be included so I expect a final tally in the 200s or thereabouts. One faintly alarming thing is the low showing so far of music by living composers (with the exception of vocal music). Hopefully this will work out OK in the end, but it is an indicator of the difficulties of getting contemporary music noticed.
I've decided to stick with just one Chamber category; the previous distinction based on number of performers was cumbersome and ultimately unnecessary. And I might decide to separate opera recital discs from full operas, depending on numbers. (Idle thought: is it worth looking through and Gramophone Awards issues for pointers on other potential categories, or have I covered all the bases well by now?).
The next step is to get International Record Review covered.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Make a note in the log

Gathered conkers on Ministers Road on Monday... and today was the first afternoon this season when we got home from school and I pulled the porch door shut and thought, "ah, good, we're indoors". Proper autumn is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Albinoni's Largo

In my last post I mentioned "a piece by Albinoni" on a Diapason cover CD. The music in question is the first movement (Largo) of his Sonata a cinque op.2 no.2, from this magnificent recording by Ensemble 415, on the Zig-Zag Territoires label, released about 6 months ago. Astonishingly, this is actually the first recording of the work.
Albinoni, of course, is best known for his "Adagio", a piece of music actually written in the 1950s by Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto. Presumably Giazotto, who was a scholar of Albinoni's music, reckoned he'd have more success if he passed his own composition off as that of a better-known figure ("better-known" being very much a relative term). And so "Albinoni's Adagio" joined "Pachelbel's Canon" as a baroque one-hit wonder. People with only a faint awareness of classical music have heard of Albinoni, and it always comes as a great disappointment to them when they can't find anything else by Albinoni that's half as good.
But when I heard that piece on the Diapason disc, I thought "aha!". Here it is at last - OK, not as emotive as the Adagio, and certainly shorter, but arguably more beautiful, a combination of serenity and understated passion; actually quite reminiscent of the Pachelbel work. And it can for the sake of convenience be referred to as "Albinoni's Largo". This is everything it needs to be an instant classic.
And now you must listen to the whole track (in fact the whole sonata) on YouTube. Then go buy the album.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Classic CD, issue 23

So we're going back now to early 1992. I hadn't been seriously listening to classical music for very long at that stage, only a few years. The first classical magazine I bought was Classic CD, issue 23 (which I think had a cover date of March 1992; in a big clearout maybe 10 years ago I got rid of my old magazines, ripping out some articles to keep and also holding on to the CDs, obviously). I can't remember why I decided to buy it. Nigel Kennedy was on the cover, and I know that wasn't the reason. Actually what I want to talk about here is the cover CD. Here's the track listing:
1. Saint-Saens: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (Vengerov, Mehta)
2. Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande - Act 1 Interlude & Scene 3 (Abbado)
3. Busoni: Seven Elegies - Berceuse (Wolosoff)
4. Tavener: The Protecting Veil - first section (Isserlis, Rozhdestvensky)
5. Kraus: Soliman II - Act 2, Elmire's Dance; Duet (Royal Opera of Sweden/Brunelle)
6. Tchaikovsky: Violin concerto - 1st mvt, begininng (Kennedy, Kamu)
7. Faure: Les roses d'Ispahan (Ameling, Baldwin)
8. Schmidt: Symphony no.3 - 2nd mvt (Jarvi)
9. Nyman: Six Celan Songs - "Chanson einer Dame im Schatten" (Lemper, Michael Nyman Band)
10. Schubert: Symphony no.9 - 1st mvt (Wand)

That's a pretty good list, isn't it? Some big names in there, artist-wise, and with the music an intriguing mix of the familiar and more obscure. Significantly, there's only one piece less than 5 minutes long (the Faure song), and the Schubert approaches 14. I instantly fell in love with 4 of the tracks - the Busoni, Tavener, Schmidt, and Nyman. At that stage in my classical exploration, it was a fantastic exposure to new sounds. Despite that great start, I didn't get another Classic CD for about a year - not sure why that was, either, but it was a feature on Mahler's Tenth that drew me back - and then I started collecting it for several years. But that first one was always the high point. I got a handful of Gramophones in that period too, but I wasn't ready for its focus on recordings, and I also sporadically got BBC Music Magazine specifically for the cover disc. One particularly memorable Gramophone cover disc was one they brought out before the 1994 Awards, which highlighted some of the lesser-known music among the nominees.

Look at this month's Gramophone cover disc, though. They used to do a separate one for the Awards, but that hasn't happened for a while. As with the last couple of years, this year they've crammed as many award winners as they can onto the disc with the Editor's Choice tracks, plus the Collection, plus the competition. 32 tracks in 80 minutes. Only one track gets past 5 minutes - Zadok the Priest, if you must know - and 9 others (10 if you include the competition) get past 3. Is this an industry thing, or Gramophone's decision, I wonder? Either way, I don't know that it does the music any favours. Can you be smitten by a 2'21" excerpt from Gotterdammerung? Or a 49-second Britten song, no matter how previously-undiscovered it may be? Well, yes, you can be smitten, but not to anything like the same degree as a 5- or 8- or 10-minute sample that completely pulls you into another world. Right now I'm listening to that Schmidt track from 1992, and it's gone past 3 minutes and I know that part of its appeal at this very second is that there's still 4 minutes left. I fell in love with the whole movement, not just a bit of it; I might not have loved it if it had faded away after two and a half minutes. Or the Tavener - an 8'16" sample allowed me to hear not just the gorgeous opening, but also the part where the strings imitate the sound of bells. That gorgeous opening would be less gorgeous if, just as you're settling in, it's suddenly replaced by the happy turquerie of Soliman II. And so on.

And it's not just nostalgia, or "fings ain't wot they used to be" as Nige might have said back in '92. Earlier this year I bought an issue of Diapason while on holiday in Lisbon (I know! Foreign-language squared!), and its cover disc had 13 tracks and I instantly fell in love with 2 of them - all 10 minutes of Soler's Fandango played by Andreas Staier and a piece by Albinoni. So the French at least still know how to do a cover disc.

So I say: come on, Gramophone! Less is more. Give us 40 or 50 or 60 minutes of the Editor's Choice, throw in a good Collection excerpt and a couple of tracks tied in to whatever features are in that issue, and that'll do.

Mr Speaker II

The new speakers are better than the old ones. A lot better. I smile.

This week I listened to

Busoni: Piano works
Geoffrey Tozer

An excellent selection of music from "one of those composers". I'd heard this album years ago and liked it, and when I read that Geoffrey Tozer had died recently I immediately thought of it. Funny how a name sometimes just lodges itself into the memory. The Berceuse from the Elegies is one of my favourite pieces of music (related post on that to follow), and one of the other highlights is the charming Turandots Frauengemach, which unexpectedly makes use of Greensleeves! Of course there is Bach-Busoni here too. A great album all round.

Mozart: Overtures
Norwegian National Opera Orchestra/Rinaldo Alessandrini

Well, everyone needs a collection of Mozart overtures, don't they? This one doesn't have all of them, but it does include a few other orchestral interludes. As good a collection as any, I suppose. And the cover's great!

Soler: Sonatas for harpsichord, volume 11
Gilbert Rowland

Bought in Tower Records in a weird little Naxos sale they were having: 4 discs for a tenner, but there were only a few dozen to choose from. Cue a bit of mental arithmetic to work out which ones were cheaper to buy for €2.50 than to download from eMusic. Answer: not that many! But this was a good choice - all highly entertaining.

Weill: Lost in the Stars
cast; Orchestra of St Luke's/Julius Rudel

Weill's last work, a version (written by Maxwell Anderson) of Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country. Anderson called it a "musical tragedy", as opposed to a "musical comedy". I think there's a little too much of the Broadway musical for my taste; what's good is very good, but perhaps a better sort of structure might have suited the material better. But anyway, this is a committed performance and definitely worth hearing.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Forever young

BBC4's been bombarding me with nostalgia lately. First there was Charlie Brooker's marvellous show about the history of computer games, part of a season called "Electric Revolution" apparently, which also included last night's Micro Men, an entertaining film about the rivalry between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry. Last Friday saw a night of Madness - at this year's Glastonbury, a documentary from a few years ago, and Julian Temple's Liberty of Norton Folgate concert film. Plus there was a Douglas Adams doc.
It was 1982. The year I saw Hitch Hiker's on TV (and then read the books), the year I got my first album - Complete Madness - and the year I got my ZX81. That's my formative year right there. Well, OK, it would have been a better story if the first album had been Mahler, but still. Of course, Douglas is gone, and I don't write computer programs or play many games now... but somehow Madness have managed to tap into the original source again. Bless 'em.

Mr Speaker

Ack! The speakers on my PC have conked out. More specifically, sound is only coming from one of them. It seems that 6 years of constant plugging and unplugging between home and work computers have finally taken their toll on the jack. At the moment I'm reduced to a tiny pair of battery-powered speakers that don't actually work either. Well, they don't work when there's batteries in them. When they're switched off, they work, which is to say unamplified sound comes out. But at least it's in stereo, right?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Steve Carella

OK, one more movie post for the time being. I want it officially on the record, 5 or 10 years before anyone in the TV or film industry thinks of it: Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Steve Carella.

I have no idea why, but it suddenly struck me while I was watching the awesomeness that is 500 Days of Summer. "tall and rangy, with dark hair and brown eyes somewhat slanted to give him a slightly Oriental appearance", as McBain put it in Mischief. I mean, if Carella can be played by Donald Sutherland, Burt Reynolds, and Randy Flippin' Quaid... Plus there was that guy I couldn't be arsed looking up on the IMDb who was in Pet Sematary, who had the misfortune of playing opposite Joe Pantoliano as Meyer, an actual bald Meyer. If you're not a very good actor it's hard to play the lead when Joey Pants is supporting. But I digress.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This is mostly a Darwin post but we start with Ricky Gervais. Well, if you know that Gervais's new movie, The Invention of Lying, is out and that it involves his character being the first person in the world ever to tell a lie, and that (spoiler-ish alert) he ends up inventing religion, to comfort his dying mother then you can probably see where I'm going with this. It's a fun movie, although something of a disappointment in terms of its Hollywoodness, such as its relentless pursuit of a happy ending. It was co-written and -directed by Gervais and someone called Matthew Robinson (he has no other credits on IMDb); apparently it was originally Robinson's script so I'm curious as to what Gervais's input was. Certainly some scenes are much tighter than others - the ones where the love-story plot doesn't figure, basically - and the tightest of all is the ultra-fast scene with Stephen Merchant and, uh, Barry from EastEnders. But the scene where Gervais's character addresses the crowd with his information on the man in the sky is hilarious. Not every-word-perfect hilarious like Life of Brian, but it does some really neat skewering.

Which leads us to the skewer-wielder-in-chief, Richard Dawkins. His new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, is all about evolution. Not about God. In book terms at least, Dawkins has moved on, although not everyone has moved on with him. He was visibly frustrated on The Late Late Show when the whole God delusion thing was being rehashed. Science = boring; atheism = controversial = good telly, perhaps? Greatest Show isn't boring, though, providing as it does a sort of whistle-stop tour of the masses of evidence for evolution. There have of course been many books on the topic before, but Dawkins's name helps with the selling, and he is a very entertaining writer. He gets the occasional dig in, but I can't imagine the hardline God-botherers will be reading anyway (except to quote-mine, of course). He's very succinct on things like radioactive dating and continental drift, and his dismissal of the "gaps in the fossil record" argument is a good one: imagine a murder trial where there's no actual eyewitness but every other piece of evidence clearly points to the accused - until video footage emerges of the accused on his way to commit the crime, carrying the murder weapon, and his lawyer argues that the gap in the video record actually reduces the amount of evidence against his client! Hopefully there will be quite a few readers who don't know much about evolution but aren't happy with the biblical explanation, who will read this book and "get it".

And finally, Darwin himself, or rather Paul Bettany's version of him as conceptualized by a screenwriter and director. I was initially thrilled at the prospect of the film, not to mention the cheeky title Creation, but some aspects of the trailer had left me wondering whether there might be a bit too much Darwin-the-man and not enough Darwin-the-scientist, or, worse, that there might ultimately be some compromise (a deathbed conversion, even!) and (pace Huxley's "You've killed God, sir!") the deeper implications of his work might be fudged. I needn't have worried. The film does focus on Darwin the man, specifically the terrible impact his beloved daughter Annie's death had on him, causing him to delay writing Origin and sink into mental and physical collapse, while his wife Emma, a devout Christian, struggles in her own way. It's a well-structured screenplay, essentially telling two parallel stories - the "present day" as Darwin's peers urge him to write the book, and the past in which we see Annie and get the occasional discussion of Darwin's ideas. There's no single thorough going-over of evolution (I was kind of hankering after a JFK-style summation of all the evidence) but clearly that's not the film they wanted to make, and I think the piecemeal approach worked very well. One of the more memorable flashback scenes is a picnic at which Darwin talks with the vicar about Malthus, then we watch a time-lapse depiction of death and decay, as a bird falls from a nest, dies, and is consumed; this is followed by a church scene in which Darwin fails to join in with "All Things Bright and Beautiful", and walks out when the vicar begins sermonizing about God and the birds of the air etc. The two parallel strands reach their crises at the same time, in scenes of profound despair. (kind-of-spoiler alert) The climactic confrontation with Emma is blunt - she accuses him of not letting Annie stay in the grave, and he explodes with words to the effect that she's the one keeping Annie alive - on a cloud, with fairy wings. This, of course, is the deepest, and bleakest, implication of all. But the two parents recover from the crisis, and the film ends in hope. It's not often one gets to predict the last line of a film, but I guessed right. Really, there's only one way they could have ended it, with Darwin's voiceover:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yes, it's going to happen

So I had a long think and decided that, yes, there will be a third Nereffid's Guide Awards. Leaving aside the disillusionment with eMusic, the main difficulty with doing another was always going to be the amount of time I would have to put in. For two years I diligently filled a spreadsheet with every review from Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, American Record Guide, Fanfare, Classics Today, MusicWeb, plus a handful of foreign-language sites. Even when I kept up to date it was something of a chore, and when I let it lapse for a few months at the beginning of this year, I found it impossible to get back to.
What's changed? I took a look at last year's spreadsheet and the winners and runners-up and realised that I don't have to keep track of every review - just the "very good" reviews. In other words, the Gramophone Editor's Choice and Recommends, the 5-star reviews in BBC Music, 9s and 10s from Classics Today, and so on. Only albums that get 4 such reviews are in with a chance. So that reduces by about 80 percent the number of albums I have to worry about. (Or thereabouts - I'm ditching the 3 foreign-language sites and brining in International Record Review and I'm not sure how this will impact exactly). So it's much easier for me to get the information in. Granted, at the end of the year I'll have a long list of contenders and I'll have to check all the publications for "not very good" reviews of these, but this shouldn't be too much of a hardship.
Also - and very significantly - the 2009 awards won't be confined to eMusic: they'll cover all new releases. In the long run that probably means less work than before, because I'd always been keying in every review anyway and I then had to spend a lot of time finding things on eMusic. I reckon there'll be about 3 to 4 times as many albums as before, which obviously means better overall quality, especially for the Opera category!
Why do I do all this? It's for my own benefit, ultimately. A key motivation to Nereffid's Guide and the awards was simply to encourage eMusic subscribers to tap into a marvellous resource, but the project never would have happened if I didn't think it would help me find great music. And so it is with what we might as well start abbreviating as NGA3, only this time the net's being cast a lot wider.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gramophone Awards 2009

And the winners are...
Of the 15 category winners, I have 3, which is about what I usually have - although of course it's a pretty meaningless number. The awards are quite meaningless to me on some level, too - my listening doesn't center around new releases, nor do I have a huge amount of interest in more recordings of repertoire I already own.
There should be a third Nereffid's Guide Awards, shouldn't there? I'd love to do it, and if I did it wouldn't be confined to eMusic any more. But I don't have any of the groundwork in place, so I doubt I'll be able to make time. I might try gathering some information this week. Watch this space!

Friday, October 2, 2009

This week I listened to

Barriere: Cello sonatas
Bruno Cocset; Les Basses Réunies

Jean Barriere (c1705-1747) was "one of the finest cello virtuosos in France", according to Grove. In the 1730s he published 4 books of sonatas for cello with basso continuo, and this recording gives a sample of 6 sonatas. This is wonderful music, full of life and expressiveness, with plenty of opportunity for the cellist to show off. Right now I'm listening to a gorgeous Larghetto (Sonata no.6 from Book II). Another fine production from the small French label Alpha. Recommended to pretty much anyone.

Part: "In Principio"
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Tonu Kaljuste
ECM New Series

Quite a dark-hued album. In principio (setting the start of St John's Gospel) is closer to Philip Glass than I've ever heard from Part. La Sindone is the Shroud of Turin; obviously not a descriptive tone poem but a brooding orchestral meditation that builds to a huge climax. Cecilia, vergine romana is another quite dark one, concerned I suppose with the saint's martyrdom rather than her role as music's patron. This is now my third version of Da Pacem Domine (this choir also sang it for Paul Hillier on Harmonia Mundi); I think it's one of Part's finest works, a vast rolling ocean. The last 2 pieces are orchestra-only: Mein Weg churns along, while Fur Lennart in memoriam is a mostly warm and gentle piece. As a whole, the album isn't the best of introductions to Part's music, but it's an excellent release nonetheless.

Ewazen: Orchestral music and concertos
various soloists; Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Paul Polivnick

I'd never heard of Ewazen until I happened to come across him on eMusic a couple of years ago. From the samples he struck me as a composer worth getting to know, but I didn't do anything about it until he appeared on the cover of a recent Fanfare. In the interview, Ewazen spent some time discussing the works on this particular album, so I decided this would make for a good introduction, and it certainly is. Ewazen says that in his tenor sax concerto he wanted to capture the nature of Prokofiev's "Classical" symphony, while in the Chamber Symphony he was aiming for a Brandenburg no.5 deal with a notable contribution from the piano. There's also a flute concerto and a Ballade for clarinet and orchestra. The cover of Fanfare uses the words "Appealing, enthusiastic, a melodic gift, a joy...", which is spot on.

Beethoven: Bagatelles
Linda Nicholson

The lighter side of Ludwig, here played on a lovely-sounding fortepiano. If you like fortepianos, that is. Those who insist that Beethoven was actually composing for a modern grand will probably be horrified, especially on those occasions when a string will twang like a sitar. Personally, I love it - I have no problems with a good fortepiano for Beethoven, and I think it's very much apropos for pieces like these. Linda Nicholson seems to have particular fun with Rage over a lost penny, a piece I think should be much better known, and she manages to blow the dust off Fur Elise too.

Shostakovich: The Nose
soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev

Based on a short story by Gogol, in which an official's nose disappears, prompting a search through St Petersburg. Shostakovich wrote this opera when he was 22, and it makes you pause and think what his composing career might have been like if Stalin hadn't intervened a few years later - Shostakovich's only other opera was Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. As you might expect given the nature of the story, this is crazy stuff, one of its more notable features being a 3-minute solo-percussion interlude. There's close to 100 separate roles - although most of them get a few lines at best. It's not often you see such effort being put into triviality! It's all great fun (assuming you have the libretto, obviously).

Listy Duverne

This talk of non-translation also reminds me that a couple of days ago I saw for the first time Janacek's String quartet no.2 referred to by its Czech title, "Listy duverne", rather than the English "Intimate letters".
I don't know, surely Listy DuVerne is a saloon singer, possibly played by Mae West?

Gardaí win Ig Nobel Literature Prize

This year's Ig Nobel Prize winners include

Ireland's police service (An Garda Siochana), for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means "Driving License".
That reminds me of when I was working for the county council and came across some correspondence with a UK environmental monitoring firm (for the sake of argument). The County Secretary had written to them and had, as was normal practice, signed the letter with his title, "Runaí Chonndae", typed underneath. Inevitably, the reply came back: "Dear Mr. Chonndae..."