Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last week I listened to

Yes, yes, I know I'm late. It was a busy weekend.

Beethoven: Piano sonatas opp.26, 14 & 28
Murray Perahia

You know me - I like to explore every part of the repertoire. But it's good to come back to the core works every now and then, especially with an album as wonderful as this. In fact I got this as part of my efforts to make sure I've heard as many Nereffid's Guide Awards contenders as possible (place yer bets now...). The piano sound is gorgeous, and Perahia gives one of those performances where it's all about the music, not the pianist. Add to that an equanimitous set of sonatas, and it's a winner. This was, incidentally, the first major-label album I've ever downloaded.

Virtuoso Italian vocal music
Catherine Bott; New London Consort/Philip Pickett

A classic in its day (released 1988), apparently: the booklet notes say it "provided modern audiences with one of the earliest opportunities to experience the finest work of some of the most talented and exploratory composers writing at the start of the Italian Baroque". It certainly passed me by at the time - a quick check reveals that U2's Rattle and Hum was released around the same time, so that's where I was at. By now, this music no longer comes as a revelation, but the pieces themselves are unfamiliar. A very useful addition to the collection.

Grainger: "Lincolnshire Posy"
Dallas Wind Symphony/Jerry Junkin

You can never go wrong with Percy Grainger, what with the catchy tunes, the clever orchestrations, the intriguing sonorities, and the occasional heart-melting harmonies. John Eliot Gardiner's disc on Philips with the, ahem, English Country Gardiner Orchestra is probably the single best sampler of Grainger's music, although Chandos has a very useful "An Introduction to Percy Grainger" featuring highlights of their big series. But the Dallas band's new set is very high on entertainment value too, and sounds great.

Fibich: Overtures and symphonic poems
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Vladimír Válek

Fibich was until now just a name, but I have since learned he would have been in the triumvirate of Czech composers along with Smetana and Dvorak were it not for the fact that his music isn't particularly Czech-sounding, and anyway Janacek is there instead of him. The four works on this album are big orchestral monsters, full of drama, big tunes, and not much subtlety. You know what you're in for once you've heard the first half-minute of the Comenius overture, and by the time the massive organ shows up at the end of The Fall of Arkona 50 minutes later you won't be a bit surprised. Oodles of good clean romantic fun!

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