Friday, June 18, 2010

Two highlights of the week

Two things stood out from this week's listening.
First, Peter Sculthorpe, a composer I've known of but whose music I'd not heard. Sculthorpe's from Australia - where women glow and men plunder, of course. A Naxos CD from a few years ago contains 5 of his orchestral works, of which the absolute standout is Earth Cry. Written in 1986, it reflects how, in the composer's words, "We now need to attune ourselves to the continent, to listen to the cry of the earth as the Aborigines have done for many thousands of years". It opens with a solo didgeridoo full of menace and animal noises before a slow and dark string tune comes in, not unlike the sort of thing Alan Hovhaness used to do, only a lot more sinister. Slow brass fanfares and pounding percussion add to the drama, and about halfway through the didgeridoo comes to the fore again, sounding alternately like the pulse of the land and a howling creature. It's a stunning and rather moving effect (though apparently the didgeridoo was only a later addition to the work). Overall, the piece has a visceral impact that reminded me of the first time I heard James MacMillan's Confession of Isobel Gowdie. The rest of the album doesn't reach this level, but it's all worth checking out. Sculthorpe goes on the Watch List.
Completely unrelated music: the piano sonatas of Jan Ladislav Dussek. He's one of my "anniversary composers" that I've been exploring - this year marks his 250th birthday, and in fact 2012 will be the bicentenary of his death. Dussek was a Czech piano virtuoso who toured Europe. I first came across him a couple of years ago in a well-praised recording of some sonatas by Marcus Becker on CPO, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I've now got the three volumes of sonatas recorded by Frederick Marvin for Dorian about 15 years ago. Andreas Staier recorded a couple of Dussek albums a while ago, too. Nothing in particular to say about any of these pieces: you should enjoy these if you like your early Beethoven sonatas, or if you think (whisper it) that piano sonatas generally went downhill after Schubert. Of the man himself, Haydn wrote in 1792 to Dussek's father "you have one of the most upright, moral, and, in music, most eminent of men for a son".
One other thing stood out this week: Carlo Maria Giulini's Mahler 1 with the Chicago Symphony - but that's for a whole other post.

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