Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Claudio Abbado

The problem with musical tastes that are, as I keep saying, broad rather than deep is that when someone as significant and much-loved as Claudio Abbado dies, I can't add useful insight. Yes, I really like such-and-such a recording but I'm not qualified to explain to you why it was maestro Abbado's insert conducting quality here that lifted it to the realms of the transcendent. I can tell you that I was once transfixed when I turned on the radio and heard him conducting the slow movement of Mahler's 6th. I can tell you that the first proper Abbado recording I bought was a Decca selection of Hindemith on which he led the LSO in the Symphonic Metamorphoses, and I'm really fond of that album. I can even tell you that the first non-proper Abbado recording I owned was an excerpt from his recording of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande on a Classic CD cover disc (issue 23, the one I keep going on about), though I'll admit that didn't particularly catch my ear. Also, his was the only Beethoven 9 I had for a long time. And the most recent of his recordings that I own seems to be his work with Isabelle Faust on the Berg and Beethoven violin concertos.
He will be missed. I suspect this will be the only obituary/appreciation/inane rambling that gives you Abbado's Spitting Image puppet though.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Top 23 of 2013 (supplemental)

Supplemental, that is, to my list on Music is Good. Yes, go read the thing there. But here is the list without pictures or commentary (it's ordered more-or-less thematically rather than by "quality"):

Petitgirard: The Little Prince. Laurent Petitgirard conducting (Naxos)
“Spheres". Daniel Hope (Deutsche Grammophon)
“Violin Lullabies”. Rachel Barton Pine (Cedille)
“Wagner”. Jonas Kaufmann (Decca)
Mahler: Orchestral Songs. Christian Gerhaher (Sony)
Eisler: Lieder. Matthias Goerne (Harmonia Mundi)
Dvořák: Stabat Mater. Philippe Herreweghe conducting (Phi)
“Songs of Olden Times”. Heinavanker (Harmonia Mundi)
Monteverdi: Heaven and Earth. Robert King (Vivat)
“Io vidi in terra”. José Lemos (Sono Luminus)
Telemann: Hoffnung des Wiedersehens. Dorothee Mields (DHM)
“Bach Re-invented”. Absolute Ensemble/Kristjan Järvi (Sony)
Cassuto: Return to the Future. Álvaro Cassuto conducting (Naxos)
Schafer: String quartets nos.8-12. Quatuor Molinari (Atma)
“Thrum”. Minneapolis Guitar Quartet (Innova)
“Full Power”. Trombone Unit Hannover (Genuin)
“Transitions”. Olga Pashchenko (Fuga Libera)
Mompou: Piano music. Arcadi Volodos (Sony)
Pärt: Piano music. Jeroen van Veen (Brilliant)
“Variations on a Theme by Scarlatti”. Matan Porat (Mirare)
Roth: Sometime I Sing. Mark Padmore, Morgan Szymanski (Signum)
Nørgård: Songs from Evening Land. Helene Gjerris (Dacapo)
Stravinsky, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky. Mythos (Orchid) 

So, in lieu of examining the trends of the now-defunct Nereffid's Guide Awards, let me analyse this list instead!
My purchases during the year were, as usual, mostly via eMusic, which with my cheap old subscriptions is a real godsend. But 6 of the Top 23 came from elsewhere - all major labels. In fact, I bought only 2 other new albums from outside eMusic. Well, I suppose if I'm willing to pay a higher price for something, that means it's going to be less of a risk and it will be something I expect to like a lot. Interestingly, the 6 majors on the list were represented as: 2 from Universal (1 Decca, 1 DG) and 4 from Sony (including the DHM label). I hadn't really considered Sony a significant releaser of Stuff I Like until now.
One thing that pleases me about my Top 23 (yes, aside from the fact that 23 is a prime number) is the variety. I made no deliberate effort to be representative—no thoughts of "well, I have to include this because I don't have anything else from that genre". That said, there's no "difficult modern music" to speak of, and the classical mainstream is underrepresented compared with the world of new releases generally. But the former I tend not to like, and the latter I tend to already own some recording of and so I'm more keen to buy music I haven't heard.
What's most heartening is that almost none of the albums on the list came recommended to me by a review (IIRC, only the Trombone Unit Hannover and Arcadi Volodos releases). For many years I've read lots of reviews and used the judgement of others to point me in the right direction—not that I slavishly follow the tastes of the majority, but I found it a very useful way of drawing my attention to things I reckoned I'd like. Before that, too, there was a lot of filling up the repertoire in my collection (composer X is a "great composer", so I should have his symphonies), which gave me a lot of music that was worthy but not necessarily something I loved; the collector in me is adamant that this wasn't a huge waste of time or money because (a) it helped me establish my actual tastes and (b) I know my tastes do and will change over the years. Also, back before the Download Age and the ability to sample before buying, I was rather more hit-and-miss with things I thought I might like. All of this is to say that I've had multiple excuses for not having the courage to choose albums based solely on my own desires rather than the encouragement of others, but I've finally ditched those excuses and, huzzah!, it turns out I actually know what I'm doing after all.


The 2013 Nereffid's Guide Awards should be coming up around now, shouldn't they? Alas, there will be no more Nereffid's Guide Awards. Well, I say "alas" but that's in the general sense, the sense that it's a pity that after six years an entertaining and, to some small number of people at least, useful thing should come to an end. In the specific sense, the 2013 awards, I'm mostly relieved to be shut of it, which sounds a bit harsh but bear with me. 
There were a few reasons for the awards' demise. One was financial: the review magazines cost a bit of money over the course of a year, and cutbacks needed to be made. Another was one I referred to a while back: I've stopped waiting for reviews to decide what albums to get, instead looking for brand-new releases. That, inevitably, eliminated the immediate (as opposed to archival) value of getting any magazines, which made the decision to stop getting them a lot easier. The third, and not an insignificant one, was that collating all those reviews was bloody hard work. True, hobbies that require little effort aren't much fun, but I was finding that the work being put in wasn't balanced by the pleasure obtained at seeing it done.
Also, let's be honest, site traffic shows that I'm not going to be upsetting thousands of people by giving up. There was some buzz with it back in the eMusic days but that was a while ago, and I never did it for the publicity anyway. I'm sure that someone could carve out a nice successful niche with a web site that collates classical reviews (Classical Digest exists but doesn't have new material) and presents awards at the end of the year. But that person isn't me. (Though if you know someone with technical expertise and money, call me...)