Saturday, November 28, 2009

This week I listened to

Belle Virginie: musique pour la Nouvelle France
Le Concert de l'Hostel Dieu/Franck-Emmanuel Comte

This is fantastic, one of my favourite releases of the year. Inspired by the possibly fictional French buccaneer Le Golif, it's a selection of folk music, sea shanties, and the like, but approached from the classical side of the street. It's a mix (a crossover, even) that works wonderfully: lusty choruses are leavened by a countertenor, and on the other hand there's still a place in the music for the accordion and the Jews harp. You know what, I'm not going to say any more, and instead I direct you to the album page on MySpace, where you can hear the first three tracks.

Lamentations: Victoria, Gesualdo, Palestrina, White
Nordic Voices

Or "that depressing music", as my mother calls it. Well, yes, they are lamentations, but that didn't stop these Renaissance composers from producing sublime beauty. There's just 6 singers in Nordic Voices, but they make a marvellous rich sound. Not in the least bit depressing.

Vivaldi: Concerti per violino III, 'Il ballo'
Duilio M. Galfetti; I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis

Everything fizzes here. I'm listening now, randomly, to the 3rd movement of the first concerto on the disc, RV352, and it's got such joyful spontaneity in it. They really do sound like they're exuberantly making it up as they go along. Sheer pleasure from start to finish. I see that five of the seven concertos aren't listed on ArkivMusic, which just goes to show that undiscovered treasures always lie in wait.

Carter: Piano music
Ursula Oppens

I hate to end on a downer, but there you go. I've tried to like Carter's music, but it just doesn't make much impression on me. If I better understood the technical aspects, would I like it? Maybe. But it just doesn't have the visceral appeal, which has little to do with technicalities. Right now it seems wholly arbitrary - I just wonder, why these notes? (And in one stroke Nereffid disqualifies himself from ever uttering a word about modern music again. Hurrah!)

8tracks mix: Les Introuvables de Nereffid #3

11 tracks, 50 minutes.
I discovered that it's a nuisance forgetting what's in these mixes, so I'm including a track list this time - in the comments.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving treats

We have a tradition now, where every Thanksgiving I compile a CD of odd cover versions to amaze, delight, and upset the guests. Was this year an exception? No it was not. Here's a couple of things that, in their studio versions, made it into the mix:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Insert pun involving the name "Leifs" here

Alex Ross had an interesting post on Jón Leifs the other day, prompted by his receiving a biography (in Icelandic) of the composer. I love this: "My excitement at seeing the book was only slightly tempered by the fact that I couldn’t read a word of it."
Ross's recommended Leifs recording, BIS's album with Hekla on it, happens to be the only Leifs album I have, and oh yes it is indeed recommendable. Hekla's one of those pieces that's so loud that it's the silence afterwards that hurts your ears. Which leads me to an anecdote told by Robert von Bahr in an interview with MusicWeb several years ago:
This particular CD [BIS's recording of Leifs' Saga Symphony] did achieve something of a cult status in Japan thanks to Nagaoka-sensei, the guru of Classical music and stereo equipment in Japan. Nagaoka-sensei was actually quite hard of hearing in his later days, and usually cranked up the volume quite loudly. When I released the Saga Symphony, I advised my agent to go personally to him, put on Track 4 something like after 2'35, let Nagaoka-sensei fiddle with the volume, and then make a run for it. After 20 sec the house fell apart, and Nagaoka-sensei emerged from the rubble, a beatific grin over his face, with a glowing review to follow.

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!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Times' 10 best classical albums of the noughties

With fewer than 50 days left before the end of the decade everyone's been getting all listy. I was wondering how or even why anyone would come up with a "best classical albums" list, because more so than other genres (what with the concept of repertoire as opposed to original music) it would seem wholly arbitrary. But The Times has gone with a top 10 for new music, which makes things easier.

10. Violin Concerto/Rocana by Unsuk Chin (Analekta)
9 Ayre by Osvaldo Golijov (Universal)
8. Violin Concerto by Thomas Ades (EMI Classics)
7. Book of Hours by Julian Anderson (NMC)
6. The Veil of the Temple by John Tavener (RCA Red Seal)
5. Clarinet Concerto by Magnus Lindberg (Ondine)
4. Chiffre-Zyklus by Wolfgang Rihm (CPO)
3. St John Passion by James MacMillan (LSO Live)
2. Notes on Light/Mirage/Orion by Kaija Saariaho (Ondine)
1. Doctor Atomic Symphony by John Adams (Nonesuch)

I've heard the Anderson and the Lindberg, a bit of the Saariaho, Golijov, and Ades, and the Adams opera on which the symphony is based. Heh. The article offers 2 alternative descriptions of Golijov: "joyous blending of global traditions" and "cynical schmaltz". I veer toward the latter but I haven't heard enough of his work yet. I certainly preferred the Anderson to the Lindberg, I was highly impressed by Doctor Atomic, and I know I want to hear the rest of the Saariaho. Ades is a composer I try to like but don't always. MacMillan's one of my favourites, Taverner certainly has his moments, I know nothing of Chin, and I have a vague suspicion that I might not like Rihm.
The list seems pretty safe (I don't mean that as a bad thing necessarily) and dare one say even accessible. I'm not qualified to say how "right" the list is. But I thought On the Transmigration of Souls was supposed to be the Adams "hit" of the decade?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's only a Thierry

Oh Thierry Henry! You and your left hand have snuffed out the one bright glimmer of hope we had left in this country.
Bloody French, they let us down in 1798 and now they let us down again.
In the name of the most holy, WHY???

Seriously, though: why is it that in soccer, major success or failure should be allowed to rest on a single score? The aim of the game is to put the ball in the other team's net. That's the whole thing. And if your opponent fails to do that at all, and you do it only once over the course of 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, or even 120 minutes plus penalty shoot-outs, then you score a massive victory and win the World Cup or whatever. Obviously, the best team often wins, but isn't there a little too much riding on chance here? An unexpected bobble of the ball or la main gauche can have quite an influence on the outcome. Whereas in, say, hurling or basketball or tennis or snooker or indeed most sports, any individual scoring incident isn't quite so important.
I don't know, maybe they could make the goals bigger or something.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The same cliché 400 times

Have you noticed how often it happens that, when a critic is discussing little-known Vivaldi concertos, he feels obliged to decry Stravinsky's claim that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 400 times? We get the message, lads. We know he didn't write the same concerto 400 times. You don't need to keep bringing up this quote only to dismiss it.
To which ancient hard-shelled seed are we referring?
That hoary old chestnut.
What's worse, there's considerable variation in the number of concertos mentioned. You can find any multiple of a hundred from one to six (although a Google search suggests 200 is rare, for some reason!). That's probably because the Stravinsky quote may well be apocryphal. According to my Dictionary of Musical Quotations, Robert Craft's Conversations contains the line "Vivaldi is greatly overrated - a dull fellow who could compose the same form over and so many times over". Not quite as memorable. So who did come up with the line?

Aside: I'm reminded of something I read in a newspaper column somewhere (yeah, sorry) along the lines of "It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone writing a newspaper column about Jane Austen has to begin with the phrase "It is a truth universally acknowledged"."

Creationists: Are you smarter than a 7-year-old?

Fascinating dinnertime conversation with Ethan last night. Well, it all started when Amelia threw up (suspected winter vomiting bug, fortunately a very mild case) and he wanted to know why the food in your sick is always in such small bits, which obviously led onto a discussion of digestion and mastication, which led to talk about teeth and the different kinds of teeth used by different animals. Then he asked, "Why do apes have sticky-out jaws and people don't?" That is a good question, and a fine illustration of how a parent's life is made easier by the existence of Google. Short answer - the jaw became tucked under the brain case, reducing the angle of the lower jaw bone, with a corresponding increase in grinding efficiency (Principles of Human Evolution, Roger Lewin & Robert Foley). I also discovered that humans lack a functional copy of the MYH16 gene, which encodes a myosin protein that in primates is found only in particular jaw muscles. Stedman et al. speculate that this mutation could relate to the change in skull size during early human evolution and to the development of speech. Whether that's the case or not, Ethan found it intriguing.
Then he threw this one out: "If people evolved from other animals, how come there are still other animals?" Yes, the classic creationist objection, but one posed out of genuine curiosity rather than willful ignorance. Had all my reading of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers prepared me for this moment? Or would my faith in evolution be shattered by this innocent child's query? Pffft. A simple sketch of Ethan's family tree and the rhetorical reply, "If you're descended from Granny and Granddad, how come you have cousins?" sorted that one out.
Then I had to deal with "How come first of all there were apes who didn't know how to cook, and then there were people and they did know how to cook?" This obviously required a discussion of gradual change. Your fun fact in this department is that early humans may have been using fire 790,000 years ago. Also, irrelevantly, blue eye color appears to have spontaneously arisen by mutation somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.
This morning I got "When were the first trees?", for which my chronology was a little sketchy, but Ethan helped me out, telling me the first flowers appeared during the time of the dinosaurs, which he learned from David Attenborough.
What a shitty parent one would have to be to answer all those questions with reference only to the Book of Genesis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rothleder retaliates

I mentioned a couple of months ago Richard Kaplan's assault on Burton Rothleder in the pages of Fanfare. Well, Rothleder's given his response, and the explosive fight I was hoping for hasn't ensued: "With Richard Kaplan now on my case, the safest review would seem to be a bland review. But it's more fun to have Richard Kaplan rant and rave, even when he's right about some things."
Fireworks might have been more entertaining, but it's a sensible response - just shrug it off and don't give your critic any more ammunition.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This week I listened to

Tragédiennes 2: from Rameau to Berlioz
Véronique Gens; Les Talens Lyriques/Christoph Rousset

A marvellous showcase of the many unhappy women who populated French opera from the mid 18th to the mid 19th century. There are a lot of "Ah!"s and imploring of various divinities. Seriously, though, it's all great stuff, mostly completely unfamiliar to me. Véronique Gens is in fine voice, and Rousset and his band get to show off in some instrumental pieces too. Remarkably, this is my first recording of Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits; how I managed to avoid it for so long, I have no idea.

Britten: "Unknown Britten"
Sandrine Piau; Michael Collins; Rolf Hind; Northern Sinfonia/Thomas Zehetmair

An intriguing collection of rarities - essentially, unfinished work - from various periods of Britten's life. Sandrine Piau sings Les Illuminations plus 3 extra songs Britten wrote but didn't orchestrate (Colin Matthews does the honours). Interestingly, a quick glance at ArkivMusic reveals a paucity of recordings from outside the English-speaking world. The extra songs are fine as far as they go, but the cycle seems exactly the right length without them. Other highlights of the disc include Matthews' "realization" of three movements for clarinet and orchestra, and a Rondo concertante for piano and orchestra whose 2nd movement is remarkably gloomy.

Hommage a Messiaen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard

I confess to respecting rather than liking much of Messiaen's music (I love the Quartet for the End of Time, though). But Aimard has impressed me a lot. Here we have the 8 Preludes, which are early works from when Messiaen was about 20 but do seem characteristic of the composer (who else would write a piece called "The Impalpable Sounds of the Dream"?), plus a couple of pieces from the Catalogue d'oiseaux and two from Quatre Etudes de rythme. Those crazy birds! Long long ago I won some random CDs from Classic CD magazine, one of which was a disc of books 4, 5, and 6 performed by Peter Hill. I was baffled, intrigued, and in the end not bowled over. But Messiaen went somewhere fascinating in those works. As for the last couple of pieces on this particular album, they're small powerhouses.

Shostakovich: The Girlfriends, etc
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mark Fitz-Gerald

More rarities, this time in the form of three Shostakovich scores for screen and stage from the 1930s, plus a symphonic movement that was originally intended for his Ninth Symphony. The Girlfriends tells the happy tale of three friends who grow up in pre-revolutionary times and then become nurses in the civil war. It's mostly scored for chamber instruments, with some songs and a bizarre deconstruction of the Internationale on solo theremin. An absolute must for Shostakovich fans. Rule, Britannia! and Salute to Spain were plays for which Shostakovich wrote incidental music; it's your basic Soviet-issue patriotism. The unfinished symphonic movement is a dynamic piece that is more in keeping with what was expected of Shostakovich's Ninth; again, essential for the Shostakovichian or whatever they're called. By the way, if you're the sort of person who watches Fox News: don't buy this album! You may find yourself humming catchy communist songs at inappropriate moments.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tchaikovsky, P.I.

Meet Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, St Petersburg's hippest private detective!

One of the most popular TV shows of the 80s (the 1880s, that is), Tchaikovsky, P.I. followed the escapades of lovable tough-guy Pyotr Tchaikovsky as he solved crime and composed beautiful melodies on the mean streets of St Petersburg. Millions of fans tuned in every week to watch Tchaikovsky clatter across the cobblestones in his red carriage, duke it out with the bad guys, and always get home in time to write a timeless classic. Women adored him; men were bemused but secretly wondered what would happen if, you know, maybe they'd been having a few beers, and one thing led to another and... ahem. Although occasionally accused of sacrificing formal structure at the expense of dramatic sweep, Tchaikovsky, P.I. quickly established itself as one of the greats, as evidenced by its perennially high Sibelius ratings (this was before the Nielsen ratings).

Season One Episode Guide:

1. "Pilot"
In the feature-length first episode, we meet Tchaikovsky, honorably discharged from the St Petersburg Detectives' Conservatory after being wounded in a cello incident. He is hired by the mysterious Madame von Meck, whom he is never to meet, receiving all his instructions by telegram. Tchaikovsky's lively banter with the telegram delivery boy was to become a much-loved feature in every episode. Madame von Meck's first case for Tchaikovsky involves an international ring of music smugglers attempting to illegally bring Lisztian dotted rhythms into Russia.

2. "The Slavonic Falcon"
Tchaikovsky is hired to track down a priceless bronze statue in the shape of some sort of bird of prey (possibly a buzzard). Regarded by many fans as the best episode of the lot, although some are unconvinced by the surprise ending, in which the statue flies off and does the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.

3. "The Sam of Spades"
Madame von Meck is on the run from a deadly gang of bridge players, convinced that she knows the secret of a perfect hand. Urged on by her increasingly desperate telegrams, Tchaikovsky and the delivery boy race across the bridge clubs of Tsarist Russia to find the criminals. But with only the ace left to play, will it be a bridge club too far?

4. "The Big Sleeping Beauty"
Certainly the most complicated of all the plots, this episode sees Tchaikovsky tangling with a potato baron and his two wilful daughters, one of whom is narcoleptic. Tchaikovsky is drawn into a web of intrigue as the family attempts to cover up the narcoleptic one's possible involvement or lack of involvement in one, two, or less murders on any of three separate occasions.

5. "Murder on the 1812"
Tchaikovsky is traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway, on his way to Vladivostok to receive his Detective Of The Year award (the 'Dickie'), when he discovers that there is a murderer aboard. Armed only with the French and Russian national anthems, oh yes, and a cannon, Tchaikovsky must find the killer before he strikes again. Of course he doesn't find him until he has struck several more times, which helps reduce the suspect list considerably. It's a long journey.

6. "Farewell, Mazeppa"
On the way back from Vladivostok, the train is hijacked by Cossacks who plan to drive it straight into the Winter Palace and bring down the Tsar. Tchaikovsky patiently explains the concept of railway tracks to them while simultaneously composing an opera. Eventually, the Cossacks give up and the opera is a success.

7. "Nut Cracker"
Tchaikovsky teams up with hard-drinking, heavy-gambling criminal psychologist Modest Mussorgsky to solve the murders of several fairies. The chief suspect is Volgograd FC supporter Albie Borodin, eager to avenge his side's 10-0 thrashing at the hands of Sugar Plum Rovers. Tensions mount as Mussorgsky analyses Tchaikovsky's deepest secrets and Tchaikovsky accuses Mussorgsky of being unable to finish anything except a litre of gin.

8. "Veronica Lake"
Prince Siegfried returns from the Crimean War (he went the long way) and discovers to his horror that his girlfriend has been frequenting Bruckner concerts. The next day, she is found transmogrified into a swan, and Siegfried becomes the chief suspect. He enlists Tchaikovsky to catch the real killer, and for a time Tchaikovsky finds true love, although he feels terribly guilty afterwards.

9. "Manfred, She Wrote"
Popular novelist Jessica Fletcher is in St Petersburg to publicize her new book, 'A Day In The Life Of An Interfering Old Bat'. Inevitably, several people are killed. Jessica's nervous publishers hire Tchaikovsky to make sure her next signing doesn't end in a bloodbath. This episode is especially memorable for Tchaikovsky's re-orchestration of the theme to 'Mame'.

10. "That Talentless Bastard"
Tchaikovsky crosses musical swords with Johannes Brahms when Clara Schumann asks him to investigate the death of her husband Robert several decades earlier. Was Brahms working for a sinister organisation that deliberately gave talented composers syphilis? Or was Schumann's near-fatal plunge into the Rhine actually a murder attempt by Brahms? By the end, Tchaikovsky has lost all interest and is writing a new symphony.

11. "Eugene One-litre-of-gin"
This episode sees the return of Mussorgsky, who is now being pursued by a psychotic student named Tatanya. Mussorgsky seeks the help of his old sparring partner for what he hopes will be a quick resolution. But when Mussorgsky's friend Lensky is found dead, the two composers realise that Tatanya is playing a far more dangerous game. As you might expect, it all culminates in a witches' sabbath.

12. "Pathetique Suspect"
All of St Petersburg is in the grip of a cholera epidemic. A fatal series of coincidences throws suspicion on Tchaikovsky. Special Prosecutor Ilyena Mironov contemplates sleeping with him but settles for browbeating a confession out of him instead. Tchaikovsky's prospects look grim until Ilyena drinks from the wrong glass of water.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In memoriam 2/Lt J. D. Shine, and all the others

2nd Lieutenant John Denis Shine, Royal Irish Regiment, died of his wounds at Mons, Belgium, on August 25th, 1914. He was 19 years old. His younger brother 2nd Lieutenant Hugh Patrick Shine, Royal Irish Fusiliers, died at Ypres in May the following year. Their older brother, Captain James Owen Shine, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was wounded at the Somme and was subsequently killed in action at Wieltje in August 1917.
John Denis is the only one of the three to have his own grave.

They were my step-uncles - three of the five children from my father's father's first marriage. Their mother died in 1924. Kevin Myers, in a column in the Irish Independent this time last year, put it well: "she died of whatever it is that mothers die of when all their sons are dead."

Estimates vary, but roughly 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died in World War I. The most recent figures from WHO, for 2002, put that year's casualties of war at 170,000.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Piracy and restraint

Huh. Call me naive, but there's a whole subculture of classical music fans on the Internet of whom I was wholly unaware until today. It all started innocently enough, with RonanM's blog Ceol na Sidhe, on which he provides links to downloads of performances mostly recorded from the radio. Well, I know about "private recordings", all right, which are the same as rock bootlegs but sound posher. But when I followed a link from RonanM's site, one thing led to another, and the scales suddenly fell from my eyes. There's Problembar's Classical Vault, Soap and Plum Preserves, Blogger Musical, In My Room, Music Is The Key, Classical for everyone, Alio modo, Fauteuil d'Oreille, and presumably many more. What are they? They're just... they're just... it was kind of flabbergasting actually. They're just blogs where you can download whole albums for free. Obviously I don't think classical music fans are somehow above file sharing. But these blogs are so... enthusiastic. They write about the music, they provide reviews, they provide track lists and cover art - so much effort goes in that it just doesn't seem like music piracy. You know - music piracy is a sordid affair, nothing but anonymous zip files hosted on seedy servers. Pirates don't put so much love and hard work into their piracy. And here's what Music Is The Key says: "This blog does not promote piracy, on the contrary, it supports the artists by making their works available to the major possible number of people. If you liked any of the albums buy the original CD. SAY NO TO PIRACY. Thanks".

Well, sorry guys, but it is piracy. You're letting people you don't know obtain high-quality (sometimes lossless) copies of CDs they didn't pay for. A person could happily create a large and impressive collection of music just by relying on these blogs, without giving a cent to the artists that the bloggers claim to support.

But Nereffid! Surely you're exacerbating the problem by giving us links to all these blogs? Well, quite. (I'm reminded of a front-page article in the Danbury News-Times during the summer, which reported in horrified tones that one could buy all manner of drugs paraphenalia in various shops throughout Connecticut, and then helpfully listed which items could be bought in which places). The thing is, I'm not sure how much of a "problem" it is. Sure, a person could use these blogs to avoid ever paying for music, but how many classical fans are really like that? I suspect we generally understand that ultimately it's a bad idea. I should point out, too, that RonanM, for example, offers radio recordings which wouldn't be for sale anyway, and other sites resurrect items that have been unavailable for years.

Also, there's only so much music we can listen to. I've certainly reached the point where free music is close to being a burden: oh great, more stuff to add to the pile of things I'm not going to listen to for months. Restraint is the key - get something because you really want it, not just because you can get it.

It's worth noting, too, that all of these classical blogs link to each other, and each one provides music from its creator's own collection, so if anything what we're looking at is a network of mutually supportive CD buyers. This is the other key point, one I mentioned recently in relation to overpriced downloads: there's only so many things we can buy. If I download a particular album for free, it's not necessarily a sale lost. If I'm an inveterate collector - and that's what these bloggers are - then I'm going to be buying X number of CDs or legal downloads per month, regardless. The chances are I was never going to buy that CD anyway. Yes, perhaps I'll definitely choose not to buy the CD now that I've got the pirated copy, but the money I would have spent on that CD will go on another CD instead. Or perhaps now that I've heard the pirated copy and loved it, the CD becomes a mandatory purchase.

Or maybe this is all wishful thinking, and these blogs are just hastening the death of the classical recording industry. But I can't be the only one with a conscience, can I?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This week I listened to

Jonas Kaufmann: German tenor arias
with Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado

I'm certainly not among those who are constantly weighing singers against each other and keeping some sort of semi-formal ranking for every single aria ever sung by anyone. So please don't ask me where Kaufmann stands in relation to anyone else in this repertoire. All I know is this is some great singing by one of today's big stars. The Wagner is very impressive, and it's good to make the acquaintance of the Schubert pieces - although when listening without looking at the track listing, I initially thought the aria from Fierrabras was Mozart - there's a bit that sounds like it's riffing on the Queen of the Night's aria.

Telemann: Flute concertos
Emmanuel Pahud; Berliner Barock Solisten/Rainer Kussmaul

I'm not being patronising when I say this album can be characterised as "lovely". Pahud plays a modern flute, and the result is a beautiful sound that still fits well with the Berliners' period instruments. It's a pity Telemann doesn't have any real "greatest hits" the way Vivaldi does, but then again like Vivaldi there's so many gems out there to be discovered. Add this one to the pile, somewhere near the top.

Dufay: Mass for St Anthony Abbot / Binchois: Motets & mass movements
Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman

The Binchois Consort are among the best in this repertoire - a gorgeous sound. This post probably isn't the best place for a lengthy reflection on what I get out of medieval choral music. Although I have listened to quite a bit of it, I don't yet have a decent grasp of it - such as how composers and styles relate to one another, and why or how one piece might be better than another. It's all part of the learning process. So I can't say I notice any particular difference between Dufay and Binchois. Yet.

Chisholm: Piano music
Murray McLachlan
Divine Art

This guy again. This time I heard some of the 24 Preludes from the True Edge of the Great World, which are short pieces in what is now a recognizable Chisholm idiom, and also the Cornish Dance Sonata, which despite some folksy movement titles is by and large a big noisy thing that, if you're not in the mood, can outstay its welcome. Overall conclusion on Chisholm: most definitely worth exploring in depth.

Sondheim: Sweeney Todd
George Hearn, Patti LuPone, et al; New York Philharmonic/Andrew Litton
New York Philharmonic

Big long post about Sweeney and me to follow.

Star Trek meets Monty Python

Well, I've never seen it before...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Me writing about some guy writing about something he wrote

Folks, you gotta head over to The Ugly Chicken and enter the warm and fuzzy mind of, er, well I'm not sure who he is but I think I met him in college, actually we might have lived in the same accomodation at some point, and come to think of it I seem to recall him showing up at my wedding too, and possibly at my house every year for Thanksgiving. Anyway, whoever he is, he's a damn fine writer, and this is a damn fine thing what he wrote.

8tracks mix: Les Introuvables de Nereffid #2

Here's the latest 10-track mix from 8tracks, if you follow me. This doesn't just include music from "This week I listened to" - there's a couple of tracks from that Classic CD cover disc I wrote about, and, why, there might be some Hans Hotter in there as well.
This one's nearly an hour long. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No, but seriously: screw you!

At the risk of turning this blog into an anti-eMusic diatribe:
The Michael Gielen box set of Mahler's symphonies apparently now has album pricing on it in the US, meaning the 56 tracks require 150 credits! This means, as eMusic subscriber JNP points out, an extra 168% onto the price. I was planning on getting that next month anyway, but definitely so now. On my good old 90-track grandfathered account, it comes to €10.42 - quite a bargain indeed. But when the new pricing system comes in, the best I could probably hope for would be - wait for it - €61.50! "But it's still cheap compared to getting it on CD!" True, but the real-world alternative to downloading it is, in fact, not getting it on CD.
One can waste a lot of time thinking about what record companies should and shouldn't be doing, but why they seem to wilfully discourage people from buying their product is a mystery. The answer, I presume, is that they don't actually think these things through at all. I can't imagine the folks in Hanssler looked at their returns from eMusic and said, "hey, look, this Gielen set is selling very well. Let's increase the price by 168% and watch our profits soar!"
Guys, listen. There are so many classical recordings out there, online and on CD, that the chances of any one of us buying a given product that doesn't have a new-release buzz about it are minuscule. We only have so much money, or so many eMusic credits, to spend. I'm not saying we're all cheapskates: if we really want something, we'll buy it, and not necessarily as a download either. But if we're going to shell out €60 or 150 credits then we have to really want it. There are plenty of other ways of spending our money, and if you're not going to meet us at least some of the way, we'll simply buy something else.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Re-covering cover discs

Having bitched about Gramophone cover discs not so long ago, I suppose it's only fair that I should commend the magazine for its latest effort. No track under 2 minutes (for the first time since August 2008 - I checked!), and 4 of the Editor's Choice selections even make it past 4 minutes. Granted, 3 minutes of Mahler's 9th isn't much, but it was the ending, and it segues well into "Der Leiermann" from Schubert's Winterreise. (Wait a second, weren't we just talking about that song?). Certainly things were helped by not cluttering the disc with extraneous material. They're edging a bit closer to the idea of the cover disc being impressive in its own right, and not just as a collection of samples.

No, no, screw you!

Inevitably, Robert von Bahr's great eMusic pricing idea has not worked out as intended, at least in terms of his desire to avoid album-only tracks for out-of-copyright music. And of course we in Europe get saddled with the album-only too, even though we don't get the benefits of album capping. Well, seeing as our prices are remaining low, I don't complain too vociferously. But it is fascinating to watch how eMusic continues to bollix things up. The reply from eMusic rep Sean Fennessey on the boards was "Hey all, just want to let interested parties know that we're working hard to bring album pricing to all territories as fast as possible. Thanks for your patience. And thanks, as always, to Robert for being so engaged on the board." Thereby failing to adequately address the problem being discussed, and also mildly patronising Robert into the bargain (while simultaneously inadvertently pointing out eMusic's own failure to engage). Subsequently Fennessey says "we hope to expand album pricing to the EU, UK and Canada in early 2010." Well, there you have it: download 'em while you can!
Meanwhile, Hänssler has snuck in album pricing/album-only without telling anyone. I'd been planning to download a bunch of Roger Norrington's Mozart symphonies, only to discover now that the first movement of no.25 clocks in at 10 minutes 20 seconds, thus increasing the symphony's price from 4 credits to 11. Well, the joke's on you, Hänssler! I already have that movement on a sampler CD that I bought second-hand. Nya-ha!

Monday, November 2, 2009

When is 56 albums not enough?

All along, I've been a good eMusic subscriber, balancing my downloads so that usually an album with a small number of tracks is balanced by one with a large number - the big symphonies subsidise the baroque sonatas, basically, and the amount I download is roughly equal to the amount I'm going to listen to that month. But this month I said screw it. Well, we know not the day nor the hour when Sony shall walk among us, so I might as well get the bargains now while they're still around. Which this month means a whole load of mostly modern composers with albums 1-4 tracks long, for a total of 56 albums - still leaving me with enough downloads to get the full set of Mahler symphonies from Michael Tilson Thomas and have 21 tracks left over. This is insane. Fun, but insane.

... and that was blog entry #50. w00t!