Andris Nelsons, Lucerne Festival Orchestra – Lucerne Festival 2015 – Gustav Mahler

Wowzers. Gloriosky. Woober joobers. And any other archaic expressions of juvenile wonderment that in former days I would sprinkle into my Stereophile magazine columns for my own and John Atkinson’s amusement. This brief YouTube clip begins with baritone Matthias Goerne, really pulling the taffy of the middle section of one of Des Knaben Wunderhorn‘s most yearning songs, “Urlicht.” There is then a jump cut to a spectacularly energetic excerpt from Mahler’s Fifth. The teaser makes me want to acquire the DVD (Accentus 20354), and makes me even more wish that I had been in the audience at Lucerne in summer 2015 to hear Andris Nelsons conduct an all-Mahler program, cleverly arranged to culminate in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Because Mahler started writing that symphony using themes from a Wunderhorn song, “Der Tamboursg’sell.”

DVD boxshot and more musings, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Parker Quartet: Felix Mendelssohn, Opus 44 String Quartets 1 & 3

ni6327-cover-400-pic-highThe Parker String Quartet: Felix Mendelssohn, Opus 44 String Quartets 1 & 3
CD Nimbus NI6327
(No high-resolution download available at present, apparently.)

Except for his few “Greatest Hits” (those being the “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the Violin Concerto; and the Italian Symphony), I think that Felix Mendelssohn is an often-overlooked or often-underrated composer. Further, given the rarely-equaled felicity (I should be re-programmed) of his solo-piano music, perhaps then it is not surprising that Mendelssohn’s string quartets remain, for many music lovers, undiscovered gems.

The Boston-based Parker Quartet has a name that is new to me, but, it should not have been. Their recording of Ligeti’s first and second quartets received the 2011 Grammy award for Best Chamber Music Performance, and they are the Blodgett Artists in Residence of Harvard University’s Department Of Music. UK’s legendary Nimbus imprint has just released the Parker Quartet’s CD of two of Mendelssohn’s Op. 44 quartets, the first and third. What lovely music making! (I also love that the cover image is of four of Charles and Ray Eames’ fiberglass “scoop” chairs, which are icons of Mid-Century Modern design.)

More, and sound samples, after the jump.

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Garrick Ohlsson, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto

Photo REUTERS © Kacper Pempel, courtesy of Opus 3 Artists

Last Saturday night my musically-astute friend and I attend the opening concert of Maestro Larry Rachleff’s final season as music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic. Alan Rosenberg of the Providence Journal had asked me to review the concert, so the seats were, as one might expect, excellent. It was a bit of a trip in the WABAC machine (of Peabody and Mr. Sherman fame) to hear soloist Garrick Ohlsson. My high-school girlfriend thought the world of him, while I still vividly recall his Dewar’s Scotch “Profiles” ad that graced the back covers of magazines such as The New Yorker and Playboy when I was in high school. An image of that ad, and more, after the jump.

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Sappho: A New Translation by Mary Barnard (1958)

Sappho cover

Sappho: A New Translation by Mary Barnard
(University of California Press, Berkeley, 1958)

Kenneth Rexroth is one of my favorite poets. I think that the omission of his poetry from the standard teaching anthologies is unfortunate. Although not a “Beat,” Rexroth was hugely influential upon that generation. Rexroth’s masterpiece of 1944, “When We With Sappho,” keys off a four-line fragment that was all that was known at that time of that particular hymn to Aphrodite of Sappho (died circa 570 BCE). Rexroth’s poem is well worth reading; but parts of it are borderline NSFW. The story is told that in the question period following one of his readings, a lady asked Rexroth whether he had ever tried making love indoors… .

The recommended translation is magnificently translucent–you really get a sense of the person behind Sappho’s poems, middle-aged foibles and all. The 1986 reissue appears to be out of print, but goes for peanuts (offers start at 35 cents plus shipping) on Amazon (link above). Snippets of poetry after the jump. Just buy a few copies of this as impulse presents for friends, plus a copy for the bathroom and a copy for the guest bedroom. (Be sure to read the introduction and the translator’s afterword.)

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Morten Lauridsen: “Lux Æterna”

lux aet signed cover

Morten Lauridsen: Lux Æterna and other works
Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia, Paul Salamunovich, conductor
CD Rubedo Canis Musica RCM 19705

Recorded June 1997 to January 1998, Sacred Heart Chapel, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles; Peter Rutenberg, producer; Fred Vogler, engineer.

This recording of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Æterna was nominated for the Grammy award in its category in 1999. A quick listen to the beginning will tell you why. (A Robert Shaw CD won the award, understandably as it was the year of his death.) Lux Æterna starts with a stroke of genius, and then goes on from strength to strength. The first thing you hear is one of the tallest yet emptiest chords in concert music—the string basses lay down a granite foundation while the high strings harmonize from, it seems, light-years away. And there is nothing in between.

That inspired gesture announces the work as hugely ambitious, while being completely self-assured. Lauridsen is making his personal statement about the meaning of human existence, and nothing less than that. Lux Æterna is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, and you are really missing out if you have not heard it.

Generous sound samples and more, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Gordon Lightfoot “Talking In Your Sleep” BBC Live In Concert (1972)

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot (born 1938) is most often remembered for his improbable 1976 US #2 hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” even though the bad-romance song “Sundown” was his only US #1-charting single.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was inspired by a Newsweek item Lightfoot saw by chance while on tour about the loss of an iron-ore freighter in a severe storm on Lake Superior, with the loss of 29 lives. “Sundown” was about a bad-news girlfriend Lightfoot had the good luck to break up with: she later administered the fatal overdose to John Belushi.

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A Summer Sunday’s Afternoon at Tanglewood

2016-08-14 Tanglewood Landscape 400 pix highPhoto © 2016 John Marks

On Sunday, August 14, the musically-astute friend I mentioned in the context of the Andris Nelsons Boston Symphony Wagner/Sibelius CD and I traveled to Lenox, Massachusetts, where the Boston Symphony makes its summer home at Tanglewood. The program consisted of Beethoven’s Op. 64 Coriolan Overture (1807), his Piano Concerto 3 (1800-1801), and Schumann’s Symphony 4 (1841/1851).

But of course, I could not resist indulging in audio geekery, in the process making a new pro-audio friend! Geek-bait photos, official concert photos, and a link to streaming audio of the concert, all after the jump! Continue Reading →

“Le Grand Tango”: Music of Astor Piazzolla

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Le Grand Tango: Music of Astor Piazzolla
Recorded March 2005, SWR Funkhaus Mainz
CD SWR KLASSIK 93205 
Download (CD Quality Only)

José Gallardo, piano; Friedemann Eichhorn, violin; Julius Berger, cello; José Bragato and Osvaldo Calo, arrangers; Peter Steiber and Sabine Fallerstein, producers; Angela Öztanil, engineer.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) was best known as a performer of his own modernized tango music. His instrument was an unusual concertina (button accordion) called the Bandoneón. The Bandoneón was originally designed (in Germany) as an inexpensive substitute for a church organ, providing chordal accompaniment to congregational hymn singing. That intended use dictated the inner logic of its workings. So the Bandoneon plays different notes from the same fingering, depending whether the bellows was being pushed together or pulled apart. That quirk makes Piazzolla’s brilliant solo work even more impressive… .

But Piazzolla was more than an electrifying live performer; he was a serious composer. The Hungarian classical pianist Bela Wilda, who introduced Piazzolla to Bach, himself had been a student of Rachmaninoff’s. Piazzolla briefly was a student of Nadia Boulanger’s (she sent him on his way, though, urging him to find his own path).  Piazzolla spent five years studying orchestration with Alberto Ginistera. Piazzolla put that training to use over the rest of his life, eventually writing more than 60 film scores. That sensibility is what makes this very well recorded, infectiously listenable album a “must-buy.”  Just buy it! Continue Reading →

Matt Monro: “On Days Like These” from “The Italian Job” (1969)

Matt Monro’s opening-credit song from the 1969 Michael Caine caper movie The Italian Job is a fine job of singing from a pop-music baritone who is almost unknown in the US, but whose recordings can withstand comparison with any of the Broadway-musical baritones of the older generation.

Monro (birth name Terence Edward Parsons) to my knowledge never sang on Broadway, but he regularly made hay during the 1960s in movie soundtracks—not only The Italian Job but also the James Bond series’ From Russia With Love (1963), and the title song from Born Free (1966).

The opening-credit song from The Italian Job (“On Days Like These”) is surprisingly sophisticated from a musical standpoint, given that the movie is about car chases, car crashes, and various forms of sexual innuendo and other low humor. Quincy Jones composed the music; Don Black (at that time or later, Munro’s manager) wrote the words. George Martin produced Monro’s recording.

The music is I think something that Gabriel Fauré might have thought twice about, before tossing out the manuscript paper it was written on—especially Jones’ stepwise chromaticism on the phrase “while your eyes played games with mine.” (Chromaticism, by the way, is simply a convenient technical term for employing notes not usually found in a piece or section’s home-key scale, in order to add more tonal color and interest.)

Long before there was a loosely-based sequel, The Italian Job remained famous for its profligate waste of stunt cars—cars that later on would be recognized as irreplaceable. However, viewing The Italian Job from a 21st-century perspective, there are so many jarring or cringe-inducing moments that one is tempted to say (just as is the case with the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s) that the soundtrack was the best thing.

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Q&A with Sergey Schepkin

Schepkin small

 

Sergey Schepkin’s Steinway & Sons recording of Bach’s Six Partitas impressed me so much that I asked him to answer a few questions. Run-on questions, in fact. He coped rather well!

It seems I am not the only person who was impressed; Schepkin’s Steinway Partitas has broken into the Top 100 in one category on Amazon’s sales charts.

Here goes!

Q1: One thing that caught my eye was that your web site’s press-blurb list contained a rave from The Listener magazine about your Partitas recording on the Ongaku label, 20 or so years ago. Listener was founded and edited by Art Dudley. Art’s magazine was acquired, but then the new owners folded it. Art then moved over the Stereophile, and so was my colleague until recently.

Therefore, one thing that audiophile readers with long memories will want to know about (and I see that the Ongaku Partita recording is still available from your website) is (apart from the fact that Steinway and Sons’ CD label is an enviable place to be) is (a) why you decided to re-record your Bach repertory…

More run-on questions—and even some answers(!)—after the jump. Klicken Sie hier, bitte. Continue Reading →