Glenn Gould: Richard Strauss, “Morgen” op. 27, no. 4 (solo-piano excerpt)

In terms of cultural impact in the broadest sense, Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

Susan Sontag once quipped that every analogy is a lie, so: you have been warned. I think that Glenn Gould’s place in classical music in the mid-twentieth century is analogous to Miles Davis’ place in jazz during that same era. If people owned only one real jazz LP, it likely was Kind of Blue; and if people owned only one real classical LP, it likely was Gould’s J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations. Gould, more than any other pianist, is associated with the Goldberg Variations, to the extent that the opening measures of the “Aria” are carved on his gravestone.

Unlike most classical pianists of the time, Gould largely ignored the 19th-c. Romantic piano repertory exemplified by Chopin and Liszt, concentrating instead on Renaissance and Baroque music. Gould brought early music before the general public at a time when it was almost exclusively the province of academic specialists, or performers on period-correct instruments. In 1956, Gould’s intuitive understanding of Bach’s style of counterpoint, and his unprecedented clarity of articulation on the grand piano fell like a thunderclap, upon critics and the listening public alike. (Gould’s first Goldbergs album was recorded in 1955, but released in 1956.) Gould’s 1955 Goldbergs remain one of the best-selling non-crossover classical recordings of all time.

What Gould revered in Bach was his sense of sonic architecture. I think that the heart of Bach’s art was that Bach created ordered musical structures to reflect the nature of a God who had created an ordered cosmos that was (largely) comprehensible by the use of reason. (Yes; I know. I am painting with a brush so broad that it can’t fit into a one-gallon paint can.) Therefore, it might not come as a total surprise that in this video clip from a television interview, Gould takes Richard Strauss to task for his Romantic self-indulgence. Or, does he really?

More wild guessing from John, and sound bytes from different performances of Richard Strauss’ early song “Morgen,” after the jump. Continue Reading →

Pianist Hyperion Knight to Perform in Providence (RI), February 25, 2018

Audio by Jerry Bruck, Posthorn Recordings NYC; video and editing by John Marks

I will return to my former avocation of concert impressario, and present audiophile-fave-rave pianist Hyperion Knight in a program of Bach, Beethoven, and Gershwin at the First Baptist Church in America, in Providence (RI) on Sunday, February 25 at 2:00 PM. The recital will be open to the public, and free of charge.

The Third Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America is a short (seven minutes) walk from the Providence Amtrak (train) station. The starting time of the recital was chosen to make it possible for music lovers from New York City to Boston to arrive and depart with the least fuss possible.

The program consists of music of J.S. Bach (selected Inventions; and transcriptions of choral and organ music including the “Little” Fugue in g); Beethoven’s piano sonata no. 21 in C, “Waldstein”; and Gershwin’s Suite from Porgy and Bess. The recital will last approximately one hour, and will proceed without an intermission. Continue Reading →

Schola Sanctæ Sunnivæ: Chant from the Fingergull Manuscript

Schola Sanctæ Sunnivæ:
FINGERGULL – In festo susceptionis sanguinis Domini

SACD/CD 2L-114-SACD
Downloads (MP3 stereo; CDQ FLAC stereo; high-resolution stereo including
MQA, DXD PCM, and DSD; and 5.1 surround-sound) available from www.2L.no
Streaming available from Tidal and Spotify.

Recorded at Ringsaker Church, Norway, May 2014. Prof. Eugeen Liven d’Abelardo, producer and musical advisor; Beatrice Johannessen, recording engineer; Morten Lindberg, mastering engineer.

Christianity was the original “New Age” movement. Because of that, perhaps the easiest way for most listeners to take in this extraordinary recording of an a-cappella female vocal ensemble chanting music from a 13th-century parchment manuscript might be to think of it as “New Age Music,” and then just leave it at that.

I hereby give you permission to ignore the specific historical context of this music, and to concentrate on letting the enveloping and consoling, nearly weightless clarity of the unison female voices wash over you.

I would expect that within minutes, you might begin to feel yourself transported—if not to a higher realm, then at least to a safe and quiet place… perhaps to a medieval church rather like the one where this remarkable recording was made.

For many years, I would say about such a recording, “Just buy it.” And for many listeners, that still makes the most sense, in that this release is a compatible hybrid multichannel SACD, and furthermore, there are high-resolution downloads available for purchase. But I recognize that many music lovers now rely upon a streaming service as their major source of new music, so I am glad to report that this recording can be heard via on-demand streaming from Tidal and also Spotify.

Session photo, sound samples, and more, after the jump link. Continue Reading →

“They were so young and happy and beautiful… “

 

I am fascinated and at times a bit awed by… connections. My brief but meaningful interaction with film-score composer John Williams means that through him, I am one handshake away from Marilyn Monroe; that’s because John Williams was the rehearsal pianist for the songs Marilyn Monroe sang for the soundtrack of Some Like It Hot. Through Stéphane Grappelli, I am one handshake away from… Django Rheinhardt. Through Yehudi Menuhin, I am one handshake away from: Elgar, Bartók, Ysaÿe, Enescu, Busch, and Bruno Walter. And countless others. Through engineer and Mahler expert Jerry Bruck, I am one handshake away from Alma Mahler (Gropius Werfel); and therefore, two handshakes away from Gustav Mahler.

The concept of connections, for me at least, dovetails with what I call the “Horseshoe-Nail Theory of History.” That’s the idea, enshrined in the proverb-poem “For Want of a Nail,” that an overlooked small difference in initial conditions can lead to a specifically-unforeseen “failure cascade” that has immense consequences. I wrote about the Horseshoe-Nail theory of history for The Truth About Cars. That blog entry, “Horseshoe Nails, The Rhythm of History, and General Motors,” argues that the late-1950s decision by General Motors not to spend five dollars per car to fix the dangerous handling of the first-generation Chevrolet Corvair ultimately led (in 2000) to the election of George W. Bush as the President of the United States.

After the jump link, I identify the two pretties in the photo above, and explain their impact on history, and their connection to me. Continue Reading →

Superlux S502 ORTF Microphone Array

Photo © John Marks

In my recent post about my using Sound Devices’ USBPre 2 as a location-live recording interface, I mentioned the “near-coincident” ORTF stereo microphone technique. In that case, I used an AEA stereo mic protractor ($22) to position two Pearl (Sweden) CC22 cardioid-pattern side-address microphones in the so-called ORTF array. The ORTF array is a compromise between crossed-axis “coincident” X/Y cardioid or figure-8 microphones, and “A-B” widely-spaced omnidirectional microphones. The idea is to mimic the response of the human head/ear/brain system concerning horizontal-plane stereo cues, while preserving good compatibilty to monophonic mix-down, by which I mean the avoidance of self-cancellation. Continue Reading →

Joseph Silverstein: Edward Elgar, Violin Concerto (conclusion); Boston Symphony, Colin Davis

From the Boston Symphony’s YouTube channel, here is the conclusion of the October 24, 1972 performance by Joseph Silverstein (who was then the Concertmaster of the Boston Symphony), of Edward Elgar’s Op. 61 violin concerto in B minor. The guest conductor is Colin Davis (who was knighted eight years later). By the way, at 1 minute 26 seconds, I believe I hear Colin Davis humming (or groaning) along, to bring out the big tune. (In Elgar, there’s usually a big tune.) The video runs from slightly before the (accompanied) cadenza through the end of the third, final movement.

Elgar’s violin concerto is one of the longest and most demanding violin concertos in the standard repertory. Its running time (modern recordings average circa 50 minutes) is about twice that of the most popular violin concertos (those of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky). In addition to the demands Elgar’s concerto makes on the soloist’s endurance, his concerto presents many technical challenges. And portions of this video give an excellent birds-eye view of Silverstein’s rising to meet those violinistic demands.

Although Elgar’s rhapsodic style here, which is both discursive and intensely emotional, might take a bit of getting used to, I find that through the years, Elgar’s has always been one of my favorite violin concertos. And, as you will see as you read on past the jump link, I agree with my friend Bob Ludwig: that with Elgar, the interpretation makes the performance—this is not music that “plays itself.” Continue Reading →

Sound Devices USBPre 2 as a Location-Live Recording Interface

As part of my series on making digital transfers of vinyl LP phono records, I recommended Sound Devices’ USBPre 2 (street price $895) as the most cost-effective (“Pareto Optimal”) USB combination analog-to-digital converter and monitor (headphones or loudspeakers) controller. In that usage, the USBPre 2 takes an analog output from a phono stage through its line-level RCA jacks and converts the analog signal to digital (at data densities up to 24 bits/192kHz), and outputs the digital datastream via USB cable to a host computer (which is also the source of the USBPre 2’s power). The linked-to blog post enumerates the USBPre 2’s many virtues, and makes a compelling case for its value for money.

In addition to digitizing LPs, the USBPre 2 can be used for live recording. The USBPre 2 can provide 48V “phantom” power to professional microphones (but the 48V power can be switched off for pure-ribbon or dynamic microphones). Further, the USBPre 2’s metering and monitoring are truly professional-class. Given that the USBPre 2’s microphone preamplifiers are based on those of Sound Devices’ industry-standard 700 Series remote-location portable digital recorders, I wanted to make a location-live solo-piano recording. More details, and a sound sample, after the jump. Continue Reading →

In Memory of Richard Shahinian, 1931 – 2017

In memory of music lover and loudspeaker designer Richard “Dick” Shahinian, I offer a very impressive live performance of Mozart’s Requiem, by the French vocal ensemble Arsys Bourgogne with the Camerata Salzburg. Aside from faith and family, Dick’s major passion in life was large-scale orchestral music (or large-scale works for orchestra and chorus). The larger the scale, the better, it seemed. During one audio show, I asked Dick to play on his demo system a track I had brought with me, a live recording of Jessye Norman singing the Angel’s Farewell from Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. After the track had played, Dick allowed that it was all fine and good; but then he asked me why had I not played the Demons’ Chorus, instead? That’s Dick in a nutshell—unusually knowledgeable about even the most obscure musical works, and… very opinionated.

Dick’s love affair with classical music began at age 14, with the birthday present of a 78-rpm phonograph and a recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. About a year later (1946), at Carnegie Hall, Dick heard the New York Philharmonic play Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, conducted by Bruno Walter. Years later, Dick wrote, “I have never quite recovered from the shattering impact of that experience.”

After serving honorably in the United States Marine Corps, from the late 1950s on (the blossoming of the Golden Age of Hi-Fi), Dick devoted his career to bringing the thrill of live orchestral music into peoples’ homes (to the greatest extent possible, that is) by advancing the art of loudspeaker design. For more, please click on the jump link. Continue Reading →

In Memory of Charles Hansen, 1956-2017

Audiac Persdag 26-04-2006
Foto en © Jiri Büller

The small world of high-end audio is reeling from the untimely and unexpected death of Charles Hansen, who was the chief designer of Avalon Loudspeakers before striking out on his own to found Ayre Acoustics. Ayre Acoustics’ announcement concludes with the request that those who remember him, at some time over the coming holidays, play an album in memory of Charley. I am sure that I will do that.

As a reviewer for Stereophile magazine and then as a consultant for the University of the South’s Ralston Listening Library (the audio system of which, in its first incarnation, included Ayre amplifiers driving Wilson Audio’s Alexandria II loudspeakers), I got to know Charley, and to appreciate his passion for musical truth, and truth in general.

Charley Hansen was a good man and a devoted father. He had a vibrant interest in education of all kinds, but especially music education. If I recall correctly, he was a supporter of Waldorf education, and I know he was very proud of his child the student violinist. After an irresponsible person nearly ended but surely blighted Charley’s life, I always continued to marvel at his equanamity and grace.

I will miss him.

I know that Charley loved violin music, because he once asked me to send him some JMR CDs by Arturo Delmoni, and then he insisted on paying for them.

So, in memory of Charley, I offer my music video “Wally the Finch Listens to Hlif Sigurjonsdottir Play Bach.”

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Chamber Choir of Europe, Nicol Matt: Lauridsen “Sure On This Shining Night” Making-Of

James Agee (1909-1955) had a difficult and comparatively brief life. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, his life was upended at age six when his father was killed in an automobile accident. Thereafter, Agee and his younger sister Emma were sent off to various boarding schools. Agee was a member of the class of 1932 at Harvard. Upon graduation, he went to work for Time, Inc.’s magazine Fortune. In 1934, he published his only volume of poetry, Permit Me Voyage.

In 1938 Agee wrote a brief prose piece, “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” that Samuel Barber later (1948) set for soprano and orchestra. In 1938, Barber had set another Agee text, “Sure On This Shining Night,” a brief untitled poetic fragment from Permit Me Voyage. Barber’s “Shining Night” setting is solidly in the core or standard repertory, both in its solo-voice and choral versions. More recently (2005), composer Morten Lauridsen’s choral setting of “Sure On This Shining Night” has earned worldwide currency for its soulful treatment of Agee’s enigmatic, pensive, yet I think ultimately hopeful lines.

Agee later participated in the writing of two of the most famous films of the era, The African Queen and Night of the Hunter. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for his autobiographical novel A Death In the Family. Agee’s reputation as a writer is usually thought to rest upon A Death In the Family and his Depression-era journal Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. But it cannot be doubted that Agee was one of the most important English-language art-music lyricists of the 20th century. That is, as long as one judges by quality, and not merely quantity.

Text, commentary, and a news flash, all after the jump. Continue Reading →