ORA Singers: The Mystery of Christmas
Music of Allain, Anonymous, Byrd, Hall, Hyde, Lauridsen, Macmillan,
McDowall, Peacock, Rowarth, Rutter, Samitz, Sixten, Tallis, Williams, and Weir.
CD Harmonia Mundi HMM 905303
Downloads (24-bit/96kHz stereo AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV) available from HDTracks.
Streaming available from Tidal.
Recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London, January 23-28 and August 7-12, 2017. Nicholas Parker (all tracks except track 5) and Tim Handley (track 5 only), producers; Mike Hatch, engineer. Support for the arts from the Pureland Foundation. Total time 76’37.
Here’s a fantastic new recording from a group new to me, Suzi Digby’s ORA Singers. They are as good as any handpicked professional choral ensemble out there. (I have heard most of the top ones live.) This collection showcases ORA’s “Unique Selling Proposition,” which is to prove that today, we are in a Golden Age not only of choral singing, but also of composing works for vocal ensembles. (Funny; I have long said the exact same thing about the art of the string quartet. We live in a golden age of the string quartet—both for playing and for new works.)
Therefore, ORA’s (for lack of a better phrase) business plan is to commission 100 new works for chorus over the course of ten years. (They are well on their way to achieving that goal, having commissioned 40 works in three years.) To make it even more interesting, Ms. Digby’s approach is to ask today’s composers to create works that are personal reflections upon the choral glories of the past, especially the masterworks of the Renaissance. Ambitious, yes. But several of the new works on this disc should find their ways into the standard repertory fairly quickly.
As a producer of classical recordings, one of my favorite Shibboleths (or, rubrics or axioms) long has been that, once your CD has started playing in the CD player of the reviewer, radio programmer, or record-store buyer, you have only ten seconds to make the sale. Furthermore, I believe that you make the sale only by giving the listener that “You are in good hands with Allstate” feeling. If the listener gets the feeling that your performance is for you a nerve-racking tightrope walk, no sale. (Obviously, there are exceptions to my little rule. Not much at all happens in the first ten seconds of Mahler’s Symphony 1; at least, not much by which you can distinguish a great performance from one that is merely unobjectionable.) In the case of the ORA Singers’ The Mystery of Christmas, convincing me took only the first four to eight seconds of the first track.
More information, a performance video, and sound bytes from The Mystery of Christmas after the jump. Continue Reading →
Khatia Buniatishvili (born 1987) chose the music of Franz Liszt for her 2011 Sony Music début CD. So I think it fair to assume that Liszt holds a special place in her heart (an assertion that is validated by a quick perusal of her heart-on-sleeve personal website). My impression had been that she was a pianist who felt the gravitational pull of the monuments of the virtuoso repertoire–her website’s home page features an announcement for her recent recording of Rachmaninoiff’s second and third concertos.
So I was as surprised as I was delighted (and moved) by stumbling upon a live-performance video of her (I surmise) giving a pensive encore (I assume, before the expected blazingly-fast, final encore) at the Verbier Festival: Liszt’s restrained and wistful embellishment upon Schubert’s D 957 No. 4 “Ständchen” (“Serenade”)(“Leise flehen meine Lieder”), which is one of the small quiet glories of the vocal repertoire.
My beau-idéal in pianism is Ivan Moravec; and I must say that this clip is the only thing I have heard from a young player before the public today that reaches Moravec’s level of inwardness and quiet contemplation. Brava.
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Friday, November 9 (2018), Deutsche Grammophon will release the CD Light Eternal—The Choral Music of Morten Lauridsen. Amazon’s pre-order price for the CD is $12.59, which is a truly excellent price. But this CD would be a bargain at full list price. There is also a 24/88 hi-res PCM download from HDTracks, reasonably priced at nearly 90 minutes of music for $20.98 (There are two bonus tracks with the download). The album will also be streaming from Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. And if you don’t mind reduced sound quality and the occasional advertisement, the album appears as an authorized playlist on YouTube. That’s right! You can hear the whole thing before you buy it!
My experience in producing and selling classical-music recordings is that most people don’t have formal training in music history or music theory, but they do want beauty in their lives, and they recognize it when they hear it. This is one of those recordings. If you care about choral music, especially contemporary American choral music, or if you simply want to add some beauty to your life, please vote with your wallet and buy this CD (or download), and also please consider buying half a dozen, a dozen, or more, as stocking stuffers (or, as “holiday,” or even non-holiday gifts). Lauridsen’s music is contemporary music that honors the entire tradition of choral singing, from O magnum mysterium‘s soundworld, which to me calls to mind the soundworld of Allegri, to Madrigali—Six FireSongs on Italian Renaissance Poems, which is perhaps best described as modernism—but with a heart and a soul.
Trailer embed and track listing after the jump. Continue Reading →
Aaron Diehl with the New York Philharmonic.
Re: Aaron Diehl, Concert with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, October 20, 2018
I am aghast and outraged by Channing Gray’s ignorant, small-minded, and perhaps even racist review in the Providence Journal.
This insanity has to stop. (If people are more comfortable with the word “dysfunctionality,” that is OK by me. But nobody should be comfortable with the current state of affairs.)
As far as I know, Channing is a failed keyboard performer who (based on a mountain of evidence), has never gotten over it. Furthermore, I surmise that Channing’s specialty was early keyboard music (he played the organ at the wedding of an acquaintance of mine–that’s called gigging). In his review of Aaron Diehl’s performance, he wore his classist ignorance of jazz on his sleeve.
Aaron Diehl’s performance was the most magnificent piano performance I have ever heard from a soloist with the RIPO. From the first notes it was obvious that Mr. Diehl had not only enviable technique, but also something that is increasingly rare these days, that being: Excellent musical taste. Continue Reading →
Aaron Diehl’s 2013 CD The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, his début on Mack Avenue Records, fell like a thunderclap upon the jazz landscape, reaching No. 1 on the JazzWeek Jazz Chart.
Something about the advance publicity must have caught my eye or ear, because I asked for a pre-release press copy of the CD. Upon playing it, I was so gobsmacked that I asked my friend and colleague Steve Martorella to come over to listen to it. Steve was a protégé of Leonard Bernstein’s, and his principal piano teacher was Murray Perahia, so I think that it is fair to say that Steve probably knows a little about piano playing. While he was listening to the climax of Diehl’s piano-trio version of “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” Steve was definitely getting tears in his eyes. His comment: “I didn’t know that there was anyone new who could play like that.”
In due course my comments on The Bespoke Man’s Narrative appeared in Stereophile magazine. Since then, Aaron Diehl has released another small-group recording as well as a solo project. Next weekend (October 19 and 20) he will appear with the Rhode Island Philharmonic (under the direction of Bramwell Tovey) playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Mr. Diehl graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
Questions, answers, and a sound sample can be found after the jump. Continue Reading →
Photo credit: Geoff Zagarola of La Naranja eBay auctions.
I find it hard to believe that 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the recording session for Arturo Delmoni’s legendary 1988 Water Lily solo-violin recital.
Recorded at night in a monastery chapel, Delmoni’s compelling performances combine thrilling technique with thought-provoking musical insights. This minimalist-audiophile, two channels from two microphones, analog-tape and tubed-electronics production remains a reference for the recorded sound of a violin.
The violin in question was made by J. B. Guadagnini in 1780. I am very certain, based on reliable oral-history testimony, that in 1949, Dr. Delmoni’s Guadagnini was played on Charlie Parker with Strings by Max Hollander, the concertmaster of that string section. How about them apples?
The Delmoni-Water Lily project was my idea. I also helped bring it to fruition. And I now own the master tapes… . Therefore, I am not about to argue with eBay seller Bob La Naranja, who wrote of the (used) Delmoni Water Lily LP he recently sold (for more than $100):
Incredible solo-violin renditions of Bach, Kreisler, and Ysaÿe.
Perhaps one of the greatest solo-violin audiophile records—the recording is sublime.
(Except, I might have left out the word “perhaps”… .)
My current project is to arrange for a 11.2mHz/DSD256fs (“Quad DSD”) transfer of the master tapes, selling the download files via an informal crowdfunding venture. How that works, and for more on what all the above means, please click on the jump link, where you will also find generous sound samples. Continue Reading →
Photo courtesy of Bein & Fushi.
An Open Letter to “The Indianapolis”
From The Mendtchaik Madman
I am informed via my Internet connection that the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (heretofore also known as “IVCI”) now wishes to be known as “The Indianapolis.” OK!
One of my mentors in the business of business once told me that the only thing worse than forgetting to listen to the customer was choosing an image makeover instead of improving the product.
Whether the process by which violin competitions turn out their product really needs improving is, without doubt, a matter of dispute. Not too long ago, Norman Lebrecht postulated that unlike piano competitions, violin competitions do not “make stars.”
At the time Mr. Lebrecht’s post went up, I disagreed.
However, now that I have paid close attention to The Indianapolis 2018, I must admit my mistake. The violin-competition system is broken, and it must be taken apart and put back together in a different shape.
One of the most important international competitions for young (ages 16 to 29) violinists takes place in the United States every four years. (The other top-tier classical-music competitions that include violinists, Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky and Belgium’s Queen Elizabeth, also run on four-year cycles.) While one might expect the US entry on that list to be hosted in California or New York, the venue is: Indianapolis, of 500-mile auto-race fame—and for excellent reasons.
Indiana University (Bloomington) has one of the most outstanding music schools in the world, and that is where violinist Josef Gingold brought his remarkable career to a conclusion, as a Distinguished Professor of violin. Gingold was born in Poland in 1909. When his family came to America, his violin studies continued with Vladimir Graffman, father of the pianist Gary. Gingold returned to Europe in 1927 to study with Eugene Ysaÿe, a towering figure in the history of the violin. A composer as well as a virtuoso, Ysaÿe was the dedicatee of the Franck Sonata (1886), and led the first performance of Debussy’s string quartet (1893).
Gingold came back to the US and tried to build a career in the depths of the Depression. He contented himself with Broadway pit-orchestra work until 1937, when Arturo Toscanini hired him for the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Gingold’s career progressed to positions as Concertmaster of the Detroit and then Cleveland orchestras, the latter at the request of George Szell. Gingold remained with the Cleveland Orchestra until 1960, when he joined the music faculty of Indiana University. In 1982, Josef Gingold provided the artistic guidance for the founding of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
I think that the Indianapolis violin competition has succeeded to the impressive extent it has because of three factors. One, Josef Gingold’s worldwide reputation, not only as a performer and teacher but also as a fair-minded member of the juries of all the major violin competitions (including the Tchaikovsky and the Queen Elizabeth) made some degree of early success a relatively safe bet. (However, sustaining an enterprise into its fourth decade requires much more than that.) Two, the synergy with Indiana University’s music school, which attracts students from all over the world. Third, and perhaps most importantly: if people started a violin competition in New York or Los Angeles, it would be just one more cultural event in a market crowded with them. Whereas in Indianapolis, an international music competition does not have much local same-tier competition for attention, donors, and volunteers. (I think the same thing can be said for Fort Worth and the Van Cliburn competition, in the piano world.)
This year’s Final round of competitors’ performances runs from Wednesday through Saturday, September 12 through 14. The preliminary rounds and semi-final round video streams are now available for delayed viewing (scroll down for the preliminaries), and the final rounds will be streamed live. The audio and video production values are excellent, and the playing has been of a very high standard. The finalists are: Ioana Cristina Goicea (Romania); Risa Hokamura (Japan); Luke Hsu (US); Anna Lee (US); Shannon Lee (US/Canada); and Richard Lin (Taiwan/US).
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Listening to “happy” music can make one feel happier. However, instead of always making people feel worse, listening to sad music often brings on a state of “paradoxical pleasure.”
I am not saying that listening to sad music in and of itself makes people happier. What I am saying is that listening to sad music can evoke a sequence of very complex emotions. Furthermore, many people regard experiencing that kind of a cascade of metamorphosing emotions as “pleasurable.” (Or perhaps, just as a relief.)
The somewhat waffle-like language employed above is in recognition of the fact that many people experience the same music in different ways. By the way, the sequence of emotions Shock/Disbelief/Anger/Despair formerly was called The Four Stages of Saab Ownership. “What do you mean, my engine’s harmonic balancer was held on with glue?”
I think whether the precise emotional mechanism (and what a silly word “mechanism” is to use, in this context) is transference or catharsis or a feeling of empathy will just have to remain a mystery of the human soul. But from the earliest times, serious thinkers (from Aristotle to Schopenhauer) have always recognized that the power of sad music (and also of literature and drama) does not lie in its merely making people feel sadder than they had been.
A recent BBC Culture article asks whether data diving can “reveal” the “Saddest Number One Song Ever.” I think that that article itself reveals the multiple, perhaps even fatal, limitations of such an approach.
If I had to pick one song known to me as the saddest ever (which avoids the major problems associated with judging the quality and the qualities of songs by things like Billboard charts or Grammys), that would be the “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations. The Goldberg Variations might not have words, but right at the top of the score it says “Song” (albeit in Italian).
Song samples and more pondering, after the jump. Continue Reading →
Franz Schubert, Trio, op. 100, D. 929; “Trout” Quintet, op. 114, D. 667
(Vincent Coq, piano; Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin; and Raphael Pidoux, cello.
With Cristophe Gaugué, viola and Stéphane Logerot, double bass in op. 114)
CD Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908748
Streaming of these performances from the original CD releases is available from Tidal.
Trio op. 100 recorded at The Arsenal, Metz, July, 2000; quintet recorded at IRCAM Paris, June 2002. Jean-Martial Golaz, producer and engineer.
Poor Alex North. Stanley Kubrick hired him to compose a score for 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, when it came time to give the movie its première, to his embarrassed chagrin (he actually was sitting in the audience) North discovered that Kubrick had decided to ditch North’s score and stick with his own cut-and-pasted “guide” score.
Kubrick had assembled his “guide” score from a wildly disparate selection of pieces or movements—from Ligeti to Richard Strauss to Johann Strauss II to Khachaturian, and then back to Ligeti. So North, at the time a rather successful film composer whose credits included A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misfits, and Spartacus, was left holding the bag in public, at least in terms of professional reputation (and almost doubtless in various financial senses). Reportedly, Kubrick was so difficult for North to work with that North supervised the recording sessions for his score while lying in a hospital bed brought in for the purpose, because of stress-induced muscle spasms in his back.
I don’t think the same thing could have happened with Kubrick’s under-rated Thackeray adaptation Barry Lyndon. After the surprising success of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s soundtrack LP, I think Kubrick always would again decide to pick his own music—and brook no opposition. And because Barry Lyndon is a costume drama set in the mid-18th century, it is likely Kubrick did not get any pushback from studio executives about using classical (and some folk) music. For Barry Lyndon, Kubrick chose music from Irish traditional-music greats The Chieftans; and from Schubert, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Frederick the Great, Vivaldi, and Paisiello.
As I have written before, I think that the climactic third and final duel scene in Barry Lyndon inspired Ridley Scott’s penultimate scene (“Tears in Rain”) in the original Blade Runner film. Not incidentally, the final duel in the film Barry Lyndon was entirely Kubrick’s own invention; it does not appear in Thackeray’s novel.
A Trio Wanderer Schubert Trio op. 100 slow-movement live performance video, and more commentary, after the jump. Continue Reading →