The rock band Boston’s 1976 breakthrough single, “More Than a Feeling” is a song about listening to a song. Or, more precisely, “More Than a Feeling” is a song about experiencing the cascade of emotions—nostalgia, regret, and longing—set in motion by listening to one specific song.
The “old” song the songwriter has been listening to is… “Walk Away Renée.”
The year 1976 was a great year for the stereo business. Thinking about the differences in “the industry” between then and now calls to mind L. P. Hartley’s elegant turn of phrase, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
Looking back upon high-fidelity component audio’s market-share peak, Tech Hifi co-founder Sandy Ruby observed, “Electronics retailers felt better about themselves than they should have. In the glory days of audio, we were modestly successful businessmen, buoyed by a tidal wave.”
Before I turn my attention to the song at hand, I want to explore what went into building that tidal wave, so that where “More Than a Feeling” fit into it will make more sense. More, after the jump.
I remember when The Left Banke’s one-hit-of-wonder-ness “Walk Away Renée” was all over AM radio in the summer of 1966 (peaking at No. 5).
Featuring a classical string quartet (two violins, a viola, and a cello), a harpsichord, and an alto-flute solo on the bridge, it’s fair to say that “Walk Away Renée” sounded like nothing else on the charts at that time. To put this song into its contemporary context, the Beatles’ US television appearances on the Ed Sullivan show had been in February of 1964. So, by June 1966, the “British Invasion” (of the US music industry) was in full swing.
Silly me; until I recently began researching, I had assumed that the members of the group The Left Banke were British. (Because of the fey or twee spelling of “Bank” as well as their mop-top hair and “mod” clothing… .) However, it turns out that they were New Yorkers.
“Walk Away Renée” interests me for at least three reasons. One, it fits into my continued ruminations on the “Paradoxical Pleasure” of listening to sad songs. Secondly, “Walk Away Renée” was one of the first hit songs in the “Baroque Pop” genre. Thirdly, ten years later (in 1976), “Walk Away Renée” inspired a rock song that still gets lots of airplay today. (More on that in due course.)
There have been cover versions of “Walk Away Renée” recorded by The Four Tops, Southside Johnny, Rickie Lee Jones, Herman’s Hermits, Marshall Crenshaw, Sylvie Vartan, Vonda Shepherd, Badly Drawn Boy, Billy Bragg, and Ann Savoy with Linda Ronstadt. Rolling Stone, the L’Osservatore Romano of the rock era, declared “Walk Away Renée” to be the 220th “Greatest Song of All Time.” Pretty good for a rather small-scale song principally written by “Mike Brown,” a very lovesick 16-year old.
More after the jump.
Here’s an opportunity to celebrate excellence in various disciplines, and the greatness of the human spirit!
Every now and then I stumble upon a musical performance that just fills me with so much joy, and then I hasten to pass the word on. What a talented young lady, and what a talented mother she has! Before watching this, I would have wagered that the phrase “sensitive bass-trombone playing” included a contradiction in terms; but what a pleasure to be proven wrong.
Here, Rita Payés sings (in Portuguese) and plays trombone, while her mother Elisabeth Roma does a sterling job of accompanying on classical guitar the 1966 Bossa Nova song “A Rita.” “A Rita” is a break-up song that was on singer Francisco “Chico” Buarque de Hollanda’s first LP. Chico’s sister Heloísa Maria Buarque de Hollanda, BTW, married João Gilberto. She made her recording début on the (criminally underappreciated) Stan Getz/João Gilberto LP from 1976 The Best of Two Worlds. BTW2, the charming family name Buarque de Hollanda (I believe) means “Dutch Boat.”
BTW3, all praise and honors to the technical crew on this music video. The sound is pristine–whoever placed the microphone to capture the sound from the back of the trombone bell certainly knew what he or she was about. A spot mic pointed inside the bell would have been a disaster. No editing, no autotune, 100% organic—WNTL? (What’s Not to Love?)
Ms. Payés has an eye-wateringly expensive DSD-only SACD out (Amazon’s price is $64.99, but there are a few CDs left on eBay). Will somebody please fill the right people in on hi-res downloads, please? That outing includes Rhode Island native Scott Hamilton. Circa 1976 I heard him at Joe’s Upstairs in downtown Providence. Scott’s band back then was called the Hamilton-Bates Blue Flames. I’ve never heard any Scott Hamilton project that was less than inspired, so I hope that wider circulation can be made possible.
In the meantime, please spread the word about this perfect little YouTube!
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EDIT AND APOLOGY: I goofed in reading too quickly and getting the idea that the eBay items were SACDs also. THEY ARE CDs. I wanted to get the blog post up quickly, and I made a mistake, and I apologize! I have changed the text above.
UPDATE: Acoustic Sounds now has the DSD-only SACD for $39.98. I have changed the link above to Acoustic Sounds, and here it is again.
I am very grateful to Stereophile‘s John Atkinson for alerting me to an extraordinarily well-thought-out and, to me at least, persuasive identification of the “Hidden Theme” of Elgar’s “Engima” Variations.
Here’s the link to Ed Newton-Rex’s case that, when Elgar commented:
through and over the whole set [of variations] another and larger theme “goes”, but is not played
Elgar was referring to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Details after the jump. Continue Reading →
This one will be short and sweet.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) hearing-loss team evaluated 192 sound-measurement applications for the iOS and Android smartphone platforms, to examine their accuracy and user-friendliness in comparison to standalone, professional-quality sound-measurement instruments.
Of the 192 tested applications, only four (all for the iOS platform) met NIOSH’s selection criteria for functionality, features, and calibration capability. NIOSH hearing-loss researchers collaborated with one of the iOS developers whose applications met their criteria to develop an occupationally-centric sound-measurement iPhone app, to be distributed at no cost to the occupational safety-and-health community, as well as to the general public.
So there you have it. The app is only for the iPhone, for reasons of reliability of microphone-equalization compensation. And all it does is measure and log SPL; it has no spectral analysis or RTA functions. I have found it convenient and intuitive to use. The NIOSH SPL Meter app can be downloaded at no charge here. Please be sure to download and study the user guide.
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The musical form I had the most commercial success in (as a classical-music record producer and label owner), was the string quartet. Granted, my remarkably successful string-quartet recordings consisted of quartet arrangements of sacred and traditional Christmas music. But those recordings are a lot more “classical” in character than “crossover” in character. In other words, no Frosty and no Rudolph. My three original JMR Arturo Delmoni & Friends Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas CDs have been reissued by Steinway & Sons Recordings as a 3-CD set.
Whatever happens to me from here on out, evidence of my devotion to the string-quartet form will live on. That’s because I am the dedicatee of Morten Lauridsen’s (to-date) sole work in that genre, a transcription for string quartet of his chamber-choir chanson “Contre Qui, Rose.” “Contre Qui, Rose” is one of Lauridsen’s settings of Rainer Maria Rilke’s French-language poems. Lauridsen chose among the Rilke poems that mentioned roses for his 1993 cycle Les Chansons des Roses. The story continues after the jump link. Continue Reading →
Dorian Komanoff Bandy and Paul Cienniwa:
G.P. Telemann: Frankfurt (1715) Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord
CD Whaling City Sound Balaena Chamber Series wcs 108
Downloads (24-bit/96kHz stereo AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV) available from HDTracks.
Streaming available from Tidal. Total time 80:04.
Recorded at WGBH Studios, Boston, Massachusetts, June 16-17 2017. Malachai Bandy, producer; Antonio Oliart, engineer.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was a friend of J.S. Bach’s, and Godfather to Bach’s son C.P.E.; Telemann also knew Handel. In his own time, Telemann was frequently compared to both composers. That is all the more impressive, given that Telemann, unlike Bach, did not come from a family of musicians. Telemann was another one of those law students or lawyers who gave that career up to write music (that list includes Schumann, Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky), and therefore, he was largely self-taught.
Telemann was extremely well respected in his own time. His prodigious productivity resulted in a list of works longer than Bach’s or Vivaldi’s. The 20th-c. music humorist Peter Schickele (stage name “P.D.Q. Bach”) made fun of Telemann’s great body of work by making the top prize for an (imaginary) classical-radio-station phone-in giveaway “The Complete Works of Telemann, on Convenient 45-rpm Records.” I found that to be rather funny, back when I was in college.
For information on this delightful recording and some sound samples, please click on the jump link: Continue Reading →
Congratulations to Fedor Rudin! The Vienna State Opera has appointed him to fill one of their vacant co-concertmaster positions. I am tempted to say “Even better” that in parallel with that, he will be on probation for two years as an (I assume co-) concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic. (So, yes, I have a slight bias in favor of symphonic music.) But being a concertmaster of one of the world’s great opera companies is not small potatoes; and come to think of it, neither is being a concertmaster of one of the world’s great ballet companies (as is Arturo Delmoni, of the New York City Ballet).
Readers with long memories may recall that I published a guest editorial taking the Indianapolis Violin Competition to task for giving prizes to violinists who “played like competition winners.” Mr. Rudin’s selections by one of the world’s top opera companies and by one of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras makes me feel validated that I published an opinion piece that singled him out as someone who was unfairly denied advancement to the Final round.
So here we have a video clip from four years ago of Mr. Rudin playing Paganini’s legendarily difficult fifth Caprice, with a degree of smoothness I find rather mind-boggling. Interesting cultural note: Paganini’s fifth Caprice is beloved of “shred” guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen.
After the jump there are images from a public-domain score of the sheet music for Paganini’s Caprice No. 5. Continue Reading →
To quote Oscar Wilde: I can resist everything except temptation.
As I emerged from the narrow passageway below the tower on the ramparts of Lincoln Castle, I could not resist; I just had to sing out, in full voice:
In a castle dark, or a fortress strong,
With chains upon my feet;
You know that ghost is me.
And I will never be set free,
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see.
Which of course is from Gordon Lightfoot‘s 1970 song “If You Could Read My Mind.” You may also note that my daughter is doing her level best to pretend that she does not know me. And we will leave aside for the moment the question exactly how does one confine a ghost by chaining its feet? But Gordon Lightfoot, God Bless him, was never going to let common sense get in the way of an evocative, Sir-Walter-Scott-like lyric.
After the jump you will find embedded a wonderful live performance of Lightfoot’s masterpiece; some musings on Lightfoot’s place in the Pantheon of modern popular music; and more photos of our recent trip to the UK. Continue Reading →
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 →