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 →
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 →
The infosphere is fairly crackling with the news that the current incarnation of the musical ensemble Fairport Convention Fleetwood Mac has notified one of its elderly members that his services will not be required for their upcoming world tour. More than 40 years later, Fleetwood Mac Drama still grabs headlines.
My favorite story about Fleetwood Mac is that during the Narcissistically tumultuous (my words, not theirs) recording of their 1977 mega-album Rumours, the two remaining founding members of the band (Mick Fleetwood and John McVie) repaired to the recording studio’s parking lot to get a breath of fresh air. One of these two gentlemen, not at all at peace with the way things were then developing (at the time, the tattered remnants of the original band were being either re-energized or supplanted by a pair of newcomers), said (or perhaps it is more accurate to write, “whined”) to the other,
“You know, we used to be a blues band.”
To which the other replied, “Yeah. But now, we’re rich.”
(That riposte refers to the fact that while the group was recording Rumours, their most-recently-released recording Fleetwood Mac, which was the first album with newcomers Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, was topping the charts and already throwing off so much cash that the previously hardscrabble members of the band were buying houses in Los Angeles. But: A blues record, Fleetwood Mac was not.)
That exchange says a lot about the endgame of British popular music’s fascination with American blues music.
Intriguing history, and sound bytes, after the jump link. Continue Reading →
(The copyright date is 1995, despite the release date having been late 1994.)
Last week marked Arturo Delmoni’s 70th birthday. We met in 1980 through mutual friends, during the summer music festival at Rhode Island College. At the time, I was both a budding audiophile (the term was not much in use back then) and also, since my junior-high-school days, an audio-video nerd. Years before, an uncle had given me an open-reel tape recorder he was no longer using. I recorded my junior-high-school chorus in lamentable stuff such as, “If We Could Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Doolittle. (That was a 1967 film that Rex Harrison most likely did not have to live very long after, in order to regret muchly. Sigh.)
Customers of my parents’ delicatessen-café included the couple who ran the independent record label SQN (or Sine Qua Non). I chatted them up about their possibly releasing a recording to be funded and owned by Arturo Delmoni and licensed to them. The one good thing that SQN did for me (well, over and above giving me an “education” in how the music business really works) was to introduce me to engineer David Hancock.
The SQN folks recommended David Hancock because he had not yet invested in the latest digital-recording technology, and therefore his rates were lower than those of the top guys. David had invested, however, in a spanking-new Studer A80 analog tape machine, set up to use half-inch two-track analog tape running at 30 inches per second. Whew.
Now, class, a “thought experiment.”
How many people today would pay over $300 for a sealed-copy LP of Songs My Mother Taught Me, if it had been recorded using early-generation digital technology??? (It is said, that to state some propositions is to refute them.) David Hancock was also a fan of Charles Fisher’s C35 Cambridge microphones, which were, in essence, improved RCA model 44 ribbon microphones with an active proximity-effect-compensation circuit. Those were the microphones David had used on his legendary 1967 recording of Donald Johanos and the Dallas Symphony in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.
Frederica von Stade: Canteloube, Songs of the Auvergne, Album I (1982)
CD CBS MK 37299 (o.o.p.) and Sony Essential Classics CD 63063
(also o.o.p.; but available as just-in-time replicated from Arkivmusic)
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Antonio de Almeida, conductor. David Mottley, producer; Peter Brown, engineer.
I treasure the wonderful folk-song orchestrations on this recording so much; I have, since it first came out on LP. However, its comparative obscurity today tempts me to think that my enthusiasm for a recording really is The Kiss of Death. This recording is Out of Print from Sony? Are you kidding me?
Frederica von Stade signed up at New York’s Mannes School of Music as a part-time student in order to learn how to read sheet music—but only for her own enjoyment. Some faculty members recognized her potential, and urged her to apply for full-time status. In less time than it takes to earn an undergraduate degree, she had learned enough about singing and the repertory to audition for the Metropolitan Opera. The Metropolitan Opera immediately offered her a three-year contract; the rest, as they say, is history (a history that includes more than 75 major-label recordings).
(Despite the above’s having “the additional benefit of being the truth,” I think that if somebody were to write that story into a movie script, people would say, “Yeah, right. Get serious!”)
More info, and sound bytes, after the jump. This is a touchstone CD that is well worth the effort to find. Just find it and BUY IT! Continue Reading →
Tuesday, September 5, 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944). To quote Wiki: “She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music, breaking a glass ceiling when her ‘Gaelic’ Symphony was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896.”
Arturo Delmoni asked me to upload not just sound bites but instead his and Yuri Funahashi’s entire recorded performance (from CD JMR 2, which a third-party seller on Amazon would like you to pay $1,526.83 for a new copy of—but there is a bottom-feeding underbidder asking only $166.99; such are the values of my back catalog on the crazy collector market).
After the jump there are: a photo of Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (as she wished to be known); m4a embeds of all four movements of her Sonata in A minor, Op. 34; and the relevant section of my liner-note essay.
Happy Birthday, Mrs. Beach!
John Coltrane would leave for a road trip with the Quartet carrying nothing but his horn case and the Slonimsky book.
John Coltrane (1926-1967) is generally recognized as one of the most significant saxophonists in music history. However, at times I wonder whether the famous phrase applied to his playing—”Sheets of sound”—actually might lead the unwary to underestimate his talent, work ethic, and achievements. Such is the problem with music-history courses graded via multiple-choice examinations. “Coltrane???” “Oh, yeah—Sheets of sound!” A bit reductive… .
In truth, Coltrane was quite a Music Theory Nerd. He owned a copy of Nicholas Slonimsky’s fearsome Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, and had memorized much of it. (That book, first published in 1947, includes more than a thousand musical examples, the majority being not in traditional Western major or minor scales.)
The title track of Coltrane’s LP Giant Steps (recorded 1959) moves through three keys separated by major thirds… hence the giant steps. The tight structuring of this brief musical gem should dispel the impression that Coltrane was just making random noises. The animated graphical representation by Michal Levy is in its own way a great work of art, too.
# # #
Photo Thomas Zwillinger, courtesy of Harmonia Mundi.
Joel Fredericksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich: Requiem for a Pink Moon
CD Harmonia Mundi HMC 902111 (recorded 2012)
(No high-resolution download available, apparently.)
Joel Fredericksen, bass voice and lute; Timothy Leigh Evans, tenor voice and drum; Domen Marincic, viola da gamba; Axel Wolf, theorbo and archlute; producer and engineer not credited.
Back in December, in my coverage of the Wilson Audio/MSB event at Fidelis AV in New Hampshire, I mentioned how the late-stayers were moved by the cuts I played from Joel Fredericksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich’s Elizabethan Nick Drake tribute Requiem for a Pink Moon. You could have heard a pin drop. If that album is unknown to you, here’s a brief précis:
The idea of classical bass singer Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich’s putting together an early-instruments Elizabethan tribute album to Nick Drake might strike you as daft, as it did me. But, it works. It’s the real deal. There was a melancholic plaintiveness to Drake’s music that is not at all far from the Elizabethan temperament. Frederiksen of course sings both beautifully and un-selfconsciously. But what makes this recording one of the most affecting I have heard in years is that the interleaving of Elizabethan laments and parts of a Gregorian Chant Requiem Mass with Drake’s songs makes such a powerful connection to the universal human experiences of loss and grief, and not just to one particular artist or album. Buy one for yourself, and buy several to give as gifts.
I love to introduce people to pieces of music (or entire albums) I think should be parts of our shared cultural inheritance but which, for whatever reason, remain comparatively obscure. A prime example is Clifford Brown’s Clifford Brown With Strings. I also love to put together playlists that create a narrative arc (that’s fancypants-speak for, “tell a story”).
I was chatting with my friend Doug White, of the Philadelphia-area specialty high-end audio dealer “The Voice That Is.” The subject was the then-upcoming visit from John Atkinson, Jana Dagdagan, and Herb Reichert, all from Stereophile magazine. I volunteered to put together a playlist of high-resolution classical tracks that could do double duty as system-showing-off demo fodder while at the same time providing memorably engaging musical experiences. (Note, I think that the word “classical” is stretchy enough to encompass “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”)
I began sifting through my various lists of demo tracks. It soon became obvious to me that I could profitably fill just about one hour of listening by playing six tracks, all from the Norwegian audiophile label 2L. The tracks are in four parts: Two pairs of shorter tracks that share some aspects, and then two longer tracks from contrasting musical forces and genres. The gamut runs from a-cappella choral music through organ music and solo-piano music, ending with orchestral music. Continue Reading →
Film-score composer John Barry’s father owned movie theaters in England. So, in a sense, Barry (1933-2011) grew up in the movie business. (The family name was “Prendergast;” Barry used his first and middle names as his professional name.) The movie business and the music business are similar, in that fickle public tastes can make or break projects and careers. Also similar in that the process of actually getting paid can be… quirky.
John Barry composed the scores for 11 James Bond films including Goldfinger, as well as for Body Heat, Born Free, Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, The Lion in Winter, and Midnight Cowboy. Barry’s film scores won him five Academy Awards and four Grammys. However, it is almost certain that Barry’s most popular (and profitable for him) film score was for a film that was decidedly unsuccessful upon its original theatrical release, finding a larger audience only on cable tv, and then a bit later with the advent of home video on VHS cassettes.