CLPS 0500 Perception and Mind, John Marks Guest Lecture Preparation (2)


If you had been wondering why I asked you to watch a live music video of Jamiroquai’s 1999 funk/dance song “Canned Heat,” the answer is found in the audio-only YouTube clip immediately above, a remastering of the original “Canned Heat Blues” from 1928.

In the US between 1920 and 1933, the sale of alcoholic beverages was banned. People who could not afford to pay the prices demanded by bootleggers for alcohol that was illegal (but which was intended for human consumption, and therefore as safe as the alcohol that previously had been legal) sometimes drank wood alcohol, which could easily blind you, and over the course of time, would kill you. Squeezing the alcohol out of jellied cooking fuel and drinking it surely would give you the “Canned Heat Blues.” This performance is quite a harrowing document. More information, including lyrics, here and here. Continue Reading →

Ella Fitzgerald: Always True to You (In My Fashion) (Cole Porter)

An obscure poem by the English Decadent poet Ernest Dowson provided the title for a famous novel (and its classic film version) as well as a punchy line from one of Cole Porter’s most innuendo-laden show tunes. The backstory is long but fascinating,  so please bear with me. And there will be a little surprise for you at the end.

The above audio is from the 1956 Norman Granz sessions for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook. Much more after the jump. Continue Reading →

Yatabe “Track” Day (Japanese Jazz/Fusion Mix Vol.2)

Courtesy of Renaissance Man (and credentialed amateur opera singer) Jack Baruth (who was pointed to this by the estimable Sajeev Mehta), we have a “mix tape” of Japanese Jazz/Fusion music. Which I decided to let my readers know about because… times are tough, and we all need a little undemanding escapism. Rilly.

(Yeah, the YT title and header image include a lame pun: “track” as in auto-race track vs. track as in recorded music track. OK, I get it.

Not to over-share, but the most memorably difficult St. Valentine’s Day date ever, at least in my personal history, was when I asked a lovely young lady to accompany me to the symphony, myself having only glanced at the program. Continue Reading →

CLPS 0500 Perception and Mind, John Marks Guest Lecture on “Music”

Courtesy Stereophile magazine.

Preparation for Participation, Part One

A recent article (Mehr, et al., 2019) posits that across all cultures, song (meaning music with words) is a “cultural constant.”

To put it as simply as possible, “Everybody sings.” (Or, at least: Most people, in all cultures, sing.)

This, in and of itself, should not be surprising. People in most (if not all) cultures have since earliest times always heard birds singing (although admittedly, on a spectrum from the most simple to the most complex bird songs). If you do a web search with the query: “relationship between birdsong and human song” you will be presented with an engrossing salmagundi of results, with this one at the top (“Birdsong and Human Language”).

(Note, read that article in full only if it interests you; I just wanted you to be aware of the concept of a relationship between birdsong, and human song and language.)

What I found remarkable in the Mehr 2019 study is that study’s mention of a previous paper by the same team, reporting the experimental finding that:

[U]ntrained listeners in 60 countries could on average discern the human behavior associated with culturally unfamiliar musical forms. These behaviors included dancing, soothing a baby, seeking to heal illness, or expressing love to another person.

In other words, ordinary listeners could tell what kinds of songs they were listening to, even when those songs came from far-away places and radically different cultures. Continue Reading →

Rosen, Stevenson, and Delmoni: “Londonderry Air” (arr. Fritz Kreisler)

Photo by John Marks

The above photo was not taken in Ireland, but it perhaps could pass; and in any event, it will have to do.

For St. Patrick’s Day, here are Nathaniel Rosen (cellist), Doris Stevenson (pianist), and Arturo Delmoni (guest violinist) playing Fritz Kreisler’s trio arrangement of “Londonderry Air,” also known as “Danny Boy.”

Rosen, Stevenson, and Delmoni: “Londonderry Air” (arr. Fritz Kreisler)

That track is from the 2-LP set Orientale, which was released on North Star Records in 1991. The project was my idea. I obsessively mother-henned the thing from soup to nuts, from concept to the sessions at Holy Trinity Church (David Hancock recorded), to the art-quality printing on the fabricated jackets, to the vellum paper for the signed numbered certificates. (Orientale on LP was a signed numbered limited edition of 2,000 2-LP sets.)

I find it gratifying that nearly 30 years later, Orientale 2-LP sets regularly sell between $300 and $500 on the used market. The top sale is $600 for a claimed sealed set. There is one set for sale now, at $549.99. The musicianship is otherworldly, captured in a David Hancock 30 ips two-track recording using Cambridge ribbon microphones. Doug Sax mastered it; he told me that the Tchaikovsky piece had made him want to “jump over the console.” I took that to mean that he liked it.

# # #

Kirill Petrenko, Berlin Philharmonic: Gustav Mahler, Symphony 6

The Berlin Philharmonic has just made a really classy move: in view of the coronavirus pandemic, they have removed the paywall on their archived content. To put it another way, you can now binge-watch exceptional classical music performances for free.

While hunkering down under the electric blanket and waiting for the wine-store delivery person to arrive, one could do far worse in terms of internet browsing than to dive deeply into Gustav Mahler’s “Tragic” Sixth symphony. The orchestral playing is fabulous, and the sound quality is very very good. I was very pleased to see that Kirill Petrenko had opted for the authentic order of the inner movements; slow movement second, scherzo third. That performance was recorded January 25, 2020. More recommendations after the jump, as well as at least one comment. Continue Reading →

Joanne Polk: Louise Farrenc Etudes & Variations for Solo Piano

Joanne Polk: Louise Farrenc: Etudes & Variations for Solo Piano
Steinway & Sons CD (STNS 30133) and MP3 downloads available from Amazon
Hi-Res downloads (24-bit/96kHz stereo AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV) available from HDTracks
Streaming available from Tidal (and others)
Release date: February 7, 2020

Recorded May 15-17, 2019, at State University of New York Purchase College Performing Arts Center Recital Hall. Producer and recording engineer: Steven Epstein. Total time 70 min. 05 sec.

Here’s another winner of a recording from Steinway and Sons. As we have learned to expect, the recorded sound is superb.

Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), especially for someone who today merits not even the proverbial asterisk in most music guidebooks, had an amazing career. Judging from this release, Farrenc’s music is firmly in the mid-19th-century Romantic virtuoso-piano tradition of Liszt and Chopin, even to the extent of including crowd-pleasing paraphrases of (or, variations upon) opera themes or arias by Bellini (Norma) and Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots).

All of which pianist Joanne Polk presents with facility, fluidity, dispatch, and élan. To get a French word in there. (And also, with joie de vivre.) The Les Huguenots piece is a corker: Imagine if Franz Liszt had gone to town on Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” (Oops; perhaps Liszt actually did that. Dunno. Long ago, I decided that FL was, for the most part, not my cup of tea; so I might have a bit of a blind spot there.)

Ferranc studied theory and composition with Anton Reicha, one of Berlioz’ teachers. She became the first female professor of piano the Paris Conservatory in 1842. Her Thirty Etudes were adopted as required repertory for piano students there in 1845. Her published compositional output included chamber music as well as three symphonies, all of which were performed.

Therefore, one might feel the need to ask why her music has spent so much time languishing in obscurity.

Musings, ponderings, and sound samples, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Q & A with Karen Gomyo


Karen Gomyo was born in Tokyo, but grew up in Montréal. That is, up to the point when, at age 10, she moved to New York City, in order to study at the Juilliard School, at the invitation of Dorothy DeLay. Miss DeLay taught, among many others, my friends Arturo Delmoni and David Kim. Indeed, it’s the rare household-name violinist of the last 50 years whom Miss DeLay did not teach.

Miss Gomyo continued her studies at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (yay!) and the New England Conservatory. Apart from Miss DeLay, her teachers included Mauricio Fuks, Donald Weilerstein, and cellist Heinrich Schiff.

In addition to the standard concert repertoire, Miss Gomyo has a great affinity for the music of Astor Piazzolla, and has performed with the late Piazzolla’s former colleagues Pablo Ziegler (whose solo recording on the Steinway & Sons label can be heard here), Hector del Curto (bandoneon), Claudio Ragazzi (electric guitar), and Pedro Giraudo (double bass).

Miss Gomyo has followed up her recording of the Bo Linde violin concerto with an SACD of music for the wonderful combination of violin and classical guitar, which I reviewed last post. Questions and answers after the jump. Continue Reading →

Karen Gomyo and Ismo Eskelinen: Carnival (music for violin and guitar) (SACD)

Karen Gomyo and Ismo Eskelinen: Carnival
Music for violin and guitar of Corelli, Vivaldi, Locatelli, and Paganini.
SACD (BIS 1998) and MP3 downloads available from Amazon
Hi-Res downloads (24-bit/96kHz stereo AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV) available from e-classical and  HDTracks
Streaming available from Tidal (and others)
Release date: November 1, 2019

Recorded September 2015 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, New York. Producer and recording engineer: Hans Kipfer (Take5 Music Production). Violin by Antonio Stradivari, the ‘Aurora’ (1703); bow by François Tourte (c. 1810); Guitar by Gabriele Lodi (2011). Total time 67 min. 30 sec.

It used to be that only hard-core violin nerds were aware that legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) played the classical guitar, or that he also composed a substantial body of works for that instrument. Superb recordings such as this one can only increase recognition of that intriguing fact.

This recording places works by Paganini (and a selection of his “Carnival of Venice” variations, with the addition of a new variation by Miss Gomyo) in the context of earlier works by Paganini’s violinist/composer predecessors Corelli, Vivaldi, and Locatelli, who were born in 1653, 1678, and 1695, respectively.

For the earlier Baroque sonatas, the guitarist on this recording, Ismo Eskelinen, created guitar parts from the original basso-continuo parts. But even in the Baroque era, the guitar’s predecessor the lute was a continuo instrument as well as a solo instrument (and also the instrument in the duo genre known as the “lute song”).

For those of us who remember the dawn of the CD medium (I was the founding classical-music columnist of Digital Audio magazine, which was later rebranded as CD Review), mention of the recording venue for this recording should bring a flood of warm memories. The venue for this project was Troy, New York’s Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, which was for many years where Dorian Recordings did most of their work. More information, and sound bytes, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Jakub Józef Orliński: “Vedro con mio diletto” from Il Giustino (Antonio Vivaldi)

There are times when I think that a music-business story is “too good to fact-check,” and this is one of them. Young counter-tenor Jakub Józef Orliński agreed to substitute for an ensemble that could not appear for what Orliński believed would be the radio-only live broadcast of an outdoor afternoon concert in the south of France. The New Yorker picks up the story (after mentioning that Orliński was, on the day of the concert, nursing a mild hangover):

Orliński put on baggy shorts and beat-up sneakers, and rolled up the sleeves of a crumpled tattersall shirt: this was radio, after all, and it was ninety degrees outside. Only when he and his pianist, Alphonse Cémin, who was in shorts and flip-flops, arrived at the recording venue—a courtyard with a small audience—did they learn that the performance was also to be streamed on Facebook Live. It was too late for Orliński to change clothes, and so he sang just as he was—unshaved, and dressed as if ready for a day of sleeping it off under the Provençal plane trees.

This is obviously a superb job of singing; the YouTube view count of 4.7 million views is something I find very heartening. That’s in part because counter-tenors are in a way like harpsichords. In both cases, at times there seems to be a parity between the numbers of people who can enjoy the sound, and those who feel compelled to flee from it. And in that regard, I would have preferred a Baroque continuo rather than a Steinway grand (Vivaldi’s opera dates from 1724), but the piano accompaniment is very sensitive. And one must keep in mind that Orliński was substituting on less than 24 hours’ notice. (I do crack up every time I see the “page turner” reach up and touch the iPad.) Also, for an outdoor concert, what a lovely recording job! More, after the jump.
Continue Reading →