Mauricio Kagel (2003) by Alexandre Tharaud

Categories: 1969, 1972, 1976, 1982, 1984, 2003, and Music.

This collection is a little confusing in part because of the confusing nature of Rrrrrrr…, which can apparently be performed independently. The disc appears to be a compilation of his piano-based music. Calling “piano music” would be a misnomer, as there are lots of other instruments on a number of the pieces. The pieces from Rrrrrrr… are all over the place in terms of style, starting with ragtime and running the gamut of styles, through pretty traditional to really avant garde stuff (a prepared piano, a “raga”). I like how Kagel turns music on its here but here I have Read More

Sinfonietta; Taras Bulba (1983) by Leos Janacek, performed by Philarmonia Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle

Categories: 1918, 1926, 1983, and Music.

This disc collects two of Janacek’s most famous symphonic compositions, both of which were dedicated to the military. So there’s a theme here, often lacking from programs. The Sinfonietta instantly strikes a chord with me because Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered the opening Allegretto on their debut album. So, right away, all attempts to objectively judge it fly out the window. It’s certainly not one of Janacek’s most daring works but it is engaging and energetic and certainly demonstrative of his ability to pack lots into relatively short pieces. Taras Bulba I’ve heard before. I think I like it more Read More

From the House of the Dead (1980) by Leos Janacek, performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Staatsopernchor conducted by Charles Mackerras featuring Jiri Zahradnicek, Ivo Zidek, Vaclav Zitek

Categories: 1924, 1928, 1978, 1980, and 1992.

This disc pairs Janacek’s last (and shortest?) opera with two unrelated chamber pieces performed by an entirely different orchestra, grumble. Read More

Intimate Letters (1996) by the Juilliard String Quartet

Categories: 1923, 1926, 1928, 1996, and Music.

This disc compiles both of Janacek’s string quartets with Berg’s “Lyric Suite”, a six part quartet. It is named after the second of Janacek’s quartets. Not named after the Beethoven piece but rather the Tolstoy story inspired by that Beethoven piece, Janacek’s first quartet is perhaps my favourite of all of his music that I’ve heard. It’s got compelling melodies but risky flirtations with the more avant garde music of his contemporaries; it manages to sound both traditional and brave at times throughout, and that’s something I always appreciate. The second quartet gets off to a very different start than Read More

Sonatas and Poems (2015) by Stephen Hough

Categories: 1901, 1903, 1905, 1907, 1911, 1914, 2015, and Music.

This collection features two of Scriabin’s piano sonatas, and two of his “poems,” plus Janacek’s only piano sonata and the first book of On an Overgrown Path. Scriabin’s fifth sonata is something else – it’s a daring, difficult work. It’s note quite as radical tonally as Schoenberg’s stuff from the same period (to my ears), but it’s possibly more radical in form, and it’s just as compelling. Really, really great. The first book of On an Overgrown Path is a pleasing set of late Romantic pieces that are not quite Janacek at his most radical. They’re still quite enjoyable but Read More

Ives: Symphonies Nos 2 and 3; The Unanswered Question (1966) by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Berstein

Categories: 1901, 1902, 1910, 1911, 1935, 1958, 1960, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1987, and Music.

This is a compilation of the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Berstein’s performances of the middle symphonies and The Unanswered Question, originally a piece paired with another but one that has found a lot of attention as a standalone. Bernstein was one of the great champions of Ives once he was “discovered,” but these performances are actually significantly later than the premieres, which were handled by other conductors in the ’40s. Apparently Bernstein made some somewhat radical changes to some of the tempi and these changes have entered the repertoire. That’s not something that necessarily bothers me, though I understand Read More

Ives: The Symphonies; Orchestral Sets 1 and 2 (2000) by Various Artists

Categories: 1901, 1902, 1910, 1911, 1916, 1919, 1929, 1973, 1976, 1994, 1995, 2000, and Music.

This is one of those Decca compilations that takes recordings from all over its catalogue (in this case from the mid ’70s and the mid ’90s) to create an ostensibly “complete” collection of a composer’s works in a given field, in this case Ives’ work for large orchestra. Of course it’s not complete, as it’s only the first four symphonies (Ives wrote 5 plus an unfinished one) and only two of the three” orchestral sets” (sort of American tone poems, though that description isn’t entirely  accurate…). And, to fit on the disks, the sequencing is totally out of whack as Read More

Ives: Concord Sonata; Songs (2004) by Pierre-Laurent Aimard with Susan Graham

Categories: 1915, 1919, 1922, 2004, and Music.

This is one of those discs that pairs two different types of music and so, right off the bat, kind of annoys me. Ives has plenty of songs to release a whole disc (or many discs) of them, without instrumental music. (For example, one of his collections is called 114  Songs.) And he’s got plenty of piano music to do the same. I know this is something I need to get over, but I don’t fully understand the reason to program like this. As to the actual music: Read More

Hindemith: Kammermusik (2012) by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado, et al.

Categories: 1917, 1922, 1927, 2012, and Music.

This set collects Hindemith’s Kammermusik compositions (two are actual chamber music pieces, seven are concertos) and for reasons I may not ever understand, pairs them with a violin sonata and an incomplete work. The first Kammermusik is a crazy, vibrant piece that manages to combine fairly strong melodies (relatively speaking) with the kind of aggressively discordant changes and percussion punctuations modernism is known for. One of my favourite Hindemith pieces. The third movement stands out because it is so peaceful, but it’s practically impressionist. The second Kammermusik begins with some of Hindemith’s brilliant writing for piano – which always threatens Read More

Julie by Philippe Boesmans and Luc Bondy, Live at the St. Lawrence Centre, November 19, 2015

Categories: 1888, 2005, 2015, and Theatre.

This is a 2005 chamber opera based on the 1888 play Miss Julie by August Strindberg. I have never read Strindberg, and I don’t know if I’ve read much naturalist literature or drama, so this was a new experience for me. The staging and direction are fantastic – they’ve decided to stage the pay in some weird alternate reality where the time isn’t entirely clear (are they in 1888 Sweden or are they somewhere else entirely?) and there are odd things in the kitchen, such as a tire and a giant pipe. The storm in the middle of the opera Read More

Hindemith: Ludas Tonalis; Suite 1922 (2006) by Boris Berezovsky

Categories: 1922, 1942, 2006, and Music.

This collects two of Hindemith’s solo piano works, the most famous ones and those that are usually considered “essential.” Ludas Tonalis is Hindemith’s attempt at a modern version of The Well Tempered Clavier. And though it is obviously not quite up to that standard, it’s still a noble attempt. This is far and away my favourite of his music so far. I have found his orchestral music to be rather conservative, but this piece manages to both honour tradition (obviously, if it’s a Bach homage/re-imagining) and push the way we think about music, albeit while remaining conventionally tonal. It’s quite Read More

Symphonies 3-5 (2011) by H.W. Henze, performed by Rundfunk-Sinfoniorchester Berlin, conducted by Marek Janowski

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is an excellent set of three of Henze’s symphonies, showing him at perhaps his most radical stage. This is the kind of modernist “classical” that I just love; bonkers writing and bonkers arrangements. Henze’s third symphony starts off on a decidedly pastoral note, before sounding an ominous foreboding about 15 seconds in. Though the first notes might have convinced us this is something light and fluffy, we’re utterly relieved of that so quickly, it’s almost impossible to believed. In fact, the first movement ends up sounding more like a horror movie soundtrack than traditional classical music. I suspect that Read More

Simplicius Simplicissimus (2012) by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, performed by Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Choir, Juliane Banse, Petermarsch, Will Hartmann conducted by Markus Stenz

Categories: 1935, 1957, 2012, and Music.

From the very opening bars it’s clear that this is no ordinary opera. And though that’s true of the most path-breaking and challenging operas of the early 20th century (I am thinking chiefly of Berg’s work), this one is perhaps more shocking given the (seemingly) more traditional stance of the composer. The opera is based on the novel of the same name, which was a reaction to the 30 Years War (and apparently has the same kind of stature in German literature as Tristam Shandy does in English literature, so that’s cool). One of the things that most impresses me Read More

Concerto funebre; Sonatas and Suites for Solo Violin (2007) by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, peformed by Alina Ibragimova

Categories: 2007 and Music.

This is an excellent collection of Hartmann’s violin music. The Concerto funebre is like a string quartet writ large, where the lead violin’s role is exaggerated and the other three instruments assume lesser roles than normal, only their sound is trebled (or what have you). The first movement lulls you into thinking this is some pretty conventional music, but it soon stands that on its ear. A good mix of tradition and forward thinking. And, like so much of the music inspired by what the Nazis were up to, it is truly stirring. The first of the suites for solo Read More

Symphony No. 14 (2013) by Dmitry Shostakovitch, performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vasily Petrenko, with Gal James and Alexander Vinogradov

Categories: 2013 and Music.

I have taken some time getting to know Shostakovitch and, on the whole, I have found him a little underwhelming, I guess because of his allegiance to the past. And I know I am coming at his symphonies backwards, by listening to the second last one first, but… This is awesome. I am impressed by his amalgam of some pretty traditional melodic ideas with some (relatively!) radical approaches to tonality, scoring and, particularly, the form of the symphony itself. (I do not know if he was this radical in his earlier symphonies.) And, without the proper context, I must say Read More

Ives: Four Sonatas (2012) by Hilary Hahn, Valentina Lisitsa

Categories: 2012 and Music.

This is an excellent set of Ives’ violin sonatas. The pieces are a little more accessible than some of Ives’ more orchestrated pieces, in part I guess because of the nature of the violin. But the music is still characteristic Ives: challenging yet appealing. And the performances sound great to my ears, though like always I am not really familiar with the music so I do not know if there is a better version of the set out there. The first sonata is a crazy, careening, almost drunken lark which veers from pretty violin playing to seemingly discordant piano thumping Read More

Violin Sonatas: Bartok / Strauss / Grieg (2011) by Vilde Frang

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is a strong collection of mid-to-late Romantic (and early modern) violin sonatas. The Grieg is light and happy but does contain some interesting twists (like the apparent false ending of the first movement) to keep it from merely being a pleasant listen. It’s still pretty nice and light and, as that’s not my thing, I have a hard time loving it. The Bartok is everything I love about his chamber music. It is daring and difficult (for its time) and just an inventive joy. One of the great violin showcases of the first half of the 20th century I Read More

Dvorak; Poulenc; Grieg (2009) by Marie-Josee Simard, Marie Fabi

Categories: 2009 and Music.

This is an interesting recording that takes three well known sonatas (two violin sonatas, one of which at least is among the greatest of the twentieth century, and one flute) adapted for vibraphone. I am really open to this kind of stuff and I must say that I think this really works and I am glad someone out there is breaking convention and taking risks. Better yet, she’s Canadian. And interesting recording. 8/10 Read More

Witches Brew (1959, 1964, 2008) by the New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by Alexander Gibson

Categories: 2008 and Music.

This is one of those “Spooky classical” things that is generally entertaining but hardly anything more. It’s a good (but obvious) selection of famous “spooky” pieces, primarily from the Romantic era. The wife and I attended one of these types of things with the TSO one Halloween a few years ago and the selection wasn’t all that different (they just included some Bernard Hermann). I am not really a fan of these types of collections, but at least this one has a clear, definite them to it, unlike so many others. The CD version adds two pieces from later recording Read More

String Quartet; So You Want to Right a Fugue; Shostakovitch; Poulenc (1997 Compilation)

Categories: 1997 and Music.

I really like Gould’s quartet. I know it’s not the most forward-thinking piece for the time, but I think it’s among the second tier of its era and I really don’t mind listening to it. The fugue-song thing is a different story: I like it but it’s almost too clever. I like that it seems deliberately aimed at the establishment, but it’s still a minor goof of a piece. The rest of the disk is unfortunately fleshed out by excerpts of two nice pieces – a quintet by Shostakovitch and a kind of concerto thing by Poulenc. They feel reasonably Read More

Gould; MacMillan (2008) by Quatuor Alcan

Categories: 1921, 1930, 1956, 2008, and Music.

This is a decent compilation of Canadian string quartets from the 20th century. As I have said elsewhere, I like the Gould quartet though I feel like I should be a little less enthusiastic about it. The MacMillan pieces are fine, but they are typical of most if not all Canadian “classical” music I have heard – it’s obvious that the only reason they are played by anyone is that Canadians are patriotic. Nothing about MacMillan’s pieces would probably be notable if he were British or American, I suspect. Enjoyable, but nothing special. 7/10 Read More

The Young Maverick (2007 Compilation) by Glenn Gould et al.

Categories: 2007 and Music.

This is a collection of radio broadcasts Gould made for the CBC. It’s got a lot of his major performances, but these versions aren’t as good as the studio recordings if only because the sound quality isn’t very good. And that’s kind of annoying because I stumbled on this because I was looking for Gould’s performances of some Beethoven stuff and some more modern stuff. It’s a good survey of his talent and his idiosyncrasy (though knowing the pieces ahead of time helps, and I can’t say I know more than half to 2/3rds of them), but the sound quality Read More

Mennim: The Cycle, Ginastera: Milena (Release date unknown) by Various Artists

Categories: 1971 and Music.

It’s really hard to like compilations like this, even though I like the music. This compilation contains no information about its release date or the dates of the performances. The composers and artists are listed, but the reason for such an arbitrary combination of two pieces is never given. (The one commonality: both are orchestral works which also rely on the human voice, which could describe a quarter of the “classical” music in existence.) Mennim I don’t know. He is from the more conservative stream of 20th century music, but this symphony (#4) is certainly inventive enough to hold my Read More

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, Concerto in F (1960?, 200?) by Various Artists

Categories: 1960 and Music.

I’ve heard the Bernstein “Rhapsody” before, and I still like it perhaps more than any other version. His version of “An American in Paris” is also good. Don’t really know why the Concerto features Andre Previn instead, but it’s also a good version. If I didn’t like the music so much, I’d probably be annoyed about the different performers. 7/10 Read More

In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores (2013) by Hilary Hahn

Categories: 2013 and Music.

It’s a wonderful thing that there are “classical” musicians in the world who don’t want to be stuck in a tradition that elevates the past over the present. I have always been intrigued by “classical” musicians who want music to live, who don’t just want to stick with how things have been done by their parents’ or grandparents’ generation. It was once a great thing for soloists to commission music (or to have it dedicated to the soloist); it was once an integral part of how an important part of the great music of western history was written. But somewhere Read More

Debussy: the Complete works for Piano (1995 compilation) by Walter Gieseking

Categories: 1995 and Music.

Debussy’s piano music is as significant as Satie’s, even if it isn’t always as obviously revolutionary. Debussy eventually became very mainstream and so his music had much more currency. And it’s been absorbed so much it’s sometimes hard to tell how exactly he was breaking away (but other times it is very obvious). As someone else said, this sounds modern. Yet it is easier to listen to then, say, the very consciously “modern” music of the Viennese school. 10/10 Read More

The Big Money by John Dos Passos

Categories: 1936, Books, and Fiction.

Whereas I found Nineteen Nineteen to be a significant improvement on the first book, this one feels like he has lapsed back into his bad habits, and he gets confused between the form and the storytelling. He is still writing reasonably compelling stories but he can’t decide whether he wants to tell one person’s story or the country’s. So we get tons of two characters in this book, and the others are glimpsed only a little, as they somehow manage to meet each other at dinners and parties and such. (Reading the USA trilogy, one becomes convinced that the United Read More

Copland: Old American Songs, Canticle of Freedom, Four Motets by Michael Tilson Thomas, Mormon Tabernacle Choir et al. (No idea on the label. 198?)

Categories: Music.

I know what I like and I don’t like this. Campfire songs? Really? And then a fucking thing about freedom? Don’t get me wrong. It’s all very professional, but this isn’t great music. Anyone who thinks this is great music… well, I hopefully don’t know them. 6/10 Read More