Sunday, 17 March 2019

Classical Music - December 2018

Bach, J.S.
  • Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot  (Break with the hungry your bread)
  • Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (God goes up with jubilation)
  • Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden (See, I will send out many fishers)
  • Academic Festival Overture
  • Violin Sonata No.1
  • Two Rhapsodies, op.79 
  • String Quartet No.2
  • Berceuse in B flat (solo piano version)
  • Pensée Fugitive
  • Scherzettino in G minor
  • Moderato in E minor
  • 3 Poems for piano
  • Arabesque
  • 3 Improvisations for piano left-hand
  • Miniature Pastorals, Set 3
  • 3 Songs with Viola
  • All Things that we Clasp and Cherish
  • Love is a Rose
  • Dear, When I Look into Thine Eyes
  • Isobel
  • O That It Were So!
  • Strew No More Red Roses
  • Where She Lies Asleep
  • Love Went A-Riding
  • Thy Hand In Mine
Debussy - Fêtes galantes, set 1
Debussy - Proses lyriques
  • Piano Quintet No.2
  • Cypresses for string quartet
  • Psalm 149
  • Two Little Pearls for piano
  • Album Leaf in E flat 
Falla - Psyché
Mozart - String Quartet No.17, 'Hunt'
  • String Quartet No.2
  • Violin Sonata No.1
  • Romance in D for violin and piano
  • Romance (arranged for violin and piano)
  • Two Fantasy Pieces for oboe and piano
  • Symphonic Suite for piano
  • Five Pieces for piano
  • Humoresque Bagatelles
Schubert - Klage der Ceres
  • Three Romances for oboe and piano
  • 3 Gesänge, op.95
  • Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister
  • Requiem for Mignon
Scriabin - 10 Mazurkas, op.3
Shostakovich - Two Fables by Ivan Krylov
Shostakovich - Four Poems of Captain Lebyadkin 
  • Four Legends, op.22
  • 10 Pieces for piano, op.58
  • 3 Sonatinas, op.67
  • The Maiden in the Tower
  • Cantata for the Coronation of Nicholas II
  • Serenad for baritone and orchestra

In summary: lots of new recordings of Bridge (not least because each piece is fairly short) and Nielsen, some new Debussy and Shostakovich. Mostly new Sibelius, though the Four Legends I've had for a while. Brahms and Dvorak chronologies that are still rolling along, and... after over 6 years I still haven't finished going through Bach's cantatas, so those are all first listens.

I don't want to mention anything specifically except to say that getting to know Debussy's songs is proving very rewarding. This is a side of the composer that should be better known.


The total number of works in my collection listened to during 2018, large and small, was 525. That's slightly down on last year, but not particularly low on longer term trends.

Calculating the top 10 composers for the year throws up the following:

1. Bridge (67)
2. Dvorak (57)
3. Schumann (45)
4. Sibelius (43)
5. Scriabin (38)
6. Nielsen (28)
7.= Beethoven (26)
7.= Mozart (26)
9.= Bach (23)
9.= Haydn (23)

Bridge's top place is to a large extent due to counting lots of songs as single entries, because that's the way they are presented rather than in collections. Scriabin also scores highly from having a lot of very short opuses. The high numbers of Dvorak, Schumann and Sibelius works more genuinely represent very strong interest. These are now undoubtedly among the composers I most enjoy listening to.

Debussy just missed out on the list again, along with Brahms and Faure. It was an extremely lean year for Holmboe, with just 8 works. Chopin was listened to only once.


This might be the point at which these monthly lists end. I haven't decided for certain, and the more obsessive side of my personality might refuse to let me finish when I'm still a couple of months behind...

This doesn't mean that I won't be keeping records of what I listen to. That's an exercise that I find valuable for my own purposes. But reporting on it for the blog can be a bit of a chore, not least because it means I have to make sure I have a clean break each month in my data (something that tends to be more effort for popular music, where I'm more likely to listen to something a number of times over a period of a week or two).

So I might try writing about particular things instead, discussing music that is getting my attention. Which actually might look a fair bit like the parts of the blog entries that have been below the lists.

It might make posts more frequent, or less frequent. I'm not sure. I haven't thought it through before now.

There are in truth only a handful of people who actually read entries on this blog (and if you do, thank you), so I doubt anyone besides me will be perturbed about changes. But I'm hoping any changes are for the better.


Monday, 11 February 2019

Popular Music - December 2018

Tori Amos - Under the Pink
Tori Amos - Abnormally Attracted to Sin

Whatever I was doing in December, it wasn't listening to pop music. Perhaps occasionally it was in a form that doesn't count for this blog, where the music needs to be a complete album (or other work, as conceived by the artist) that I own.

But I do also remember some difficult circumstances at work, where I normally do a lot of my pop music listening, which meant that I wasn't getting comfortable and listening at my desk.

So let's just move onto the yearly summary, shall we?


I listened to only 96 albums during 2018 (including one greatest hits and a couple of EPs), which is a bit low.

Within that list are 12 Tori Amos albums (a couple of hers did miss out), 7 Jars of Clay albums, and 6 Patty Griffin albums.

My pop music listening continues to stagnate, really. I didn't make a lot of new purchases, though the ones I did make were thoroughly rewarding. I am in fact trying, at the time of writing, to push myself to explore a bit more. However that won't be reflected in this blog as currently conceived unless it leads to purchases.

It's possible I might change the way this blog works, though...

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Classical Music - November 2018

Bach, J.S. - Violin Concerto No.1
Bach, J.S. - Keyboard Partita No.4
Barber - Piano Concerto
Barber - Canzone for flute and piano 
Brahms - Violin Concerto
Bridge - Four Characteristic Pieces
Bridge - Miniature Suite 
  • Saint Ludmila
  • Slavonic Dances, Series 2 (piano and orchestral versions)
  • Terzetto for 2 violins and viola
  • Miniatures for 2 violins and viola
  • Romantic Pieces for violin and piano 
Haydn - Harmoniemesse
Mendelssohn - Cello Sonata No.1
Nielsen - String Quartet No.1
Nielsen - String Quintet 
Schumann - Introduction and Allegro appassionato for piano and orchestra
Schumann - Der Handschuh
  • Valse in F minor, op.1
  • 2 Nocturnes, op.5
  • 2 Impromptus a la Mazur, op.7
  • The Wood-Nymph (tone poem and recitation versions)
  • Cantata for the University Graduation Ceremonies of 1894
  • Menuetto for orchestra
  • Two Rondinos for piano 
Snider - Penelope

This list isn't as long as for some months, but some of the works are rather substantial. Dvorak's Saint Ludmila runs for over 2 hours. Unfortunately it's also one of his less appealing works. I tried this time to listen to the music without paying much attention to the horribly outdated plot, but this strategy was only mildly successful in improving my impression.

The Wood-Nymph is one of Sibelius' early tone poems that doesn't seem to be performed very often. I already knew the tone poem version, which has a quite astonishing passage depicting a rider going through a forest. However, at the same time Sibelius also produced a considerably shorter (and even more rarely performed) version where the poem that inspired the work is recited over the music. This version is in the BIS Sibelius Edition box of works for voice and orchestra that I purchased recently.

Reading descriptions of what the tone poem depicts in liner notes is one thing. Having a chance to hear and read the full text is quite another. Not only did it make the recited version a rewarding experience, it enhanced my enjoyment of the tone poem when I listened to it shortly afterwards.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Popular Music - November 2018

Tori Amos
  • Under the Pink
  • From the choirgirl hotel
  • American Doll Posse
Christine and the Queens - Chris (English and French versions)
Paul Dempsey - Everything is True
Jars of Clay - Good Monsters
Jars of Clay - The Long Fall Back to Earth
Nik Kershaw - Human Racing
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Something for Kate - Leave Your Soul to Science
Suzanne Vega - Tried and True
Rachael Yamagata - Happenstance

Once I had a little bit of familiarity with the English version of Chris, I turned to the French version. Really, with the songs that appear on both versions the effect is pretty much the same. When it comes to the songs that differ, my initial reaction was that the English listeners got the better music.

The (rather slow) excursion through the Jars of Clay discography reached the last two albums I'm familiar with. Good Monsters was raved about in some quarters when released, but struck me as disjointed. Over time it's gradually rehabilitated itself in my ears, and this time I found that I was consistently enjoying myself. I still don't love certain parts of certain songs, but I can cope with them. The Long Fall Back to Earth had already been rehabilitated more quickly, possibly because it is unashamedly a pop album and my expectations are different.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Classical Music - October 2018

Brahms - Piano Pieces, op.76
  • Capriccio No.2
  • A Sea Idyll
  • Lean Close Thy Cheek
  • Fair Daffodils
  • Adoration
  • So Perverse
  • Tears, Idle Tears
  • The Violets Blue
  • Come to me in my Dreams
  • My Pent-up Tears Oppress my Brain
Debussy - Fêtes galantes, set 2
Debussy - Three Ballades of François Villon
  • From the Bohemian Forest
  • Violin Sonata in F
  • 2 Waltzes for string quartet
  • Polonaise for cello and piano
  • Bagatelles for strings and harmonium
Haydn - Symphonies 100 and 104
Holmboe - To the Unsettled Weather
  • Piano Trio
  • String Quartet in D minor
  • String quartet movements / possible quartet in F
  • Violin Sonata in G
  • Duet for violins
  • Fantasy piece for clarinet and piano
  • Humoresque Bagatelles for piano
  • Erinnerung (Totenopfer)
  • An die Natur
  • Lied (Ferne von der grossen Stadt)
  • Täglich zu singen
  • Ganymed
  • Die Erde
  • Wehmut
  • Die Mutter Erde
  • Die Allmacht
  • Das Lied im Grünen
Schumann - Lieder-Album for the Young
Schumann - Konzertstück for 4 horns and orchestra
Shostakovich - Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok
Shostakovich - Six Poems by Marina Tsvetayeva
  • Kullervo
  • En Saga
  • Karelia Suite
  • Overture in E
  • Scene de Ballet
  • Rakastava (choir and orchestra version)
  • Two Chorales for choir and orchestra
  • Pensées Lyriques
  • Kyllikki
The focus in October was very much on new purchases, both the ones that arrived in September and a few more.  The new additions were several albums from Hyperion's set of the complete Schubert songs (which I decided were more interesting to get as the single recitals, a decision that might lead to years of frustrated hunting on eBay), and 2 different collections of Sibelius' orchestral music.  After a very protracted period of research I worked out that these particular boxes would provide 80 to 90 percent of the works I wanted to add to my collection.

Sibelius is, in my opinion, one of the greatest orchestral composers. I've decided to explore this part of his work chronologically, which does present some very interesting early works. Kullervo being the exceptionally large and grand example. Not every work is a masterpiece, but they are certainly instructive. For example, the Overture and Scene de Ballet started life as the 2 movements from Sibelius' first attempt at writing a symphony.

Apart from the Sibelius, one of the other highlights of this list was Dvorak's From the Bohemian Forest. It's the only one of his piano duet works that he did not orchestrate. It's also perhaps the finest of them.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Popular Music - October 2018

Christine and the Queens - Chris (English version)
Amy Grant - Lead Me On
Jars of Clay - Who We Are Instead
Jars of Clay - Redemption Songs
Level 42 - Running in the Family
Wilco - Star Wars

There aren't many albums on the list (yet again), but some of them were listened to multiple times  Either on the grounds of being new, or on the grounds of being old and not as familiar as they ought to be.

Chris was the brand new album that I was very much looking forward to. Having taken some effort to get both the original and English versions of Christine and the Queens' debut album in order to hear how it was originally envisioned and what was done to it, I was very pleased indeed that Chris offered parallel English- and French-based versions in the one package. Not all the songs are the same, with a handful only being available in one of the languages, but that's fine when it's equally easy for me to hear both.

Having said that, I decided to focus on just the English version initially to try and get familiar with the music. I'm not sure I know all of it equally well yet, but (as with the debut album) there is some very accomplished and catchy pop music here. Enjoyable riffs are abundant.

One of the older albums was Redemption Songs. I'd never connected with this as well as other Jars of Clay albums, until now. Essentially it consists of hymns and spirituals, but with many of them recomposed to some extent. It often has a quite old-fashioned feel to it, particularly in the words. I think I listened to it a few times when I first bought it, but not much after that. Apart from the two songs I had previously heard, the album tended to blend together for me. There was a lot of steady mid-tempo music.

This time around, though, by concentrating more, and splitting the album into two halves (CDs might have physically killed A- and B-sides, but I firmly believe that most albums are still conceived with them), I felt more shape to the music. There is a sort of basic, traditional "niceness" to Redemption Songs that means it doesn't plumb the emotional depths, but it's still a good listen.

The other album that was metaphorically picked up and dusted off was Star Wars, which I only have as a download because that was the way that Wilco offered it entirely free back in 2015. My records indicate I hadn't listened to it since 2015, and I suspect that might only have been once. Twice at the most. The collection of mostly 2- or 3-minute songs, and a total playing length under 34 minutes, simply hadn't the weight to make an impact.

But the same strategies I used for Redemption Songs also worked for Star Wars. It wasn't enough to make me think this is a great album, but it was definitely enough to make me think it's an album I will enjoy listening to, and so I will try to do that a bit more often from now on.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Classical Music - September 2018

Bach, J.S.
  • Selig ist der Mann (Blessed is the man)
  • Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (May our mouth be full of laughter)
  • Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen  (We must pass through great sadness to enter into the Kingdom of God)
  • Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet comfort, my Jesus comes)
Barber - Toccata Festiva
Barber - Die Natali 
Beethoven - Diabelli Variations
Beethoven - String Quartets 13 and 14  
  • Symphonies 1 and 2
  • String Quartet No.3
  • Neue Liebeslieder 
  •  Sonnet: When Most I Wink
  •  If I Could Choose
  • The Primrose
  • A Dirge
  • The Devon Maid
  • Dawn and Evening
  • Two Songs after Heine
  • Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind
  • Go Not, Happy Day
  • Night Lies on the Silent Highways
  • A Dead Violet
  • Cradle Song
  • Capriccio No.1
  • Etude Rhapsodique
  • Dramatic Fantasia
  • 3 Sketches for piano
  • 3 Pieces for piano
  • Miniature Pastorals, Set 1
  • Fairy Tale Suite
  • The Hour Glass
  • Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire
  • Three Melodies (Verlaine)
  • Les Angelus
  • Two songs (Romance / Les Cloches)
  • Nuit d'étoiles
  • Fleur des blés
  • Mandoline
  • Voici que le printemps (Romance)
  • Symphony No.7 
  • Piano Trios 1 to 3
  • Serenade for flute, violin, viola and triangle
  • Romance in F minor (version for violin and piano)
  • Nocturne (version for violin and piano)
  • Capriccio for violin and piano
  • Mazurek for violin and pinao
  • Ballad for violin and piano
  • Slavonic Dances, series 1 (piano version)
  • Legends (piano version)
  • Dumka and Furiant for piano
  • Furiant for piano
  • Humoresque in  F sharp for piano
  • Cinq mélodies "de Venise"
  • La bonne chanson
  • La chanson d'Ève
  • Three songs, op.23
  • Clair de Lune
  • Au Bord de l'Eau
  • Apres un reve
Haydn - Symphonies 73 to 75, 94 and 96
  • Symphony No.36
  • Piano Concertos 13 and 17
  • Piano Sonata No.12
  • Five pieces for piano, op.3
  • Three piano pieces, op.59
  • Symphonic Suite
  • Festival Prelude for the New Century 
Nørgård - Symphony No.1, 'Sinfonia Austera'
Schubert - Piano Trio No.2
Schubert - String Quartet No.12, 'Quartettsatz' 
  • Lieder und Gesänge, Volumes 1 (op.27) and 2 (op.51)
  • Spanisches Liederspiel
  • 4 Duets, op.78
  • Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano
  • Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces) for clarinet and piano
  • Waldszenen
  • Symphony No.1
  • Two Romances to Lyrics by Lermontov
  • Four Songs to Lyrics by Dolmatovsky
  • Four Monologues to Words by Pushkin
  • Greek Songs
  • Five Songs to Lyrics by Dolmatovsky (Songs of Our Days)
  • Spanish Songs
  • Five Romances on Words from Krokodil Magazine
  • A Foreword to my Complete Works and a Brief Contemplation with Respect to this Foreword
  • Pohjola's Daughter
  • The Oceanides
  • Violin Concerto
  • Suite for violin and orchestra
  • Piano Sonata
  • Ten pieces for piano, op.24
  • Six Impromptus, op.5
  • Bagatelles, op.34
  • Narciss
  • Små flickorna
Vine - String Quartet No.4

While some of this big haul consists of small items (such as songs that are only a few minutes in length), the reason many of those items appear on the list is that I made another large purchase. Well, technically it was multiple purchases from different shops, but it was essentially one decision-making process about what to buy.

I didn't immediately start listening to everything that I bought, but purchases on this list include songs and piano pieces by Frank Bridge, songs by Debussy, chamber music (including piano duet works) by Dvorak, songs by Faure, piano pieces by Nielsen, songs by Shostakovich and piano pieces and the Violin Concerto by Sibelius.

I'm not going to discuss all of those just now, but I do want to make particular mention of some. The piano pieces by Bridge are performed by Mark Bebbington, and the ones by Sibelius are performed by Janne Mertanen. In both cases the pianists do a simply superb job of making the most of small-scale pieces. I had picked them over rival performances (yes, in both cases rival performances of this repertoire do exist) because they'd given that impression in samples, but it's a different thing again to sit down and properly listen to a work. Time and again these two performers make really satisfying music.

The other album that deserves special mention is the recital of Faure songs by Veronique Dietschy and Philippe Cassard. Faure is one of my favourite composers, and I went looking for alternative versions of certain songs because I was dissatisfied with my existing recordings on the Hyperion label (generally good, but unfortunately Jennifer Smith is a glaring weak spot). I came across Dietschy and Cassard's version of La chanson d'Ève and it was magic.

Unfortunately I cannot get hold of a physical copy of the album, so I've bought it on iTunes. The whole recital has the same magic. Dietschy is a simply exquisite singer. She has the kind of smooth, liquid voice that Faure's long flowing lines need. The combination of music and performance makes this one of the most enjoyable classical albums I have.

As well as the new purchases, there's room to mention one part of the existing material. I reached the end of my "chronological chunks" exploration of my Beethoven collection. This included listening to the Diabelli Variations for the first time, as I'd saved the recording purchased last year until the appropriate chronological slot. The very last thing I listened to was the C sharp minor string quartet, truly a masterpiece.

I started the process in January 2016, so it took 2.75 years to work through my Beethoven collection. I'm not a quick listener, but also I have quite a bit of Beethoven. And what's striking is the incredibly high proportion of music that is of the highest quality. To my ears he truly is one of the greatest composers the world has known.