Saturday, April 21, 2018

Popular Music - February 2018

Tori Amos - Boys for Pele
Tori Amos - Native Invader
Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...
Nik Kershaw - Human Racing
Wendy Matthews - Ghosts
Mike and the Mechanics - Mike and the Mechanics
Radiohead - Amnesiac
Sting - Mercury Falling

Okay, let's call it. My popular music listening is in a rut.

I know I'm not listening to the same albums all the time. That is to say, there are albums on this list that I hadn't listened to for a couple of years. But they're still the same albums. I don't make a lot of new popular music purchases. I'm not exploring.

Well, actually that's not entirely true. One of the rules of this blog is that I only post recordings that I actually own, which means that it misses out on things that I explore on Deezer or Youtube but haven't purchased. Those explorations do in fact sometimes lead to purchases, but that's often a slow process.

One of the problems with popular music in particular is that when I do purchase something, it can be some time before I listen to it. This is partly caused by my old-fashioned beliefs. I like the first listen, at least, to be using the CD (though for popular music in particular it's highly likely most subsequent listens will be on my iPhone), and I like to engage with the words as well. That's an investment of time I'm not always in the right frame of mind for, and pop albums are longer than many of the classical works that I do this for.

So there's my litany of excuses, in an essence a response to a list of albums where I think, "do I have anything to say about these". I suppose I can say that after years and years I still think Boys for Pele is stunning, that Ghosts is truly excellent, that The Idler Wheel is pretty well perfect and that these are all just about the best things those 3 women have done. Which is I like listening to them.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Classical Music - January 2018

Barber - Cello Concerto
Beethoven -  Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt
Beethoven - Triumph-March for "Tarpeja"
  • String Sextet No.2
  • Piano Quintet
  • Variations on a Theme by Paganini 
Dvorak - String Sextet
Faure - Mirages
Haydn - Symphonies 56 and 57
Holten - Psalm 23
Mozart - Piano Sonata No.9
Nielsen - Symphony No.4
  •  4 Duets, op.34
  • 12 Kerner Lieder
  • 6 Gedichte aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers 
  • Liederkreis (Eichendorff)
Sibelius -The Fool's Song of the Spider
Sibelius - The Three Blind Sisters from Pelleas and Melisande
Simpson - Symphony no.5

January wasn't all that active for classical music, either. The largest amount of activity came from my continuing exploration of the amazing number of songs that Schumann wrote in 1840. The most famous works do tend to be the most memorable, but the variety of styles of songs (including styles that don't suit modern tastes so well) is one of the most impressive things of all.

The best listening moment of the month came from combining the Brahms and Dvorak sextets on a Sunday morning while having an especially nice breakfast. It just so happened that my chronological listening projects for both composers had reached the correct point.  Sensory pleasure in abundance.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Popular Music - January 2018

Tori Amos - Native Invader
Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
Patty Griffin - Impossible Dream
Joni Mitchell - Shine
Radiohead - OK Computer
Radiohead - In Rainbows

The year got off to a slow start, but there's some definite quality here. I finished the Tori Amos/Joni Mitchell comparison, though unfortunately in this case the Joni Mitchell album is... well, it's not all bad. But there are times when it is so dour and miserable in its message. Which I think is what she wanted, but as a listener the music is not enough to get past this.

Patty Griffin writes a lot of things that are in some way pretty miserable. And perhaps never more so than on Impossible Dream, where the sense of regret aches through the speakers in the sequence of "Useless Desires", "Top of the World" and "Rowing Song". But it's so goddamn beautiful. When late Joni Mitchell sometimes offers a lecture, Patty Griffin offers an embrace for the world's heartache. To be honest it's not my favourite album of hers because there's a bit of inconsistency in the quality. But the best moments? They're incredible.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Classical Music - December 2017

Bach, E. - Hommage á Igor
Bach, J.S. - Sie werden euch in den Bann tun (They will put you out of the synagogues) (No. 2)
Barfoed - Brass Quintet
  • Symphony No.2
  • Capricorn Concerto
  • Second Essay for Orchestra
  • Excursions
  • Two Songs, op.18
  • Commando March
  • Wellington's Victory
  • Zur Namensfeier
  • Music to "Leonore Prohaska"
  • Piano Sonata No.31
Brahms - Piano Quartet No.2
  • Coronation March (1910)
  • The Pageant of London
  • Five Entr'actes from "The Two Hunchbacks"
Debussy - La Mer
  • Stabat Mater
  • Ave Maria
  • String Quartet No.9
  • Scottish Dances for piano
  • La chanson d'Ève
  • Le jardin clos
  • Le don silencieux
  • Chanson, op.94
Haydn - Symphonies 50, 54 (1st version) and 55
Haydn - Menuet/Trio and Finale in C
Holmboe - Concerto for Brass
Medtner - 6 Skazki, op.51
  • Symphony No.31, "Paris"
  • Piano Concerto No.6
  • Piano Sonata No.5 
Nørgård - 2 Hans Christian Andersen Poems
Schumann - Songs, opp.29 to 31
  • Piano Sonata No.8
  • 4 Preludes, op.33
  • Poème tragique
  • 3 Pieces, op.45
  • 2 Mazurkas, op.40
  • 2 Impromptus, op.10
  • Valse in F minor, op.1
Shostakovich - Symphony No.5
  • 2 Songs from "Twelfth Night"
  • 8 Songs, op.61
  • Hymn to Thais
The classical music lists continue to be a fairly healthy size, although it should be noted the size of these works varies greatly. Many of Scriabin's opuses are only a few minutes long, whereas Dvorak's magnificent Stabat Mater is 80 minutes on my recording.

Beethoven's Zur Namensfeier overture is quite good for a piece that doesn't have a high profile. Wellington's Victory is pure entertainment and not at all highbrow.

This was the first time in a while that I'd listened to some of Faure's late songs, because I hadn't liked them all that much before. I now strongly suspect that this is the fault of the set of recordings I have (on the Hyperion label with Graham Johnson as pianist) rather than the music. Hyperion have rarely led me astray, and indeed the earlier songs in the same set are fine, but in these late works there's a lack of the flow I've heard in some other recordings online, and also one of the singers is distinctly wobbly. It's quite rare for me to be dissatisfied with a recording that has made its way into my collection, but this is one of those rare times where I'll be hunting for other versions.

No complaints at present with my collection of Medtner's skazki (also on Hyperion, and indeed the only complete set in existence). The pieces keep getting better later in Medtner's career.


I listened to 608 recordings of classical works during 2017. This is down from 2016's massive peak of 836, but still higher than previous years. A lot of this is still exploration of new music, much of it purchased in late 2016. I still have not quite finished listening to everything that I bought at that time, and there were a few more purchases in 2017 to keep me going.

The top 10 composers this year were:

1. Haydn (46)
2.= Beethoven (40)
2.= Schumann (40)
4. Dvorak (39)
5.= Holmboe (33)
5.= Bridge (33)
7. Sibelius (30)
8.= Barber (29)
8.= Scriabin (29)
10. Faure (24)

Schumann, Bridge, Sibelius, Barber and Scriabin enter the list, to a large extent influenced by new purchases and/or listening projects. Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak stay up high, above Holmboe who does not have last year's insane numbers. Faure manages to stay in, just ahead of some of last year's top 10 that missed out (Mozart, Debussy). It was a weaker year for Nielsen, Shostakovich and Chopin.

The victory for Haydn is entirely on the back of the Hogwood set of symphonies (45 recordings). So, without realising it, that's been the soundtrack for the year.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Popular Music - December 2017

Tori Amos
  • Y Kant Tori Read
  • From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • Gold Dust
  • Unrepentant Geraldines
  • Native Invader
Tori Amos, Samuel Adamson and Cast - The Light Princess
Incubus - If Not Now, When?
Madonna - Ray of Light
Joni Mitchell
  • Night Ride Home
  • Turbulent Indigo
  • Taming the Tiger
Roisin Murphy - Ruby Blue
Radiohead - Kid A
Something for Kate - The Official Fiction
Something for Kate - Leave Your Soul to Science
Washington - Saint Lo

The Tori Amos/Joni Mitchell comparison moved into the later part of both careers. In the case of Tori Amos that didn't stop me from listening to other albums, too. In the case of Joni Mitchell, it meant listening to albums I hadn't heard in over 5 years. I definitely should listen to Turbulent Indigo more often than that, as I think it's a strong work.

Elsewhere, there's... well, not that much. You know how it is, December gets busy.


Right, I can finally tally up the albums for the whole year.

*presses filter options on spreadsheet*

115 regular albums, a couple of "best of" compilations, and one single (Saint Lo played to death in the latter part of the year).

Better than last year! A bit. And right on what looks to be the long-term average. I suspect anything much higher would require a specific focus and a move away from the classical music.

So... welcome to 2018.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Classical Music - November 2017

Bach, J.S. - Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende (Praise God! The year now draws to a close)
Bach, J.S. - Er rufet seinen Schafen mit Namen (He calls His sheep by name)
  • First Essay for Orchestra
  • Violin Concerto
  • 4 Songs, op.13 
  • Symphony No.8
  • The Ruins of Athens
  • Violin Sonata No.5 
  • String Sextet No.1
  • Piano Quartet No.1
  • Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel
  •  Suite for Strings
  • Phantasie Piano Quartet
  • An Irish Melody: Londonderry Air (string quartet version)
  • Miniatures for piano trio, sets 1 to 3
Bruun - Vandring i Skoven (A Walk in the Forest)
  • Symphony No.5
  • String Quartet No.8
  • Piano Quartet No.1
  • Piano Trio No.2
  • Theme and Variations for piano
  • Dumka for piano
  • 2 Minuets for piano 
Faure - Piano Trio
Franck - Violin Sonata in A
Haydn - Symphonies 52 and 64
  • Symphony No.12
  • String Quartet No.7
  • Notations
  • Quartetto Medico 
Liszt - Dante Symphony
Medtner - Skazki, opp. 42 and 48
Mozart - Piano Concerto No.7
Mozart - Piano Sonatas 3, 4 and 6 
Nielsen - Symphony No.3, 'Sinfonia Espansiva'
Nielsen - Aftenstemning (Evening Mood) 
Nørgård - Symphony No.6, 'At the End of the Day'
Pedersen (Fuzzy) - Seven Postcards from Ebeltoft and Vicinity
Prokofiev - Piano Sonatas 6, 7 and 8
Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No.4
Rachmaninov - Symphonic Dances (2 piano version)
  • Myrthen
  • Liederkreis (Heine)
  • 3 Romances, op.28
  • Piano Sonata No.6
  • 2 Preludes, op.27
  • 3 Etudes, op.65
  • 2 Impromptus, op.14
  • Polonaise, op.21
  • 9 Mazurkas, op.25
Shostakovich - Symphonies 5 and 11
Sibelius - Eight Songs to words by Josephson, op.57
Vivaldi - Violin Sonata in C minor, RV 5

The pattern of listening here is pretty much the same as previous months, slowly but surely working through the various "programmes" I had set for myself. There are some quirks, such as my sudden decision to give Liszt's Dante Symphony a spin on account of the vague memory that this was a Liszt work I liked. And that's true. But finding Liszt that I can love is a slightly more difficult matter.

Beethoven's 8th symphony is always a highlight of any Beethoven traversal. Medtner's skazki are becoming more and more sophisticated. Prokofiev's wartime piano sonatas are rightly regarded as some of his best.

But the most notable information, for me, in this list is that I reached Schumann's "year of song". In 1840 the piano composer suddenly became a lieder composer. Which is remarkable not simply because of the abrupt shift in focus, but because of the incredible quality of what he produced. While I admit there are still many lieder by famous names such as Schubert, Brahms and Wolf that I haven't heard, my own view is that Schumann is the very best lieder composer of all. And that view is primarily based on the output from this one intense burst of activity, from February 1840 through to January 1841.

The inspiration seems to be in large part a desire to express his love for his soon-to-be/new wife, Clara. Myrthen ended up being a wedding present (as befits the title, because myrtle wreaths were used as wedding decorations) and is all about love, but Schumann kept on composing songs after completing that first project. And we can all enjoy the results.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Popular Music - November 2017

Tori Amos - Night of Hunters
Tori Amos - Native Invader
Beyonce - Beyonce
Kate Bush - Never For Ever
Marc Cohn - The Rainy Season
Crowded House - Temple of Low Men
Paul Dempsey - Strange Loop
Bryan Duncan - Mercy
Peter Gabriel - So
Gotye - Making Mirrors
Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection
Nik Kershaw - The Riddle
Nik Kershaw - Radio Musicola
Joni Mitchell - Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm
Agnes Obel - Aventine
Simply Red - Picture Book
Talk Talk - The Colour of Spring
Thrice - The Alchemy Index

Early November was one of those times when I listened to quite a lot of pop music. The Tori Amos/Joni Mitchell comparison completely stopped in this period, and my focus was very much on established favourites. I was clearly out to enjoy myself rather than educate myself.

Which is fine. The purpose of the spreadsheets where I keep records of what I listen to, which led to this blog, is to stop myself from listening to the same things all the time, and I do set myself all these listening projects. But I also don't want to turn listening simply into a task with checklists.

Besides, quite a few of the albums on this list were things I had not listened to for over a year. In a couple of cases the gap between listens was several years. My collection is quite large enough for this to happen.

So here is the Beyonce album that made me a Beyonce fan, my favourite Kate Bush album, the Marc Cohn album that I've been in love with for a couple of decades, my favourite Crowded House, Bryan Duncan's masterpiece, the best EP in history disguised as a Peter Gabriel album, Elton John's best and biggest secret, and the best moments of Simply Red, Talk Talk and Thrice. That should be plenty to explore for those so inclined.