Wednesday, 8 June 2011

May 2011 - Classical Music

Brahms - Hungarian Dances (orchestral versions - complete)
Haydn - 6 String Quartets, op.71 & 74 (the 'Apponyi' quartets)
Mahler - Symphony No.8
Shostakovich - String Quartet No.3

Okay, so I listened to Haydn string quartets. A Lot.

Almost to the point of overload, actually.  But it's a perfect demonstration of how obsessive I get with completeness and order and patterns.  Opuses 71 and 74 are really one set of six quartets (not two sets of three, even though they were published that way).  And in the vast array of quartets that Haydn wrote (the number depends on your counting method) there are no less than nine of these sets of six.  Chronologically, the 71/74 set is the eigth one, dedicated to Count Anton Georg Apponyi and premiered during Haydn's second visit to London.

Yep. Music in sets. It's like a honeypot, and I'm the bee...

I've known the ninth set (the opus 76 'Erdődy' quartets) for years. They were one of my very first classical purchases, on cassette when I was teenager.  They aided me through many university exam periods.  I've owned the 'Apponyi' set for quite a few years as well, but it was only more recently that I grasped that I had another complete set and resolved to get to know them as well as the 'Erdődy' ones.  Hence, a month of repeated listening (especially the last fortnight) to the point where I had snatches of various movements ringing in my head at all hours of the day.

Mahler's 8th symphony (usually known as the 'Symphony of a Thousand') was the last of my New Year's Eve purchases to get a hearing.  It was also the most disappointing.  The first movement in particular just irritated the heck out of me.

I've been trying to work out the reason.  I briefly wondered if I could blame the particular performance (conducted by Simon Rattle), but then I also bought his performance of Mahler's 5th symphony and enjoyed it.  I was a bit relieved when Wikipedia and some other sources told me that many people who are serious Mahler fans don't like the 8th symphony at all.  It's not just me. The experts share my feelings.

One thing I often worry about with classical vocal music is the language barrier.  I always hunt out a translation (if it's not provided - shame on you EMI in this instance).  If I'm going to concentrate on the piece rather than have it as background, I'm likely to sit there with the translation in hand.  I'm never quite sure whether this helps or hinders.  There are times when it seems to help: the first time I actually knew what was being sung in Shostakovich's 13th symphony, the section about Anne Frank made my hair stand on end and it had an impact it could never have otherwise.  But with Mahler's 8th, reading the text just seemed to emphasise that it was all too vacuously happy for my tastes.

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