Monday, 18 May 2015

Classical Music - March 2015

Bach, J.S.
  • Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does is well done)
  • Ach, lieben Christen, seid getrost (Ah, dear Christians, be comforted)
  • Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele (Adorn yourself, beloved soul)
Barber - First, Second and Third Essays for Orchestra
Bartok - Piano Concerto No.2
  • Triple Concerto
  • Romances 1 & 2 for violin and orchestra
  • Quintet for piano winds (original version and piano quartet version)
  • String Quartets 12, 13 and 15
  • Piano Trios 1 to 3, 9 and 10 (Op.1, WoO 38 and Op.44)
  • Clarinet Trio (original version and violin version)
  • String Trios 1 to 4
  • Serenade for string trio 
  • Violin Sonatas 1 to 5 (two versions of each)
  • Piano Trio No.2
  • String Quintet No.1
  • Cello Sonata No.2
  • Piano Concerto No.2
  • Fantasy on Polish Airs
  • Variations on "Là ci darem la mano"
  • 2 Polonaises, op.26 
Debussy - Berceuse Heroique (orchestral version)
Dvorak - Suite in A, 'American' (orchestral version)
  • Chamber Symphony No.1
  • Intermezzo Concertante for tuba and orchestra
  • Concerto giocondo e severo
  • Violin Sonata No.2
  • Primavera
Schubert - Symphony No.8 ('Unfinished')
Shostakovich - String Quartet No.9
Sibelius - Finlandia
Sibelius - Symphony No.1
Snider - Penelope
Vine - String Quartet No.2 

There was a veritable explosion of Beethoven activity in March. Through a complex series of events I ended up with even more new (or newish) Beethoven recordings to listen to than I expected.

This was pretty marvellous.  It's hard to pick out highlights. At one end there was some truly delightful music from the early part of Beethoven's career. Special mention needs to be made of the string trios, as performed by the Leopold String Trio on Hyperion, because every bar on these discs sparkles.  At the other extreme, I was introduced to the 3 string quartets that Beethoven wrote for Prince Galitzin - extraordinary pieces, alternately wild and grand as performed by the Takacs Quartet. The famous hymn in the Lydian mode in (the inaccurately numbered) 15th quartet showed me from the first hearing just why it is famous.

My Chopin chronology backtracked because I acquired a recording of his orchestral works... although it's fairly clear that the teenage Chopin was writing the orchestra to be in the background of fairly dazzling piano parts. I seem to remember quite liking the Fantasy.

March also provided me with a fairly unique puzzle, but it was a good puzzle to have. The problem was how to classify Penelope, a song cycle with some theatrical origins inspired by Homer's Odyssey, composed by Sarah Kirkland Snider to lyrics by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, sung by Shara Worden with instrumental accompaniment by the group Signal. Which half of my blog does this fit in? Is this classical music, or popular music?

The truth is it's both. And neither. It's a true hybrid - not one of these embarrassing crossovers that has plagued the world since Hooked on Classics became a hit, but a work of art that uses elements of both musical languages. While getting to know Penelope, I switched back and forth repeatedly as to where it would live in my collection. That's a pop melody there... but then this section is something a pop song would never do... but that's layering that could only be created in a studio...

The performers weren't any help, as in both cases they are known for straddling different styles. In the end, the reason that Penelope has ended up in the classical list is that the composer is given prominence - first billing, in a way that is alien to pop music. So it goes under 'S' for Snider.

But really, more important than its classification is its quality. It has the resonances that distinguish the best song cycles, the sense of unity, of emotional narrative, the marriage of music and words so that both are heightened. More than anything, it's flat out beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. Penelope somehow slipped under my radar when it was released, despite my interest in both new music and Greek mythology, so I definitely want to check it out.