Sunday, April 30, 2017

Classical Music - February 2017

Barber - Second Essay for Orchestra
Barber - Knoxville: Summer of 1915 
Bartok - String Quartet No.6
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No.5
Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.24 
Brahms - Symphonies 3 and 4
Bridge
  • String Quartet No.2
  • 3 Idylls for string quartet
  • An Irish Melody (Londonerry Air) (quartet version) 
Chopin
  • Piano Concerto No.2
  • Ballades 1 and 4
  • Impromptu No.2
  • Polonaise-Fantaisie
  • 3 Waltzes, op.34
  • 2 Nocturnes, op.48 
Debussy
  • Children's Corner
  • Morceau de Concours
  • Le petit negre
  • Hommage a Haydn
  • Le plus que lente
  • Berceuse Heroique
  • Page d'Album
  • Elegie 
Dvorak
  • Slavonic Dances, Series 2 (orchestral version)
  • Moderato in A for piano
  • Impromptu in D minor for piano
  • Question
Haydn - Symphonies 21-23, 40 and 72
Haydn - Cello Concerto No.1 
Holmboe - String Quartet No.18, 'Giornata'
Holmboe - Gioco 
Mahler - Lieder und Gesänge 'aus der Jugendzeit', Volume 3
Medtner - Four Lyrical Fragments
Nielsen - Symphony No.6, 'Sinfonia semplice'
Nielsen - An Imaginary Journey to the Faroe Islands 
Nørgård - Symphonies 1 to 8
Nørgård - Images of Arresø
Prokofiev - Piano Sonata No.5 (original version)
Schoenberg - Transfigured Night
Schubert - Three Klavierstücke, D.946
Schumann - Symphony No.3
Schumann - 3 Romances for oboe and piano 
Sibelius - Two Serenades for violin and orchestra
Smetana - Šárka
Villa-Lobos - Choros No.1
Villa-Lobos - Bachianas Brasileiras No.2
Vine - Symphony No.3 

It's difficult to explain quite how I became fascinated with the music of Per Nørgård.

I can certainly tell how it started, which was with the piano trio Spell. It's a work from the period when Nørgård was working with an "infinity series" and creating music that very gradually changes and evolves. I found it hypnotic, and appealing in a way many other minimalist compositions were not. It gave me a genuine impression of momentum and goals.

But why go from that piece, plus an oboe sonata and a handful of short choral works, into purchasing a whole 8 symphonies?

Well, in truth some of the reasons are extra-musical. For one thing, I'm a sucker for sets, and the Da Capo label has created a "set" of 4 albums with 2 symphonies each. They're all available for purchase separately, were recorded at different times, have 3 different conductors/orchestras, and the artwork isn't entirely consistent, and yet... they're a set.

The artwork was genuinely a draw. I find these covers brilliant. After hearing the music, the idea of variation in them while having something in common is brilliant because (as the liner notes for at least one album explain), the symphonies themselves are a lot like that: each different and distinct, but related.


The music itself, though, which I did listen to online before purchasing... some of it seemed brilliant, and some of it seemed bewildering. But that bewilderment didn't put me off, it was the kind where I was intrigued and wanted to know more, to crack the code.

The first 3 symphonies were perhaps the most understandable. Symphony No.1 is relatively conventional, recognisable to a fan of Sibelius. Symphony No.2 comes from a similar soundworld to Spell, and Symphony No.3 is basically that soundworld on steroids, with everything louder and denser and overwhelming. It's quite a piece.

But what comes after that is music that is frequently quite unlike anything I've heard before. It's my reaction to Symphony No.5 I really remember. I'm not sure I even tried 6 to 8 very much, partly because the first impressions tended to be a chaos of noises. But also, thanks to the arrangement of the works on each disc, I knew there was something worthwhile on every album by this point.  But we need to talk about Symphony No.5...

Very soon after the 5th symphony starts, the music slides upwards and... disappears into the air. It then comes crashing back down, the aural equivalent of an object that was fired upwards out of sight and then returns to earth once gravity gets the better of it.

Listening to the first minute of this clip is sufficient to demonstrate what I heard.


The first time I heard that, I was dumbfounded. Who could come up with a musical idea like that? The answer, of course, is Per Nørgård.

The later symphonies are full of such ideas. Insanely detailed, full of different instruments, nearly chaotic but also quite clearly not random. And in these Da Capo recordings, captured in top-quality sound.

On initial listens I struggled a bit to distinguish some symphonies from each other. Hence this exercise in February when I brought them closer together and focused on them, putting aside most of the other new music from my big purchase. I then heard the differences much more clearly. Eventually, I listened to all 8 symphonies in a single day.

I can't claim to love them all yet, because I can't even claim to understand them all yet. I've fallen in love with No.7, but I'm still struggling a bit with 6 and 8 and in fact No.5 is probably the toughest of all, full of sudden violent eruptions and silences and lacking clear signposts (it's not even clearly separated into movements).

But my goodness, even with the ones I don't yet understand, I want to hear them again. I want my ears to be tickled by all those weird and wonderful sounds that will gradually coalesce in my mind into meaningful musical structures.

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