Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Robots

So the blog was locked up for just over 24 hours. A Google robot suspected the site of being a spam blog. I just received an email from them saying that they reviewed the site and have determined that it is in fact run by a human. Not sure what raised the alarm. Externally-linked pictures?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pleased to meet ya

I took about 8000 music courses during the protracted completion of my BSc. In class once, we were talking about the first time you hear a piece. The professor used the analogy of shaking hands with someone you've just met. He didn't pursue the analogy too far then, but thinking about it now it still seems valid to me. Some people you get a good sense of right away and your impression is confirmed the longer you know them. Others may not interest you as much initially but grow on you and become your best buddy. There are people who'll you'll see staggering down main street and you'll go out of your way to avoid them. Some act like your best fried to your face but as soon as your back's turned they're bad mouthing you to the other people then you confront the person and they totally deny it and you scream at them anyway and you end up with sand in your gas tank and you kick yourself because you knew the person was no good right from the start so you go over to their place and put a cinder block through their car's back window and --

Okay. So anyway, I shook hands with Schumann's First Symphony today. Seems like a pretty good guy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Mr. Herbie Hancock on the piano."

Listened to Miles in Tokyo on the way into work. Herbie, as always, does good stuff on here. Tony Williams can sometimes be too much of a good thing but plays pretty tastefully. Sam Rivers is on sax - this is the only Miles album on which he appears. In 1964, Miles was still searching for a replacement for Coltrane (who'd left 4 years earlier). A lot of good stuff came out of this transitional period -- the Blackhawk recordings with Hank Mobley and the George Coleman albums are great. Rivers was soon replaced by Wayne Shorter. Miles finally had his lineup together and the group would last until 1968.

Miles' tempos got faster and faster in this period -- "So What" really is a different song when compared to its studio version on Kind of Blue since the tempo is about 12 times faster live. Not so much on this album, but in other recordings from the period, you can sense the band's impatience with the head of "Walkin'". They really burn through it so they can start the solos.

I was really in the mood for this album this morning so I think there'll be more jazz on the listening list for the next little while.

I also listened to Beethoven's first Razumovsky quartet (Op. 59, No. 1 in F). Joseph Kerman allows himself to use the word "breathtaking" more than once when talking about the first movement in his book The Beethoven Quartets. The double fugue in the development section is pretty mind-blowing so I'm right there with ya, buddy.

The recording was from the Quartetto Italiano's complete set. It's a great set to learn the works from.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Light Weekend

Didn't get much listening done this weekend. Friday night I listened to Karajan conducting Strauss' Metamorphosen which was a pretty cheery way to hit the bricks.

Saturday I picked up the remastered version of Jethro Tull's Songs from the Wood and upon hearing it decided I needed to get the rest of the remasters. The improvement in sound is striking (the original CD releases of Tull's albums were notoriously bad). The one for Aqualung used an LP master for the CD source. From what I understand, when mastering for LP, you have to play with the EQ to keep the volume up since the grooves get smaller the closer you get to the center of the disc. In any event, the Tull albums on CD sounded muddy. Songs from the Wood is now bright and fresh in all its acoustic splendor.

I have a few CDs that are copy-protected and I've always been annoyed I couldn't rip them to my iPod. I finally sat down today to figure out a way around it. Turns out to have been really easy. So now Can's Tago Mago, Brian Eno's Before and After Science and Here Come The Warm Jets, the above-mentioned Tull album, and Carlos Kleiber conducting Beethoven's Sixth Symphony in 1983 are all available for listening on the go.

The only listening today has been Robert Fripp's Soundscapes performance in 2005 from Wolverhampton. I'm sure all these will be blogged about in more detail at some point....

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Some Karita For Ya

I'm nuts about Karita Mattila. Here she sings Amelia's act 1 aria "Come in quest'ora bruna" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Better Than SpongeBob

Awww, Fafner's so cute!

The Ring for kids on 1 CD? Why haven't I ordered this yet? GOOD QUESTION.

And check out the top right corner: Deutsche Grammophon JUNIOR.


Health Food

I have a bad habit of dividing up the music I listen to into "health food" and "junk food". Classical and opera falls into the first, everything else into the second. I thought of this again last night as I was going to bed. In my semi-hysterical exhaustion I had a half-formed thought along the lines of "time for some health food." Before falling asleep I listened to Richard Goode playing Bach's Partita No. 3 in A minor (BWV 827) and Rostropovich playing Britten's First Cello Suite. The health food/junk food distinction doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the music. It's more about the mental energy it takes for me to enjoy it: Parsifal takes more energy than Miles' On The Corner, for example.

I think I want to get out of this habit. I often want to listen to something classical, decide I don't have the energy, and put on King Crimson or Black Sabbath instead. I'm not sure if this is something real or if I'm just being too obsessive.

But then again, I get way more out of Parsifal than I do On The Corner. And following a fugue is harder than following a sax solo. You know, I don't have a bad habit. Never mind.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Replacements

While ripping some Beethoven discs to my iPod, I picked out a couple of pieces to listen to: the Andante in F, WoO 57 and the arrangement for piano (four hands) Beethoven made of the Gro├če Fuge, Op. 133 (the arrangement is Op. 134). Both of these were originally movements in other works: the Waldstein piano sonata, Op. 53 and the B-flat string quartet, Op. 130 respectively.

The Andante and Fugue were removed from the original pieces and replaced with newly-composed alternatives. In the case of the sonata, history has firmly sided with the replacement - the short, austere movement that functions as an introduction to the finale. With the string quartet, it's not so clear cut. While the replacement is firmly regarded as the finale to the quartet, the Fugue has a life of its own. Beethoven published it separately (he never published the Andante) and it's always included in Beethoven string quartet cycles. Its stunning magnificence is also probably part of the reason for its survival.

One of the most interesting aspects of these revisions is how using the original or revised movements can impact the character of the piece as a whole even when not a note in the rest of the work has changed.

With the Waldstein, use of the original, 10-minute lyrical slow movement instead of the terse, agitated introductory movement changes the character of the sonata in obvious ways: the center of gravity of the piece shifts, the dyamics are different, and there's less of a "breakthrough" sense to the finale. And it's longer.

In the quartet, the difference is more drastic. The Fugue casts its shadow over the whole quartet when it's in place as the finale. The journey through the preceeding movements seems directed towards the Fugue. With the new finale, it's much more a companion to the other movements: the piece becomes less backend heavy and the overall mood is altered.

The Lindays in their most recent recordings of the Beethoven cycle offer not only both finales: they also record the Cavatina twice. Their approach to the Cavatina is dependent on which finale it leads into. I like to think that if it made economic sense, they'd have recorded the whole quartet twice using each of the finales.

The Op. 130 finale is also fascinating by the sheer fact of it being an issue in the first place. I can't agree with Deryck Cooke who asserts that Beethoven only replaced the finale after pressure from his publisher who felt the Fugue finale was too much. Who on earth could have bullied Beethoven? It's more likely that Beethoven did agree on some level that there was a problem. Arriving at a new solution was pretty much the last thing he did and I'm glad to have the choice.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Abbado kicked my ass

Beethoven - Symphony No. 7 (Claudio Abbado, BPO, DG, 2000)
Fairly frequently, I decide it's time to go through the Beethoven symphonies. Usually, I start with No. 1 and march through them in order. This time I decided to rebel against my mild OCD and listen to one at random. I was thinking about something from Rattle's set but at the last second picked the No. 7 from Abbado's most recent cycle.

I'd been through the Abbado a few years ago. I remembered liking it at the time, but somewhat regretted the influence of the HIP-merchants on his approach. So I really wasn't prepared for the experience of returning to this recording.

The first movement went very well -- hearing the beginning of the exposition always makes me very glad I decided to listen to the Seventh. For the most part, the Allegretto made the impact it should. (One thing I've always loved about it is in the construction of the main theme - Beethoven hits that note and is in no hurry to move off it.)

The third movement is tricky to bring off. If it moves too slowly, one can (foolishly) regret that Beethoven repeats the Trio. (Karajan's 60s recording is a little slow on its feet here.) But Abbado takes it at quite a good clip. It is marked "Presto", after all.

The performance of the finale blew the doors off. Fast, but with more weight than someone like Gardiner. And the intensity just built as the movement went on. As it was getting to the end, I was convinced this was the greatest performance of this movement I've heard. After the final chords and a few seconds of silence, my wife just said "Well, that just kicked my ass. How about yours?"