Track of the week

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Erian
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Tue Feb 27, 2018 5:14 pm

# 9 Symphony no. 7 op 60 by Dmitri Shostakovich

The first link is to the whole symphony, played by Marin Alsop with the Frankfurt Radio SO:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_z8TZjcqYhY&t=42s

The second link is to the final few minutes of the symphony, in a recording of Bernstein conducting the Chicago SO

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EJgCwbfFn0

I can't play this symphony without tearing up. One reason is that the sound itself produces an autonomic response, even not knowing the story behind its composition - it is well worth reading its history on wikipedia. The story itself is highly emotional.

It was composed during the siege of Leningrad, the city cut off and starving in freezing conditions, besieged by the German army. It was flown out and performed in Kuybychev in spring 1942 and broadcast across Russia. Within weeks the score had reached London and New York and were performed there. Later in 1942 it was performed by the starved remnants of what was left of the musicians still alive in Leningrad.

At the time it was seen as a symbol of Russian resistance to Nazism and the triumph of humanity in response to fascism. Later, Shostakovich revealed
that it was also a hidden response to Stalin's domestic reign of terror, for example the invasion theme can be interpreted in two ways.

I think of Shostakovich as the greatest 20th century composer, by some distance. He had a pretty awful life living under Stalinism, often fearing for his life and with official decrees requiring that only music of a certain kind would be tolerated. I find his music often highly emotional, but there is also a lot which is beyond my understanding and intellect. He could write simple stuff too: one of you might recognise this Grade 1 Piano practice piece:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEBAvhy3sok
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Aleila » Sat Mar 03, 2018 2:44 am

I have some symphonies to catch up on :D

Meanwhile, the philistine modern nonsense that's really grabbed me recently is this metal instrumental by an under-appreciated one man band. I'm very keen on vocals in most genres, but some pieces stand tall without them, and this is one of them. Buckets of tension and excellent pacing.
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Mon Mar 12, 2018 4:22 pm

Track #10. Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky.

Link to my favourite recording, conducted by Fedoseyev, with the USSR RTV Orchestra & Chorus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pA-LLi7YZZE

I was a post-doc at Hull University when I came across this recording, on cassette, in the university library. It lasts about 3 hours. I would play it (I made a copy) day after day whilst I sat and scribbled math or programmed, and came to love it. The music is tuneful, moving, evocative, and full of energy. A lot of it - including the main character Boris - is in the bass register, so good to sing along to; for me, anyway. I think it's probably the greatest and most powerful Russian opera, and easily my favourite opera.

A bit later, Opera North came to Hull (1989, I see from a web search) and we were lucky enough to get seats. The great bass John Tomlinson was in the lead role as Boris. It's hard to describe what I felt (because men don't often seem to confess to such feelings), but I remember sitting there in an almost paralyzed state of ecstasy and with tears running down each cheek.

One of the more famous scenes is the coronation scene, with Boris crowned as the new Tsar. Here is a link to just that scene, I think from Tarkovsky's film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEBq-gsdI58

You have to be a bit careful with which versions you listen to or buy. The original 1872 version is easily the best. This is the version played by Fedoseyev (above). It's also available conducted by Gergiev (see track #7) in the original version, something on my wishlist. I have another version I don't like, and also a disc of extracts sung by the great Russian bass Chaliapin (see, e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQrGwZfnyHc).

The original version was hardly ever played before the 1980s. This is because Rimsky-Korsakov (and other composers, later), decided to "improve" it, and their versions were mostly played. Mussorgsky was only an amateur composer (he was a civil servant), and Rimsky-Korsakov helped popularise the opera, but also rewrote what he thought were sloppy musical constructions. Nowadays, we hear mostly the original version.
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Tue Mar 20, 2018 5:07 pm

Track #11. Wochenend und Sonnenschein, by the Comedian Harmonists.

Heard this on Radio 3 one Friday morning, driving into work from my home, coming over the hill and seeing the sun just starting to rise over the limestone scarp which separates Sunderland and Durham.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ey9wYTOgew

The solo tenor and bass are superb. The Nazis banned them because half of them were Jewish, so as well as being an uplifting song, it's a bittersweet reminder of the evil idiocy of fascism.
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Ramael » Fri Mar 23, 2018 2:40 pm

Thank you for starting this thread, Erian. I've had some great finds here.

Here is my small contribution - Bach's Chaconne from Partita in D minor (BWV 1004) arranged for guitar. This is one of my all-time favourite pieces. The structure is simple, yet its complexity is astounding. Amazing what you can do with only 4 chords.

Click 1
Click 2
Click 3

This is one of my favourite performances of this piece, although the recording itself is not that great, and it's split into 3 parts, unfortunately (total play time is around 14 minutes). I've had a pleasure of listening to this piece performed live several times, including performances of some well known musicians, but I still like this one best. Some guitarists play it with a pick, but I prefer it played by fingers (the way you are thought to play classical music in school). Most people look at the musician's left hand (the one on guitar neck) and praise the performance for the sheer range of motion. Although this is true, what's even more amazing to me is the right hand and its technique. Even in my best days, I was far away from performing like this.

I know Bach can be heavy to listen to and he's not everyone's cup of tea. If that's you, you can chill out with some great progressive trance here:

M-Sphere - Blue Note
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Wed Mar 28, 2018 9:23 am

Track #12. Hanging on a Star and Which Will, both by Nick Drake

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOFgM3mFIqw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0NDxRNdQKk

Two choices as all his songs are so short.

Almost unknown in his time, Nick Drake killed himself aged 26 in 1974. One of those tortured boys with low self-esteem, continuing depression and drug addiction. Many of his songs (including these) seem to refer to those low feelings. There is a documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrmR_F5XgwQ) about him where his sister, years later but still in tears, tries to explain that he killed himself, but still can't accept it or comprehend it.

He made three studio albums, and there is a posthumous album of other recordings. They are mostly beautiful, lyrical, sad songs. He worked out his own way of playing guitar which has influenced many other artists since. These are not albums I tire of hearing, and indeed as well as being musically satisfying, they evoke some of the darker times of the adolescent that grew into me.
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Tue Apr 03, 2018 10:06 pm

Track #13. Symphony number 2 in D major, by Jean Sibelius

There are many wonderful recordings. My first was in the vinyl boxed set with Colin Davis and the London SO. The following is with Mariss Jansons on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sSFVvF7-W0

If you only can bear a snippet, here is Colin Davis again in a live performance with the last part of the final movement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anrC1gca-qs

This could easily have been my Track #1, for reasons personal and reasons musical. Sibelius is one of those composers with an instantly recognizable sound. We'll be travelling along in the car listening to the radio and I'll hear some unknown piece and say to my wife: that sounds like so-and-so, and a lot of the time I'll be right (to her huge irritation). Sibelius is in that category, he sounds like no-one else.

Personally, this music takes me back to Hull and times when my PhD was not going so well. I'd be sitting there in the freezing cold in our flat, sitting working at a table with my legs in a bag my wife made up from a folded-over blanket. I'd play this symphony and then get distracted by it and start playing along to it - where I could - on my D whistle, or conducting it using the whistle as a baton.

Musically, it's hard for me to explain. Even in the snippet above you can hear all of Sibelius' persona. You can hear the sadness. You can hear the wind in the pine forests. You can see the Finnish landscape. You can hear the sun rise over the lakes. You can feel the snow and the loneliness and the vastness. You can imagine Pohjola and Lemminkainen and Kullervo and other Kalevala personae populating that world. But in this symphony above all else, Sibelius moves you gradually from minor to major, from sadness to hope to triumph, with an utterly masterful and totally compelling maintenance of tension, until all is released in one incredible final sequence of major D chords.
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Tue Apr 10, 2018 7:13 pm

Track #14: Towards the Sun, by Alexi Murdoch

Here is the title track:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjmnBqWh7d8

and another favourite, Slow Revolution:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMc2Ghx17HI or (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3k30ArnmU-s

There is another very fine album (Time Without Consequence). He is perhaps the closest we have these days to Nick Drake (Track #12). This is music both simple and deep. I find the songs very calming. They might seem to be minimalist, but there are many implied harmonics and you'll find yourself humming along and making up your own harmonies. Timeless and zen-like.
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Mon Apr 16, 2018 1:51 pm

Track #15. Duke Bluebeard's Castle, by Bela Bartok.

This is the greatest opera of the twentieth century in my estimation. It's a psycho-sexual thriller, with only two characters: the Duke and his new bride Judith. It is often not staged, but just performed in the concert hall. I managed to get to see it a few years ago performed by John Tomlinson (see Track #10) and Sally Burgess at the Sage in Gateshead.

Look for an English version of the opera if you can, as the words are important. The original is in Hungarian of course, with Bartok fitting the music around Hungarian syllables to an extent that non-Hungarians can't get the full impact of the opera.

I'll begin with a snippet, the scene at the opening of the 5th door. Turn up the volume before you listen to it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbr_rDmkAD8

If that didn't give you goosebumps and raise the hairs on your nape, there is no hope for you!

This next link seems to link to a youtube copy of the recording I actually have (which is a stunning performance) and also there is some written commentary underneath which will help you understand a bit of what is going on:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUNpYU5UGg0

There is a staged version, quite effective and with English subtitles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9Aq2WWds8k
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Re: Track of the week

Postby Erian » Mon Apr 23, 2018 12:34 pm

A French double bill this week.

Track #16 Le tourbillon de la vie, sung by Jeanne Moreau:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcVcwwo8QFE

The sound quality and film are a bit poor, I guess this was video-ed from the film. This is from Truffaut's masterful film Jules et Jim, the story of a love triangle starring Jeanne Moreau. She gives a mesmerising performance. The song is a simple interlude, hinting at the sexual tension between the three. I particularly like the doubling of the time signature at one point. Jeanne Moreau recorded many songs as a singer, though on the CD I have of her songs, this is the standout.

Track #17 Les trois cloches, sung by Edith Piaf

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm3JigL9_ZY

Again, the sound quality is a bit duff. I could have chosen her most famous song Non, Je ne regrette rien (which is also very fine), but maybe you will enjoy this one too. It is worth seeking out a compilation of Piaf recordings, her voice is distinctive and engaging. I see from Wikipedia that les trois cloches was pastiched (bim bam) by a Dutch artist, so that may spoil it for some.
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