CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Dip Your Ears, No. 237 (A Stickler for Clapping Along - Steve Reich)

available at Amazon
Steve Reich,
Sextet, Music for Pieces of Wood, Clapping Music
London Symphony Orchestra Percussion Ensemble (hands)
(LSO Live)

Typical contemporary music recital: Only two or three people in the crowd, but before the chaps with wooden blocks even begin to bang them together (twelve rhythmically shifting minutes long), they applaud the performers for another three or four minutes. Oh, wait, it’s just Steve Reich’s Clapping Music preceding Music for Pieces of Wood. Mhwak-mhwak: My apologies. Minimalism is such a ripe target for gentle mocking that any attempt to do so will automatically trigger a trope-alert. It’s especially unwarranted with Steve Reich, who, miraculously, manages to be—to my ears at least—the purest of the famous minimalists but also the one least prone to becoming his own cliché. The LSO Percussion Ensemble does a splendid job with this music—which may not be very obvious in isolation but becomes notable when this recording turns out catchier and more incisive than master-percussionist’s Colin Currie recent Reich album (“Live at Foundation Louis Vuitton”) which has Music for Pieces of Wood and Clapping Music in common with this one. Especially Clapping Music is telling: Although both accounts are live, one sounds like a perfectionist recording of a composer’s point (LSO) – the other like a get-together of hippies indulging in a musico-intellectual fancy. Also available on Vinyl.


On ClassicsToday: David Fray's Multiple-Keyboard Bach Concertos

White Nougat: David Fray In Bach’s Multiple-Keyboard Concertos

by Jens F. Laurson
When Evgeni Koroliov & Co’s recording with the six multiple-keyboard concertos of Bach, performed on modern instruments, came out earlier this year, it became the immediate reference version. Not because it is the only complete such set, convenient though that is, but because of the... Continue Reading


Briefly Noted: Coronation Music (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
An English Coronation, 1902-1953, Gabrieli Consort, Roar, and Players, Chetham's Symphonic Brass Ensemble, S. R. Beale, R. Pierce, M. Martin, E. Slorach, P. McCreesh

(released on May 3, 2019)
Signum Classics SIGCD569 | 159'21"
From this American's perspective, the only thing to be regretted about the final demise of monarchy would be the ceremonial and music associated with it. Paul McCreesh has put together this 2-CD collection of the best music composed for the coronation of English rulers, following up on a similar compilation of music for the coronation of the Doge in Venice, recorded in two slightly different versions. With forces ranging from intimate to vast, he has recorded music from Gregorian chant to Tallis and Byrd to William Walton and David Matthews in the resonant acoustic of Ely Cathedral and two smaller churches. All of the music is drawn from the coronations of Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), George VI (1937), and Elizabeth II (1953).

The pieces range from expected favorites like Parry's I Was Glad, Handel's explosive Zadok the Priest, and Walton's Coronation Te Deum to less expected discoveries. McCreesh expands his main ensemble with the Gabrieli Roar, a partnership with a number of youth choirs, which adds voice to his projects and gives young singers training. The pieces with mass numbers of singers gain in vigor and excitement what they lose just slightly in refinement. The instrumental works include regal marches and heraldic brass fanfares. Much here to make Anglophiles and royal nostalgists rejoice.


Dip Your Ears, No. 236 (The Diaphanous Elegance of English Baroque)

available at Amazon
H.Purcell, M.Locke,
Orchestral Works
Vox Orhcestra, Lornezo Ghirlanda

On this most recent disc of the youngish Vox Orchesta under Lorenzo Ghirlanda, two of the finest pre-Haendelian English baroque composers are combined in some of their ‘greatest orchestral hits’: Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and Matthew Locke (1621-1677). What they have in common is a very fine, very ingratiating, never dry, never blatant or gaudy style of early baroque. As the booklet rightly points out, the English – long before Bach – combined European baroque styles to their own end: Operatic-Italian baroque with Courtly French dance, shearing the music of any excess in the process. The result, rather than faceless international baroque, is actually an appreciable, ‘very British’ style of its own. The orchestral collections from Purcell’s King Arthur, Dioclesian, The Fairy Queen und Locke’s The Tempest (replete with a few orchestrated arias) give the impression of a bracing collection of free-wheeling de-facto dance suites. The instrumentalists and especially the rocking continuo group of the HIP Vox Orchestra, founded by band leader Lorenzo Ghirlanda in 2015, makes you chair-dance all along. All properly measured, of course – the composers are English, after all – but most decidedly delightful!


On ClassicsToday: Wilhelm Kempff's Schubert, neither Titanic nor Teutonic

Kempff’s Schubert in Blu-ray Pure Audio: A Reference Revisited

by Jens F. Laurson
Schubert—almost as much as Beethoven—had been a staple of pianist Wilhelm Kempff’s repertoire from the beginning to the end of his career, including his final public recital where he played (apart from Beethoven, of course) Schubert’s Sonata D. 845. And if his set of Schubert... Continue Reading [Insider content]


On ClassicsToday: Vienna Philharmonic' Mahler's 8th at the Konzerthaus

Vienna Aroused: Mahler’s Eighth Still Does the Trick

May 12, 2019 by Jens F. Laurson
Vienna, May 11, 2019; Vienna Konzerthaus—Even in times of inflationary Mahler performances, a Mahler Eighth is something special. It was notable from the moment you set foot into the Vienna Konzerthaus on this past Saturday afternoon. The mood was different. A little tense, a little hushed in anti...  Continue Reading

See also:

106 Years Mahler Eighth: The Best Recordings (Forbes)
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.8 (Part 1)
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.8 (Part 2)
Alles Vergängliche: Ozawa's Mahler Eighth


Briefly Noted: Stanford Commemorates World War I

available at Amazon
C.V. Stanford, Mass 'Via victrix' / At the Abbey Gate, K. Howarth, J. Dandy, R. Bowen, G. Brynmor John, BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, A. Partington

(released on May 3, 2019)
Lyrita SRCD382 | 79'58"
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) is probably familiar mostly to choir singers, for his Latin motets and Anglican anthems and Evening Prayer services. The long-time director of the London Bach Choir, he knew how to wrote for a chorus. It turns out that the Irish composer also wrote seven symphonies, ten operas, and a pile of other music. This charming disc contains the first recordings of two of his late works for choir, soloists, and orchestra: the Mass 'Via victrix', setting of the Latin Ordinary composed in 1919 to commemorate the Allied victory in World War I, and the cantata At the Abbey Gate from 1920.

The Mass uses the full range of sounds from the four soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Stanford emphasizes resonant parts of the Latin text, returning to the words "et in terra pax" at the end of the Gloria and dwelling triumphantly on the final words of the Agnus Dei movement, "dona nobis pacem." Adrian Partington's forces, the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, respond with sensitivity and strength, impressive for a live performance in the recording of the Mass. The cantata is also connected to the commemoration of the Great War, set to a poem published in the wake of the entombment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

À mon chevet: Becoming

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
Over the course of the summer, the firm organized a series of events and outings for its associates, sending around sign-up sheets for anyone who wanted to go. One was a weeknight performance of Les Misérables at a theater not far from the office. I put us on the list for two tickets [...].

We sat side by side in the theater, both of us worn out after a long day of work. The curtain went up and the singing began, giving us a gray, gloomy version of Paris. I don't know if it was my mood or whether it was just Les Misérables itself, but I spent the next hour feeling helplessly pounded by French misery. Grunts and chains. Poverty and rape. Injustice and oppression. Millions of people around the world had fallen in love with this musical, but I squirmed in my seat, trying to rise above the inexplicable torment I felt every time the melody repeated.

When the lights went up for intermission, I stole at glance at Barack. He was slumped down, with his right elbow on the armrest and index finger resting on his forehead, his expression unreadable.

"What'd you think?" I said.

He gave me a sideways look. "Horrible, right?" I laughed, relieved that he felt the same way. Barack sat up in his seat. "What if we got out of here?" he said. "We could just leave."

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't bolt. I wasn't that sort of person. I cared too much what the other lawyers thought of me -- what they'd think if they spotted our empty seats. I cared too much, in general, about finishing what I'd started, about seeing every last little thing through to the absolute heart-stopping end, even if it was an overwrought Broadway musical on an otherwise beautiful Wednesday night. This, unfortunately, was the box checker in me. I endured misery for the sake of appearances. But now, it seemed, I'd joined up with someone who did not.

Avoiding everyone we knew from work -- the other advisers and their summer associates bubbling effusively in the lobby -- we slipped out of the theater and into a balmy evening. The last light was draining from a purple sky. I exhaled, my relief so palpable that it caused Barack to laugh.

"Where are we going now?" I asked.

"How 'bout we grab a drink?"

-- Michelle Obama, Becoming, pp. 103-105
Many friends have recommended this memoir to me, and it is a delightful read. Music was an important part of the future First Lady's background, from piano lessons with her mother's aunt, the daunting Robbie, to the love of jazz she inherited from her maternal grandfather, whom they called Southside. Mrs. Obama remembers fondly how her grandfather gave her her first record and designated a shelf where she could keep her favorite records to play when she went to his house. "If I was hungry," she writes, "he'd make me a milk shake or fry us a whole chicken while we listened to Aretha or Miles or Billie. To me, Southside was as big as heaven. And heaven, as I envisioned it, had to be a place full of jazz."

Of all the musical episodes in the book, though, my favorite is the one quoted above, where Michelle, at the start of a budding romance with an oddly named junior colleague at her law firm, walks out of a performance of the musical Les Misérables. Now that is good taste.