A couple days ago, Phil Ford at Dial M for Musicology called on me to take the iPod Random Challenge. First of all, while it's true that I did recently join the MP3 generation, I most certainly did not buy into the proprietary technology of the iPod. Furthermore, I have to confess that I had never actually used the Shuffle setting on my lovely Creative Zen player. Only one track of Arabella? In the length of a single track, my attention span has hardly even begun. It's just not how I listen to music.
Also, I have had this little toy only for a couple weeks, and so I have only 2 gigs of the 20-gig memory filled. This means that a random survey thing is not going to be particularly representative of my listening habits. (For those who want a more representative sample, tune in on Saturdays for the regular installments of "This Week in MP3" -- here are links to February 3 and January 27). Still, Phil asked, so here are 10 tracks from my first-ever use of the Shuffle button:
- Mahler, Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), 1st movement -- Vienna Philharmonic, P. Boulez
I clearly remember being an undergraduate singing in the chorus for a collegiate performance of this piece. This performance (reviewed by Jens) is emotionally thrilling, with great singing from Christine Schäfer, Michelle DeYoung, and the Wiener Singverein. The only Mahler symphony Boulez has not yet recorded [for Deutsche Grammophon -- thank you, Jens!] is the 8th: if/when that happens, it will probably be apocalyptic.
- Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov, "Bozhe krepky, provy" from Act I -- Vienna Philharmonic, Karajan
An outstanding opera, probably my favorite in the Russian repertory. It's hard to believe it was composed in the mid-19th century, because parts of it sound so modern. The orchestral introduction to and choral conclusion of "Da zdrastvstvuet tsar Boris Feodorovich" from the Prologue, with its oscillating variation over two alternating chords, could be inserted without too much trouble into an opera by Philip Glass or John Adams. This recording uses the revision by Rimsky-Korsakov.
- Bellini, Norma (Scena - Introduzione, from Act II) -- LSO, Bonynge
This is why the Shuffle function can be so frustrating: I didn't even get to hear Sutherland sing! This opera is in many ways the summa of the bel canto repertory, and Sutherland's version is astounding.
- Webern, Piano Variations, op. 27 (1. Sehr mässig) -- Maurizio Pollini
Pollini is an intellectual pianist, which may make his approach to Webern natural, but he mines this emotionally barren landscape for every bit of subtlety and expressive line possible. The second movement is a berserk dance of peg-legged giants, about 40 seconds long.
- Handel, Solomon (HWV 67), "May no rash intruder" (Act I) -- Monteverdi Choir, J. E. Gardiner
An extraordinary recording of a beautiful oratorio, about which I recently raved because it has been re-released in a remastered version. As I wrote there, the scene in which Solomon decides a case of disputed maternity is a wonder.
- R. Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten, "Falke, Falke, du Wiedergefundener" (Act 2) -- James King, Wiener Staatsoper, Karl Böhm
I almost had to abandon the experiment at this point, because I wanted to keep listening to the rest of the opera. James King sings the hell out of the Emperor's music on this recording. The opera is akin to Pelléas in its fairy tale setting, but the music could not be more different.
- Mozart, Piano Sonata No. 18 (K. 576), 3rd movement -- Mitsuko Uchida
This is from the "Steinway Legends" collection, where there is a nice selection of Uchida's Mozart, and this is a live performance. So clean, so strong, and yet ready to vanish in a wisp of smoke.
- Smetana, "Dobra! Ja mu je dam!" from Dalibor -- Homage, Renée Fleming, Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater, Valery Gergiev
Still in the process of listening to this recording, which I recently received: a review is forthcoming. I am always willing to hear more Smetana opera, and I do not know this opera at all. La Fleming is another thing. Still listening, still listening.
- Wolf, "Jägerlied" (from Mörike-Lieder) -- Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Geoffrey Parsons
Schwarzkopf died this past summer. Her Wolf songs are not all successful, as they may require more subtlety than her voice was used to, as in this somewhat tossed-off track. Now the quiet desperation of Das verlassene Mägdlein is another thing...
- Shostakovich, Katerina Izmailova, "Govori!... Plotinu-to Na" (Act I) -- Kiev Shevchenko Opera
We just had the chance to hear Valery Gergiev lead the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater in a stunning concert performance of Shostakovich's operatic masterpiece (see my review for DCist). This recording is not all that good, not least because it uses the later, toned-down version of the opera. Hopefully, Gergiev will make a recording soon.