Thursday, 17 January 2019

Study Music - January 18

Having heard a bit of his clarinet quintet on ABC Classic FM on the drive to work, I decided I'd listen to Mozart's Clarinet Concerto first today. It's a long-time favourite of mine and it's been a while since I listened to the whole thing. So I did a search on Spotify to pick a version. Too many options, but I couldn't go past Sabine Meyer with the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Claudio Abbado. It's a 1999 recording, which I refuse to admit was 20 years ago.

The recording is crisp and clear, as is Meyer's playing which breathes life into the phrases so they aren't simply demonstrations of her virtuosity, but vivid expressions of life and joy. This empathetic playing is even more realised in the next piece on the album, Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie. This was a new piece for me but recalled some of Debussy's more ethereal moods. Which flowed nicely to the last piece on the album Toru Takemitsu's Fantasma/Cantos, a truly ethereal piece conjuring a dreamlike world of mists and hidden creatures, wonders and dangers.

In all the album, named as a list of the works on it, is a great example of Meyer's brilliance - and that of the Berliner Phil - and a delightful listen in general. Highly recommended.

Inspired by the Fantasma/Cantos I went to Takemitsu's page on Spotify and found there are several albums of his complete piano works. I went with the most recent, recorded last year, featuring the playing of Lukas Huisman. As soon as I hit play I was in unfamiliar territory. Short phrases, rising and falling, stillness in the motion. Often when I've heard something like it there's been troubled emotion beneath the music - the despair and anger of Shostakovich for example - but here it wasn't so. Trouble yes, perhaps even sorrow at times, but only times. More, it seemed to be the vibrations of life. The rain breaking the surface of the water, the movements breaking the stillness of a body at rest. It is that moment, the one between stillness and breath, that Takemitsu's music captures. For me at any rate. I can't say it's a lulling place, quite the opposite, but not stirring either. It is a beauty of which I am completely unaware, although I recall a philosopher, Lyotard I think, saying that it is in the moment of something happening, after it hasn't but before it has past, that isolated moment of pure action and existence that is the sublime.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Today's Study Music - January 14

Hello, this year I plan on sharing a little on what music I'm listening to while studying. Brief album reviews basically.

Today I face the choice of which album I want to download from the Naxos Newsletter this month. There are three options every month from the considerable catalogue Naxos has grown over the years. Sometimes I find the choice straightforward, but today I'm listening to two of them before I decide.

The first is a 1990 recording of Famous Operetta Overtures by J. Strauss Jr, Offenbach and Suppe, performed by the Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alfred Walter. It opens with Strauss's Die Fledermaus, which I'd always assumed meant The Field-mouse, but apparently means The Bat, so there's a childhood image shattered. The music is as lively and enjoyable as ever though and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Operetta, being a light form of opera, has wonderful overtures of vim and vitality, and jolly brass to match the rollicking strings. The music can be wonderfully evocative too of course, as the opening of The Gypsy Baron shows with its images of romantic intrigue and cloaked anti-heroes. Naturally, Suppe's Light Cavalry Overture is included and given a typically thrilling rendition, although I think I have heard stronger ones. The album ends with Offenbach's overture to Orpheus in the Underworld, featuring the famous can-can, which is a deserving conclusion to the music.

The second choice is The Art of the Vienna Horn, part of a series of albums featuring soloists from the Vienna Phil, in this instance Wolfgang Tomboeck. Apparently the Vienna horn was a precursor of the double horn, but because of its distinctive sound the Vienna Philharmonic have kept it, particularly for works by Bruchner, Brahms and others who wrote specifically for it.

The album opens with Beethoven's Horn Sonata, Op 17, gives us a Schubert lieder, then a horn/piano duet by Schumann, and ends with a Trio for Piano, Horn and Violin by Brahms. The Vienna horn seemed to me more muted than most brass and this gave the music a damper touch. It felt like I was listening to Romantic-era chamber music (as I was) through a hollow tree. There was something green and earthy there, but also removed and vaguely dissonant. Or perhaps that's my protracted mind listening to something while hot, tired and reading about imperial historiography.

So which to get? Despite the former album's energy and my nostalgia for an overture that has nothing to do with field mice except in my mind, I'm going to download The Art of the Vienna Horn. The music is less familiar, less commonly played, and I feel deserves further listening to appreciate its subtleties and beauty that may have been tarnished by distraction.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Snowmelt - Zoe Keating's New EP - a review


The opening chords of Zoe Keating's new ep evoke a stark icy landscape. This rapidly is broken up by rocks, then the life beneath emerging in a spring thaw. And this is just the beginning. Snowmelt is Keating's first new music in a few years, and comes with the byline, four songs for the end of a long winter, and the winter is definitely more than seasonal.

Zoe has been to the barren frozen lands of grief, even without knowing about her life, the sorrows of Icefloe, the second track, can only be created by someone who has spent time there. The tracks don't try to brush this off; a stay in such a place leaves permanent marks, but the music is a journey back through the tundra to the forests where I met Zoe on her last solo album (Into the Trees, 2010).

Touched, remembering, but alive and ready to continue the adventure. This is very clear in the deep, beating rhythms of Possible, the third song, which has flights of beauty over the resonating pulse; it is possible to escape the desert. The final track, Nix, is the relief of the end of the journey, the moment of rest before the next chapter begins.

In all, Snowmelt is a stunningly beautiful set of songs that gives solace and invites hope.

I listened to it on Bandcamp, it's also available on Spotify and iTunes.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Listening to a cat bathing

As I drive I leave myself at the mercy of the radio presenters of ABC Classic FM. Little did I suspect Greta Bradman would make me listen to a cat bathing. Specifically, Hiroshige's cat, not a cat I know even. It was a wonderful experience, and I'll listen to it again.

Hiroshige's Cat Bathing is part of Alan Hovaness's Piano Sonata, Op 366, so it's not as weird as all that. It's a languorous piece, perfect for a Sunday morning, and oddly meticulous - so just like a cat bathing itself. 

So I highly recommend checking it out for two reasons. First because it is beautiful, and second so you can tell people you're listening to Hiroshige's Cat Bathing, just for the reaction.


Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Capriccio Dances

With the Classic 100 Dance countdown this weekend, I thought it was time to reveal my votes, for those who care about such things. It's at least a good chance to share some great music. As usual, the decision of which 10 pieces to vote for was horrendously difficult. Luckily, I left it till there were only two hours left to vote and I desperately needed to get to bed anyway, so my tiredness helped me make the difficult choices.

In the end, I had to ask myself, does that piece really make me move? And with some hard fought honesty I managed to cull such favourites as Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches. What did make the cut then? Two I discussed in a recent post, Bizet's Farandole and Saint-Saens' Bacchanale. In a break from my usual rule of only one vote per composer I also voted for Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre, because, it's the freaking Danse Macabre okay and it really makes the bones dance.

Still specifically dance music, there was Borodin's Prince Igor for the Polovstian Dances which have been moving me since my early teens, particularly after I learnt one on the clarinet; Copland's Rodeo, which has dances like Hoedown and Buckaroo Holiday; and of course Dvorak's Slavonic Dances which are simply brilliant.

My other choices are not dances, but they do make me move when I hear them. Orff's Carmina Burana and Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain are two of my all-time favourite works and they really do go off, as I do with some frenetic air-conducting.

The last two pieces I realised as I voted have particular significance to this blog, being the two capriccios which indirectly led me to the name: Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Itallien and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol. Both written by Romantic Russians thinking about Mediterranean countries, and both exciting romps that never fail to stir the feet to tap and the arms to swing, between softer moods of head swaying.

It was because of these two pieces that I one day decided to figure out what a capriccio was; in short it's a fantasy on a theme, not so much a musical theme but an idea, like Italy or Spain seen through Romantic Russian eyes. If not for these two works then, this blog may not exist. Here's hoping they do well in the countdown. And here's hoping it's a rollicking good selection of works sure to keep the blood flowing and the body moving.

Don't forget to listen, it's a great way to explore new music and enjoy old favourites.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Belated Synthesis Review - Sydney Opera House February 13, 2018

This review is very late, mostly because of an interstate move following hard on the heels of the concert, but also, as I discovered while writing it, sometimes it's hard to find the words to describe an amazing experience.




Rock bands teaming up with orchestras is nothing new. Even The Wiggles have done it, and I note Eskimo Joe is doing it later this year with the TSO, my new state orchestra. However, Evanescence has done something a bit different. Synthesis isn't a one-time collaboration with one orchestra, it is a Herculean tour where the band liaises with a new orchestra in every city it goes to. The organisers, and touring conductor Susie Seiter, probably deserve some sort of medal.

It's also more personal than the usual, ‘won't this sound good’ team-up. Amy Lee has revisited many of the band's songs and synthesised them with orchestral arrangements. The name of the album is more than apt, it is a literal description of itself. Old material in new ways, and new material with the old. That Lee was up for the challenge was evident; Evanescence has included string sections and choirs since its first album, and she has composed music for film in collaboration with Dave Eggar, who I'll talk more about in a moment.

Of course, every rock concert has a support act, and in this case its the respective orchestra, so before discussing Evanescence’s set I'll mention this. It was a smaller version of the SSO, with the addition of Sally Whitwell on piano and Dave Eggar on cello, and it was great to see them all having so much fun. The set opened with a little night music of Mozart’s, followed by some Moonlight by Beethoven. The latter was performed admirably by Sally Whitwell, with the orchestra, an unusual and novel treat for this most famous of piano sonatas. The arrangement was by Georgi Cherkin, a Bulgarian concert pianist I'll have to investigate further. It was also interesting to hear a version of Verdi’s Lacrymosa, from his Requiem, without a choir. The Lacrymosa is a clear influence on Amy Lee who references it in the front of her song of the same name. Indeed, the entire opening set was music Lee has mentioned as having an influence on her work, which added another personal dimension to the concert. The set concluded with Dave Eggar’s Rockstar cello performance of Bach in Black, which was as fun to watch as to listen too.

Once Lee walked onto the stage, in a stunning green gown, it was clear she had the presence to own the entire concert hall, but she never claimed it. This was a collaboration and her very demeanour allowed for the band and orchestra to share her spotlight. But when she sings, it’s a tricky thing not to be enamoured. Evanescence’s first album helped me through some dark times, and songs like Lithium from their second album did too. Part of the reason for that is the emotional integrity behind the music; Lee doesn’t sing of pain from some abstract idea or a desire to sound emo to be popular as a musician. Nor does her music whinge like some popular balladists seem to do these days. Her music is that of her soul, the pain is real, but she isn’t complaining, merely singing through the darkness, often finding light through the music. Hearing that, with orchestra, in person, was an experience I find difficult to describe. Perhaps that is why this review has taken so long to be written. And perhaps that’s why I have little more to say. In that concert hall with hundreds of other people, Amy Lee sang my darkness, and called to my light. Sounds ridiculous written like that, but it was a personal experience I can’t describe any other way.

To finish I’ll mention one other thing. It was great to see in this huge, rock meets classical event, three strong women in the key positions on the stage. Amy Lee, of course, Susie Seiter conducting the whole affair with aplomb, and Sally Whitwell, first as soloist in the orchestra’s set then playing piano in places where Lee usually does herself in performances without orchestra.

If a chance comes by to go to Synthesis, go – I realise that’s not likely any more. Give the album a whirl though. And go to live music events, there really is a difference to hearing recorded stuff. And keep exploring.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

New Home and New Classic 100

So the Giant Squid has relocated to the Southern Ocean and I have moved to Tasmania to keep in touch - climate change affects us all and it's a good move. If you haven't heard by the way, Wandering Capriccio is now the musical appreciation tentacle of Giant Squid Creations.

Last year was a busy one for me personally, so this blog was very quiet as you may have noticed. What there was, was in relation to the wonderful Sydney Youth Orchestra which kindly invited me to attend the main concerts to review them here. I will miss that orchestra, and not much else about Sydney. If you are in the area, get to their concerts! 

Now I'm here I look forward to music from the TSO and Hobart Chamber Orchestra, and hopefully the Tasmanian Youth Orchestra too, which I'm sure rivals the Sydney one. All that is to come, when opportunity and finances allow.

For now, there's another Classic 100 beginning via ABC Classic FM. The topic this year is Dance - music that makes you move - and for the first time in a few years I'm actually excited about it. It's in the nomination stage at the moment and I'm working on my list as I write (Dvorak's 5 Prague Waltzes are playing and I'm erring on whether to put them in). 

My first thought was the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah, although I confess I couldn't remember what it was called at the time. I know it from an ABC Classics release from years ago called The Dance of the Hours, and here's a fine performance of it for you by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.


Next I had to nominate Bizet's Farandole from L'Arlesienne. That piece was on a Reader's Digest compilation I had in my teens and it's always stirred me to movement and inspired me generally. Here it is with Paavo Jarvi conducting the Paris Orchestra.



Of course, there are others I am nominating, some of which are obvious and others not so much, but I won't tie you down with the whole list here. What I might do is create a Spotify list with not just my nominations but pieces I like to move to that I know won't be in the countdown for one reason or another and I'll share that soon.

Until then, keep exploring, and dancing, in the world of music.