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.

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