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Sid James

Andre's music blog

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by , Apr-19-2011 at 09:28 (41567 Views)
This blog is a weekly diary of my listening to both recorded music and live concerts.

I have previously talked about the music nights a friend & I have, listening to eachother's discs as well as ones from Sydney City Library. That thread is below:

Andre's music spot

This blog continues the content & format of that thread. Feel free to comment on what we are hearing, both on disc and live!
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Classical Music , Concerts , Composers , Recorded Music


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  1. Sid James's Avatar
    Ravel Trois Poemes de Stephane Mallarme
    Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano with Melos Ensemble (DEcca)

    These are very sensual songs, starting with the first, full of images of water and light, the second with the poet being like a priest worshipping his idol (the woman) and the third darker and fading out, like the end of the life cycle, death.

  2. Sid James's Avatar
    Leopold Godowsky
    - Chattering Monkeys at the Sacred Lake of Wendit (from Java Suite)
    - Alt-Wien, 'Whose yesterdays look backwards with a smile through tears' (#11)
    - A Little Tango Rag (#19)
    (Last 2 from Triaktomeron, 30 moods & scenes in triple measure)
    Konstantin Scherbakov, pno. (Naxos 3 cd set)

    To end, some Godowsky, an innovator of the piano in his time. From pentatonic scales to nostalgia and the popular ragtimes and tangos of his time, Godowsky's music absorbed everything like a sponge, and he was a highly skilled composer of collections of short pieces for piano. He was admired by the likes of Busoni and Rachmaninov, but today is less well known than them. Some very colourful playing here and though they're short, it sounds pretty hard to pull off!

  3. Sid James's Avatar
    Some of the weekend's listening -

    Album: Elton John - Sleeping with the past (Polygram, 1989)
    Produced by Chris Thomas / All songs by Elton John & Bernie Taupin

    Great album, incl. the hit Sacrifice. These two were a great songwriting team.

    Schumann Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44
    Philippe Entremont, piano & the Alban Berg Quartet (EMI)

    A first listen to this work. I quite enjoyed it.

    Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50
    Shostakovich Piano Trio #2 in E minor, Op. 67
    Rosamunde Trio, Prague (alto label cd)

    Two quite dark works here, dedicated to the memory of musical colleagues of these two great Russian composers. The first one to composer Nikolay Rubinstein, friend to Tchaikovsky, and the second one to Ivan Sollertinsky, a musicologist friend of Shostakovich. They are both very emotional, esp. the final movements. The Tchaikovsky trio is closed by a sombre funeral march, like watching the funeral cortege go into the distance. The Shostakovich trio ends in a Jewish wedding tune turning ugly, from a pretty dance tune to an terrifying dance of death. These guys don't hold back on their grief, and Shostakovich's mind was also on the victims of the Holocaust, the Russian soldiers liberating the camps in 1944 when he wrote it.

    Updated May-07-2012 at 08:22 by Sid James
  4. Sid James's Avatar
    Rimsky Koraskov Scheherazade
    Glinka Russlan & Ludmila Overture
    London SO / Irvine Arditti, violin / Loris Tjeknavorian, cond.
    (Varese Sarabande)

    I especially enjoyed The Young Prince and the Young Princess (third movement of Scheharazade). Glinka's overture was a virtuoso showpiece for orchestra, it remains his greatest hit. A good recording and a rare treat. Maestro Tjeknavorian excelled in Russian repertoire.

  5. Sid James's Avatar
    J.S. Bach The Musical Offering BWV 1079
    Davitt Moroney (harpsichord, leader) ; Janet See, fl. ; John Halloway, vln. ; Jaap ter Linden, cello ; Martha Cook, harpsichord (Harmonia Mundi white label)

    My favourite part of this work, dedicated to and played by Frederick the Great, is the central trio sonata. It comes across as easy listening. Either side is some of the most complex counterpoint Bach wrote, blending and bringing together his own theme and one written by Frederick. An amazing work, almost an hour long, it has many points of interest.

  6. Sid James's Avatar
    Berg Violin Concerto 'To the memory of an Angel' (1935)
    Isaac Stern, violin / New York PO / Leonard Bernstein (Sony Classics)

    A very emotional work, and I think you all know its story. Its a kind of requiem to a young friend of the composer, Manon Gropius, who died of polio at 18. Like many of Berg's works, this has strong autobiographical element, with Viennese waltzes and the vibe of Wozzeck never far away. He comes out at the end with a chorale from Cantata #60 by J.S. Bach, it provides a kind of consolation for his grief and the tragedy, capped off by a long note played on the G string of the violin, floating above the orchestra tuning down, just as at the beginning it had tuned up.

    Updated May-28-2012 at 05:18 by Sid James
  7. Sid James's Avatar
    Joan Armatrading Secret Secrets album (A & M Records cd, 1985)
    All songs written and arranged by Joan Armatrading

    A good album, with Armatrading backed by a number of accompanists, different combinations on each track (incl. her playing piano). My favourite song was Friends not lovers, with this percussive guitar effect, and like many of these songs, about love found and lost.

  8. Sid James's Avatar
    John Williams - 80th birthday tribute album
    Some tracks from this great compilation of the master of film music to finish.
    - Dartmoor, 1912 from War Horse
    - Going to School from Memoirs of a Geisha (with Yo-Yo Ma, cello)
    - The Mission Theme (Theme for NBC Nightly News)
    - Theme from Schindler's List (with Itzhak Perlman, violin)
    Various Orchestras conducted by the composer (Sony Classics)

    Updated May-28-2012 at 05:26 by Sid James
  9. HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
    I love that theme from Schindler's List. So very heartfelt especially in the context of the movie and history of WWII.
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  10. Sid James's Avatar
    ^^Yes, I've cried many a time when hearing that theme on this cd. If it wasn't for it being so very emotional and quite dark, I would seek out the whole film soundtrack for Schindler's List. But I'm happy with this album as it is, it is very substantial at 80 minutes, incl. some of his famous film themes and bits like that one, as well as a few purely concert hall works.
  11. Sid James's Avatar
    This weekend's listening was mainly easy listening, with two great French composers in the spotlight.

    First up, Francois Couperin's Messe pour les couvents (Mass for the Convents), performed by Gillian Weir on organ. This work is made up fully of tunes by the composer and not based on plain-chant (Gregorian chant) like the other mass on this set. It is intricate and nuanced, avoiding virtuosity or big statements. The counterpoint is less involved than in say German composers of the time, and there is not much footwork on the pedals.

    After that, most of a disc devoted to music for cello and orchestra by Saint-Saens, played by cellist Maria Kliegel. His Cello Concerto #1 in A minor, Op. 33 is scored for cello and chamber orchestra, going off classical models. Like Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens does away with orchestral introductions, he gets straight into the action. The work is made up of three movements going without a break, and the middle movement is virtually a minuet, although its marked allegretto con moto. The work carries two main themes, a more dramatic one and a lyrical one, through the whole piece - similar to Liszt's piano concertos.

    After that, the Suite for cello and orchestra, Op. 16. This work goes back to the Baroque, with movements titled sarabande, gavotte and so on. Elegance and refinement is the focus throughout, not any flashy virtuosity. It reminds me of J.S. Bach's solo cello suites quite a bit, but those where yet to be rediscovered. The work ends in a lively Italian tarantella, bringing to mind Rossini.

    Following that, two encore-type works, the Allegro appassionato in B minor, Op. 43 and the most famous cello encore of them all, The Swan from Carnival of the Animals. The arrangement of the latter is by Paul Vidal (1863-1931) and played by a small group consisting of the cello soloist accompanied by harp and strings. I will return to this disc for the Cello Concerto #2 next weekend.
    Updated Jun-12-2012 at 03:29 by Sid James
  12. Sid James's Avatar

    First off, George Benson's Breezin' album of 1976. Great guitar playing with a crossover feel, courtesy of a string orchestra conducted by Claus Ogerman.

    Then, a cd of Offenbach overtures with von Karajan conducting. These all have similar format, of an introduction, followed by various solos from the orchestra, and eventually getting to a big orchestral tutti at the end, with the obligatory can-can. The most famous one is Orpheus in the Underworld. Quite a lot of fun, and the cd was topped off by the more lyrical Barcarolle from Offenbach's only opera, The Tales of Hoffmann.
  13. Sid James's Avatar

    Then, continuing with French music, some concertos by Saint-Saens, whose music does have a fair bit of the whimsy of Offenbach.

    Firsly, his two cello concertos, played by Maria Kliegel. The first concerto looks back to the Classical Era, and the middle movement is in the form of a minuet (but not marked as such). The second concerto is in the Romantic tradition, more virtuoso and emotionally expressive. Both are very thematically unfied and use chamber orchestra accompaniment, so they are quite intimate.

    Then, two of his piano concertos from this Decca Eloquence set. Like the cello concertos, these are thematically very unified, showing strong influence of Liszt in that way, but also others like Beethoven, Weber and Chopin.

    The Piano Concerto #2 is a warhorse, starting off with a Bachian cadenza, with a whimsical scherzo in the middle movement, and a dance-like finale.

    The Piano Concerto #5 'Egyptian' reads like a travel diary of the composer, the middle movement having a tune based on a song he heard in Cairo sung by boatmen on the Nile, and also a fascinating one minute sequence in which the piano copies the sounds of gamelan, accompanied by strings and a bass clarinet. What an ear for capturing these exotic sounds Saint-Saens had!

    The second concerto was played by Bella Davidovich and the fifth was played by Magda Tagliaferro.
    Updated Jun-25-2012 at 02:52 by Sid James
  14. Sid James's Avatar

    A relisten to some favourite tracks from this Naxos album of music by Edgard Varese. Ameriques is a work imaging the American continent for a massive 150 piece orchestra, incl. an offstage band. It is an intense work which includes these amazing sounds you won't hear anywhere else, incl. blown bird calling devices, sirens and Varese's trademark 'lion's roar' played on bass drum.

    Then, the zany Tuning Up, which goes off the sounds of an orchestra tuning, mixing them with quotes from Beethoven's 7th symphony to 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' to Ameriques.

    Finally, a work purely for percussion, Ionisation - with which Varese proved that a composer could produce an engaging piece for percussion alone, using rhythm alone and not having to rely on melody. It is an atmospheric and kind of disturbing piece, with many rhythmic shifts, and you can imagine it as anything from the sounds of a city to warfare (with again, the sirens, and march-like rhythms).

    This cd had members of the Polish National Radio Orch. with Christopher Lyndon-Gee at the helm.
    Updated Jul-09-2012 at 02:49 by Sid James
  15. Sid James's Avatar

    Next, Brahms Clarinet Quintet, a cornerstone of chamber repertoire and one of his late masterpieces. This is a very emotionally expressive work with an overall Hungarian feel. The theme at the very start, which is not in any defined key interestingly enough, is the basis of the whole work. The blending and contrast between the strings and clarinet is so autumnal and uniquely Brahmsian. In this performance from 1965, Vladimir Riha played clarinet with members of the Smetana Quartet of Prague (Supraphon label).
    Updated Jul-09-2012 at 06:19 by Sid James
  16. Sid James's Avatar

    Next up, continuing this set of Saint-Saens' piano concertos.

    His Piano Concerto #1 is, as usual a mix of things, held together by the idea emerging at the start played on four horns. Schumann and Wagner come to mind, as does Beethoven in this noble first movement. The second movement is quite dark and goes as deep as Saint-Saens can get - which is never too deep - and the final movement has the obligatory Neopolitan song vibe capped off by a triumphant return of the initial horn call theme.

    There's even more whimsy and tongue massively in cheek in the Wedding Cake for piano and strings, composed for the wedding of a friend of Saint-Saens. It sounds much like Chopin with lots of 'French polish' - maybe too much. Basically, it is like a slice of wedding cake, not much substance but a very tasty sweet on a happy occassion!

    The concerto was played by Pascal Roge, and the Wedding Cake by Daniel Chorzempa (a rare recording of him with his 'pianist' hat on, usually he's recorded as an organist).
    Updated Jul-09-2012 at 03:11 by Sid James
  17. Sid James's Avatar

    To finish, a great album by Billy Joel called The Bridge. Some of the tracks, like This is the Time, where big hits in the 1980's. Joel's duet with the late Ray Charles in Baby Grand was great, as was the more darker Temptation, reflecting on Joel's marriage with model Christie Brinkley - which was floundering at the time.

    This album was made in 1986 and is on the CBS label.
    Updated Jul-09-2012 at 03:15 by Sid James
  18. Sid James's Avatar

    First, guitarist George Benson's tribute to Count Basie, the Big Boss Band album. Some originals here but also jazz standards, eg. Skylark, On Green Dolphin Street, I only have eyes for you, etc. Benson singing the lyrical song How do you keep the music playing? with Carmen Bradford was a highlight.

    This album was on the Warner label and released in 1990.
  19. Sid James's Avatar

    Then, a tribute to Jon Lord, who died this week. He was co-founder of the legendary rock band Deep Purple, and an exponent of the fusion genre. Towards the end of his life he got back to his roots, making a number of purely classical albums.

    To Notice Such Things is a suite for solo flute, piano and string orchesetra, composed in 2009 in memory of a friend of the composer, John Mortimer. Mortimer was the author of the Rumpole of the Bailey novels, which lead to the televsion series with Aussie Leo McKern in the title role. This is a neo-classical work, reflecting Mortimer's love of J.S. Bach's music. It is overall a reflective and sad piece, but the pivotal Stick Dance is more lively and reminds me of a Scottish jig. The final movement Afterwards is particularly poignant, and the disc also features a version of this piece for piano solo accompanying a narrator reading Thomas Hardy's poem reflecting on the gap left in our lives by those loved ones who have died.

    The composer was on piano on this cd, with Cormac Henry on flute and the Royal Liverpool PO under Clark Rundell. Jeremy Irons read the poem Afterwards by Hardy.
  20. Sid James's Avatar

    Then, continuing Saint-Saens’ piano concerto cycle, this weekend it was the Piano Concerto #3. The first movement opens with a hazy introduction with horn, perhaps reflecting on how this was written when the composer was holidaying in the French Alps. This leads to a more agitated contrupuntal theme and many other explorations in mood and texture. Its one of the most impressive opening movements to his whole cycle, I think. The second movement has a more dark and emotional undertow, whilst in the final movement, Saint-Saens with a fair hint of humour, combines Baroque counterpoint with tunes reminiscent of ballet music.

    The pianist was Pascal Roge, and the London PO was conducted by Charles Dutoit.
    Updated Jul-23-2012 at 04:12 by Sid James
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