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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La chronique du disque (February 2012)

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The rules will be kept simple: here’s what I found, here’s where I found it, here’s a couple of sentences about it and (possibly) some opinions.

Not unlike Olympic Figure Skating, I will provide two sets of marks (letters A to D) on sound quality (SQ) and on overall impression (OI). These grades are entirely subjective, but here are some guidelines:

  • About “sound quality”: my point of reference is my iPod (160 GB iPod Classic) with standard earbud-type earphones. I ride the buses here in the National Capital Region; buses and work are where I do most of my iPod listening, so this gives you an idea of the ambient noise… When it comes to sound quality, a good grade means I hear the music clearly, good recording pick-up, acoustically pleasing.
  • About “overall impression”: my point of view varies widely. It may be jaded by other performances I have heard or own (comparisons will be identified if they apply), but a good grade means I heard conviction, virtuosity, and I enjoyed it.
My acquisitions for February

This month, music for organ (in-keeping with our Lent Organ series, some orchestral transcriptions and a mammoth download of Olivier Messiaen’s music. Let’s start there, shall we?

Messiaen Edition [Erato 18CD]
[Torrent Download]

This year maeks the 20th anniversary of the passing of Olivier Messiaen, and I have two posts and part of a third already queued up to mark the event. Erato records put together a very comprehensive re-issue collection of Messiaen’s works some years ago, and I’ve gone through about half of them as I write this. The collection covers most of his piano works (most of them played by Messiaen’s wife, Yvonne Loriod), some of his organ works (played by Messiaen himself and by Marie-Claire Alain), and a few of his large orchestral works (Turangalila, Eclairs sur l’au-dela and Des canyons aux etoiles) conducted by his pupil Marius Constant. The recordings are, for the most part, digitally re-mastered from analog sources, but the results are quite good. The performances are as authoritative as they come, and the sheer breath of the selections in one (albeit massive) download make this a worthwhile set to acquire to start or update your Messiaen collection. A- for SQ, A for OI.

POULENC: Organ Concerto / WIDOR: Organ Symphony No. 5 / GUILMANT: Organ Symphony No. 1
[eMusic Purchase]

I purchased this CHANDOS recording by Yan-Pascal Tortellier and Ian Tracey (organ titular at Liverpool Cathedral) of organ solo and organ and orchestra works. Tracey and his organ fare rather well on Widor’s famous Organ Symphony no. 5 (Tracey’s Toccata could be more playful, though), and he is stellar in the Poulenc organ concerto. As a change-of-pace, it was refreshing to discover the Guilmant Symphony no. 1 with organ, which involves the instrument way more than the seminal work in the genre, Saint-Saens’. I was impressed enough that I may very well buy the second disk in the collection… A for SQ, A- for OI.

[eMusic Purchase]

Now, here’s an interesting recording! A Swedish organist, on a Swedish-built organ, plays works by American composers for the organ – something you’d expect would have been E. Power Biggs’ exclusive domain… But this works! And rather well, might I add. I was familiar (as most of us are) with IvesVariations on America, which I much prefer in the original organ setting as opposed to the William Schumann orchestration. The Copland works – including a 1953 transcription of his Prelude for a solemn occasion, as well as the larger John Cage Some of 'The Harmony of Maine' could be one of the most accessible works from his vast catalog. A very good BIS recording. A for SQ, A for OI.

Wood: Orchestrations by Sir Henry Wood
[eMusic Purchase]

Before getting into the next two works, I should point out I’ve been preparing a “comparison” of different orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for another site. This explains the “slant” on some of my acquisitions…

Sir Henry Wood (the man behind the Proms in the UK), wrote a number of orchestral transcriptions, some of which overlap with Leopold Stokowski’s – and in many ways, show a keen sense of orchestration that rivals Leopold’s own. This disk provides two “head-to-head” opportunities. Wood’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is less heard than Stokowski’s, but it is in every way equal – if not superior. Wood’s Pictures compare favourabbly with the Ravel and Caillet versions in how they view the suite, and how the orchestration is approached. This recording has many more transcriptions, all of them are of equal prowess and played with verve and enthusiasm by the London Philharmonic under Nicholas Braithwaite. Love this recording! A for SQ, A for OI.

[eMusic Purchase]

Matthias Bamert and the BBC Philharmonic have recorded most (if not all) of Stokowski’s transcriptions, and I own his “Baroque” recording (Vivardi, Handel, Purcell) which I think reveal two things about Stokowski: he’s the antithesis of HIP and his approach to orchestration can be blasé. This is why this recording floored me – this is Stokowski like you never heard him before. In the Disney feature Fantasia, we are treated to Stokowski’s transcription of Night on Bald Mountain, but it gets juxtaposed with Schubert’s Ave Maria and you don’t get to appreciate it as much as you do here, standing alone. I’ve heard wicked adaptations of this music for orchestra (no, not Rimsky, but Leibowitz, which I featured in my Hallowe’en playlist), but this is more wicked, more out of control. As for Stokowski’s Pictures, they are probably the most amazing orchestration I’ve ever heard. The approach is orthogonal to the Ravel orchestration – more varied voices, more varied tempi. Stokowski chose to skip a couple of the picture segments which he deemed “too French” - you kind of wonder what they would have sounded like… Oh, by the way, the Boris Goudenov suite is not too shabby. What a find! A for SQ, A for OI.

Quick Hits

  • MOUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition [Internet Archive download]: Just to complete the set of Pictures transcriptions, I downloaded this digitized vinyl version off the Internet Archive of the Lucien Caillet transcription, commissioned by Eugene Orrmandy for his own use. It is a curiosity, but after hearing the Stokowski, noithing else stacks up… B for SQ, B- for OI.
  • DELIUS: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring [eMusic Purchase]: This year is Delius’ 150th birthday, and I made this purchase to augment my collection. Some fine tracks here – love that Sleigh Ride, and the American Rhapsody is solid. A for SQ, A- for OI.

March 2nd, 2012, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will be adding a new montage "Messiaen, the Spiritual Composer" to its Pod-O-Matic Podcast. Read our English and French commentary March 2nd on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated Feb-28-2012 at 12:38 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music