Sunday, 13 September 2009

306. Mikhail Glinka - Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842)
















Recording

Title: Ruslan and Lyudmila
Performer: Anna Netrebko, Vladimir Ognovenko, Larissa Diadkova
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Year: 1995
Length: 3 hours 23 minutes

Review

Let's start with the nitpicking here: this opera is not a particularly dynamic one in terms of setting and songs. It works basically by having one character doing his thing, leaving and another character doing his piece, sometimes for long periods of time. Even duets are a bit rare here, it works mainly as a succession of songs with little interactivity between the characters.

That being said the music is beautiful, really beautiful. The folk influences reveal an astounding depth of originality to the work and the birth of a whole new school of Russian music. In fact Glinka is the father of Russian music that will bring such joys to this list in the future. Much like Wagner creates the Teutonic music par excellence in Germany at this time so is Glinka doing the same for Russia.

The setting is an appropriately fairytaley pre-historic pagan Russia and there are giants, dwarves, sorcerers, witches, brave warriors and enchanted princesses. The whole thing has an air of the fantastic about it and the music is extremely evocative. The Russian obsession with "Orientalism" is already present in this work, the use of Eastern folk elements actually adds to the whole ambience of the album. A beautiful work and a majority important one. Also the DVD that corresponds to this recording is amazing to watch, even if Netrebko is a shit actress the production is so rich and beautiful that this is an essential Opera DVD.

Final Grade

10/10


Trivia

From Wikipedia:

he opera is based on the 1820 poem of the same name by Aleksandr Pushkin. The multi-authored Russian libretto was written by Valerian Shirkov, Nestor Kukolnik, and N. A. Markevich, among others. Pushkin's untimely death in the famous duel prevented him from writing the libretto himself as planned.

Anna Netrebko sings "Grustno mne, roditel dorogoy!" in the first act:

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

305. Robert Schumann - Piano Quintet (1842)

















Recording

Title: Piano Quintet
Performer: Martha Argerich, Dora Scharzberg, Lucy Hall, Nobuko Imai, Misch Maisky
Year: 1994
Length: 30 minutes

Review

While Schumann's string quartets did nothing for me, his piano quintet is a completely different story. This just comes to reinforce the idea of how much better he is at piano pieces than at other types of chamber music.

The piano is the driving force here, and the string play against it in a great way. All movements are memorable and touching be it the sprightly first movement or the funereal second movement.

So yes, that rarest of things, a chamber piece I really enjoy. The five instruments make the whole thing almost orchestral while retaining the delicate characteristics of chamber music. Good stuff indeed.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Schumann was the first romantic composer to pair the piano with the string quartet. "In the first happiness of reunion with the piano, his creative imagination took on a new lease of life," writes Joan Chisell. The ensemble was later used by many composers; some of the well-known quintets are by Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, César Franck, Edward Elgar, and Dmitri Shostakovitch.

Second movement, maybe a little too starry, album version is better:

Sunday, 30 August 2009

304. Giuseppe Verdi - Nabucco (1842)




















Recording

Title: Nabucco
Performers: Tito Gobbi, Elena Suliotis
Conductor: Lamberto Gardelli
Year: 1966
Length: 2 hours 10 minutes

Review

Germans, Austrian and other central Europeans have, up until now, ruined opera for me... Frankly the Italian thing is never as good as great Mozart or Wagner. This is true even of Verdi... I might still be proven wrong, but I don't think so.

Nabucco is a perfect example of this, the action is too convoluted, the emotions too cartoony, the singing exagerated, the musical often too comedic for the situation, the libretto weak.

This is not to say that it isn't a good Opera, because it is that as well, it has great moments such as Va Pensiero and a couple of duets but too much of the action happens off stage between acts, the singing is way too prominent. There is little notion of Opera as a multimedia experience as a complete work of art, just as a more interesting way to play vocal music. Looking forward to Glinka soon, though.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The soprano role of Abigaille is unique in that it has been the downfall of a number of singers. Elena Souliotis and Anita Cerquetti sang it before they were ready, and its high tessitura ruined their voices. Maria Callas sang it only three times and only a live performance from 1949 was recorded. Leontyne Price and Joan Sutherland refused to sing it. While no soprano has become known as a "great Abigaille", Ghena Dimitrova (1941 – 2005) and Jadranka Jovanovic were a notable exponent of the role.

Va Pensiero:


Tuesday, 25 August 2009

303. Robert Schumann - String Quartets (1842)



















Recording

Title: String Quartets Op. 41
Performer: Ysaÿe Quartet
Year: 2003
Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Review

So we have here three string quartets by a composer better known for his piano, vocal and orchestral music. However, these quartets are quite lovely, which isn't to say that they are that spectacular.

Unfortunately they don't really get my juices flowing. They are really enjoyable, and they really shine on some lovely slow movements, but there has been plenty of Schumann which I've preferred on this list.

That being said, with a few exceptions, I am not a particular fan of the Chamber music genre, I am much more of an Orchestral, Vocal and Operatic type. These stand kind of next to the Mendelssohn String Quartets in my mind, in which they were clearly inspired, nice but nothing to write home about.

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Schumann exerted considerable influence in the nineteenth century and beyond, despite his adoption of more conservative modes of composition after his marriage. He left an array of acclaimed music in virtually all the forms then known. Partly through his protégé Brahms, Schumann's ideals and musical vocabulary became widely disseminated. Composer Edward Elgar called Schumann "my ideal."

no. 3:


Sunday, 23 August 2009

302. Felix Mendelssohn - Symphony no. 3, "Scottish" (1842)








Recording

Title: Symphonies no.3 & 4.
Performer: London Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Claudio Abbado
Year: 1989
Length: 42 minutes

Review

Another pretty great orchestral work on the list. However I cannot really compare Mendelssohn's orchestral skills with Wagner or Berwald, Mendelssohn shows himself again as the conservative type.

This is not to say that this symphony is not a step forward for Mendelssohn, because it is. He even uses folk tunes in the second movement! Astounding. Mendelssohn seems, interestingly to be tuning in to the epic feel of his contemporaries orchestral work. Which shows him as not completely removed from his time but trying to walk a thin line between classicism and romanticism.

This is the Mendelssohn piece where he is most clearly Romantic, at least up until this point on the list, the only other of his works which has been here which was undoubtedly romantic was the Hebrides, another work with a Scottish theme. So Scotland seemed to have done him some good.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

It is thought that a painting on a Scotland trip made by Mendelssohn had inspired the 33-year-old composer, especially the opening theme of the first movement. The emotional scope of the work is wide, consisting of a grand first movement, a joyous second movement of possibly Scottish folk music, a slow movement maintaining an apparent struggle between love and fate, and a finale that takes its components from Scottish folk dance. A pecularity lies in the coda of the finale, where he introduces a complete new German majestic theme to close the work in a completely different manner from the rest of the finale. It was conceived as early as 1829 during Mendelssohn's trip to Scotland, but was not completed until 1842, and was not published in full score until the following year. The symphony was dedicated to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Its premiere took place on 3 March 1842 in Leipzig.

First Movement, Part 1:



Part 2:



Part 3:

Saturday, 22 August 2009

301. Franz Berwald - Symphonies (1842-5)




















Recording

Title: The Four Symphonies
Performer: Malmo Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Sixten Ehrling
Year: 1996
Length: 2 hours

Review

These are what makes this list so good. Those great discoveries that come seldomly but make it all worth it. Franz Berwald is a really interesting composer who made extremely exciting and innovative music and is sadly almost completely unknown.

These four symphonies are each and everyone of them a joy, all different but all of them pretty astounding. My personal favourite is number three a bombastic thing which almost reminds you of Wagner, and in terms of orchestral innovation there is a lot in common with Wagner here.

Berwald is capable of both rousing and extremely beautiful music, as can be seen in the two last symphonies. A really great set of works that really need to be listened to.

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Franz Adolf Berwald (July 23, 1796 – April 3, 1868) was a Swedish Romantic composer who was generally ignored during his lifetime. Due to this, he was forced to make his living as an orthopedic surgeon and later as the manager of a saw mill and glass factory.

From Wikipedia:

First Part of the First movement of the third symphony:

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

300. Robert Schumann - Piano Quartet (1842)



















Recording

Title: Fantasiestucke, Piano Trio No.3, Piano Quartet
Performer: Florestan Trio, Thomas Riebl
Year: 1999
Length: 28 minutes

Review

I think Schumann is really coming into his own lately. After a bunch of short piano collections which left me cold, his later piano work, songs, symphonies and in this case chamber works have left me much happier with him.

This quartet is a perfect example of what I mean, it is a shining example of romanticist composition while the use of a viola make the music sometimes harken back to a much older age.

The slow movement here, the third one, is a lovely piece of melodic composing, however the other movements really don't let the side down, and the highlight goes to the first movement. So it is a quite accomplished piece of work, none of the movements are that different in qualitative terms from any of the others, the piece flows marvellously. Getting married to Clara really helped his stuff.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Piano quartets for that standard lineup were written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák and Gabriel Fauré among others. In the 20th century, composers have also written for more varied groups, with Anton Webern's Quartet, opus 22 (1930), for example, being for piano, violin, clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Olivier Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1940) for piano, violin, cello and clarinet. An early example of this can be found in Franz Berwald's quartet for piano, horn, clarinet and bassoon (1819), his opus 1.

Third Movement:

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

299. Richard Wagner - Der fliegende Hollander (1841, rev. 1860)




















Recording

Title: Der fliegende Hollander
Performers: Herman Uhde, Astrid Varnay, Ludwig Weber
Conductor: Joseph Keilberth
Year: 1955
Length: 2 hours 20 minutes

Review

Ok, Wagner really is something else. In this, the first of his middle period, innovative operas, he really shows us something that we hadn't seen before. This is reflected in several points: the way in which the orchestra is so completely integral to the drama, the absence of recitatives, the way the whole thing is just one long song with no breaks, the use of leitmotifs.

But if Wagner was nothing but innovation he would surely deserve his place on history books but would hardly be enjoyable. The music is, however, completely amazing stuff, full of bluster and tenderness, immensely expressive and constantly shifting, not afraid to sound dissonant at times.

Then you have the story, which while it is not anything to write home about in this opera, is so completely integrated with the music that this almost feels like a different medium from Rossini's interchangable overtures and songs system. Wagner writes the libretto and the music and it is all one work. Good for him, an amazing opera.

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Wagner originally wrote Der fliegende Holländer to be performed without intermission — an example of his efforts to break with tradition — and, while today's opera houses sometimes still follow this directive, it is also performed in a three act version.

Senta's Ballad:


Thursday, 13 August 2009

298. Robert Schumann - Symphony no.1, "Spring" (1841)













Recording

Title: Schumann, The Symphonies
Performer: Wiener Philharmonic
Conductor: Leonard Bernstein
Year: 1984
Length: 34 minutes

Review

Ah! I missed a good symphonic work, we haven't had anything remotely approaching it since Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette, which was anything but a typical symphonic work. However with Schumann we return to a slightly more traditional format.

Just because the format is traditional it does mean that it isn't innovative. In fact Schumann is extremely effusive throughout in a way that ends up being pretty uncharacteristic of Symphonic productions. This is a bombastic work where even the slow movement is quite fast.

Schumann captures the idea of Spring and with it growing and exploding life pretty well here, the symphony is well developed and extremely attractive, so much so that you probably already know it by heart, even if you don't realise it.

Final Grade


10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Although Schumann made some "symphonic attempts" in the autumn of 1840, soon after he married his beloved Clara Wieck, he did not compose the symphony until early 1841. Schumann sketched the symphony in four days from 23 January to 26 January and completed the orchestration within a month by 20 February. The premiere took place under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn on 31 March 1841 in Leipzig. The symphony was warmly received. Until Schumann composed this symphony, he was largely known for his works for the piano and for voice. Clara encouraged him to write symphonic music. The title of "Spring Symphony" was bestowed upon it, according to Clara's diary, because of the Spring poems of Adolph Boettger. However, Schumann himself said he was merely inspired by his Liebesfrühling (spring of love).

Bernstein conducts the finale:

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

297. Felix Mendelssohn - Variations sérieuses (1841)






















Recording

Title: Murray Perahia - Mendelssohn
Performer: Murray Perahia
Year: 1982
Length: 12 minutes

Review

Mendelssohn gives us a quite traditional musical format, the theme and variation for piano. So it is not particularly innovative there, and it does not sound very new at all, in fact it sometimes sounds like a throwback and you really seems to see tributes to older composers such as Bach and Beethoven in the playing.

Making little nods to these composers is quite natural taking into account the fact that they were probably the two most important composers of variations up until this time.

However there is expressiveness in this small piece that is definitely a part of the romantic period, in terms of sound however it is hard not to think back on other composers when listening to this.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

This conservative strain in Mendelssohn, which set him apart from some of his more flamboyant contemporaries, bred a similar condescension on their part toward his music. His success, his popularity and his Jewish origins irked Richard Wagner sufficiently to damn Mendelssohn with faint praise, three years after his death, in an anti-Jewish pamphlet Das Judenthum in der Musik. This was the start of a movement to denigrate Mendelssohn's achievements which lasted almost a century, the remnants of which can still be discerned today amongst some writers. The Nazi regime was to cite Mendelssohn's Jewish origin in banning performance and publication of his works. Charles Rosen, in his book The Romantic Generation, disparages Mendelssohn's style as "religious kitsch", such opinion reflecting a continuation of the aesthetic contempt of Wagner and his musical followers.

Richter plays the Variations:


Sunday, 9 August 2009

296. Robert Schumann - Liederkreis, op.39 (1840)


















Recording

Title: Eichendorff Lieder
Performer: Wolfgang Holzmair. Imogen Cooper
Year: 1999
Length: 24 minutes

Review

So we come to the final lieder recording in a sequence of four Schumann lieder collections. The problem with having four in a row is that they kind of get slightly mixed up in my head. It would have been better to have a bit more of spacing.

Still, that being said, I have quite enjoyed them. They generally have the very Schumannian thing of a calm/passionate alternance going on, and if the singer is great, this can work very well.

In this sense these lieder are more emotionally expressive than Schubert's. However, Schubert had a much bigger talent for melody than Schumann which is also reflected. In the end I much prefer Schubert's lieder, but Schumann is an interesting experience in itself. This album is another set of Liederkreis, quite similar to the themes in the previous album, I actually prefer Bostridge's register to Holzmair and that is what really marks the difference in grade to both albums.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Schumann wrote two cycles of this name—the other being his opus 24—so this work is also known as the Eichendorff Liederkreis.

Herman Prey does Opus.39:

Saturday, 8 August 2009

295. Robert Schumann - Liederkreis op. 24 (1840)






















Recording

Title: Liederkreis, Op.24, Dichterliebe op. 48 & 7 Lieder
Performer: Ian Bostridge. Julius Drake
Year: 1997
Length: 22 minutes

Review

More Schumann Lieder in what was clearly an immensely productive year for him. A phase where his love for Clara Wieck was expressed through these songs which reflect the fact that she had just become Clara Schumann.

This is another lovely collection of pieces, alternating quite short 1 minute pieces with longer ones rounding the 4 minute mark. Ian Bostridge is again an uncommon voice for lieder which are usually associated with the Baritone voice. Bostridge's very clean and young sounding tenor actually enhances the romantic feel of the pieces.

We are not done with Schumann Lieder yet, the next album is again more of the same. Fortunately the three recordings we have had until now are sufficiently different to always be interesting.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

This song cycle was one of the earlier products of Schumann’s Liederjahr (Year of Song), referring to his nearly exclusive devotion to song composition from 1840-1841, immediately after his marriage to Clara Wieck. A letter from Schumann to his wife likely places the date of composition in February.

Werner Gura sings Schone Wiege meine Leiden:

Friday, 7 August 2009

294. Robert Schumann - Frauenliebe in -leben (1840)


















Recording

Title: Baker, BBC Legends
Performer: Janet Baker, Geoffrey Parsons
Year: 1968
Length: 25 minutes

Review

Another set of lieder by Schumann, in what is a set of four records of Schumann lieder in a row on this list. In this case we have not the usual baritone singing it but a mezzo-soprano.

This gives an interesting variety to the lieder, the voice is not one you typically associate with German lieder, but Janet is expressive enough to really make it work. However, there are problems with the recording... a live recording has some of the same problems of live concerts.

In this case you can hear people coughing merrily through it, those people who take the wrong path to the sanatorium and end up in concert halls. They are everywhere, and they annoy me. Other than that it is a great recording.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Frauenliebe und -leben (A Woman's Love and Life) is a cycle of poems by Adelbert von Chamisso, written in 1830. They describe the course of a woman's love for her man, from her point of view, from first meeting through marriage to his death, and after. Selections were set to music as a song-cycle by masters of German Lied, namely Carl Loewe, Franz Paul Lachner and Robert Schumann. The setting by Schumann (his opus 42) is nowadays the most widely-known.

Janet Baker sings three songs from Frauenliebe und -leben with Barenboim on the piano:





Wednesday, 5 August 2009

293. Robert Schumann - Dichterliebe (1840)




















Recording

Title: Schumann Dichterliebe
Performer: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Jorg Demus
Year: 1965
Length: 31 minutes

Review

I must be one of the only persons of my circle of friends who can bear lieder, in fact I kind of love them. The short bursts of song in a way almost prefiguring the pop-single often in what amount to collections of songs prefiguring the concept album.

Other than this though, they can be really beautiful and delicate pieces, for this to work you need to have a great singer behind them. And probably no lieder singer is more accomplished than Fischer-Dieskau. He fills his songs with a lot of emotion which never seems false or mawkish.

So this is a great collection of Schumann songs, some really beautiful pieces here and definitely worth listening. Romanticism at its best can be deeply moving and these songs are often that.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The texts for the 16 songs come from the Lyrisches Intermezzo of Heinrich Heine, composed 1822-1823, published as part of the poet's Das Buch der Lieder. Following the song-cycles of Franz Schubert (Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise), those of Schumann constitute part of the central core of the genre in musical literature.

A selection of the pieces with Dieskau and Horowitz:

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

292. Franz Liszt - Paraphrases & Transcriptions (1840s onwards)


















Recording

Title: Masterpieces For Solo Piano Vol. 2
Performer: Earl Wild
Year: 1968
Length: 17 minutes

Review

Well this is really just one transcription, a transcription of parts of Mozart's Don Giovanni for the piano called, Reminescences de Don Juan. And it is a pretty great piano suite of themes from the opera.

Even if this isn't exactly Liszt's original work it still bears his strong mark, the way the various themes from the opera intertwine with no respect for the plot line makes the work pretty interesting.

It is fun, if you know the opera, going through it and identifying all the sections and getting fascinated by Liszt's variations, it is not only a great piano piece but it reminds you of just how musically great Mozart's opera is.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Liszt's composing music on music, being taken as such, was nothing new. Nevertheless, Liszt invested a particular kind of creativity. Instead of just overtaking original melodies and harmonies, he ameliorated them. In case of his fantasies and transcriptions in Italian style, there was a problem which was by Wagner addressed as "Klappern im Geschirr der Perioden". Composers such as Bellini and Donizetti knew that certain forms, usually periods of eight measures, were to be filled with music. Occasionally, while the first half of a period was composed with inspiration, the second half was added with mechanical routine. Liszt corrected this by modifying the melody, the bass and - in cases - the harmonies.

Many of Liszt's results were remarkable. The Sonnambula-fantasy for example, a concert piece full of charming melodies, could certainly not have been composed either by Bellini or by Liszt alone. Outstanding examples are also the Rigoletto-Paraphrase and the Faust-Walzer. The most delicate harmonies in parts of those pieces were not invented by Verdi and Gounod, but by Liszt. Hans von Bülow admitted, that Liszt's transcription of his Dante Sonett "Tanto gentile" was much more refined than the original he himself had composed.

Liszt was the second pianist (after Kalkbrenner) to transcribe Beethoven's symphonies for the piano. He usually performed them for audiences that would probably never have an opportunity to hear the orchestral version.

Lang Lang plays part 1:

Sunday, 2 August 2009

291. Frédéric Chopin - Sonata no.2 in B flat minor, "Funeral March" (1839)





















Recording

Title: Rachmaninoff plays Chopin
Performer: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Year: 1930
Length: 18 minutes

Review

I usually have problems with very old recordings. The sound is not usually the best quality and some of the performances leave much to be desired. This is, however an exception. Rachmaninoff, as much as I have problems with him as a composer, was a great pianist.

It is also interesting to be able to get a performance which is less than a century distant from Chopin, it seems to bring some authenticity to the thing. The sound is not, of course the best, but in a piano piece this is actually quite charming, so it ends up not being a major problem.

The piece itself is a well known one, particularly the funeral march of the third movement, a track that everyone can sing along to... even if it is quite disturbing and is immediately associated with death. The rest of the sonata, for those who don't know it can be a revelation. The whole thing is quite strange and new, Chopin represents emotions beautifully even when they are terror.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

While the term "funeral march" is perhaps a fitting description of the 3rd movement, complete with the Lento interlude in D flat major, "Chopin's Funeral March" is used commonly to describe only the funeral march proper (in B flat minor). The "funeral march" has become well known in popular culture. It was also used at the state funerals of John F. Kennedy and those of Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev. It was transcribed for full orchestra by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar in 1933 and its first performance was at his own memorial concert the next year. It was played at the graveside during Chopin's own burial at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Rachmaninoff plays the Funeral March:

Friday, 31 July 2009

290. Felix Mendelssohn - Piano Trios No. 1 & 2 (1839, 1845)


















Recording

Title: Piano Trios 1 & 2
Performer: Florestan Trio
Year: 2003
Length: 54 minutes

Review

Mendelssohn gives us more of his immediately attractive music here. There is nothing much that is truly innovative here but it is very easy to like music. This is not always a bad thing.

I tend to prefer composers that really challenge me and my perception of what music sounded like at a certain age, however, I have a soft spot for Mendelssohn. He does anything but challenge and yet his music is just so goddamn likeable.

So he's not a Berlioz or a Wagner or even a Liszt, but he is a very competent composer of somewhat lighter music that just works really well from an harmonic point of view. Yeah it's nice.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

During the initial composition of the work, Mendelssohn took the advice of a fellow composer, Ferdinand Hiller, and revised the piano part. The revised version was in a more romantic, Schumannesque style with the piano given a more important role in the trio. Indeed, the revised piece was reviewed by Schumann who declared Mendelssohn to be "the Mozart of the nineteenth century, the most illuminating of musicians."

First Movement:


Thursday, 30 July 2009

289. Frédéric Chopin - Preludes (1839)




















Recording

Title: 24 Preludes Opus 28
Performer: Grigory Sokolov
Year: 1990
Length: 90 minutes

Review

Chopin's short preludes can sometimes be play in an overemotional way. This is actually generally true of all of Chopin's piano composition and much of Romantic music.

This is a recording, however, that opts to play down the somewhat maudlin quality of Chopin's pieces in a way that reveals the brilliance of the compositions in a more detached way. This actually makes the music considerably better.

This toning down really makes Chopin's preludes brilliant pieces that can be appreciated in a new way here... with less fear of getting your man-card revoked. And they are indeed brilliant and beautiful pieces.

Final Grade

9/10


Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Chopin's Op. 28 preludes have been compared to Johann Sebastian Bach's preludes in the Well-Tempered Clavier. However, each of Bach's preludes leads to a fugue in the same key, and Bach's pieces are arranged, in each of the work's two volumes, in ascending chromatic order (with major preceding parallel minor), while Chopin's are arranged in a circle of fifths (with major preceding relative minor). Harold C. Schonberg, in The Great Pianists, writes: "It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now-forgotten Op. 67, composed in 1815 – a set of twenty-four preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major." As Schonberg says: "the openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor concertos are too close to be coincidental."

Sokolov plays prelude no. 15:

Monday, 27 July 2009

288. Hector Berlioz - Romeo et Juliette (1839)

















Recording

Title: Romeo et Juliette
Performer: London Symphony Orchestra, Daniella Barcelona, Kenneth Traver, Orlin Anatassov
Conductor: Colin Davis
Year: 2000
Length: 90 minutes

Review

Another Berlioz composition which is truly amazing, however I'm not so sure about the recording. It often sounds a bit too low even in the supposedly exciting parts the volume never seems to go high enough.

However, the composition is really amazing in its innovativeness. It is not hard to understand why Wagner admired Berlioz so much, in fact this sounds positively Wagnerian in bits.

So again Berlioz surprises in a positive way with his extreme flair for the dramatic. The composition even if it might at times sound operatic is most definitely symphonic, it represents scenes rather than tell a story and it does this beautifully. Amazing stuff.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Structurally and musically, Roméo et Juliette is most indebted to Beethoven's 9th symphony - not just due to the use of soloists and choir, but in factors such as the weight of the vocal contribution being in the finale, and also in aspects of the orchestration such as the theme of the trombone recitative at the Introduction. The roles of Roméo and Juliette are represented by the orchestra, and the narrative aspects by the voices. Berlioz's reasoning follows:

If, in the famous garden and cemetery scenes, the dialogue of the two lovers, Juliet's asides, and Romeo's passionate outbursts are not sung, if the duets of love and despair are given to the orchestra, the reasons for this are numerous and easy to understand. First, and this reason alone would be sufficient, it is a symphony and not an opera. Second, since duets of this nature have been treated vocally a thousand times by the greatest masters, it was wise as well as unusual to attempt another means of expression.

Finale:

Saturday, 25 July 2009

287. Robert Schumann - Kreisleriana (1838)





















Recording

Title: Kresileriana, Fantasy Op. 17
Performer: Evgeny Kissin
Year: 2004
Length: 34 minutes

Review

Another pretty great set of piano pieces by Schumann, I think that for me the tide on Schumann is definitely turning now, I am enjoying this a lot more. Of course Evgeny Kissin's playing can only help matters.

Kresleriana almost constantly alternates between fast and ebulient and slow and lyrical movements and they are both very interesting. Schumann is still playing around with the Eusebius and Florestan characters, and for me here is where he most achieves good portraits of both characters.

Interestingly enough none of the pieces in Kreisleriana were attributed to either Florestan or Eusebius by Schumann, but their presence is quite obvious. The recording is crisp and perfectly executed, so really go with it if you are interested in listening to Kreisleriana, which I recommend you do.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The work is intended to represent the fictional character Johannes Kreisler from the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Like Kreisler, each piece has 2 very different sections, resembling the imaginary musician's manic-depression, and perhaps recalling Florestan and Eusebius, the two imaginary characters created by Schumann himself, who said that they represented his impulsive and dreamy sides, respectively.

Arcadi Volodos plays the first movement:


Thursday, 23 July 2009

286. Robert Schumann - Kinderszenen (1838)




















Recording

Title: Piano Music
Performer: Alex Slobodyanik
Year: 1999
Length: 21 minutes

Review

Finally something from Schumann which I really enjoyed. A set of very short pieces (which I don't usually enjoy) about childhood. The way this works better for me has to do with the fact that Schumann simply gets a good hook in each piece and runs with it for a short time.

So this is a collection of pieces which never tires and many of them are understandably famous, the delicacy of Traumerei for example could never go unnoticed by anyone.

Maybe I am just starting to warm up to Schumann, maybe it is just a particularly good subject for him, but this was almost a revelation in the context of the list. Some really beautiful stuff.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Träumerei is one of Schumann's best known pieces. It was the title of a 1944 German biopic on Robert Schumann. Träumerei is the love song for Robert and Clara Schumann in the 1947 Hollywood film Song of Love, starring Katharine Hepburn as Clara Wieck Schumann.

Horowitz plays Traumerei... maybe a a bit too fast: