There is nothing more cozy and comfortable in the symphonic canon than the harmless narcissism of Strauss’s “domestic” symphony, originally titled “My home. A symphonic portrait of myself and my family.” Just how tasteful it all is has been a subject of debate ever since 1903, of course. As Peter Ustinov famously said of the composer: “I knew I wouldn’t like his wallpaper.” As it turned out, he didn’t.
A Crop Of Recordings V: French Rarities by Emmanuel, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Bizet, Magnard, Duparc and Berlioz
Every so often a release comes along which serves to remind listeners that a particular national repertory is not always so well known to us as we think. Not all beloved works cross the pond. This has a lot to do with immediacy and easily recognizable, iconic tunes.
As collectors know, exploring outside the basic repertory is often both frustrating and rewarding. The search for significant neglected music, one learns early, is not so easy as it appears. Many worthy pieces one falls in love with turn out to be partial works of genius, with uninspired moments we choose to forgive, defects of length and proportion, or performing requirements condemning them to obscurity.
What does the music of Charles Ives sound like with an Australian orchestra and a British conductor? Different, one is tempted to to say, but not really. We’ve become used to our Ives done New York style, with Broadway snap and brass. No one gets that wrong. But Ives was a New Englander, and the disruptive elements in his music have perhaps been overstressed. He always explained that bits of band marches and Americana in the Second Symphony were present to remind him of his youth, not shock Horatio parker, his music teacher. And the famous razzy “non-chord” at the end was meant to evoke dance bands sending everyone home with a screech–not annoy the professor!
About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.
A Crop of Recordings I: Shostakovich, Scriabin, Schönberg, Nielsen, Brahms, Strauss, and a Piano Recital
Steven Kruger—with the kind permission of Fanfare Magazine—here begins a series of reviews of recorded music. All these are from CDs and SACDs, but of course the download is rapidly becoming a more important source for recordings. Of course the rest of us will be chipping in as well!
Wagner, Tannhäuser Overture. Sibelius, Symphony No. 2 – the BSO’s first recording under Andris Nelsons
I don’t think I have heard the Boston Symphony sound this full and deep since Koussevitzky. This CD inaugurates Andris Nelsons’ era at the helm of the BSO and signals a reinforcement of the orchestra’s considerable strengths in the more brooding side of the continental repertory.
Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.