Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Flying Soloist

So after listening to almost exclusively Mahler for just about 15 days running, I decided it was time for something different.

In one of my constant attempts to stay on the cutting edge of what’s new in music I picked up a disc of a composer I knew absolutely nothing about. The only thing I knew about this CD while buying it is that Martin Grubinger, the solo percussionist, is a force to be reckoned with. With it’s sleek hyper-modern neon cover art, something told me that composer Rolf Wallin would give me something aurally modern to chew on. And boy was I right, for those out there who like their modernism fast, lean and logical then step right up for Mr. Wallin’s wild ride. All the fat has been trimmed off his compositions, but that’s not to say his compositions are dry, oh no, quite the contrary. Had this music been created prior to the 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Krubrick would’ve tossed out his Ligeti LPs and replaced them with Wallin’s futuristic soundscapes.

A level headed approach to Brahms first piano concerto, soloist Cedric Tiberghien has the technical know-how to grasp what Brahms is dishing out (he also has pretty big hands from my understanding), but doesn’t dig in the way one often thinks Viennese romance should be. Instead he plays Brahms in a very Chopinesque manner, more gentle than we typically associate with Brahms. Conductor Jiri Belohlavek smooths out some of the more bombastic elements of the score and creates a cool, refined symphonic backdrop. His conducting in the Haydn Variations come across the same way, excellently played, but slightly too proper for Brahms. This team may be better suited for Schumann rather than a hot head like Brahms.

Now, I haven’t heard this one, but I encourage everyone to go out and buy it immediately. Ernst Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 has suffered from never receiving a recording that lives up to my standards. The best recording I’ve heard was tape recorded in someone’s lap at some college performance in Utah (I don’t even remember which college). I have sadly never found a recording that matches it’s intensity or spontaneity. “Why haven’t you bought this one” some people may be asking, well Hansslser is expensive and I’m not made out of gold. Normally I don’t recommend something so highly without hearing it first, but Jenny Lin is a fierce pianist with true instincts for music, I’d recommend any of her discs.

Here’s one to help start a discussion at the brandy parlor, Daniel Hope, who I believe is more well equipped to tackle modern masterpieces pieces than past warhorses, brings us the world premiere recordings of two of Mendelssohn’s most famous pieces, his Violin Concerto in E minor op. 64 and his Octet in E flat major op. 20 in their original unrevised form. Now I’m inclined to just outright say ‘the revised versions are better’ because I truly think that they are. But someone could easily persuade me away from that mindset by arguing that it’s just Daniel Hope’s playing, he’s just not as convincing as other players have been. So the jury is still out on this one, it’ll take a little digesting, perhaps another recording or two of the violin concerto and octet are in order before I make a final decision.

Can’t get enough Golijov? Well if you don’t mind him broken down into 2 minute increments then the score for Francis Ford Coppola's newest movie Youth Without Youth will have to be your next fix. Golijov speaks very highly about the making of the score, particularly working with Coppola, describing him as “…a great hero of mine…” and going on to say “I felt it was possible to fulfill every dream in life!” The score isn’t terribly engaging, but it’s good noncommittal music, music to listen to while doing something else.

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