Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mendelssohn and Me

Ah, my blog has fallen silent lately. Sorry to all of you who hang on my every word.  Other things have come up that are taking up my free time – Christmas shopping, trip-planning, and digging out of this:


Also, listening to new music.  To be more precise, listening to old music that is new to me.  Is there any really new music worth listening to?  My experience over the past twenty years is that while there might be, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack and not worth the effort.  So, as Chris Berman says when someone hits a long fly ball, back, back, back I go. 

This week I’ve listened to Mendelssohn’s overtures to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hebrides, his E-Minor Violin Concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s D-Major Violin Concerto.  The Concerto’s are on the same CD, performed by Isaac Stern with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  A lot of people I respect consider these the best versions.  I don’t have the time nor the inclination nor the money to be comparing different performances of the same piece so I always do a little research before I buy new concert music to find the one that’s considered definitive, or at least one that is a very fine performance.  One of the benefits of the CD revolution that occurred twenty or so years ago was that record companies went back into their vaults and re-mastered for CD some of the great LP performances of concert music that had been recorded between 1950 and 1980.  It cost the companies little to do this so they often sold these re-masters at bargain prices.  So quite often you can get a recording of a famous performance for less than a new, not as interesting, performance.  So it pays to do the research.  I still get excited when I see what is considered a great performance available on Amazon for $8.99. 

At any rate, the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream is marvelous.  Mendelssohn, who wrote the piece when he was seventeen, was concert music’s other great child prodigy, along with Mozart.  (He also, like Mozart, died young, at 38.)  He’s been dismissed by some over the years as a lightweight due to his adherence to the classical era forms developed and perfected by Haydn and Mozart, along with his music’s perceived lack of Sturm and Drang, a mark of authenticity in the Romantic period in which he operated.  While there is certainly something Mozartian (is that a word?) about his music, I find him to be fully of the Romantic period.  The overture to Hebrides, for instance, is unimaginable as a composition of the Classical era.  If Mozart had been born fifty years later his music may have sounded something like Mendelssohn’s.  I don’t mean to compare the two as equals as Mozart was perhaps the greatest composer of all time.  I simply mean that I can hear the Mozart influence in Mendelssohn’s music, along with the Romantic period’s more personal and emotional expressiveness.  Mendelssohn did not lack there.  He simply had more control over the emotive aspects of his music than, say, Berlioz, perhaps because he operated within the forms that had been handed down to him from his predecessors, whereas Berlioz had only the thinnest knowledge of those forms – his music was all over the place. 

I need to listen to the Violin Concertos again before I comment on them.  All I can say now is that they are both lovely in parts, deeply emotive, and, of course, brilliantly played by Stern.  I will do this sometime today as part of a new plan of mine.  I want to, in 2010, learn one new piece of concert music per week.  Not just listen, but learn.  I have plenty of time to listen to music, during my daily commute, during my workouts, and at home, usually on the weekend mornings.  I’ve begun a little early with the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky this week but my plan for 2010 is already in the works.  For Christmas I’ve asked my darling wife for the following recordings:

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C-Minor
Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 in G-Minor
Elgar's Cello Concerto in E-Minor
Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat Major

I am not promising to blog about each piece but I hope to have something to say about them on occasion.  I know you’re all dying to hear my views.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marshmallow World

Still snowing.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a snow like this so early in the year and it does not bode well for the rest of this winter.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a snowy winter but with the temperatures the way they’ve been all year – cooler than normal – I wouldn’t be surprised if we had one this year. 

I know I gave you a Darlene Love song off the Spector Christmas record already today but the versions of these songs are so wonderful, in many ways the definitive versions, if you can say that about a Christmas song.  At any rate, it’s a marshmallow world here in Northern Virginia.  Below are some pictures from my house, plus the tree I put up this morning, from a few minutes ago:

IMG_1609 IMG_1607  IMG_1610 IMG_1608

When it snows…

…Aint’ it thrillin’
Though your nose
Gets a chillin’
We’ll frolic and play
The Eskimo way
Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

The first thing I do every year when the snow starts to fall is put on Darlene Love’s version of “Winter Wonderland”, produced by that famous lunatic Phil Spector.  It is the perfect Christmas song when the snow is falling, joyous and exuberant, and it conjures up all the feelings you had when you were a kid and heading out to go sledding; It’s also got jingle bells, chimes, and it’s just a lot of fun.  Perfect for the first snowfall of the season.  Enjoy:

Baby Won’t You Please Come Home

My wife left yesterday for a conference down in Atlanta so I’m here all alone.  And I’m miserable, all at loose ends, pacing the house, not able to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time, feeling lonely and blue.  I wasn’t always like this.  I was on my own for more than a decade before I was married and I never got lonely when alone but I guess twenty-plus years of marriage will change you.  If she were here it would be different.  We might ignore each other all day – me reading on the couch, her working on the computer (she’s very busy these days) but at least SHE’S HERE.  So, baby won’t you please come home?

I searched YouTube for an appropriate rendition of that great song and I came across this by some jazz band at a Bix Beiderbecke festival earlier this year.  And it’s not bad.  The cornet player actually has a little bit of Bix’s style and lyricism.  Enjoy:

And below is the man himself, who was breaking from traditional jazz and creating his own style during the 1920’s at precisely the same time as Louis Armstrong.  The two men’s playing were radically different but according to many sources they admired each other tremendously.  I’ve already mentioned how I wished I were a fly on the wall the night they jammed together.  There’s plenty of Louis to listen to in earlier posts on this page but here’s Bix with Frank Trumbauer’s Orchestra on probably his most famous recording, “Singin’ The Blues,” from May, 1927.  His cornet solo picks up at about the 1:03 mark, immediately after Trumbauer’s C-melody sax intro.  This is lovely stuff:

Oh my, I just looked outside and it’s snowing.  A couple of inches are expected.  I guess this is a good time to put on some music and put up the tree.