good deal of what I have written here is related (sometimes only tangentially) to serious music. Some posts about interesting musicians or composers are accompanied by live broadcast recordings. To contact me, email at boomboomsky at gmail dot com.
There are no commercial recordings on this blog.
A word of warning: Occasionally I use strong (and insensitive) language in referring to various arrogant and incompetent assholes who managed to get on my nerves. Or simply because it gets a point across with greater directness and transparency. If you are squeamish about strong language, then stay away from this blog.

September 29, 2011


K A R L   A M A D E U S   H A R T M A N N

Symphony No.6

Aspen Festival Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher
Benedict Tent
Aspen Music Festival
Aspen, Colorado

This is how you know you're listening to an orchestral recording made by engineers who understand and care about music:  At your usual volume setting the music sounds far too quiet and muffled.  You decide to increase the volume of the files before burning them on CD but discover that the peak volume is already at nearly 100%.  And your heart skips a beat because you realize that what you have is an orchestral recording with completely uncompressed dynamic range, and without any post-production boost of high frequencies.  So you just crank up the volume on your amplifier, and every time there is an orchestral sforzando or a forte whack on the bass drum, the music "opens up" with thrilling vitality, and there is not the the slightest fatigue experienced by your ears throughout the entire piece.
     Unless, of course, your amplifier is inside your laptop or computer speakers, and delivers just enough juice to power your grandpa's hearing aid or your grandma's vibrator.  Or it is a stand alone audio-video-microwave-toaster-washer-dryer-and-everything-else-you-can-think-of-plastic-piece-of-shit, with more blinking lights on its front face than you'd see in Tokyo's Shibuya District on a Friday night, and with the manufacturer's promise to deliver hundreds of watts into countless speakers, doorbells, alarm clocks, pacemakers, and anything else you can plug into it - but only so long as this power is measured on a tiny interval of midrange frequencies, and lasts no longer than a fraction of a second.  In that case the orchestral peaks will be clipped and what you'll hear will be a lifeless, muffled, faintly congested, and two-dimensional Muzak.  You'll hate it, naturally, and once again praise the Lord for all those commercial recordings whose dynamic range is so compressed that you can hear ppp passages on your iPod earbuds while squeezing a couple of hundred rounds through your .45 Colt Automatic at a shooting range, and whose high frequency content is boosted so much that your cheap speakers (or iPod earbuds) will buzz and sizzle like the power transmission lines that run across the Nevada Basin desert.

Now you can understand why I was so pleased with the sound quality of this live and unedited recording of Hartmann's 6th Symphony.  (Corigliano's Piano Concerto on this blog is another live orchestral recording whose engineering I find that gratifying.)  Add to this the fact that Aspen's Benedict Tent is essentially an open space venue, and you will understand why I would gratefully carry the sound engineer's photo in my wallet (if I carried a wallet, that is).
     As for the performance, the orchestral playing is good, and it communicates the excitement of a live concert to make a far stronger case for Hartmann's "conservative modernism" than what I remember from slippery and two-dimensional sounding commercial recording by Ingo Metzmacher and the Bamberg SO.  (Apropos, the incompetent cocksuckers at EMI who produced this commercial set of Hartmann's symphonies did not even bother to invest minimal care into splicing together different takes without audible hiccups.  Just check the Adagio of the 7th symphony at around 9:26.5 for one example of how the CD-buying public repeatedly gets fucked by the perpetually self-pitying recording industry).  The Aspen orchestra, by the way, is essentially a "master class" orchestra, in which the front desks are occupied by experienced (often world-class) musicians, and the rest of the players are very talented young musicians (conservatory students or recent graduates).  Many of these youngsters will go on to become players in top orchestras, and some may become world-class soloists - as it happened in the past with Joshua Bell, Lyn Harrell, Sara Cheng, and other famous musicians who are alumni of the Aspen Music Festival and School.

September 17, 2011

SCHNITTKE: Quintet for Piano and Strings

Quintet for Piano and Strings

Alexander Mekinulov, piano
St Petersburg String Quartet
Gordon Hall
Falls Village Connecticut
 Music Mountain Festival

If music can be said to evoke bubbling brooks, bird calls, war, love, death, and even transfiguration, then why not Dissociative Identity Disorder?  There are distinct and seemingly independent musical identities - rooted in serialism, polytonality, dadaism, Stravinskian neo-classicism, Mahlerian romanticism, tawdry cabaret music, and sentimental film scores - which co-inhabit Schnittke's musical psyche, and which manifest themselves within a single piece by abruptly taking control of Schnittke's "compositional behavior" for a few bars here and there before being displaced by another musical identity.
    If heard in studio recordings - where the inherent fakery of depersonalized assembly of musical material is combined with Schnittke's alternating, dissociated musical personalities - Schnittke's music is unbearably irritating for me.  Yet, strangely enough, the same music can have a curious (if perhaps neither lasting nor healthy) impact in live performances.  One such performance, I believe, can be heard in the present live and unedited recording of the Piano Qunitet.

I have not heard the Russian pianist Alexander Mekinulov before, and I'm reluctant to judge his pianism on the basis of a single performance, especially in light of the fact that the piano tone always sounds a bit milky and clattery in the unresonant acoustics of Gordon Hall.  But I thought that Mekinulov's serious, musicianly handling of the piano part suited the music rather well.  As for the St Petersburg Quartet, I actually dislike their "Russian sound" in the Classical repertoire, but in Schnittke's music their somewhat roughly blended textures proved to be an asset rather than a liability.

September 8, 2011

RON REGEV at Ravinia Festival (2007 - 2011)

R   O   N       R   E   G   E   V

Bennett Gordon Hall
R a v i n i a    F e s t i v a l  
2007 - 2011 

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in D minor, Op. 121
Alexi Kenney, violin

Sonata for Cello and Piano
Tony Rymer, cello

Sonata for Cello and Piano no 2 in G minor, Op. 5 no 2
Gilad Kaplansky, cello

Sonata for Viola and Piano no 2 in E flat major, Op. 120 no 2
Wei-Ting Kuo, viola
Lachrymae for Viola and Piano, Op. 48 
Luke Fleming, viola

Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat major, Op. 18
Tessa Lark, violin

Sonatina for Violin and Piano in G minor, D 408/Op. 137 no 3
Diana Cohen, violin

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 9 in A major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer"
Caitlin Tully, violin

Sonata for Cello and Piano no 5 in D major, Op. 102 no 2
Gilad Kaplansky, cello

George Szell is the only other pianist whose playing I find so captivating despite the fact that, like Ron Regev's playing, it is known to me only through his performances of chamber music.  This is not to say that Ron Regev's pianism is similar to Szell's.  Regev's phrasing is more spontaneous, his tone is richer and warmer, with a proverbial "golden ring" to it, and his chords are voiced less analytically (albeit without any loss of transparency).  For me the similarity between these two pianists comes at a more general, abstract level, and I would describe it in terms of authority radiated by their playing.  This admittedly elusive notion involves far more than just unimpeachable technical security in the handling of the piano part.  There is a feeling that the pianist knows the full meaning of every note in every instrumental part of the piece, and that each note of the piece seems to fall into place under the guidance of the piano part.  I certainly don't suggest that most other pianists do not bring this kind of knowledge to their performances, only that their playing rarely makes me feel so strongly that they do.  (Richter's and Serkin's recordings of chamber music surely radiate this kind of authority, but I am talking here about pianists known to me only through their performances of chamber music.)

All of the young string players partnered by Regev are very talented, and if some of them occasionally sound a bit reticent, this only adds a degree of charming chastity to the performances.  Perhaps I am aesthetically perverse, but when 19th century chamber music is played with absolute, over-rehearsed (and usually studio-manufactured) perfection of ensemble, it sounds unattractively slick and even counterfeit to my ears.  In any case, the overall level of musicianship is uniformly high, and in some cases no less than world-class.  One of my personal favorites is the performance of Beethoven's Op.5 No.2, where the Israeli cellist Gilad Kaplansky's arctic purity of phrasing, sculpted with a strikingly individual throaty, reedy tone, turned this familiar cello sonata into a nearly heartbreaking experience for me.  The other favorite of mine is the earlier posted violin sonata of Franck, where the violinist Tessa Lark makes the music sound more modern and more communicative than any other string player I've heard in this piece (and that includes cello arrangements).    

And finally there is the quality of recorded sound whose naturalness and realism are simply addictive for me.  (One exception is Beethoven Op.102 No.2, where Kaplansky's cello is balanced in such a way that its sound image is blocking the piano.)  Compared to these live and unedited recordings from Ravinia's Bennett-Gordon Hall, even the best engineered studio recordings of the same pieces sound lifeless.  In fact, the more the hi-fi credentials of commercial recordings are hyped in their CD booklets - Zillion Bits & Khz! Super Duper Mapping! High Definition! 3D Resolution! 360 Surround! Blah Blah Blah - the more lifeless and ugly the actual sounds coming out of my speakers or headphones turn out to be.  Or so it has been in my experience.

September 7, 2011

When bad news ain't THAT bad...


updated 9/4/2011,  7:29:41 PM

Mental illness affects 38 percent of Europeans, study shows

Europeans are plagued by mental and neurological illnesses, with almost 165 million people or 38 percent of the population suffering each year from a brain disorder such as depression, anxiety, insomnia or dementia, according to a large new study.


Fox News Poll: 

45 Percent of American Voters Believe in Creationism 

Published September 07, 2011 |

Some 45 percent of American voters accept the Biblical account of creation as the explanation for the origin of human life on Earth.