http://i49.tinypic.com/1y71ck_th.jpgA good deal of what I have written here is related (sometimes only tangentially) to serious music. A few posts about interesting but not well-known musicians or composers are accompanied by live broadcast recordings, with download links in the comments. (If there is a problem with a link, or if you need to contact me for some other reason, you can email me at boomboomsky at gmail dot com. )
There are no commercial recordings on this blog.
A word of warning: Occasionally I use strong 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.

January 27, 2012

Bruckner





This may get my avatar pasted on many dartboards, but I think only a juvenile mind can be fascinated by music whose principal aim is to show how to keep an orchestra busy with a single triad for nearly half an hour at a stretch.  Which is what Bruckner's symphonies offer in abundance.  And for many elderly maestros these symphonies also offer a pleasurable and socially respectable way of regressing to the wide-eyed mind set of their teenage years - the years when metaphysical significance seemed to be attached to even the simplest pleasures, be they an 80-minute long Bruckner symphony blasted in the basement of your parents' house, or a 5-minute long handjob administered by your college sweetheart in the deserted basement of the University library.


   

January 24, 2012

ILYA RASHKOVSKY plays Chopin, Rachmaninov, Beethoven



Ilya Rashkovsky
p i a n o
info

C H O P I N 
Piano Concerto in E minor 

Gorzow Philharmonic
Piotr Borkowski
November 11, 2011
Filharmonia Gorzowska
Poland

320 kbs mp3 (no re-encoding)


RACHMANINOV
Piano Sonata No.2 Op.36
CHOPIN
Ballade in G minor Op.23
BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata Op.110

May 5, 2009
Bass Performance Hall
Fort Worth, Texas

192 - 256 VBR mp3 (no re-encoding)

In science and mathematics building on the work of others to obtain deeper discoveries and more powerful explanations is essential to progress in these fields.  But even if  your results reach much deeper and wider than those of your older colleagues, this in no way negates the value of the latter's contributions to the discipline.

In music, on the other hand, things can be strikingly different.  If someone takes the formal, stylistic, thematic, and harmonic elements of your compositions and uses them to create deeper, richer, and more powerful music, chances are good that he will get all the credit from posterity, while you will end up being royally fucked.  Your music will be all but unknown to future generations of music lovers because it will be ignored by performers, dismissed by composition teachers, overlooked by record companies, and denigrated (if mentioned at all) by popular accounts of the history of music.  
     
I can think of no better example of such victimhood than the fate which eventually befell the piano concertos of Friedrich Kalkbrenner and Johann Nepmuk Hummel after Chopin had published his two works in this genre.  Although Chopin had all but aped Kalkbrenner's D-minor concerto, and also used Hummel's A-minor concerto as a model, his works have eclipsed the earlier concertos so completely that regular concertgoers in the 20th century would go to their graves without having heard a single performance of Kaklbrenner's or Hummel's works.  And while there must have been hundreds of recordings of the Chopin concertos issued by record companies large and small since the late 1920s, I don't think there have been more than two recordings made of Kalkbrenner's D-minor and more than five or six of Hummel's A-minor - all seemingly motivated more by the music's historical curiosity than by its unjustly neglected aesthetic merits.

I don't mean to suggest that this situation in music is in some sense "unfair".  Unlike with science and mathematics, our appreciation of musical works has a significant emotional dimension.  (I know a mathematician who gets teary-eyed every time he listens to a particular recording of Beim Schlafengehen, but I doubt he ever shed a tear while contemplating mathematical theorems.)   As a listener whose ears have been conditioned by Chopin's melodic gift and harmonic inventiveness, I certainly feel some degree of superficiality in the concertos of Kalbrenner and Hummel (much more so with Kalkbrenner).   And if my response is typical, I don't see anything unfair in the fact that concert pianists would much rather try to impress their audience with music that penetrates to the bone marrow rather than with music that only tickles the skin or massages the muscles, however pleasant the sensation may be.   Yet I also think that the concertos of Kalkbrenner and Hummel have undeniable charm, and I would rather hear a concert performance of one of them instead of enduring yet another routine performance of the overplayed and over-recorded Chopin concertos.  In fact, I would go as far as to claim that people unfamiliar with the piano music of Chopin's largely forgotten near-contemporaries have only a superficial appreciation of Chopin's musical genius.

Such idle thoughts should reveal the extent of my ongoing obsession with the Chopin concertos, or rather with his E-minor concerto, of which I must have dozens of recordings (augmented by vague memories of ten times as many concert and broadcast performances).  Obsessed I may be, but that doesn't mean that Ilya Rashkovsky's excellently recorded live and unedited performance is just another item added indiscriminately to my alarmingly growing Chopin database.  Rashkovsky's very focused, slightly hard (but never brittle) tone has the kind of luminosity I find indispensable for communicating the melancholy of Chopin's achingly arched melodies.  With introverted but gracefully shaped phrasing, Rashkovsky's performance gives an attractively classical feel to this quintessentially Romantic concerto - which is something I always prefer to rubato-laden, metrically unstable, dynamically volatile, and technically exhibitionistic performances.  And although the tempos are decidedly on the slow side, I never felt they were dragging.  I think Rashkovsky really prefers to give a more generous time scale to the music he plays, as witnessed by his  (less successfully sustained) slow tempo in the Arioso of Beethoven's Op.110 which he played at the van Cliburn Competition.

I hope to hear more of Rashkovsky' playing in the future.
     

January 22, 2012

Delusional young pianists






Sometimes I think that many young concert pianists are simply delusional.  Surely they must know that, to attract the relatively small number of people who go to piano recitals and buy piano recordings, they must compete against countless other young pianists with similar training, talent, and technical endowment.  To make matters worse, in the concert hall these youngsters also have to compete against the still living "giants of the keyboard", and on recordings against the living giants as well as the dead ones.

So, what does the young pianist do to improve his (or her) odds in this brutally competitive market?  Does he try to intrigue you with a rare opportunity to hear a live performance of some unjustly neglected piano music of the past, say a passionate proto-Romantic sonata by Dussek or Hummel?  Does he try to ignite your curiosity with a rarely heard work by an important 20th century composer, such as the melancholy first sonata of Roger Sessions, or one of Stockhausen's haunting Klavierstucke ,  or perhaps Elliott Carter's moody Night Fantasies?  Hell no!  He expects you to spend your time and money to attend a recital whose program consists entirely of pieces that have been played and recorded ad nauseam by just about every great, almost-great, and far-from-great pianist of the century.  A typical example is Cedric Tiberghian's recital in Hohenems (May 21, 2011), where he played Beethoven's Moonglight Sonata, Ravel's Gaspard, and Schumann's Kresleriana.

Now let me get this straight: The young pianist expects me to dress up, drive across town, pay for parking, pay for tickets, sit for two hours in the auditorium, and then take a long drive back home - all for the privilege of hearing the fucking Moonlight Sonata played by some sultry-looking, carefully groomed, and fashionably attired skinny metrosexual twenty-something???  I would pass on this kind of recital program even if the ticket included a free backstage blowjob from the artist during the intermission.  And I consider myself a fairly typical pianophile...

The point of all this is not that Cedric Tiberghien's  playing of tired "masterpieces" shows him to be a bad pianist or inadequate musician.  On the contrary, I think he is quite good.  The problem is that there are too many other young pianists who are at least as good as he is.  And most of them seem to be equally delusional in their belief that they can attain pianistic glory by starting off with recitals consisting of sorely overplayed and numbingly over-recorded segments of the piano repertoire.
     
   

January 9, 2012

JEAN-GUIHEN QUEYRAS in Amsterdam (Oct. 30, 2011): Vivaldi Cello Concertos




Years ago my then girlfriend and I had dinner at Spago, a popular restaurant in the hills above Sunset Boulevard.  Three tables from where we were sitting I saw a muscled pigmy whose face looked annoyingly familiar, but whose name I could not recall.  A little later, I almost choked on my lobster ravioli because I suddenly realized that the pigmy was a very famous action movie star.  Seen from a few feet away, however, this silver screen superman projected all the menacing authority of a bipedal hamster on a high protein diet.   After that sighting, I never could watch the guy's movies again without laughing...
   
A few months after that restaurant encounter, I had a similar experience when I went to hear the English Concert under Trevor Pinnock playing at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.  What I heard from my seat just a few rows from the stage was not the towering, muscled, athletic, edgy sonic presence of the period instrument band I knew from numerous Arkhiv Produktion CDs.  Instead I heard a few thin-textured, bass-shy tuttis separated by long stretches of nearly inaudible, barely pitched buzzing.  After that I never could listen to a period instruments ensemble again without laughing.  (Which is exactly what I did at another concert where the heavily perspiring soloist, Monica Huggett, tried to scrape her way through the ascending melodic line with which the violin makes its entrance in the Beethoven concerto.  I had to leave the concert hall in disgrace, with third degree burns left on my back by the fiery stares of numerous HIP devotees in the audience.)

I mentioned the above autobiographical trivia because that's what I had on my mind recently while I was listening to the beefy, muscular, lithe textures of the period instrument ensemble (Akademie für alte Musik Berlin) accompanying Jean-Guihen Queyras's superlative readings of Vivaldi's cello concertos (recorded live at the Concertgebouw on October 30, 2011).  I did not believe for a second that this kind of orchestral sound projected much further than the (very closely placed) recording microphones.  Not that it mattered much to me, since the music itself easily gets on my nerves.  I am just not the kind of guy who holds his breath when listening to endlessly repeated  arpeggiated chords, which is what Vivaldi's concertos offer as (or rather in place of) thematic elaboration.   But listen I did, and more than once, because I find Queyras' musical intelligence and instrumental craft simply irresistible no matter what music he plays.  If this musician could keep my attention through several numbingly predictable Vivaldi concertos, he probably would make me faint with a live recording of something more interesting, say Pintscher's Reflections on Narcissus or Holliger's Romancendres.