Category Archives: my favorite music

“Kullervo” post updated

 

 
I have updated my post about Sibelius’s great symphonic tone poem Kullervo. The post now contains a complete libretto in Finnish and English.

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/22/sibelius-kullervo-and-incidental-music/

 

I attended a performance of Kullervo last night by the Oratorio Society of New York, conducted by Kent Tritle, with the men’s chorus of the Manhattan School of Music, at Carnegie Hall.

It was wonderful — and for me revelatory — to hear Kullervo performed live.

I hope to have more say about Sibelius in another post.

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

   February 26, 2019

Brahms

 

 

On February 14, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, in a performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (one of the world’s premiere orchestras).

Brahms’s first and fourth symphonies are equally good. The first is a personal favorite of mine. Both symphonies rank right up there with Mozart’s greatest, Beethoven’s symphonies, Schubert’s ninth, and one or two others. Unquestionably.

A word that came to my mind last evening in connection with Brahms’s music is powerful. (Or should I say vigorous?) Incredibly so. In this respect, I would say very similar to, rivaled by, Beethoven.

Other encomiums:

such clarity of structure, development, and phrasing;

brilliant orchestration;

sonority, orchestration, harmony, the interplay among instruments: a brilliant fusion of same;

works that sound totally original;

in no way derivative or imitative.

When you hear Brahms, it’s unmistakably Brahms. Brahmsian. He has his own sound.

In the fourth, there is not one boring stretch or passage, no instance of a putative listener thinking the first and fourth movements were great, but the Andante was nothing special.

Don’t stop there, dear reader. His violin concerto. His German Requiem. His quartets. What impresses me most about Brahms is complete mastery combined with such sincerity and depth of feeling so clearly expressed.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 15, 2019

drinking is one of life’s pleasures (Handel) … I second that

 

 

 

 

 

Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.
CHORUS
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.
— Handel, Alexander’s Feast (1736; the libretto of this choral work is based on an ode by Dryden)

 

 

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DRUNKEN POET:
Fill up the Bowl, then, &c.

1ST FAIRY, CHORUS :
Trip it, trip it in a Ring;
Around this Mortal Dance, and Sing.

POET:
Enough, enough,
We must play at Blind Man’s Bluff.
Turn me round, and stand away,
I’ll catch whom I may.

1ST FAIRY, CHORUS:
About him go, so, so, so,
Pinch the Wretch, from Top to Toe;
Pinch him forty, forty times,
Pinch till he confess his Crimes.

POET:
Hold you damn’d tormenting Punk,
I do confess ?

BOTH FAIRIES:
What, what, &c.

POET:
I’m Drunk, as I live Boys, Drunk.

BOTH FAIRIES:
What art thou, speak?

POET:
If you will know it,
I am a scurvy Poet.

CHORUS:
Pinch him, pinch him for his Crimes,
His Nonsense, and his Dogrel Rhymes.

POET:
Hold! Oh! Oh! Oh!

BOTH FAIRIES:
Confess more, more.

POET:
I confess, I’m very poor.
Nay prithee do not pinch me so,
Good dear Devil, let me go;
And as I hope to wear the Bays,
I’ll write a Sonnet in thy Praise.

CHORUS:
Drive ‘em hence, away, away
Let ‘em sleep till break of Day.

 

 

— Purcell, “The Fairy-Queen” (1692; this masque — aka semi-opera — is a musical setting of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   February 2019

50’s songs

 

 

My choice of the greatest 1950’s (and some early 1960’s) hit songs — they give me an adrenaline rush — consists of the following:
The Platters

Only You (And You Alone) (1955)

 

 

 

 

The Platters

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (1958)

 

 

 

 

The Penguins

Earth Angel (1955)

 

 

 

 

Fred Paris and the Satins (aka The Five Satins)

In the Still of the Night (1956)

 

 

 

 

The Chantels

Maybe (1957)

 

 

 

The Teddy Bears

To Know Him Is To Love Him (1958)

 

 

 

 

Dion and the Belmonts

A Teenager in Love

 

 

 

 

 

Phil Phillips

Sea of Love (1959)

 


The Shirelles

Will You Love Me Tomorrow (1960)

 

 

 

 

The Ronettes

Be My Baby (1963)

 

 

 

 

Skeeter Davis

The End of the World (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

The Crystals

Da Doo Ron (1963)

 

 

 

 

The Crystals

Then He Kissed Me (1963)

 

 

 

 
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What experience or qualifications do I have as a rock or pop music critic? Zero. I heard these tunes over and over again growing up. They kind of get drilled into you and never leave you. The experience is a pleasant one.

Music has a place in practically everyone’s lives. I know, it’s a cliché. But popular music proves this is true.

Your armchair critic feels that the following was true of musical developments of my youth. That the first popular music I recall hearing, on the radio, consisted of Hit Parade tunes such as “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” and “Love and Marriage” that were INSIPID, if catchy. Things changed — undeniably for the better — when rock and roll and doo wop came along. Rock music got worse in the Sixties, I feel — it’s probably a minority opinion. The singers were worse and the music was less emotionally engaging.

Enjoy the tunes. And my thoughts, if you care, for whatever they’re worth.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum: Black singers and groups and the musical styles they seemed to have learned early on or imbibed, so to speak, had a particular importance. It’s no accident, I feel, that they wrote and performed so many of the best songs. Lead tenor Tony Williams of the Platters is in a class by himself. His voice is spellbinding.

 

 

 

“The Song of the Forests” – post updated

 

 

I have updated my post

 
Shostakovich, Песнь о лесах (The Song of the Forests)

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/12/02/shostakovich-%d0%bf%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%bd%d1%8c-%d0%be-%d0%bb%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%b0%d1%85-the-song-of-the-forests/

 

yet again.

 

The sections of the oratorio have been posted separately, which should make it easier to get a sense of the piece.

 

— Roger W.  Smith

  December 8, 2018

Shostakovich’s fifth in concert

 

 

On Saturday evening, December 1, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall given by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sergey Smbatyan, a very young conductor.

What great seats I had! Box 15 in the first tier. A seat near the front of the first tier which overlooked the stage. I prefer not to sit in the so called Parquet section (the lowest, orchestra level). The acoustics, I have been told by other concertgoers, are better higher up, and one has a view of the whole orchestra.

 

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The program included a very recent work: Travel Notebook Suite for Piano and Orchestra (2017) composed by Alexey Shor, a young Ukrainian composer. It was an engaging piece that “worked” and that kept one’s interest sustained with variety of content from movement to movement. (Shows the advantage of being willing to listen to new music.) The pianist, Ingolf Wunder, a young Austrian, was outstanding. He drew applause that led to his performing a Chopin piece as an encore.

 

 

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The second half of the concert was comprised of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. I have posted about the Shostakovich fifth before.

To hear it or any favorite work live is a revelation. With my great seating, I was able to “see” the entrances of the different players and sections of the orchestra — the two flutes (especially important in this work); the trumpets, trombones, and bassoons; the timpani and cymbals; and, yes, the two harps – occurring. One sees as well as hears them (as one might not on a rerecording, not being quite sure what instrument one is hearing).

Shostakovich, it is well known and has been frequently noted, was a master of tone color. This is fully recognizable in a live performance.

And, the way the instruments play off one another is brilliant. I had a similar feeling while watching a performance of a Mozart symphony recently. (I forget if it was Mozart’s 40th or the Jupiter Symphony.)

Shostakovich is a master of the ironic, the sardonic, and the unexpected. Not adverse to clashing sounds and dissonance (along with beautiful, elegiac melodies). Sort of reminds one of Stravinsky. But the framework, the overall construction of the piece, is worthy of a Haydn or a Beethoven.

The instruments seem to be having a conversation (notably in the first movement, Moderato), and the piece has an undeniable, irresistible sense of logic and forward movement that never flags. As is invariably true of the greatest symphonies.

I was riveted.

 

 

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The first movement of Shostakovich’s fifth. Note the interplay and “handoffs” between the instruments. The thematic variations. Note how carefully, and with such artistry, Shostakovich builds an aura and a sense of suspense.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2018

 

 

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See also my post:

 

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in D minor; Шостакович, Симфония № 5 ре минор

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/07/22/shostakovich-symphony-no-5-in-d-minor-%d1%88%d0%be%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b0%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%b8%d1%87-%d1%81%d0%b8%d0%bc%d1%84%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%8f-%e2%84%96-5-%d1%80%d0%b5-%d0%bc%d0%b8%d0%bd/