Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jean Sibelius - Violin Concerto/The Swan Of Tuonela, Oistrakh, Philadelphia Orch., Ormandy (CBS - 61041)

When you talk about Classical music, the first "weirdo" person to picture in your mind would be Mozart, the true symbol of utmost talent and craziness. Yet, the truth is somewhat different. It is true that Mozart, not having truly lived his childhood period went half nuts. However, no other century than 20th century saw the massive amount of psychologically unstable composers during it's time.

It is hard to call Jean Sibelius a composer of the 20th century since his style of composition surely lies alongside of the 19th. However, his compositions were mainly after 1893 and under the influence of the modernists even though he tried to stick to the old game. His violin concerto came in 1903. These were all before he hid himself in the woods.

Sibelius ran away from everything in order to compose. He was not into social interactions from the beginning, but as he became successful in composing, he cut out his attachments and isolated himself more and more. He bought a house in the woods and went there to compose, sometimes for months on end. This extreme isolation also let to darker moods and weirder basis for his compositions. Especially in most of his later works, melancholy is a standard with the feeling of joy almost non-existent.

Sibelius's violin concerto in D minor is an early work and therefore a mixture of his stylistic rhythms, melancholy, partial joy and excessively well arranged orchestration (Here maybe lies his true talent). It is a beautiful work. More to it, David Oistrakh is playing with the support of Philadelphia Orchestra under the leadership of conductor Eugene Ormandy.

David Oistrakh is, for me, the most accomplished violinist of the 20th century. If I were to write a violin concerto (Not that I can anyway), he would turn it into a lovely composition. His performance in this concerto is breathtaking. Especially in the first and third movements, I listened in awe as he played effortlessly with such divine beauty. The beginning of the first movement (Allegro Moderato) is not real. Can't be!!!

Apart from the violin concerto, "The Swan Of Tuonela" is also added to the B side. This is probably the most touching movement of Sibelius's suite, Lemminkainen, which is the musical version of the Finnish legend Kalevala. The beauty of expression in this piece is fascinating as the lyrical version explains Tuonela as hell and this is a notion which Sibelius didn't find hard to picture in utmost efficiency and romanticism.

Here I also want to comment on another thing. Penguin books have released several guides concerning different genres of music including Classical, Jazz and Blues. These guides are pretty useful within themselves, but unfortunately they only include CD and DVD releases. In all the three genres, a huge amount of music was released on vinyl and never again released as CD or else. Therefore leaving these out is a big hole in the guide. For instance this performance of Oistrakh is not even mentioned in the guide. I've also seen other critical vinyl releases not mentioned as well, including the legendary box set of Shostakovich Symphonies by Kondrashin which was released by Melodiya at the time. I can also name other missing titles for Jazz as well, especially on Thelonious .Monk and John Coltrane's part as well as some crucial ECM titles. Hopefully in the near future Penguin editors will find the decency to add these vinyl only releases to their portfolio. I'm pretty much sure most of those guys would have these records anyway.

To buy this record:

@ Discogs (A different pressing)
@ Ebay

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pierre Henry - La Noire À Soixante / Granulométrie (Philips - 836 892 DSY)

Pierre Henry is a French composer who is widely known as one of the two godfathers of Musique Concrete. The other one is Pierre Schaeffer. Musique Concrete is based on acousmatic sound ideology which is listenin to a sound without knowing/seeing the source. Of course this is too much of a blurry explanation. The sources of sounds in Musique Concrete are mainly electronic sounds and samples, tape recordings. There are not any human or instrumental sounds in it (Minor exceptions may occur). However, later on Ilhan Mimaroglu combined poems with Musique Concrete. Musique Concrete lies within the general genre of Electroacoustic Music.

Both of the works were on this LP have been recorded between 1960 and 1962 while there has been a delay in releasing the record. I don't know why this delay occured, but it has been released by Philips under their prestigious series Prospective 21e Siecle. This series have been home to very important Musique Concrete and Contemporary Classical Music with Pierre Henry and Iannis Xenakis taking most of the applause.

Henry's work "La Noire A Soixante" is a little different than most of the other Musique Concrete works I've listened until now. The main point is silence is an important aspect of the piece with samples flowing under irregular cycles with changing frequencies and timbres. There is also a tape recording played backwards which is used a lot in this style of music.

The B side is "La Noire À Soixante + Granulométrie" which is essentially the A side being re-recorded while superimposing "Granulometrie" into it. The voice being heard (As I said minor exceptions) is François Dufrêne and the piece is about the experiments on his voice. Due to a more detailed structure on this re-recorded version, silences are more scarce with constant samples flowing around. Even though the A side version suits my minimalistic tastes more, the B side is more fulfilling the notion of Musique Concrete.

To buy this record:

@ Discogs
@ Ebay

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thelonious Monk - Riverside Classics 1956 - 1961 (Riverside - 0902098)

I have bought 2 huge box sets around 2 months ago. One of them is this one from Thelonious Monk. It includes the legendary albums he released between 1956 and 1961 from the reknown Jazz label Riverside which helped to take him through the fame doors. The second box set is from Miles Davis with the name The Chronicle. As it is not easy to grasp all of them together, I preferred to start with my favorite Jazz player.

This box set has nothing new. Absolutely non. But it provides a general view of the most important era in Monk's history. His long delayed steps to move from being the weird guy in Jazz and becoming a legend. He was a man who set a task to change the understanding of classic Jazz. This was not easy since his psychological issues and his missing technique in piano was generally mocked. He was noted as an outsider in the Jazz world. Just 10 years later, all these mockers were to stand in total silence and respect when he would play. Therefore his road to glory was not like what we face in the modern times like Justin Bieber or Kaiser Chiefs who wrote up one dumb song and that was it.

This box set is only released in Germany by Metronome Musik under the license of Riverside Records. The albums in the box set are; "The Unique", "Brilliant Corners", "Thelonious Himself", "Thelonious In Action", "Misterioso", "Thelonious Monk Quintet - Five By Monk By Five", "Thelonious Monk Quartet + Two At The Blackhawk", "Thelonious Monk In Paris Vol 1", "Thelonious Monk In Paris Vol 2", and "Monk In Italy". I already had all the records apart from 2 of them while owning all and listening each respectively has gained some other perspective for me. It is totally refreshing to see how the "Thelonious Himself" album came to be and how it was followed which led to another legendary album "Thelonious Action".

There is also a chance to view the change in line up of Monk's band during the years as well. This also gives a chance to view why some artists like John Coltrane became a legend in his own right as well. Other artists who later earned massive fame who accompanied Monk's talents were Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Charlie Rouse, and Frank Dunlop. All of them except Frank Dunlop became a band leader themselves with extensive careers. Dunlop stayed with Monk for 4 years, then worked with Sonny Rollins and Lionel Hampton, but always stayed in the background.

Saying that the box set is enlightening is not enough. I've spent 2 days listening the records one after the other almost full time and cannot explain my joy. It is like a marathon of orgasms. Can't say that anything will beat it for some time. Of course I have three more marathons to run with them being the Miles Davis's Chronicle, The Rolling Stones's radio show (12 hours) and Queen's complete works. These are all exceptional within themselves so I don't want to say that this is the best, but it will certainly be hard to take this box set off the spot.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lou Reed - Live: Take No Prisoners (Arista - AL 8502)

Lou Reed is one of the legends of Rock having been excessively successful as the leading man in Velvet Underground and then suddenly starting a solo career which led him to the laps of harsh critics and underjoyed crowds. He did not stop, went on and became who he is.

Lou Reed actually has a style which is a mixture of several things. He certainly has the Rock background, but is not esentially too far away from Folk as well. If he was not from Brooklyn, I would have added Southern Rock into the mix easily. He also has a Nick Cave and Bob Dylan way to him also. He is called as a modern poet due to his singing style (Especially later works). The main difference with Bob Dylan in this sense is that Dylan went on to review the social issues in his lyrics while Reed was mainly into his own personal experiences.

This album is the third live recording of Lou Reed and takes place at The Bottom Line in NY. Moreover, this is the first, unedited live album he made. The album spans over 2 records and includes his works as well as chats with the audience and monologues which are really interesting within themselves. He also starts pondering on a music critic of that era and tells a little background story of the "Walk On The Wild Side". He tells the story while signing the song. Interesting man. Love it!!!

We get to listen tons of live albums, but listening a raw one is quite satisfactory since you get to listen to the real thing. The mistakes, the coughs, thank yous, anecdotes, sorry for being late we were tunings etc. You feel like you are there. He even says he doesn't have an attitude without a cigarette. There is an intimacy. On this album you directly get it from the beginning. Actually I bought this album with a bunch of others in a lot sale and it has been waiting for me to listen it for 3-4 months now. I've been into lots of things during that time, but it was always in my mind somewhere. Now having taken a vacation from work to do some home work, I have enjoyed it to the fullest.

One small thing is that Lou Reed's last work has been with Metallica for the album of Lulu. The album is an experiment which seems to have gone wrong. The levels of vocals vs music is not well establisted, there is not really a connection between Metallica and Lou Reed. There has to be a chemical reaction in collaborations and it is clearly missing there. Anyway don't judge a book by it's cover and especially someone by a collaboration. To have a true idea of what Lour Reed is capable of, you have to listen to "Live: Take No Prisoners".

To buy this record:

@ Discogs
@ Ebay

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Olivier Messiaen - Catalogue D'Oiseaux, Yvonne Loriod (Erato - STU 70595-8)

Olivier Messiaen is one of my favorite composers from the 20th Century and he is quite a unique character as well. He himself started as an irregularity guy who constantly looked for new things. When he started falling back from his pupils, he started listening them and adopted these new approaches to his music. This box set in question is one of my precious from my record collection and a door which he opened while following his pupils. Actually I even had hard time getting the nerves to listen it. But anyways, here we are.

Messiaen is a man of regular habits which can be seen from his long serving organist position in La Trivite, Paris. Another of his long lasting habits was his interest or rather endless curiosity against birds, their lives and habitats. His first habit brought forth a huge set of orgue based compositions. It was just inevitable for his second habit to come forth similarly and it did so in 1958 when he finished the 13 compositions which make up Catalogue D'Oiseaux.

Actually these works are more of a musical encyclopedia rather than compositions. The main reason is Messiaen tried to picture the bird songs and their habitats with the help of his wife Yvonne Loriod on piano. In reality calling them compositions is not easy. They are not copies of the originals, but they are also not totally authentic. He received the basics from the birds and then followed his imagination while putting these collaborative works into form. Honestly these pieces are not at all easy to explain. You can certainly note down the songs of the birds, yet you can also picture what is beneath the surface.

The pieces are also quite hard to play with the main obstacle being right and left hands having totally different uses along the compositions. The performer should give the birdsongs with his/her right hand while all harmonies expressing surroundings and habitat should be played with the left hand. I'm sure it would be a good exercise for the brain's left and right hemispheres to adjust to this continuous onslaught. I should also note that left and right hands are in totally different melodies and timbres all the way and have no connection to each other at all. The performer tries to cope with two unattachable melodies at the same time.

There are numerous birds which are recorded and hence pictured in these compositions. Unfortunately I don't know French and even if I knew, I really doubt if I would understand the names anyway. On the other hand, this monumental and collective work has inspired many future composers and musicians during their quest to look for what they really want to achieve.

To buy this box set (Or a similar pressing):

@ Ebay