Hugo Alfven Gets His Drink On

Hugo Alfven. The Three Swedish Rhapsodies, En Skargardssagen, Suite from Bergakungen. Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi. Musical Heritage Society, 1998

These pieces by Swedish composer Hugo Alfven teeter drunkenly at the intersection of “program music” — meaning they attempt to depict some vision in the composer’s head via music, in this case that of rural Swedish life — and a movement that aims to “render life ‘just as it is’,” as described by Alex Ross in his book about 20th century music “The Rest is Noise.” Continue reading

Asides: Wherein I Attempt to Find Every Stormy Classical Piece Written But Am Defeated

I am waiting for Irene. Hurricane Irene, that is. She’s ruined my plans not only for this weekend but the next with her poor timing, so I’m feeling a little ornery. It’s seven hours past when the mayor shut down the NYC subway, and she’s only just sent a real tendril of rain my way. I’ve been hunting classical music to match my mood in the meantime. Continue reading

Albinoni: Think You Don’t Know Him? Two Words: Flash. Dance.

Albinoni & Vivaldi Wind Concerti. The King’s Consort. Director Robert King, Solo Oboe Paul Goodwin. Musical Heritage Society.
Tomaso Albinoni. Six Concerti, Op. 9. Musical Heritage Society.

Tomaso Albinoni is one of these pre-Bach guys that my 20th-century-music-loving self has been sort of dreading having to endure. But while these CDs are not among the 10 I would choose to take with me on an involuntary island trip of indefinite duration, there’s a great mystery here — and some good, soul-salving music, too. Continue reading

Kalevi Aho: Quintet for Bassoon and String Quartet

Kalevi Aho: Quintet for Bassoon and String Quartet; Quintet for Alto Saxophone, Bassoon, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. Sinfonia Lahti Chamber Ensemble. Grammofon AB BIS, 1996 and 1997.

I deduce from the copyright date, 1998, on this CD that my father purchased it well after I had begun to play the bassoon. After I had quit, for that matter. I wonder if he might not have acquired it had I not brought the ungainly instrument into his household, but who knows. I was not home much after 1991, when I graduated high school, and I do not recall ever having heard these pieces. They are difficult to like. Continue reading

Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, DMX, Al Capone, and My Grandma

Addinsell, Richard. Music of Richard Addinsell including Warsaw Concerto. Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Kenneth Alwyn. Martin Jones Piano. White Line MOR Classics, 1996.

I was like, “Who?” when I stuck this CD in. But only until about five seconds into “Warsaw Concerto,” at which point I was like, “Oh.” The opening notes to this  [Warsaw opening] are so familiar, I felt like Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV when he looks confused – and he does look remarkably confused for  someone wearing a helmet on his head, doesn’t he? — and says, “I sense something…a presence I haven’t felt since…” Continue reading

John Adams: Light over Water

John Adams: Shaker Loops. Light Over Water. New Albion Records, 1987.

I am listening to this on the train on the way home from work, and the buzz of my surroundings is obscuring some of the quieter bits. I have with me the liner notes, which are almost completely unforthcoming, have just scanned them, so I suppose I have in the back of my head…light. But it doesn’t feel like it’s over water to me. This is what this “orchestral music cloaked in electronic garb,” as composer Ingram Marshall puts it, does feel like: Continue reading

John Adams: Gnarly Buttons

John Adams. Gnarly Buttons (London Sinfonietta, John Adams conductor and Michael Collins clarinet) and John’s Book of Alleged Danges (Kronos Quartet). Nonesuch Records, 1998.

I am starting with John Adams. In one way, this is a terrible place to start, since Adams is complicated, modern music, with permutations and a knowledge of musical history well beyond my amateurish abilities. Otherwise, it is perfect. Continue reading