Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ensemble Micrologus - Cantigas de Santa Maria

I'm thankful to this recording for opening my eyes to medieval music. Books such as Barbara Tuchman's Through A Distant Mirror may bring your imagination back in time to a good degree, but there is nothing like music to thoroughly immerse yourself in the ethos and aesthetics of a distant past.

These 13th century songs to the Virgin Mary are an excellent escape from the normal musical fare of the Christmas season. They bring you back to the court of Alfonso X of Castile. The language being sung is a mix of medieval Portuguese and Spanish. I included a PDF of the introduction. It gives brief historical background and a description of the wild assortment of wind, string, and percussion instruments used in the recording.

For more information, please see Greg Lindahl's wonderful page, including facsimiles of the original manuscripts as well as dozens of other related links. Lindahl is an active participant in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I've been told many times that I should also be an active member. Maybe one day.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year!

Download here (no password):


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sandy Bull - E Pluribus Unum

I was looking for something way out of the ordinary to post, and here it is. Sandy Bull's E Pluribus Unum, from 1969, is a wild mix of Americana, blues, and middle-eastern trippiness. The album consists of two long, laid-back instrumental tunes, definitely worth a spin. You can either purchase an Amazon MP3 copy or click here for a slightly lower bit rate from my collection.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen Trio - To A Brother

To A Brother is an album well worth knowing, one of many featuring Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (1946-2005). The other two members of the trio are Ulf Wakenius on guitar and Adam Nussbaum on drums. All three worked together brilliantly to produce this recording, released in 1993 and sadly not currently in circulation. You'll hear great variety, reflective and energetic moments side-by-side. When it cooks, it sizzles. Wakenius is a great jazz guitarist. As for Pedersen, he had the rare talent of being able to use all four fingers on his right hand to play the upright bass, a nearly impossible task. And boy, could he play! Listen for yourself...

Download here (no password):

One of Pedersen's most legendary musical partnerships was with the great Oscar Peterson. The two were close friends and produced some classic recordings together, available through Amazon. Two I highly recommend are Great Connection and Trio, the latter with Joe Pass.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

1x.com - Great Photography!

If you're looking for great photography on the web, check out 1x.com. There are several categories of photos for every style and taste, and each of the artists are given recognition for their work. Many of the photos would make great desktop backgrounds, while others are just plain excellent artistic expressions.

You can register and post your own work. I'll have to search through the archives to see if I have photos worth sharing on the site.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15 - Rostropovich

I can't think of a better symphony to share for the Halloween season than Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, a symphony full of pranks and spooks. Written in 1971 and premiered in 1972, it is very different from most his other symphonies. There are a number of musical motifs from various composers that pop up in surprising ways throughout the symphony. The first movement is often likened to a toy shop, humming along in a playful and strange way. If you're patient with the second movement, you'll hear more than a wall of somberness after a few minutes, and also some motifs that reappear in the finale.

Rostropovich whips through the third movement a little fast; it's still an enjoyable listen, though. He also takes the finale at a brisk pace, but the result is excellent. The last few minutes are unlike anything I've ever heard in orchestral music - it's like the toy shop again, but this time you hear the rattling of ghosts and skeletons.

Download here (no password):

Though the Rostropovich recording has not been currently reissued, Kurt Sanderling's recording with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra is available on Amazon. He slows things down, but with amazing effect.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Brahms/Mozart - Karl Böhm, Bavarian RSO

I can't recall where online I found this recording, but I think it offers excellent deliveries of both the Brahms Symphony No. 1 and the Ninth Piano Concerto of Mozart. Very good sound quality on this analog recording. I haven't found any instance of this on Amazon and have found only a very few mentions of it on the web.

I'll focus first on Brahms. Böhm gives a thrilling performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (i.e. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks). There's no sluggishness here, so even the grumpy moments in the first movement have plenty of energy. The second movement is lyrical, and the third has all the woodwind charm you'd hope for. The finale: outstanding. This is among my favorite movements of his symphonies. I can't help but think of Brahms's famous quote, "A symphony is no joke," when I listen to this. He put his all into this first finale - keep in mind it took him until his forties when he finally wrote the First Symphony. The wait was well worth it.  The last movement has mysterious pizzicato, Alpine French horn, autumnal brilliance, great moments of triumph, Sturm und Drang... all tied together in an exciting way. Listen for the chorale theme that appears around the first horn solo. The theme reappears at the end, all in blazes.

Böhm's Mozart here sounds on par with his famous Beethoven Pastoral recording - graceful, playful, all the things you'd want in a Mozart recording. I'm no expert on this particular concerto, but Friedrich Gulda is a great pianist. He loved Mozart, and it shows.

Download here (no password):


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Folk Favorites - YouTube Playlist

Click here to view my playlist, which consists of British, Irish, & American folk gems and some other surprises. If you've never navigated a YouTube playlist, look at the menu of videos along the bottom of the screen. Right on top of them on the left hand side are forward and backward buttons. You'll get the hang of it. The list is set to autoplay, so if you leave to pour a cup of coffee, the songs will cycle from one to the next on their own.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Hendrix of Fingerstyle

...at least according to Neil Young. If you like acoustic fingerstyle playing, do yourself a favor and learn more about the Bert Jansch discography. This Scotsman has made many fine albums, including the recent Black Swan from 2006, which has a guest appearance from Beth Orton. Among my favorites is Avocet, an instrumental album from 1979. It's one of the guitarist's own favorites as well.

Between Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, I can't say who I like better. Both men were members of the folk rock band called Pentangle, along with singer Jacqui McShee. Renbourn features on two of the selections in the collection I'm posting. These are a few tunes from Bert Jansch's earlier albums that I called "A Collection" - i.e. my personal collection. He sings nicely on a number of these tunes, which are a mix of his originals and traditionals recorded in the 60s and early 70s. The playing speaks for itself. If you listen closely, you will hear where Jimmy Page borrowed some of his acoustic chops.

On Amazon you'll also find MP3 downloads of Jansch's albums. One online reviewer writes: "Bert and his music seem to come from the same place myth and folklore come from."  I agree. Here is a small sample of his work.

Download here (no password):


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Elgar: Symphony No. 1 - James Judd

This is a gem of a recording that earned a Penguin Rosette and went under along with the record company. James Judd has a keen sense for the mood and subtlety of the score. If you love Elgar, grab it. If you are new to Elgar and are interested in learning more about his symphonies, I heartily recommend this recording and Vernon Handley's recording of Symphony No. 2 (which I posted in April 2009).

I think the cover here perfectly matches the mood of the First Symphony. The knight on the horse seems bold and troubled as he surveys the landscape ahead. His young son clings on for dear life; the daughter looks up to him for reassurance. The combination of boldness and concern, beauty and foreboding gives this symphony a fascinating edge. The opening movement and the finale I find particularly inspirational. You'll find some reviews on Amazon here (including mine, from which I lifted a few of the above words regarding the cover.)

Download here (no password):


Friday, August 27, 2010

Easy Drinking Brew

I read some of Andy Mosher's Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass sitting in the Barnes & Noble Café today. The topic: how to brew your own beer. I'm not prepared for that kind of undertaking right now; if you are, get that book! It's fun and informative. It was great to learn a little about the brewing process - the kinds of hops, yeasts, and temperatures it takes to turn barley and water into something inspirational.

Ben Franklin wrote, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." I agree. Some beers are harsh, though. The harshness usually comes from the kinds and quantities of hops used in the brewing process. The worst flavor to me is a dark, hoppy beer that's poorly made. It winds up tasting like soy sauce or liquid marmite. Don't get me wrong: I like dark beer. A good English Brown Ale or Irish Stout is great in the cold months. I like a few hopped-up beers as well. But I'm finding what I like most is balance, the right amount of hops with the right amount of characteristic flavor.

On the other end of the spectrum, some beers are profoundly underwhelming. You don't get really great flavor in a Budweiser or an Amstel Light. What you get is a mild, malty seltzer. Not my thing. I like tasting good craftmanship. Luckily, in the beer world, that's not too hard to find.

Good local brew can be had just about anywhere. A friend of mine told me he doesn't like American beer. I think he should try a few. Let me share four I like; of these, one is German, the other three are American. Here’s a picture:

Neat, huh? I made the photo mosaic on bighugelabs.com.

Anyway, first on the list is Spaten, which has the distinction of being the first keg tapped every year at Oktoberfest in Munich. Their Premium Lager is versatile enough to appeal to Bud drinkers and connoisseurs alike. It has all the goods: nice color, great aroma, smooth flavor. They make a good dark beer, Optimator, and the well-known Oktoberfest as well.

Next, from San Francisco, is Anchor Liberty Ale. Look at that color! Tastes even better than it looks. Here’s what I mean by well-rounded - a little bitterness, a little citrus aroma (from the hops), a little sweetness, and a nice dry finish. Cool label as well.

Though I like Sam Adams Boston Lager, they really hit a home run with the Noble Pils. It’s not as orange as the Liberty Ale, and it has a different flavor profile, but it’s every bit as fun to drink. I could easily have two or three of these. Great seasonal brew.

Last, from Delaware, is the Dogfish Head Brewery 90-Minute IPA. Because of the 9% ABV, I don’t recommend more than one or two of these. The aroma and sweetness of the brew offsets the bitter kick. I love it. Reading the label, you get a good sense of the process they use to make the beer. It’s more expensive than the other three, but worth it for the right occasion.

Learn more about beer styles at beeradvocate.com. It’s a great resource for folks who like having a cold one.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Microsoft Word Accent Codes

Typing accent codes in Microsoft Word (or WordPad) is almost as easy as owning a Mac. Thanks to Penn State for this helpful link.

Here are the basic ones. The symbol "V" means any vowel.

Acute ó Ó Control+', V (apostrophe key)
Circumflex ô Ô Shift+Control+^, V
Grave ò Ò Control+`, V
Tilde ñ Ñ Shift+Control+~, V (n, a, o only)
Umlaut ö Ö Shift+Control+:, V (colon key)

See the link for more details and additional characters.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 - IV. Finale

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Michael Schønwandt

A great live performance of the finale. Listen to those tympani! The thematic material that pours out at the end is first stated in the opening movement.

Nielsen wrote the following summary of his 4th Symphony (subtitled "The Inextinguishable") after the premier of the work in 1916, while the First World War was still raging:

The title 'Inextinguishable' suggests something that only music can express fully: the elementary will of life. Only music can give an abstract expression of life, in contrast to the other arts which must construct models and symbolize. Music solves this problem only by remaining itself; for music IS life whereas the other arts only depict life. Life is unquenchable and inextinguishable. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, life was, is, and will be in struggle, conflict, procreation and destruction; and everything returns. Music is life, and as such, inextinguishable.

You can hear these thoughts at work in the music.

If you would like to learn more about Nielsen, I highly recommend these recordings by Herbert Blomstedt: click here and here. Again, my alter ego (Ed Luhrs) has more to say in the customer reviews.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 - John Barbirolli

Sir John Barbirolli conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No.3, "Eroica." This old classic is a powerful reading combined with excellent recording quality, currently unavailable commercially. Read more about it here (you'll find a reviewer named Ed Luhrs listed among the others on the page)...

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Some videos of J.R.R. Tolkien reading from his own works:

When I first heard these (in the early 1990s), I fell in love with Tolkien's work all over again. They're just as amazing to me today.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Music from the Gods

Fine music quote, very fine. Among my favorites, in fact!


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Der Abschied / The Farewell (Hans Bethge et al)

In German or English, this is memorable stuff - one of those rare pieces that captures the Romantic Era in an understandably modern way. Yet the words themselves came from medieval Chinese poetry. Hans Bethge translated them into German, then Gustav Mahler added the last five lines and composed his long lament scored for mezzo-soprano voice, his sixth and final movement from Das Lied von der Erde.

Peruse the original translation if you like, then hop ahead to the English. If you've ever experienced an inexplicable loss, this one's for you. It's about someone having a hard time understanding why a good friend has to travel to the mountains for the last time (this being a nice metaphor, as you might imagine.) I used a Decca Records English translation and changed some small things around for better flow.

Der Abschied

(Hans Bethge, 1876-1946,
nach Mong-Kao-Yen, 689/691–740,
und Wang-Wei, 698–761;
letzte Strophe vom Komponisten hinzugefügt)

Die Sonne scheidet hinter dem Gebirge.
In alle Täler steigt der Abend nieder
Mit seinen Schatten, die voll Kühlung sind.
O sieh! Wie eine Silberbarke schwebt
Der Mond am blauen Himmelssee herauf.
Ich spüre eines feinen Windes Wehn
Hinter den dunklen Fichten!

Der Bach singt voller Wohllaut durch das Dunkel.
Die Blumen blassen im Dämmerschein.
Die Erde atmet voll von Ruh und Schlaf,
Alle Sehnsucht will nun träumen.
Die müden Menschen gehn heimwärts,
Um im Schlaf vergessnes Glück
Und Jugend neu zu lernen!
Die Vögel hocken still in ihren Zweigen.
Die Welt schläft ein!

Es wehet kühl im Schatten meiner Fichten.
Ich stehe hier und harre meines Freundes;
Ich harre sein zum letzten Lebewohl.
Ich sehne mich, o Freund, an deiner Seite
Die Schönheit dieses Abends zu genießen.
Wo bleibst du? Du lässt mich lang allein!
Ich wandle auf und nieder mit meiner Laute
Auf Wegen, die vom weichen Grase schwellen.
O Schönheit! O ewigen Liebens, Lebens trunkne Welt!

Er stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm den Trunk
Des Abschieds dar. Er fragte ihn, wohin
Er führe und auch warum es müsste sein.
Er sprach, seine Stimme war umflort:

"Du, mein Freund,
Mir war auf dieser Welt das Glück nicht hold!
Wohin ich geh? Ich geh, ich wandre in die Berge.
Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz.
Ich wandle nach der Heimat, meiner Stätte.
Ich werde niemals in die Ferne schweifen.
Still ist mein Herz und harret seiner Stunde!

Die liebe Erde allüberall
Blüht auf im Lenz und grünt
Aufs neu! Allüberall und ewig
Blauen licht die Fernen!
Ewig... ewig..."

The Farewell

The sun goes down behind the mountain,
Into all the valleys the evening descends
And brings cooling shades.
O see! Like a silver bark
The moon floats up the blue lake of heaven.
I feel a gentle breeze stirring
Behind the dark spruce.
The brook sings melodiously through the darkness.
The flowers grow pale in the gloaming.
The earth is breathing, full of peace and sleep.
All longing now turns into dreams.
Tired men make for home,
In sleep to recapture forgotten happiness
And youth!
The birds hold still in the branches.
The world is falling asleep.

A cool wind blows in the shadow of the spruce.
I stand here waiting for my friend;
I wait to bid him a last farewell.
I long, my friend, at your side
To enjoy the beauty of this evening.
Where do you linger? You have left me alone for so long!
I wander up and down with my lute
On paths soft with swelling grass.
O beauty! O deep love, so drunk with life!

He dismounted his horse and proffered
the parting glass. I asked him where
He was going and why it had to be.
He said, voice trembling:

"O my friend,
In this world fortune was hard on me.
Where I am going? I am going to wander into the mountains.
I seek peace for my lonely heart.
I am making for home, for my resting place.
I will never roam again to distant lands.
My heart is still and awaits its hour.

The dear earth everywhere
Blossoms in spring and grows green
Anew! Everywhere, forever,
Blue lights on the horizon!
Forever... forever... "

-      -      -      -      -      -


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 "New World" & Carnival Overture - Barry Tuckwell, LSO

Home run! This is an excellent digital recording. Barry Tuckwell, once the principal horn player of the London Symphony Orchestra, also proved his mettle as a conductor. He has won many awards for his work as a musician and is still going strong. This recording has all the energy and sweetness needed to keep the adrenaline pumping; moreover, this is great Dvořák.

My grandmother got me this CD when I was in ninth grade, right after I bought a new stereo system with the money I earned as a newspaper delivery boy. MCA Classics is no longer in business, and this recording is no easy find, so enjoy!

Download here (no password):


Friday, March 26, 2010

Walton: Symphony No. 1 - Leonard Slatkin

William Walton's Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor is a new favorite of mine. It's a wordless tale of anxiety, struggle, and triumph, composed in the 1930s. Though the 1966 Previn/LSO recording is the benchmark, Slatkin does an awesome job with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in this out-of-print recording from 1987. The recording also includes the Portsmouth Point Overture. The album cover shows the very painting by Rowlandson that inspired Walton to compose the overture.

[ File is currently unavailable. ]

I hope you enjoy this. If you like, feel free to check out Previn's recording of the First Symphony on William Walton: Collected Works - an excellent compilation album of classic performances.

Walton also composed a second symphony, which he finished in 1960 - completely different in character but quite excellent in its own strange, cerebral way. See my review page for more thoughts on Walton and other musicians, authors, etc...


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shostakovich on the Finale of the Fifth

Dmitri Shostakovich had a wry sense of humor. On the finale of the fifth, Shostakovich wrote:

"What exultation could there be? I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,' and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, 'Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.' What kind of apotheosis is that?"

"A Soviet artist's reply to just criticism" was how Shostakovich billed the release of the symphony ... ha! The government was ready to send him to Siberia, so he had to change the tone of his music or wither away in a camp. What he managed to do was make the Party happy while snickering at them. You can hear it in the music.

The ending still conveys a kind of hard-won triumph, even more so when we listen to it today. Those were tough circumstances for creating art and music - always a dictator to please.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

MP3 Sound Quality - 128 vs 320 bps

Many people think there is a huge difference in mp3 sound quality between 128 and 320 bps. Think you can tell the difference? Each of these sites has a quiz to test your ears:



Some don't go for MP3 at all and opt for "lossless" formats such as APE and FLAC. I'm not too picky. Amazon sells its MP3 albums at 256 bps. Good enough.