Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 31 - Claudio Arrau

I have a strong affinity for Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110. This is his penultimate (second-to-last) sonata. Claudio Arrau captures the spirit of the opening passage beautifully in this 1991 release. I got this CD from the local library a few years ago; unfortunately I only recorded this one sonata from it. This is, you guessed it, out of circulation, but if you go to Amazon and type in Arrau and Beethoven as search terms, you will find plenty more, including several versions of this sonata that he has recorded over the years.

This particular version on the whole is slower and softer around the edges than some others, but it works well for this reflective and at times cerebral music. I'll leave it again to Wikipedia to explain the technical details - see here. I recommend reading the article even if you don't know a great deal about music, since it explains the structure of the movements really well. I really enjoy the fugal passages in the third movement. In many recordings, the third movement is divided into two tracks. Here it is one, with the slow introduction leading into the rest. Other than that, I'll leave you to discover the music on your own.

Download here (no password):

Here's wishing you good things for the new year!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nato Canunt Omnia

This YouTube poster (RootfrootMatt) has provided the Latin and English translation with this video. Alleluia! This is chant performance at its best, and only one selection from Sarum Chant: Missa in Gallicantu, performed by the Tallis Scholars (MP3 now available here). I'd recommend this 1988 release to anyone who is fascinated by early choral music, particularly the Gregorian chant monophonic sound. This actually is not Gregorian chant, but  part of the Sarum Rite used in the 11th century. To explain what that means, I'll point you to this Wikipedia article (click here). One thing I remember from the liner notes when I borrowed this CD from the library in high school is the English branch of the Church pronounced Latin slightly differently, which is reflected in this recording. So "ce" makes a s sound instead of a ch sound, so precelsa sounds like preselsa instead of prechelsa.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue

Let's get swinging for the holidays! First, this is a great concert to have in its entirety, so here is an Amazon link. The setting: Newport Jazz Festival, 1956. Duke Ellington and company do fine work all throughout, but there is one segment of this concert that is easily one of my favorite live musical performances of all time, "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue." Ellington's prefatory remarks are integral to the performance. He says the two segments of the piece will include "an interval by Paul Gonsalves." That's a classic understatement. What follows is one of the coolest saxophone solos in history. It gets you dancing on your seat. In fact, that's the story: at one point a striking blonde woman started dancing on her seat, and the crowd went wild. You can hear it happen. When the band kicks in full-force afterward, holy cow. Not to be missed!

I'll provide a link to the song as reference, but as I say, go to Amazon for more. There are also digital versions of the original recording that are much less than the complete performance.

Download MP4 here:


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Anne Briggs - The Time Has Come

Just the name Anne Briggs brings me to tears - not for sadness but for the sheer innocent beauty of her voice. Though Briggs had only a brief stint as far as singers go, her influence will outlast the short years she was in the British folk circuit in the late 60s and early 70s. She's retired and living a quiet family life these days, but a few years ago she participated in a documentary that I'll share below.

First, the music. The Time Has Come is a great album. It is, sadly, out of print. I suggest you give it a listen. If you find yourself weeping uncontrollably and need to hear more, fork over the nine or ten dollars it costs to get Anne Briggs: A Collection here. Just do it: you'll be glad you did. Between Collection and The Time Has Come (which includes some of her originals in addition to traditional music), you'll see why she was a big influence on so many folk musicians. For the album above...

Download here (no password):


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jean Sibelius: Luonnotar

I posted this one on YouTube a while back - best version ever! Here is text and translation:


Olipa impi, ilman tyttö
- There was a beautiful maiden of the air,
Kave Luonnotar korea.
- Luonnotar, a daughter of nature,
Ouostui elämätään,
- who grew tired of her life,
Aina, yksin ollessansa avaroilla autioilla.
- of always being alone in the vast plains of the sky.
Laskeusi lainehille,
- She descended into the sea,
Aalto impeä ajeli.
- where the waves impregnated her.
Vuotta seitsemän sataa
- For seven hundred years
Vieri impi veen emona
- she drifted about as the water mother,
Uipi luotehet, etelät
- swimming north-west, swimming south,
Uipi kaikki ilman rannat.
- to all the shores under the skies.
Tuli suuri tuulen puuska
- Then a tremendous gust of wind
Meren kouhuille kohotti.
- threw her up on the foamy waves.
Voi, poloinen, päiviäni!
- Oh, poor me, and my life!
Parempi olisi ollut ilman impenä elää.
- It would have been better to remain the Virgin of the Air.
Oi, Ukko, ylijumala, käy tänne
- O, mighty Ukko, supreme god, pass here by the one
- who implores you!
Tuli sotka, suora lintu,
- A gull appeared, an agile bird.
Lenti kaikki ilman rannat
- It flew to all the shores of the skies,
Lenti luotehet, etelät
- it flew north-west, it flew south,
Ei löyä pesänsioa.
- unable to find a place for nesting.
Ei! Ei! Ei!
- No! No! No!
Teenkö tuulehem tupani, alloillen
- Must I build my house in the wind, my living quarters on
- the waves?
Tuuli kaatavi, tuuli kaatavi,
- The wind would knock down my house,
Aalto viepi asuinsiani.
- the waves would carry away my nest.
Niin silloin veen emonen
- At that moment the water mother
Nosti polvea lainehesta.
- lifted her knee out of the waves.
Siihen sorsa laativi pesänsä
- There the gull made its nest,
Alkoi hautoa.
- and started hatching.
Impi tuntevi tulistuvaksi
- The maiden felt an ardent fire
Järkytti jäsenehensä.
- shaking her limbs.
Pesä vierähti vetehen
- the nest fell into the water
Katkieli kappaleiksi
- and broke into pieces.
Muuttuivat munat kaunoisiksi
- But the eggs changed into things of beauty:
Munasen yläinen puoli
- the top of the shell
Yläiseksi taivahaksi,
- became the firmament;
Yläpuoli valkeaista
- the upper part of the egg white
Kuuksi kummottamahan;
- the shining moon;
Mi kirjavaista tähiksi taivaalle,
- and the speckles turned into stars in the sky,
Ne tähiksi taivaalle.
- stars in the sky.

-      -      -      -      -      -

Hope you enjoy!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Schumann - Kubelik

Have no doubt: this is music magic - Rafael Kubelik leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks) in Robert Schumann's Third and Fourth symphonies, plus the Manfred Overture. The recording dates from the late 70s and has very good remastered analog sound.

I used to dislike Schumann's piano music, which caused me to hold off on listening to his orchestral music. When I finally gave a listen (recently in fact), I became fascinated with these works. They're bursting with vitality, structurally tight, well-orchestrated... even if the critics say orchestration wasn't one of Schumann's strong points, I can say it all sounds great to me. Give them a try if you haven't heard. I'm starting to get into the piano music as well.

I really like the front cover - found it online. Don't know what specific release it belongs to, but I made sure to include it here in lieu of the more mundane covers floating around out there.

Kubelik is another one of those conductors who never made a bad recording, at least from what I've heard. See Peter's blog here for an amazing live recording of Smetana's Má Vlast with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Wow! As for this recording...

Download here (no password):


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ukulele Underground

My laptop has had a stroke, so I'm relegated to using my touch screen cell phone for making posts until a replacement arrives. Let me share a site I've recently found:

I started posting in their forums under angusdegraosta. The ukulele is a ridiculous amount of fun to play. For now I got myself a cheap little red Makala Dolphin soprano - amazing how playable it is for only 35 dollars.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving! I'll write more once I get a machine with a normal-sized physical keyboard... should be arriving within the week.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Prokofiev and Shostakovich: Czech Philharmonic

Here is Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto, together with Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Karel Ančerl. Miloš Sádlo is the cellist. I am guessing the recording dates from the 50s or the 60s, but I'm still trying to verify exactly when.

Supraphon is a solidly good music label from the recordings I've heard. Czech orchestras so often have a great sound, particularly in the woodwinds. I've heard quite a few excellent Mahler recordings on Supraphon. One of my first postings on this site was a Martinu recording with Neumann (see here).  I'd eventually like to post Martinu's Fourth, one of my favorites.

Anyway, this recording features excellent cello playing. The sound quality is just fine, including the balance of solo instrument to orchestra. The Prokofiev piece is not too often performed. It was first written around the time the composer was receiving harsh criticism for his compositions; he shelved it and later revised the piece to its present form. It has quite a lot of good passages and is well worth playing a few times to understand it better. Prokofiev has great violin and piano concertos - he is a wizard in this genre in quite a few of his compositions.

The Shostakovich concerto is an especially engaging piece - most of Shostakovich's concertos are. He shows a playfulness with the concerto form that you only see in some of his symphonies. I recommend hearing this along with his concertos for violin and piano. Last year I posted the Fifteenth Symphony in time for Halloween (see here).  This year I thought to post the Fourth Symphony, but this recording is a much rarer find.

For more information on the great Karel Ančerl, see here.

Download here (no password):


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maria Kalaniemi

Maria Kalaniemi is an extraordinary musician from Finland. She has changed the way I look at the accordion. She plays with grace and a sensitive dynamic range that makes her music engaging and great fun to hear. For the 2001 release Airbow, she teamed with Swedish fiddler Sven Ahlbäck to make a beautiful album that stands among my top Scandinavian folk recordings. If the front cover reminds you of ice and snow, you know a little of what you're in for. This is an excellent album for the colder months ahead, perhaps in ways even a personification of winter itself. Okay, I'm overdoing it a little, even a lot, but let me also say that there is fire in here as well. You'll get a dose of warm, heartfelt musicianship like hot cocoa in sub-zero temperatures. Maybe I better quit with the goofy metaphors.

As far as the style of the music, you will hear quite a few polkas, but not in the way you may be accustomed to hear them. This is elegant music with a sparseness to it that is just breathtaking.

Download here (no password):

When this album becomes available in MP3 format, I will definitely point to the link. In the mean time, I'll give a link to Kalaniemi's albums on Amazon here. There are one or two I haven't heard yet, but the ones I've listened to are all fantastic.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blodwyn Pig

When Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull after their first album This Was, he formed the short-lived Blodwyn Pig, a blues-based band. Ahead Rings Out, released in 1969, has a number of great tunes; some of my favorites include "Dear Jill," "The Change Song," and the brief instrumental "Backwash." The whole album is entertaining. Some songs have good rock energy and will get your feet moving, while others are more reflective and relaxed. Overall, this is a neat slice of vintage music from the late sixties.

Although not on this album, Blodwyn Pig does a very cool version of "Stormy Monday Blues," well worth hearing.

Because there are so many copies of Ahead Rings Out already available on filestube, I'll leave you to choose from the selection. There is also an extended version of the album probably worth finding. Search here.

Meanwhile, I'm searching my archives for some good orchestral music to share this fall.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mahatma Shankar

The name of the post is an amalgamation of Mahatma Gandhi and Ravi Shankar. The image above is all over the net with Gandhi spelled wrong ("Ghandi"). So I fixed it in Photoshop and am posting it here. These are good ideas to keep in mind, especially if I ever win the eighty million in the lottery.

As far as Ravi goes, a few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me to share some of his albums with her on mediafire, so I did. Two of the albums are traditional Hindustani raga, and the third is more like world music, albeit with some cool sounds you might like.

A few weeks ago I went into some depth about a piece I included from the southern Carnatic tradition on a compilation I made of various kinds of instrumental music. Now here is music from the northern (Hindustani) parts of India, with the incomparable Shankar playing his sitar.

Download here (no password):


Saturday, September 24, 2011

So Selfish Runs The Hare

I was listening to "Morris Medley" by the Albion Country Band, which is mainly instrumental but has a quick little tune called "So Selfish Runs The Hare" in the middle that got into my head:

   So selfish runs the hare and so cunning runs the fox,
   Who would think that this little calf would grow to a noble ox?
   To live among the briars and to run among the thorns,
   And die the death that his father did
   with a large pair of horns.

   Horns, large horns; horns, large horns
   And die the death that his father did 

   with a large pair of horns.

   The hunt is up, the hounds are out, the lark's song fills the air.
   And we're away to the great green wood
   to hunt the buck and hare.
   The moon is riding down the sky to usher in the morn.
   We'll rouse the town with fanfares blown
   on a large pair of horns.

   Horns, large horns; horns, large horns
   We'll rouse the town with fanfares blown 

   on a large pair of horns.

   So come you jolly fellows, drink your ale and down your beer
   To welcome in the harvest and the turning of the year.
   We'll drink the season with the blood of old John Barleycorn;
   I'll drink to thee and thou to me
   from a large pair of horns.

   Horns, large horns; horns, large horns
   I'll drink to thee and thou to me 

   from a large pair of horns.

The song on their album only features the first verse, which is traditional, but I found the other two verses above printed here. They were written by Jon Berger and round out the song nicely.

I became so enamored of the tune that I immediately went to figure out the chords on guitar. I suppose when I get a ukulele in a few weeks, I'll try it on that too. Meanwhile, here are professionals. The lyrics begin a few seconds after the three minute mark...

Download "Morris Medley" here:

In addition, the whole Albion Country Band album, currently out of print, can be found here at Folk Yourself.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Frank Rosolino - I Play Trombone

Frank Rosolino (1926-1978) was a great trombone player. I Play Trombone, released in 1956, is his second album as a leader. Here is a great start if you want to know more about his style or jazz music with trombone. This is good, old-fashioned swing combined with sweet melody - fun fun fun.

Download here (no password):


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Labor Day, Beer, Norwegian Music

Labor Day is a good secular holiday in America. It falls around a time of year when the nights get colder, the days slowly get shorter, and summer is at an end. Now is a good time to drink beer. Let me share some of my reviews on

- a totally cool site. No surprise that my user name is angusdegraosta on that site too. I've reviewed twenty-five brews so far, which you can view HERE. Beer makes me very excited. Wine is always good too, but beer is less expensive and less complicated. You should try some.

What else? Oh, yes, I wanted to highlight Nordisk Sang, a great album of musicians from Norway. The album features great instrumentals and a woman with the world's loveliest voice. Again, thanks a million to Folk Yourself, which has plenty of great Scandinavian music as well as other stuff from all over the place. I also really like a folk band called Slinkombas with a similar sound. So, with the inevitable onslaught of autumn and cold, short days ahead, it's a fine time of year to listen to some Hardanger fiddle hoedown music. I eat this stuff for breakfast.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 3 - Paavo Berglund

I bought my first Nielsen symphony cycle on CD at Tower Records - Herbert Blomstedt with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which is still among my favorite modern recordings of the symphonies (and the Hymnus Amoris). But it is certainly good to hear more than one version of Nielsen. So here is Paavo Berglund with the Royal Danish Orchestra. Berglund is a very insightful interpreter of Nielsen and Sibelius. Sometimes he plows through gushy, romantic parts of music. For example, in this cycle Berglund does not do a great job on the Fourth's climactic moments. He more than makes up for it in the other symphonies, including the Third, which I'm sharing here.

The first moments of the opening movement of the Third, like those of the First and the Fourth, are a little jarring. Stick it through, though, and you'll understand the logic of it. Each of the movements is tightly constructed in a way that pulls you in. The second movement features the wordless voices of a man and woman carrying a melismatic tune. It's a very sweet sound overall. The third movement has plenty of fine surprises - Nielsen writes very good parts for woodwind.

The finale of the Third is one of my top ten finales of all time. I have about 100 top ten finales; I think I have a serious finale fetish. But seriously, this is just awesome music. If you feel the need to skip ahead to the last movement, don't feel bad. I do it every time. I love it, and I love Berglund's pacing and attention to details...

Download here (no password):

For more Nielsen, go to wf's and Peter's blogs. I am a huge fan of the Fourth ("The Inextinguishable") and the Sixth - that last one is really, really wild and bizarre stuff. Can't accuse Nielsen of not being original! The First is great. The Second I'm getting to like. It helps to hear several versions of the Fifth - as with the others, there are many ways to interpret it. If you're new to Nielsen, the best thing I can say is listen to all the stuff he wrote, including concertos, tone poems, choral works... even an opera called Maskarade. Haven't heard that one yet, but the overture is terrific.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Just One More Thing

...about Jackie. She is rightfully famous for her Elgar performances, but check this out -

In this recording of the Dvořák concerto with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony, she absolutely OWNS the last few minutes. Said recording can be referenced here - the whole performance is a gem, and the Haydn ist auch sehr gut.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Arnold Bax: Tintagel

A rare thing for a YouTube video to exceed 10 minutes, but here is a remarkable performance of Bax's Tintagel in its entirety...

Let me point to another great website that features an excellent assortment of English music, Scandinavian music, Mahler, and good folk music as well....

If you're looking for more Bax and recordings of Tintagel, go here. The Barbirolli recording on the page also features a very good version of Vaughan Williams's Fifth Symphony. Have fun!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 - Carlos Kleiber

Here is Beethoven's 4th in one big MP3 file. Why is it that way? I can't say rightly, but it's a live performance by Carlos Kleiber from 1982, so it's got to be good. The man never made a bad recording. 

Plenty of energy here... enjoy the ride!

Download MP3 here (224bps):


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pluck, Volumes 1 & 2

Here are two compilations of instrumental music that I put together, mainly of acoustic guitar, but I made sure to include some electric sounds as well as other plucked instruments such as the ukulele, bouzouki, mandolin, veena, sitar, harp, and lute... hence the name "Pluck."

Download Vol. 1 here (no password):

Download Vol. 2 here (still no password):

Hope you enjoy - a little bit of all styles here, but I made sure the flow is good overall.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

From the Jacqueline du Pré Documentary

Entertaining clip from the documentary of cellist Jacqueline du Pré. John Barbirolli responds to comments that du Pré had too much showy energy. He pretty much says you should have that kind of energy when you're young.


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Third Symphonies of Copland & Harris

Happy 4th! Here's a good time to write about American music - the third symphonies of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, two very different works, but both I admire. I've been reading The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, in which Alex Ross writes how the Copland symphony premiered at a time when twelve-tone music was more the "in" thing. Consequently, it didn't make a splash. I think Copland's symphony is a good contender for the title of Great American Symphony, even if it isn't exactly a perfect composition. I recommend listening to the whole thing, but if you must jump ahead, make sure to listen to the finale. It includes Fanfare for the Common Man. The music builds to one of my favorite conclusions, especially in this recording by Bernstein:

This is one of my favorite recordings that Lenny made. I never got into his Mahler as much, but he shines in this recording, which you can learn more about or download here at Amazon. In addition to the symphony, there is some fantastic trumpet work in Quiet City.

While I'm posting album covers, let me post the Harris recording:

This recording can also be found on Amazon here. I only downloaded the Third Symphony from this recording, since I only wanted to spend 89 cents at the time. That's the good news: you can get all eighteen minutes of this single-movement work for cheap, and it's a great recording. The work requires a good listener; it is far more cerebral and less gushing with emotion than Copland. But it is loaded with musical surprises. I have listened to it a couple of times already and find new things to appreciate each time. I've been meaning to listen to it for years, and when I finally heard it, I thought "This sounds completely different than I thought it would." Maybe that will be your experience too. I recommend it highly, not only because it is famous, but because it's quite an original work. Maybe I'll listen to the Fourth Symphony next.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Veljo Tormis: Forgotten Peoples - Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

I mentioned Veljo Tormis in the last post, and this post is long overdue. This is a review of Forgotten Peoples I wrote in 2008:

5.0 out of 5 stars Pure InspirationJanuary 20, 2008
Ed Luhrs (Long Island, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Veljo Tormis: Forgotten Peoples (Audio CD) << Click to see the page<<
I wish a review could do this work justice. I think Tormis has written one of the greatest choral works of all time, without question. The pieces are written in languages similar to Estonian and Finnish. The cultures, along with the languages, are becoming erased by time, hence the bleak front cover with the fence falling into overgrown grass.

On the other hand, the music is playful and filled with variety. Strange? Absolutely, but in a truly warm and inviting way. There are complete lyrics and English translations, so you will understand everything that is going on.

This is one of the greatest musical discoveries I have ever made. No exaggeration. Any work that preserves history so distinctly deserves wide recognition. Spread the word.

...Amazon, where I post some reviews using my other name. Some might even call it my real name. Anyway, I stand by my word. This work is something special, so much so that I believe I'd be doing the composer a disservice by posting the whole thing. Same reason I wouldn't post an album like Penguin Eggs by Nic Jones - respect for living legends who could use the recognition and financial support. Unlike Penguin Eggs, this album by Tormis is harder to find, so let me point to an MP3 download of excerpts on Amazon here. This recording only offers selections of the original work, but it's a good start. 

I hope they're able to offer the whole album above as an MP3 download for those interested. The only problem is this is one of those works where you'd benefit from having the lyrics and translation in front of you, so having a physical copy is a bonus here. With words and translation in hand, you'll get a glimpse of some of the forgotten music and folklore traditions from the far northern reaches of earth.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

John Adams / Lepo Sumera - Shifting Landscapes

Happy summer! Let me share a post that appears on a blog called "Welcome to My Spirit World," hosted by a kindhearted fellow from Asia named Peter. The site showcases a good selection of music, including this album featuring works by John Adams and Lepo Sumera. The tracklist is as follows:
1.      Fearful Symmetries (Adams)
2-4.  Symphony No. 2 (Sumera)
5.     The Chairman Dances (Adams)
I've never heard of the Symphony Orchestra of Norrlands Opera before, but they are in top form on this recording. It's a John Adams sandwich, but let's start with the middle. I really admire Lepo Sumera's Second Symphony and think this is a great version to hear. There is something about the original, off-the-beaten-path sound of Estonian composers that consistently captivates my attention. Listening to this symphony is a wonderful experience, with its harp, bells, arresting motifs, and the building and release of energy. I'd pick this symphony and Forgotten Peoples by Veljo Tormis as two of my favorite compositions by Estonian composers, though there are plenty of great works to discover.

I'm not sure why Fearful Symmetries has the title it does - Adams's 1988 composition has plenty of engaging energy, rhythm, and even a little jazz - an uplifting work, and perfect for summer. It's a good introduction to John Adams. Pretty much anything John Adams writes is a good introduction to John Adams. The Chairman Dances are pretty good too. One of my favorite Adams pieces is the Violin Concerto, but that's another recording for another day.

In the mean time, go visit Peter's blog here to see the post, the download information for this recording, and his other posts.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thurber - The Last Flower

Beautiful story - bittersweet, a little silly, and true on so many levels. I found the right kind of music to accompany James Thurber's "parable in pictures."


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Shawn Colvin - Live '88

Just a singer and her guitar in an excellent live performance. Shawn Colvin keeps her fans happy with well-produced studio recordings, but here she is in 1988, even before the release of her first album. What a sweet voice and fine guitar work. She's got rhythm, subtle phrasing, and a strong emotional appeal. These are not songs that explore world politics and the price of gas, but introspections. She sings about personal relationships and her place in her world. It's all about the beautiful delivery and her love of the songwriting craft. She covers Paul Simon's "Kathy's Song" in a way that would melt even the most hard hearted.

I think this performance will win you over. It was released in 1995 by Plump Records and is not in current circulation. I bought this in 1996 or 1997 at a small record store in Binghamton, NY (or was it Burlington, VT? ... I can't remember). Click here for access to other recordings by Shawn Colvin.

Download here (no password):


Saturday, May 21, 2011

El Cant de la Sibil-la I - Savall and Figueras

Some of our more extreme brothers and sisters on the good planet Earth believe today is the end of the world. Should we happen to survive any pending catastrophes, I think now is an excellent time to bring you back to the turn of the last millennium and offer you Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras with La Capella Reial de Catalunya in El Cant de la Sibil-la I.

Yes, this is apocalyptic music that appeared in its first forms a thousand years ago, as well-represented today as we can possibly get at the beginning of the 21st century. When it comes to early music, Savall is a wizard, and his wife, Figueras, commands the voice of the heavens. This recording is the first of three installments. The Song of the Sibyl (as it's called in English) took many forms in the early Middle Ages and was performed in various interpretations at various sites over several centuries. The performances here feature versions in Latin, Provençal, and Catalan. The second and third recordings are yet other accounts, all equally powerful as the first. See Amazon for links to the other recordings and Wikipedia for links to the texts.

The music is about the end of the world and incorporates various pieces written by Eusebius of Caesarea, Saint Augustine, and troubador poets, depending on which version is being performed. All the texts are similar in nature. I think it is almost better to hear the music first and then look for the lyrics.  At any rate, the music itself is chillingly slow and melismatic, meaning several notes are sung with each syllable. It has a very medieval Spanish character, along with a kind of beauty I've never heard before. Despite the apocalyptic Christian thematic material of the words, the title of the music invokes the very pagan muse of the Sibyl, which first appears in Greek mythology. To better explain this, I've included along with the music an excellent historical article about the Song of the Sibyl, published in PDF format by Goldberg Magazine, a now-defunct bilingual English/Spanish magazine that was dedicated to early music.

Perhaps due to the efforts of Savall and Figueras, The Song of the Sibyl has been declared one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010. It is, I believe, worth its title, and as I said before, I've never heard anything quite like it - a very strange and beautiful terror.

Download here (no password):


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kleiber and Karajan

I've heard quite a few people say that the conductor has an easy job waving his baton. Others have even questioned why a symphony orchestra needs a conductor. The best way to answer this question is to listen to music - a lot of it.  Each conductor has a different interpretation of a musical score, which sometimes is very easy to hear. Case in point: these two interpretations of the Johann Strauss II polka "Unter Donner und Blitz" (Thunder and Lightning) by Carlos Kleiber and Herbert von Karajan.

First, Kleiber:

Now, Karajan:

Huge difference. One YouTuber observing the Kleiber performance writes, "You can see that ALL the work was done in rehearsal. All Kleiber has to do at the performance is inspire and keep time!" Whether the same can be said of Karajan or not, the point is that as a conductor rehearses with the orchestra, he shapes the piece. In performance, we see Kleiber inspiring the Bavarian State Orchestra along the way and even giving them a great giggle at the end. It seems like he was having the time of his life, and he probably was, but Kleiber worked hard during reheasals. Here is an example from 1970. It is a lot of fun to watch Kleiber conduct. I wish he made more recordings!

Karajan, in this performance with the Vienna Philharmonic, is not as fun. More often than not, he was a great interpreter of music, but the sound here is very austere and businesslike. There is a time for work and a time for play. Some conductors, like Fritz Reiner, were sadistically serious, whereas others like Sergiu Celibidache had a more humane, spiritual approach to music (and people). Whatever can be said of Kleiber or Karajan, they have both left a lasting mark on music. But Kleiber did it with a smile.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pink Floyd: BBC Radio 1, July 16,1970

Here is Pink Floyd live from 1970, introduced on BBC Radio 1 by the great John Peel. The track list is as follows:

1. John Peel Intro     
2. The Embryo   
3. Fat Old Sun     
4. Green is the Colour             
5. Careful with that Axe, Eugene
6. If             
7. Atom Heart Mother   

The early Pink Floyd years have always been my favorite - not just the Syd Barrett stuff, of course, but everything from Dark Side of the Moon and before. Meddle is particularly great, and another of my favorites from their early work is Atom Heart Mother. In the live version included here, you have the best possible version of that title track, beating even the studio version. The substitution of a French horn for the cello is a great choice here, and the choral and orchestral parts are right on point.

Throughout the performance, you get stellar guitar work from David Gilmour, especially in "The Embryo" and "Atom Heart Mother." Richard Wright does great spooky organ work on "Careful with that Axe, Eugene." I even like the ballads - the early Pink Floyd ballads have a demented quality that always put me in a relaxed, reflective, slightly existential mood.

This live broadcast recording, not a part of the official catalog, forever destined to be a bootleg, was released (but never sold for profit) by Harvested Records with Mooed Music as the title. I've included the cool artwork from that release. I first heard this recording on the now defunct WNEW in 1986 or 1987. I recorded it on audio cassette and played the tape into the ground in the years since. Luckily I acquired a digital copy and am glad to share it, courtesy of John Peel, the BBC, the good folks at, and Pink Floyd.

Download here (no password):


Monday, April 18, 2011

Tom Bombadil on deviantART

I like the deviantART website. You'll find good art to buy, and plenty of great free stuff to put as wallpaper on your cell phone. I uploaded a few pictures on the site, including this fellow, my Photoshopped photo of a wood carving I purchased at Oyster Fest 2008 on Long Island. I call him Tom Bombadil, after the Tolkien character. He's a wild man.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Brahms: Piano Quintet, op. 34 - Previn

Mighty out-of-print, and mighty good. I've heard some rather anemic versions of this piece - not this one. The F minor Piano Quintet, op. 34 is one of the first recordings that made me realize chamber music can be great stuff. I haven't up to now seen any reviews of this performance by André Previn and the Musikvereinsquartett, which I think dates from 1984. Not a problem. I'll review it. The first three movements are as grumpy and graceful as you might expect, and the last is all the rip-roaring Brahms you could ask for. Seriously one of the most brilliant finales Brahms ever wrote, up there with his symphonic output. I found this at my local library years ago and have never stopped admiring it.

For a comparison to other recordings, read here. As for the music...

Download here (no password):


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Eino Tulikari - Kantele

Here is one of the really nice folk music discoveries I've made. Eino Tulikari (1905-1977) played the kantele, an instrument that makes a very distinctive bell-like intonation. The kantele is the pride of Finnish culture - not that you hear it played very often, but it is mentioned in the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, and so has mythic status.

The first time I heard this, I was transported to another time and place - for some reason, these tunes remind me especially of the 19th century. They seem so nostalgic of former times. I have this collection in my iPod shuffle playlist, and it always seems to fit in very well with the other music. So here's thanks to Tulikari, a masterful musician who shaped this music into superlative form.

Download here (no password):


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Music - YouTube Playlist

Celebrating Irish music for St. Patrick's Day is fun even for us barely-even-5 %-Irish folk. The music is some of my favorite any day of the year, so let me share a few tunes from YouTube that I like, in a bunch of different styles.

The songs are set up as a playlist. Press the "Play all" button; then you'll see the advance and go back arrows toward the bottom of the screen on the left, so you can skip through. Here goes:

Have fun!


P.S.: I found an article by Niall Wall a few years ago that I think sums up why so many people like Irish music; let me share it with you...

Music from the Gods
By Niall Wall

Excerpt from Treoir Magazine
In Celebration of Fleadh 2000

Being surrounded by Traditional Irish Music, Song and Dance never fails to bring to mind, for me, the lines from Nikolai Zabolotsky's poem 'A Walk' -

'A weightless bird circles
In the deserted sky,
Its throat labouring
Over an ancient song.'

Our music is older than humankind. It comes from the Gods and our ancestors learned it not from sheets or manuscripts but from the birds in the trees, the wind whistling through lonely glens; to the beat of rain and with the pace of mountain streams in turn rushing headlong to the sea and swirling lazily over deep river pools. It comes down to us cherished by each generation, not classified and purged of emotion but as a living sense to which we belong more than it belongs to us.

We do not play our music; it pours from us as part of our collective consciousness, both past and present.

Through a sometimes turbulent and difficult history, traditional Irish Music, Song, and Dance have sought refuge in the hearts of the poor and dispossessed. Now, in more prosperous and confident times yes, for other reasons and in other ways no less difficult, the music will repay that trust and, as with previous generations, will fortify, enrich and sustain us.

Naturally occurring, our music does not threaten: it is positive, gentle and benign. Yet it is powerful in that it can arouse, touch and move the very soul. In lands far away, people have listened to this beautiful music, and thus touched, have become some part Irish without having been to Ireland or even having met an Irish native.

This music is our birthright, our heritage.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Paper Currency of 1896

Some brilliant artistry on these U.S. bills from 1896, dubbed the "Educational Series" by collectors. The symbolism draws heavily on myth. A wikipedia reference provided some brief background, but I found this article especially informative:

Currency design is an interest of mine. Thought I'd share.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien Sings

J.R.R. Tolkien was not only a fine reader of his own work, but he could carry a tune as well. The photo above is from an old LP. If you'd like an extensive collection of his reading his work aloud, look here. My favorite passage from the Audio Collection is his reading the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter from The Hobbit.

Meanwhile, here's a tune to whet your appetite.

Download "The Troll Song" here (MP3):


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Phish: Campus Club, Providence RI - 3/13/92

Here is Phish in their prime: after the sloppy early days, but still before the huge arena shows. This Providence show is just excellent. They're playing to a college crowd, showing plenty of humor and creativity throughout. The musicianship is rock solid.

Whoever compares Phish to the Grateful Dead is more than a little off the mark. These guys have always struck me as more of a combination of Zappa and The Talking Heads. At any rate, if you don't think you like them, try again. Listen. I have seen them in concert three times. I've always enjoyed their offbeat, musical virtuosity. A salute, then, to the band from Burlington, Vermont!

Download here (no password - both parts needed):


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Andy Kaufman's Finest

I just saw Man on the Moon for the first time and immediately went rummaging through YouTube to see Andy Kaufman in action. I fell in love the whole bongo skit.

Here is another version from The Johnny Carson Show, unfortunately only a segment, but a fine one:

...and a touching number, "I Trusted You":

Oh, Andy! Were he alive today (and some say he is), what other craziness would he come up with?