Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Link Update

The following posts have been updated with working links:
  1. The Chieftains 5
  2. Clannad - First Album (1973)
  3. Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 - Barry Tuckwell, LSO
  4. Ed Luhrs - Digital Compositions (My Music)
  5. Grieg: Peer Gynt, Piano Concerto
  6. Gustav Holst - The Hymn of Jesus Etc.
  7. Lou Monte: Pepino the Italian Mouse
  8. Mahler: Symphony No. 7 - James Levine
  9. Martinu: Symphonies 3 & 6 - Vaclav Neumann
  10. Phish: Campus Club, Providence RI 3/13/92
Hooray! This should bring us up to date for the most part. If you haven't seen some of these, check them out. The only album I wasn't able to locate is Slatkin's recording of Walton's First, which is OK for now. Maybe I can come up with a suitable replacement in the weeks ahead. I love that symphony.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Happy Day Before Valentine's Day! What better way to celebrate than to give homage to Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, whose concertos and symphonies are one-of-a-kind. I'm going to focus on the symphonies here, which is no surprise, considering how that's what I usually do. (I'm trying to change my ways, really.) Anyway, I do have a download to offer, though only a meager 160 bps. Nearly all of Rautavaara's works are all available online in MP3 format, and I recommend them highly.

I'm going to focus first on the Fifth Symphony, which is the first work of his to really grab my interest. This is a symphony in one movement. Sibelius wrote his last symphony in one movement. Whereas the Sibelius flows like an organic process, Rautavaara's symphony is like a communication among aliens on an icy planet, at least in the middle. It is not atonal; there is always melody going on, but the statements made are spontaneous and discrete. The opening builds with a series of ominous crescendos, leading into whirring sounds and the characteristic tympani motifs which surface in many of his later works. Should you be curious about where the final passage begins, it is around -4:21. This is one of the most breathtaking conclusions I've ever heard in a symphony.

Download here:

I hope this is a starting point for learning more about Rautavaara. His more recent work sometimes sounds a little similar. There is a nasty Amazon reviewer who points this out in every single one of his reviews, which irritates the daylights out of me. But that particular individual hasn't stopped me from coming back for more. I'm already in too deep.  I'm a big fan.

The First Symphony is good stuff. If Sibelius's First sounds a little like Tchaikovsky, then Rautavaara's First sounds at times like Shostakovich. His faster-paced movements are generally shorter than the slower ones. Just an observation. It applies here in the First. The Third is especially engaging: it has the feel of a Bruckner symphony, but with some unusual serial techniques employed. One of my favorites is the Sixth - Rautavaara uses synthesizer sounds to create strikingly ethereal effects.

Rautavaara's most popular pieces are the Seventh (which won a Grammy) and Cantus Arcticus, which features recorded bird song. He wrote an Eighth Symphony in 1999. Whether the world will see another, we don't know.  I can tell you he is remarkably prolific in all genres, including opera. He wrote a  really nice early piece for string orchestra called The Fiddlers (Pelimannit) in a fairly conventional style. I have heard a number of his concertos, many of which are very enjoyable and have been recorded by Vladimir Ashenazy and Richard Stoltzman, among others. You can find quite a few examples of the composer's work on YouTube, and when you're ready, you can purchase a few of his recordings through Amazon and other online sources. I certainly have.


Friday, February 3, 2012

The Well-Tempered Synthesizer

One of the first pioneers of the Moog synthesizer, Wendy Carlos made a famous 1968 album called Switched on Bach, which won three Grammy awards the following year. This was ground-breaking work, as it was among the first recordings to include classical performance on synthesizer. Part of the success of that album had a lot to do with Carlos's skill as a keyboard player, the other part being the wild array of sounds.

Continuing with this success, she released The Well-Tempered Synthesizer in 1969, which I am featuring here. This album features performances of works by Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Handel, and Bach. There are many moments of greatness here, particularly in the Scarlatti sonatas. Some sounds sparkle better than others, but overall the effect is really excellent.

In her own music, Carlos has a knack for making eerie-sounding stuff, as in her film soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. She recorded an ambient album of her own work in 1972 called Sonic Seasonings, which consists of several long pieces named after the seasons. I really enjoy that album - it has many passages of an otherworldly quality blended in with atmospheric and forest sounds. The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, however, is as good a place as any to start if you'd like to better familiarize yourself with her work. There is quite a lot to enjoy on this album. For more information on Wendy Carlos, see here.

Download here (no password):