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Mon, 28 Feb 2005

Gershwin: The Piano Rolls, Vol. 2 / George Gershwin
Gershwin: The Piano Rolls, Vol. 2 Have you ever wondered what Mozart's playing was like? Or how a Strauss waltz sounded to the composer's contemporary audience? It's hard for us to remember that recording equipment is a relatively recent invention, that most performances, great and small, have been lost to history. I think of Lincoln as sounding like Hal Holbrook, or that Disney animatronic from the New York World's Fair. Silly, isn't it?

Which brings me to this disc of Gershwin performances. Any recording of Gershwin's time would of necessity be a pale shadow of the real thing. Even the best digital processing can't recreate the ambience of a real performance; it can only offer a simulation based on our own guesses and prejudices.

Here, on the other hand, is something from Gershwin's own hands. These tracks are recreated from piano rolls made in the early part of the last century. The piano sound is modern, and as perfect as our recording technology allows. The pacing is original, at least to the degree a player piano system could capture it. The timing is right; what's missing is the precise control, the soft and hard hard hitting of the keys. There's a particular sound to a player piano, a loss of variation and subtlety that must have been present in the original.

Still, for those of us who aren't a hundred years old, this is as close as we'll get to an original performance. It's as if Gershwin's ghost has returned for a little visit.

[ Category: Classical | 1 comment | Link ]

Mon, 07 Feb 2005

Rudolf Friml Piano Works / Sara Davis Buechner
It may be obvious by this point that my knowledge of music is a mile wide and less than an inch deep. This is particularly true when it comes to the classics; if it hasn't been used in a movie or a cartoon or a commercial, odds are that I've missed it. I'm trying to make up for this gap in my education, you understand. I'm just doing it in the same haphazard way I do most things. It's so much more entertaining that way.

As an example I present this album, about which I knew, and still mostly know, nothing. The only reason it caught my eye was that I do know the composer's name. But it's how I know it that will demonstrate my point. I am, you see, a devotee of Tom Lehrer. Among Mr. Lehrer's many great works one may find the classic Weiner Schnitzel Waltz. And within this song one finds this unforgettable couplet:

    Your lips were like wine (if you'll pardon the simile).
    The music was lovely, and quite Rudolf Friml-y.
I was of course thrilled at the chance to learn just what Rudolf Friml-y music sounds like. And so, I hope, are you.
Rudolf Friml Piano Works
[ Category: Classical | 2 comments | Link ]

Wed, 26 Jan 2005

Leroy Anderson - Greatest Hits / Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops
Leroy Anderson - Greatest Hits If I want to feel old, I just think of all the commonplace items in my life that aren't commonplace any more. 45s. Heck, records of any kind. Telephones that ring. (Mine now plays Linus & Lucy.) The sound of a typewriter. Does anybody remember the sound of a carriage return?

Not that I regret the loss of typewriters. After all, once I discovered my first word processor I never wanted to look back. But it's sad to think that there will be generations who won't understand Leroy Anderson's Typewriter song. Or who won't hear The Syncopated Clock and think about old movies on a cranky black & white television. I suppose Sleigh Ride will still get airplay, at least around Christmas. Better than nothing, I suppose.

There's a lot of great music on this album. And what's amazing is how familiar Mr. Anderson's music is, even if he himself isn't. Strange that such a successful composer is so little known. Somebody ought to do an updating. The Text Processor? The Digital Clock? SUV Ride?

On second thought, forget I said anything.

[ Category: Classical | Add a comment | Link ]

Mon, 24 Jan 2005

Corky Siegel's Traveling Chamber Blues Show
Some days I have to go digging through the iTMS for something interesting to write about. This isn't one of those days.

I'd never heard of Corky Siegel before his latest album showed up on the front page of the Music Store. The color and chaos of the album cover got my attention; it's like the Ringling Brothers had thrown up on my monitor. So naturally I had to give it a listen. And was hooked well before my thirty seconds was up. These guys are... different...

A little research explained what the album title should have already told me: that this is a fusion of classical chamber music and blues. Some tracks are more bluesy; others are clearly classical. But the two influences combine in intriguing ways. Like fusion cooking, it's a mix of styles that produces something both unique and tasty.

But I do wonder what's next? Bluegrass grunge? Zydeco big band? Rap instrumentals? And if anybody does these, am I entitled to royalties?

Corky Siegel's Traveling Chamber Blues Show
[ Category: Classical | 2 comments | Link ]

Mon, 17 Jan 2005

Crossing the Stone / Catrin Finch
Crossing the Stone I can feel a rant coming on. Not only does this album not remotely belong in Classical, but Sony ought to be ashamed for leaving out one track and then expecting us to pay more for an incomplete collection than the CD goes for on Amazon. Bastards!

Okay, rant over. Now let's talk about the music. Catrin Finch plays the harp. And if you're like me, you can tolerate two, maybe three harp tracks before you want to hear something else. Anything else. But that's what's so interesting here. Because these aren't just harp performances. And they certainly aren't classical harp performances. There's the infectious energy of Café Vamp Latino, the New Agey sound of Mountain Dance, the Irish lilt of ThingamuJig. And yes, there's even a bit of classical in Clair de Lune. (Which for some reason the iTMS insists on calling Claire De Lune, but never mind that.)

As a fan of crossovers and covers, I think a little bit of classical is just fine. Although I'll be buying my copy at Tower, thank you very much. Bastards.

[ Category: Classical | 1 comment | Link ]

Fri, 31 Dec 2004

I am / Deborah Thurlow
In case it isn't obvious, and if you started with this entry it isn't (yet), I like unusual music. I enjoy performers who take risks, who try something that hasn't been tried. Of course, I like it better when they succeed. But I like to believe I appreciate the attempt; a noble failure is worth far more than another "me too" performance.

In those terms, this album is a noble effort. Ms. Thurlow and her collaborators combine instruments that have probably never been heard together before, from the traditional shofar, a ram's horn not generally heard outside a Yom Kippur service, to a Tibetan Singing Bowl, to a theremin, mainstay of trashy science fiction soundtracks. The result is hardly what one would call melodic.

But neither is it the cacophony that description brings to mind. I am hangs together and creates a mood and a sense of place and purpose. It feels like a soundtrack to a fantasy film. But not a low budget shlocky film. No, this music deserves a grand tale of an ancient time. It demands expansive visuals and real production values. I'd love to see the movie that merits these sounds behind it.

I am
[ Category: Classical | Add a comment | Link ]

Mon, 29 Nov 2004

In a Spanish Garden / Madalyn Blanchett & Terry Muska
I know this album is listed under Classical. And I even recognize one of the pieces. It's called Habanera, and it's from Carmen. Which I only know because it was sung on an ancient episode of The Odd Couple. (And on an ep of Gilligan's Island, although I don't recall if they identified the source on that show.) Because that's the only way somebody like me knows anything about opera. Call it opera and I'm not interested. But call it musical theater and I'll be the first in line to buy tickets.

But I digress. The point I was going to make before I went so far off track is that, although I accept that the tracks on this album really are classical and therefore old, they don't sound old. They're lively and fun and unstuffy. The performance is mostly guitar (Spanish guitar, I imagine, although that's just a guess) and flute. And it's enough. If I'd known classical music was like this, I might not have been quite so much the reverse snob about it.

In a Spanish Garden
[ Category: Classical | Add a comment | Link ]

Sat, 18 Sep 2004

Music from a Farther Room / Lucia Micarelli
I learned about this CD from Amazon. Turns out their recommendations really do come through on occasion. But when I decided to give it a listen, I went over to iTunes. The combination of convenience, a better price and instant gratification won me over yet again.

My favorite track? It's called Nocturne from Bohemian Rhapsody. Yep, Bohemian Rhapsody. But on a violin of all things. What can I say? I guess have a weakness for covers.

Music from a Farther Room
[ Category: Classical | 1 comment | Link ]

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