Friday, August 31, 2012

Paavo Berglund, Royal Danish Orchestra
"Carl Nielsen: Symphonies no. 2 & 5" (CD)

Being personally most familiar with his "Inextinguishable" 4th symphony, I am really enjoying this recording of the 2nd symphony.

Based on the ancient psychological philosophy of the four temperaments, (which is the symphony's subtitle, interestingly enough) each movement explores the idea of the  different personality trait.
Filled with just enough 20th century tonality to keep it compelling yet with enough traditional form and harmony to remind you of everything that had become before.

The 5th Symphony has no subtitle or programmatic leanings.  It was  written nearly 20 years after the 2nd symphony, and unlike the 2nd, the 5th is divided into two large, sweeping movements that seem to share less with the traditions of before.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trini Lopez and the Exotic Guitars
"Sings/Play" (Vinyl)

Imagine "Now! That's What I Call Music!" in the early 1960's and you have a guess at what Guest Star Records was shooting for.

Side A is Trini Lopez doing his early rock 'n roll thing (ala Elvis) and side B is the instrumental Exotic Guitars doing theirs (ala Ventures.)

The record is not well made. Neither is the recording.  It is a budget record.

And I'm fairly convinced the record can't keep a constant pitch center.  I don't think I want to/can blame that on my 1950's record player...

Vladamir Horowitz 
"In Concert, 1966" (Vinyl) 

Horowitz, regarded as one of the pre-eminent pianists of the 20th century, presented a series of recitals at Carnegie Hall in 1966. Over the course of these three recitals these live recordings were selected for this double-LP release.

I'm not sure when the "formula" for a traditional piano program was born, but its already ensconced on these records; each recital featured Baroque, Classical, Modern and Masterworks, almost exactly in that order. The culture is a bit different amongst pianists; there's an unwillingness (and perhaps a lack of necessity) to adapt programs even today outside of this mold that samples from each important era of composition.

 These recordings are beautifully done and one can sit back and enjoy the mastery of Horowitz as a mature, seasoned musician at the height of his power.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bruno Walter, Philharmonic Symphony of NY 
"Beethoven: Symphony no. 7" (Vinyl)

 One of the six-eyes found in the thrift store trove a couple weeks ago, this is a beautifully preserved copy of a now-nearly complete Walter Beethoven cycle.

I'm currently on a phone call so I'm unable to listen too closely to the recording, but what I'm constantly struck by is the quality of these recordings.
Having grown up in an iPod-toting mp3 culture of near constant musical inundation, the concept of sitting down with a recording to listen through an entire side of a vinyl record represents a culture shock of sorts.

But when I do I'm rewarded with some of the most beautiful, warm and realistic sounding recordings of classical literature I've ever heard.   This "golden era" of recording (which I would estimate spans from the mid-50's through the entire 60's) was a fleeting moment when recording technology and techniques yielded amazing results and before rock n' roll, digital recording and cheaper production methods made the concern for a pristine recording secondary.
Arlo Guthrie "The Best of" (Vinyl) Son of the famous Woodie Guthrie, Arlo cut himself a respectable career in the boon of folk music in the 1970's with his biggest hit, "Alice's Restaurant" which led to a film role based on the story. I'm not real familiar with a lot of the folk music that exploded during the middle part of the 20th century. Whether it was Woodie, Pete Seeger or anything similar, their scent of anti-war protest songs veiled in flower power and free love feels like a relic that should be seen in a museum.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Budapest String Quartet, Trampler "Mozart - String Quintet no. 1, K. 174" (Vinyl) Maybe it's due to its relatively early composition, but I can't help but liken this quintet more to Mozart's symphonic string writing style than to his idiosyncratic methods for his string quartets. Comparing it to the later, monumental C major quintet (K. 515) each voice in the quintet feels more like the role it would play in one of Mozart's symphonies rather than enjoying the same athleticism Mozart would later expect of his musicians. The Budapest Quartet is regarded as the grandfather to today's String Quartet, mentoring youngsters such as the Guarneri Quartet. It's interesting to watch the evolution of the art form across such a (relatively) short time, but even within three/four generations how much our attitudes towards this music have changed. Arguments can be made either direction, but you can't deny we would perform this music differently today than was common 60 years ago. For my taste, many of the performances feel a bit "forward" in their sound and use the delicious old-school fast vibrato that mostly passed away with Isaac Stern.
The Three Suns "On a Magic Carpet..." (Vinyl) Throwing a cocktail party tonight, Mr. Draper? Well then you'll surely need this record thrown on your hi-fi! Just as the Prado mambo album was a time machine, this one sets the time circuits for the age of Cleaver. I'm not sure how often I'll find it necessary/fun to pull out this record, but when I do it's just fun to consider how much the music we listen to and enjoy has changed. I can't find an exact date for when this was made, but to think that this fell within the decade of Elvis Presley's explosion onto the public quickly things went from this civilized, polished veneer to the sheer pandemonium that would ensue in the coming decades.
Vienna Octet "Britten: Sinfonietta, Hindemith "Octet" (Vinyl) Two unknown (by me) works for the motley crew of strings and winds by two of the early 20th century's most important composers. What could go wrong? Considering that I spent a short time last year learning Martinu's 'Nonet' for mixed string and wind ensemble I was interested to hear what these two composers would be exploring with the unusual mixture of timbre and texture. Thus far through this listening my impression of Hindemith hasn't changed much: I liken his music to an earthworm crawling chromatically along the ground in canon with itself. I understand the language he uses, but I think some days I prefer a multitude of composers to him. That being said, this is an interesting piece. That being said, I feel it's overshadowed by Britten's "Sinfonietta," his first published work (at the age of nineteen.) I hear a composer jumping out of the womb fully developed, eager, with something to say. It would be fun to work on this piece some day. Unlike the photo, I own a mono pressing. I can't find a date of production, but it's some point after 1958, when Hindemith finished his "Octet." The musicians' performances are, of course, superb. I've heard decent things about this Vienna Philharmonic...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Led Zeppelin "III" (Vinyl + CD) Today I'm listening to this 1970 release on an original vinyl pressing on my secondary hi-fi which is comprised of all-vintage pieces. (Marantz 1152DC, AR-X1 and Dynaco A25's for those interested.) I find this beneficial to do with some of these older rock n' roll albums that definitely benefited from a later re-mastering. I would say AC/DC and Led Zeppelin's records both got a much-needed facelift when updated for listening in a digital age. That being said, it's an education to listen to this music, conceived and written during the Age of Analog, through similarly aged stereo equipment. I know all of these songs well (I don't think we need to discuss the merits of Led Zeppelin III, do we?) and hearing them as they were enjoyed initially is a lot of fun. A lot of the edges (sonically speaking) are rounded off and the stereo itself blends the recording together a lot more than modern-day stereos would. I encourage the exercise if you're able to do so.
Radiohead "Kid A" (CD + Vinyl) The fourth album from British already-legends Radiohead, this album is slowly overtaking the seminal "OK Computer" as the benchmark for Radiohead's unbelievable evolution. I understand why "OK" was so important and influential (comparing it to their earlier albums) but I must confess that I agree that Kid A is a much more interesting and complex album. If "OK" is opening the door to a new reality then "Kid A" is them stepping through that door. I found a used copy of the "audiophile quality" 180g pressings that Capitol did on 10" vinyl and brought it home preparing myself for a direct CD-to-LP transfer that would leave vinyl lovers wanting more, but I must say that this record sounds wonderful. The sound is warm and yet doesn't betray any of Nigel Godrich's production.
Perez Prado "Big Hits by Prado" (Vinyl) Amongst that trove of thrift store six-eyes was this RCA Victor gem; glistening with the residue of Ricky Ricardo nostalgia, Prado's mambo band blasts through this bubbling, optimistic album. The tunes feel almost comical now (I believe the Farrelly brothers used one of these tunes during 'Dumb & Dumber') but its still a time machine to an easier, happier time in music.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jars of Clay "Much Afraid" (Vinyl & CD) If anyone thought that the Jars' debut (1995) was a fluke then the band was happy to deliver 1997's sophomore album, "Much Afraid." The band's songwriting ability wasn't dulled at all and they presented a radio-ready polish that both Christian and mainstream audiences were waiting for. Although it quickly diminished in sales, I feel this is an equal to their first release with production that signaled the band's direction for the next several albums. Proving that I should never stop digging for records, I found an LP pressing of this album (they did that?) in a thrift store a couple of months ago. I have the CD of this album on the shelf, but I'm equally pleased to say that the mastering done for the vinyl pressing is very nice to listen to. Now if I can just figure out who they pressed these for...
Lou Rawls "All Things in Time" (Vinyl) Released in 1976, this is, quite literally, the 30th album (give or take) that Lou had released in just 14 years. Astonishing. While his early years were spent following the mold of Sinatra and other crooners, by the point this album was released the "Philly Sound" was in full swing with the likes of the O'Jays and others. This album is a fun, relaxed combination of soul, disco, funk and swing with Lou Rawls demonstrating an ease to float effortlessly between them all. The production is warm and smooth with Rawls' choclately voice always ladled on top like a rich gravy. Yum.
Okay, yes, it's been two months, but I've made three cross-country trips and moved to a new apartment in that time. Cut me a little slack! I found a small stack of Columbia six-eye records at the thrift store yesterday. It seemed the perfect opportunity to jump back into it...
Leonard Rose, George Szell, NYP "Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations" (Vinyl) I'm not sure what's "limited" about this edition, but I'm learning a lot about the importance of record vintage. In the pile of six-eyes that I pulled from a thrift store yesterday there was a recording of the Sibelius violin concerto with Oistrakh performing with Ormandy/Philly. I brought it home to discover that I already had the identical recording that had be re-released years later on the CBS Odyssey label. Its the same recording, but put out on an inferior vinyl pressing. I liken it to Stradivarius: we've spent the last 400 years trying to figure out how he made his violins so well. Sometimes you get it right the first time. This recording is the second I've acquired of Mr. Rose. I also have a recording he made with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I'm not in a position to compare the two performances; it should suffice to say that Mr. Rose's playing has served as a worthy signpost for all subsequent generations of cello playing. His finely-tuned craft is a joy to listen to.