Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich
"Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos. 9 & 10" (CD)

I'm auditioning some new speakers by KEF and a modern-day Marantz home theater 5.1 receiver this week.  It seemed a good time to pull out this ridiculously crazy recording made by two of the crazier, enigmatic members of the classical music world.

I've listened to this particular recording of the 'Kreutzer' sonata before, and I have to say, it sounds pretty good on these speakers.
Incidentally, my off-the-shelf Samsung blu-ray sounds pretty fine as a CD player also.

They are by no means low-end, but research online amongst the HT nerds didn't yield that much helpful information.  They do accept bi-amping and seem very well-built, so as far as home theaters go, this is a very respectable set.  As hi-fi speakers, they seem to hold their own.  It's got me debating the amount of gear I've accumulated in the last couple of years.

Let's debate that further while we put another CD in.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Artur Rubinstein
"Schumann: Carnaval op. 9" (Vinyl)

This relatively early work from Schumann's output was considered by Chopin to be "less than music" while Clara and Robert Schumann themselves thought this music too difficult for public audiences.  Let's all ponder why Schumann wrote it the way he did then.

The piece is intended to depict Robert and his friends at a masquerade ball at a carnival.  Each musical motive represents a different person and is encoded into each movement of the work.  I'm not sure if Robert intended his friends to care enough to examine the work closely enough to find out if they are talking to the cocktail waitress or partying on the dance floor, but the 22 short movements take up 1.5 sides of this RCA shaded dog.

Rubinstein is undoubtedly one of the most recorded pianists in history.  The number of recordings you can find of his are astonishing.  Partially due to his proficiency and partially due to the quality of the RCA recordings I snatch them up when I find them in good condition.  I'll never regret their purchase.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Average White Band
"AWB" (Vinyl)

The sophomore release from the Scottish funk/R&B band was their breakthrough hit.  It sold millions of copies and the single "Picking Up the Pieces" went all the way to number one.

I suppose this more than qualifies as 'blue-eyed' funk music since these guys are from Europe, but it's fun to see these uniquely American traditions picked up by other parts of the world and (often times) done better.  (Think of the UK blues revival with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.)

I've collected a few of AWB's albums because they're a friendly, head-boppin' good time every time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Alberni String Quartet
"Britten: String Quartets nos. 2 & 3" (Vinyl)

Certainly not the best recording I have.  In fact, the recording techniques that were used for this poor quartet rival a Pfizer promotional recording of a Beethoven string trio that I reviewed here a couple years ago.

The microphone favors the first violin heavily and the other three instrumentalists sound like they're sitting across the room.
This is certainly NOT how the quartet performed.   I've never heard or dealt with this record label (CRD) before.  This particular album was imported from the UK.

Regarding the performance itself, I enjoy listening to these old quartet recordings when editing was not possible like it is today.  I think it gives us a much greater sense of the natural capability of the ensemble.  In contrast to this, today's recordings (particularly chamber music) are pulled a part with tweezers until ever piece is in the 'perfect' place.  While this makes for pristine sounding recordings, the performances can feel sterile and unnatural due to the superhuman cleanliness.

The Alberni Quartet isn't perfect on this recording, and whether or not they're happy about that, it's a useful reminder to have around.

EDIT: Britten himself coached the Alberni Quartet on his quartets.  Perhaps their interpretation could be considered somewhat authoritative.  Additionally, the Alberni Quartet gave the British premiere of Shostakovich's ninth and tenth string quartets.
The Mothers of Invention
"The Worst of the Mothers" (Vinyl)

After a lengthy unintended hiatus, I am actually home for a few weeks.  Let's listen to some music!

This 1971 release was a compilation released by MGM intended to coincide with Frank Zappa's rise in popularity after he moved to another label and began releasing much of his best work.

There's a great deal of vitriol on the interweb about this and other similar "greatest hits" albums released of Zappa's music.  Frank Zappa had nothing to do with the music that was included on this album and it was released purely to cash in on Zappa's success.

The music on this album is from the Mothers' early work (including "Freak Out!") and isn't nearly as famous as Zappa's output in the 1970's.