Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ireland: Piano Works, Vol. 3

I rarely put my iPod on shuffle in any public setting for fear of the musical eclecticist in me disturbing the desired atmosphere.  When I'm listening by myself though it's a neat experience. A mix of dissimilar genres can give you fresh variety, something welcomed especially while performing any task with tedium. Earlier this week I found myself doing one of those chores: organizing my laundry into piles on the floor.  As always, I did so to a thoroughly-shuffled stream of music. I was energized  by Deep Focus, sang along to some Incubus (hint: track 3).  And then suddenly the mood changed: on came the final scene from Puccini’s La Boheme.  I quickly sat on my bed and concentrated on the music.

... Mimi, the deathly ill soprano, quietly passes away in bed.  Her lover, Rodolfo, runs to her side calling her name, weeping. ...  

I was flooded with mirrored anguish over the loss of a loved one. The brevity of that experience meant I required more musical closure. I knew what I wanted, too:
The Undertone, first of John Ireland’s Piano Preludes.  It was nestled among several other beautiful solo piano works.

With simple melodic beauty, Ireland begins this work with a slowly descending right hand, developing a clear sense of longing for something missed dearly.  Then yearning boils to dissonance - tonal conflicts born from the heart’s overwhelming desire for the impossible.  But warmth exists in Ireland’s piano works: that of pensive memories.
  In the final minute of The Undertone it’s as if remembrance penetrates the sorrow!  After a few fleeting runs in the high register you almost feel like cracking a smile in the corner of your closed lips.  You want it to end like a fairy tale. You crave happiness!  Aha!, you’re longing again and Ireland knows it.  Finally, down we go with the opening melodic line in the final phrase -- down several octaves now -- to the quiet of the final chord.  In the ensuing silence I heard the distant tears of Rodolfo.

Ireland himself did not have much luck in his love life and perhaps he was channelling this misfortune in his music.
  Melancholy, however, was by no means his sole emoting speciality.  On that same Naxos Music CD (linked here) are the fourth prelude Fire of Spring and another work titled Equinox (the later which I hold as close to me as the one in my lietmotif announcement post ) both have a fascination with playful Ravel-like musical properties.  Ravel, among Bartók and Stravinsky, influenced John Ireland immensely.  The other works feature more of the classicistic and impressionistic sides of this talented composer.  It's an absolute treat for the ears!

Before we close, here are the questions I have for you:

What piece of music made you shed tear? What mood was it? Think back to what was going on in your mind at that moment.  Let’s see if anyone can admit it and, if so, I’ll give you mine.  That’s a promise!  I may even turn your suggestions into a theme!

Happy Listening!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mompou: Piano Music, Vol. 6

One of the reasons I’m drawn to symphonic works is for the sheer number of voices an orchestra has at its disposal.  My thought process is: just as a painter with more colours could paint a more complete image, I assume that more instruments would help a composer produce a fuller piece.  Perhaps this is true in an antiquated view of art, but we’re in postmodern times: any form of musical expression is just as valid as the next.  So in that case, what if we could only paint with limited colours?  What if that canvas was small?

I like to think Federico Mompou is an artist perfect for the musical interpretation of this situation.  Piano miniatures and lyric songs being the bulk of his compositions, Mompou was a master of condensation.  It’s his compositional style, ranging from impressionistic to modest and minimal, that keeps you involved.  He employs very simple, even puerile melodies, many of which are tinged with sadness, melancholy, and a nostalgic echo of Mompou’s beloved home in Catalonia.

During his childhood, Mompou’s family owned and operated a bell foundry.  The bells had a lasting effect on his creative energies, the sounds of which are imitated in many of his works.  Even the first track, El Plany del captaire, begins and ends with a distant grandfather clock sound, repeated twice more as a bridge between variations of the melodic theme.  Dissonance is not overwhelmingly common and never claws at your ears.  It rather sits with transient purpose in the ostinato figures. 

In the Naxos label Vol. 6 of his piano music, to be released on June 28th, we find treasures recently discovered in Biblioteca de Catalunya’s Mompou Collection and at Mompou’s home.  I cannot pick a favourite; that’s impossible!  One work, however, does stand out to me: Il.lusio, the second of two petits preludis.  Here I’m reminded of the soundtrack to the movie “In Bruges”, the theme of which (linked here) would be my best pick of a representative track for the mood Mompou writes in.  (As a side note, I recommend this movie to everyone.  It’s a beautifully-executed dark and tragic comedy and I must say the music of Carter Burwell completes the production’s artistic synergy.) 

To conclude, Mompou’s is the type of expression best listened to with imagination and in a responsive state of mind.  Just as acuity from literature cannot be achieved by partially-engaged reading, perceptivity of music is only truly acquired by engrossed listening.  But it’s worth it!  Every piece on this disc left me in a state of understanding.  Not omniscience but as if the moral of a story was unwrapped before me and rushed down my arms as goosebumbs.  “Ah”, I say with a smile, “so that’s what he meant.”

Beauty in simplicity was a motif in this discussion.  What other solo piano works does this theme remind you of? Are these pieces best listened to in a meditative state or do you prefer other genres?  Let me know what you think!

Happy Listening!

Solo Piano Music of the 20th Century

Sometimes it only takes one.

I spent this week rummaging through piano works that spanned four centuries.  When I stumbled upon one of Ravel’s Miroirs, Une barque sur l'océan, I knew the direction of my expedition instantly.  I had to find more piano works like this.  

 Rolling waves beautifully sketched by oscillating scales, right-hand trills as white peaks breaking after dancing as atop the turbulent sea, Ravel depicts every image so clearly it’s as if I’m hearing the hues of sunrise shimmer off the calm ocean front.

Sometimes it only takes one piece of music to captivate.  It happened to me!  Now you can thank Ravel for these next two works and their theme: Solo Piano Music of the 20th Century. And so goes my auditory affair with the piano.

Happy Listening!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Moeran: Symphony in G minor

Whenever I bring a new piece of classical music to someone’s attention I always describe the images and emotions it conjures for me.  Perhaps this is because, personally, music is both the most expedient route to an emotion and fuel for colourful imagination.  Almost unfailingly, the scenes a piece sketches for me are of nature.  Nature was a source of inspiration for many Post-Romantic composers such as Mahler and Schoenberg, and Ernest John Moeran is no different. 

Moeran’s Symphony in G minor is a marvellous piece of music that captivates the dichotomy of nature’s beautiful landscapes and the ravenous vitality that continuously reshapes them.  Moeran juxtaposes these two themes throughout the four movements in spine-tickling fashion.  Timelessness and utter transiency combat each other in the Lento with instrumentation similar to that in “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” from Holst’s “The Planets” Suite. There’s a powerful solo trombone entrance in the middle of the Lento that, if I may assert my personification, takes on the role of nature’s Darth Vader.

Not all movements are shrouded in the dark side of the force.  The Vivace, for instance, has a lighter, more playful and spring-like character, an allusion to the panorama from whence inspiration came.  Much of the symphony was written in County Kerry, Ireland (pictured above), a landscape marked by rocky inlets with lapping ocean waves and beautiful green, rolling hills and mountains dotted with sheep.  But no matter how pure and beautiful Moeran’s symphonic painting of the countryside is, he never quite lets us forget that the spirit of nature’s Darth Vader is omnipresent.  Don’t fret, there is a protagonist!  At four minutes into the final movement, Lento - Allegro molto, Moeran unleashes the heroic brass to race across the terrain on string-and-woodwind stallions.

The only completed symphony we have of his, Moeran took thirteen years to compose this work, having abandoned its original form and retracted it from a premiere performance twice before finally unveiling it in 1937.  Fortunately, a three-movement Sinfonietta and an orchestral Serenade are possible extensions for our exploration of this wonderful composer.  The Sinfonietta can be found on the same Naxos Music label recording I heard.

Before I wrap this up, I want to know what you’re thinking of!
- What are some further recommendations you may have for this time period?  I’m itching for more!
- What work, from any time, paints the clearest image of a nature scene for your mind’s eye?  Is it because you listened to that piece when you were there?

I’m looking forward to your comments!  Stay tuned for another Post-Romantic symphony on Saturday.

Happy Listening!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Symphonies of the Post-Romantic

To this day, I hold that one of my most memorable performance experiences was during the 2008 New England Music Festival where I, along with the orchestra, played the Allegro con brio of H. Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 “Romantic”.  What a wonderfully-ebullient movement!  Not a single rehearsal went by during that festival that I didn’t leave with a smile, arms covered in goosebumps, humming the majestic conversations between the cellos and French horns.  

Ever since, I’ve been hooked on the orchestral colour of Post-Romantic music.  So, for my first week I’ve decided to explore what the Naxos Music label has to offer for lesser-known Post-Romantic symphonies. 

Join me and the FermataPhone community on Wednesday and Saturday for an exploration of two symphonies that deserve a spot in our stereo’s repertoire.  It’s sure to be a fun ride for your ears and your hair follicles!

Happy Listening!

Welcome to FermataPhone!

Welcome, welcome, welcome to FermataPhone, a Classical music blog where we explore great music!

You may recognize the phrase "explore great music" as the tagline of online music merchant Much more than mere marketing hyperbole, this call to enrich your musical life is vital to sustaining a life-long passion for music. Since you are reading this, I’m confident in assuming that music is special in your life. But despite the fact that our daily lives are so immersed in music, we admittedly tend to sequester ourselves with the familiar while leaving the rest unexplored.

But what’s the cure?  Well, while on exchange in Italy last Fall an important notion of social music exploration was first revealed to me.  Before a night out in Milan, we exchange students, from backgrounds that blanketed most of the globe, would convene around a computer or an iPod and play Hot Potato DJ, sharing musical favourites enthusiastically and spontaneously.  Each new song brought new recommendations and by the end everyone left with a new set of artists for their own permanent collections to remind themselves of their exchange.  Our common identity was indeed music.

Social music exploration can happen through any medium and that’s precisely what this blog is to become: a platform for virtual friends on a common expedition through the vast Classical genre to share, discover, and explore music!  Every week I will pick an overarching “theme”, or more appropriately a “leitmotif”. On each Wednesday and Saturday I’ll post a new review of a work plucked from the gargantuan Naxos Music label.  These themes (leitmotifs) will be anything and everything, and the works covered will stray from the common in search of something off your radar.  Albeit some obscurity, everything will be worthy of reverence.

This is only the half of it!  After each post, I want you to tell me what you think.  Offer up your feedback, recommendations, anecdotes -- basically anything that furthers the FermataPhone blog community’s quest for new, great music.  I’ll join in too!  This way everyone will benefit most from our discoveries.

So what are you waiting for?  Get your stereos and headphones ready and let’s “explore great music!”

Happy Listening!