Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

One of the things I like about my new place is that I have a banana tree and a key lime tree. And the banana tree is just beginning to fruit:

Do you see them there in the middle? I think they are actually plantains, those big, squarish bananas that you actually cook and serve as a vegetable, especially in Yucatan cuisine.

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Ann Althouse is devoting a post to her (and Paul Shaffer's) youthful discovery of the Four Seasons:
Shaffer was listening to the radio in the early 60s, at the same time I had my most intense radio experiences, and I had exactly the same reaction to The 4 Seasons and to the early Beatles. (What was the big deal in a world that already had The 4 Seasons?!).
Well, I dunno. It's certainly an unusual vocal style:

But I don't need to hear it more than once. Personally...

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Damian Thompson over at the Spectator is getting tough with Maurizio Pollini:
The man has been sucking the life out of Beethoven piano sonatas for decades, but surely never so annoyingly as he did last week, when he opened the spring season of the Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series.
The applause was thunderous, it’s true, but it was a particular type of applause that you hear more often at the Southbank than anywhere else: a veteran soloist being cheered to the rafters, not for the music (I hope — unless the audience were cloth-eared morons) but for being himself.
Listening to his Pathétique sonata, I wondered if he was just there to collect his cheque. He could hardly be bothered to dot the chords in the Grave opening, which should be tightly coiled so the main theme shoots up the keyboard like a rocket. That didn’t happen. In all three Beethoven sonatas, Pollini ironed out contrasts of tempo and dynamics. Also, he kept shaving the ends of phrases and squeezing pauses, as if to say, ‘Let’s get this over with.’
I don’t see why we should make excuses for him because he’s 75 years old. Knowing when to retire is one of the tests of a great pianist.
I heard Andrés Segovia in 1976 when he was 83 years old and he was magnificent. He played a program that would have been too demanding for me at the time, and I was a 25 year old performance major! The first half, including a large Sor sonata, was an hour of music and the second half almost as much. This was followed by six or seven encores! You know, Segovia never did retire. In the middle of his last tour, he fell ill, canceled the last couple of concerts and flew home where he passed away just a few months later.

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There is a new album of Bach out by the trio of Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer. That is, cello, mandolin and double bass. Sure, Bach never wrote for this combination, but transcriptions of his music abound for every combination imaginable. I have written about Chris Thile's Bach before, without much enthusiasm, I have to say. What puzzles me is why reviews of new recordings, such as Norman Lebrecht's of the new Bach album in Musical Toronto, omit links to clips on YouTube? There are a lot there as publicity for the album. I guess it is because the links go away after a while. But, since they are there, let's have a listen. This is the trio playing the first movement of the Trio Sonata BWV 530:

Very folksy in a contrived publicity and marketing manner. The music? Trivial. Lebrecht gives them a generous two stars for the inoffensive background noise. It is not bad--these are all fine players, of course--but it is not really worthy of Bach either.

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Norman Lebrecht has a little clip up of police sergeant Jim Quackenbush of Portland, Oregon playing Beethoven. He is a pretty fine amateur pianist who has studied with some well-known artists. Let's hear it for every amateur musician in the world!!

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Quite a while back I did a post on the violin concerto that noted that the concerto form (or genre, whatever) has amazing longevity. There are great concertos from every century since Vivaldi made the form popular until now. Vulture magazine has an article making the same point with some interesting examples:
A few decades ago, I would not have put money on the survival of the concerto, except as an antiquarian curiosity. Celebrity soloists continued milking the classics, but the rest of the music world seemed to have moved on from all that gladiatorial bravura, the individual versus the collective story line that made the genre such a Romantic-era staple. And yet composers have kept returning to the sturdy drama of a lone virtuoso (or a few) fronting a thronging orchestra, and new works by Sofia Gubaidulina, Lera Auerbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Timo Andres suggest that the genre is having a new heyday. Different as they are, these composers all revisit conventions but shun cliché, merging formal boldness with expressive flair.
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Back in the 1970s every aspiring young guitarist was in love with the music of Léo Brouwer, the Cuban guitarist composer. Finally we had a modern master who wrote music that was fresh and contemporary. Brouwer remains productive even now and has written an impressive number of guitar concertos. But for me, he never surpassed the excitement and novelty of the pieces he wrote in the late 1960s. The most impressive of these were Elogio de la Danza and La Espiral Eterna. The performers are, for Elogio, Pepe Romero and for Espiral, Brouwer himself:

The influence in Elogio is Stravinsky, but the wonderful use of the guitar's colors and textures is pure Leo Brouwer. Espiral Eterna is influenced by the tape music of Stockhausen, with whom Brouwer studied.

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As a bonus today, and a follow-up to yesterday's post on Jordan Peterson, here is a talk he gave ten years ago (note the goatee and darker hair) about music. He begins by saying "I think that music is a genuine mystery" which immediately caught my attention because I have been saying the same thing here for years. He starts by talking about music, but then takes a long journey through many other things, finally getting back to music at around the 39 minute mark. Worth taking the journey, though.


Anonymous said...

If you take requests, here is one. One day I'd love to hear your theory (if you have one) why Segovia never played Barrios, seemingly going out of his way to ignore him. Was that rivalry? Or did he really dislike his music? I would find the latter very strange because they both shared a veneration for Bach *and* some of Barrios's compositions are magnificent.

Bryan Townsend said...

I love requests! Because I am always looking for something to write about. As I very dimly recall, Barrios was among those whom Segovia regarded as serious rivals and hence competitors. Miguel Llobet was another. So he certainly didn't want to promote them in any way. But there is this interesting paragraph in the Wikipedia article on Barrios:

The Johann Sebastian Bach-inspired La Catedral, from 1921, is widely considered to be Barrios' magnum opus, even winning the approval of Andrés Segovia, who said "In 1921 in Buenos Aires, I played at the hall La Argentina noted for its good acoustics for guitar, where Barrios had concertized just weeks before me. He was presented to me by his secretary Elbio Trapani. At my invitation Barrios visited me at the hotel and played for me upon my very own guitar several of his compositions among which the one that really impressed me was a magnificent concert piece The Cathedral whose first movement is an andante, like an introduction and prelude, and a second very virtuosic piece which is ideal for the repertory of any concert guitarist. Barrios had promised to send me immediately a copy of the work (I had ten days remaining before continuing my journey) but I never received a copy."[2] However, it equally possible that Segovia did receive the score and chose not to play it, either out of distaste for Barrios' folk-based music or professional jealousy (because Barrios was more of a composer than he was).[3]

Also, until Williams released an all-Barrios LP, I think it was in the early 80s, the ONLY piece any of us knew of Barrios was the Andante and Allegro movements of La Catedral, largely, IIRC, due to Alirio Diaz.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan,

some infos for Barrios revival. Diaz also had recorded Cuenca and Danza Paraguaya, prior to Williams first Barrios album-which was in 1977.
As for Segovia's rival we must not forget the De la Maza brothers.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, quite right.

Anonymous said...


Marc Puckett said...

I wish I could enjoy plantains but, no; perhaps because my Mexican-born relatives who cook them aren't yucatecos?

Thought you might be interested to see this review-- []-- of a Seattle Opera production of Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, apparently incorporating part of Couperin's Lamentations (the review of Gotham Chamber Opera's production from three years ago [] doesn't mention any Couperin, so that is down to the director Dan Wallace Miller, I reckon). It being Passion Week, and almost Holy Week, I had started with the Couperin (which was itself a distraction from the aftereffects of a first listening to Sir James MacMillan's Stabat Mater, released on CD a fortnight ago) and, well, see where I found myself.