Tuesday, July 17, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: Symphonies and Songs

Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony. Performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. Recorded in 1967. Re-released in 2004. RCA Red Seal: 82876-59418-2.

Turangalila Symphony.
Toronto Symphony Orchestra with
Yvonne Loriod: piano
Jeanne Loriod: ondes Martenot

The combination of ondes Martenot with strings and piano creates such shimmering colors and shades one wonders why this instrument didn't develop into a regular part of the orchestra going forward from 1948 on (the year this composition was completed). Turangalila Symphony is a massive-scale work - employing an expanded orchestral ensemble (with plenty of percussion and brass) along with the ondes Martenot and piano over a 10-movement, 80-minute work. And yet it's written with an almost chamber music quality and sensibility as clear, discrete lines and the familiar bird-calls of Messiaen's compositions maintain an easy focus in the foreground. The large-scale ensemble opens up a vast range of colors to augment the cyclical ideas and themes that give Turangalila Symphony its form. It's a spectacular piece that deserves a revival.

Jenny Scheinman: 12 Songs. 2005. Cryptogramophone: CG125.

Jenny Scheinman: compositions, violin
Ron Miles: trumpet
Doug Wieselman: clarinets
Bill Frisell: guitar
Rachelle Garniez: accordion, piano, claviola
Tim Luntzel: bass
Dan Rieser: drums

As a listening experience this CD is flawless. You put it on to hear the great band and the ears stick to the compositions. These short pieces cover a lot of ground with episodes of whimsy and seriousness. And all of it showcasing a real flair for arranging. Did I mention that the band is outstanding as well?

Ludwig van Beethoven: Complete Symphonies. - disc 3. Performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 1994: The International Music Company: 205298-305.

Symphony No. 4 in B flat major (op.60)
conducted by Barry Wordsworth
Symphony No. 5 in C minor (op.67)
conducted by Claire Gibault

Sandwiched between the "Pastoral" Symphony and the most famous dun-dun-dun-duh in history, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 seems to receive less obsession and fetish than the rest of the cycle. The famous story is that Beethoven even set aside what would become his famous fifth already in progress and cranked out Symphony No. 4 to fulfill a commission that was more immediate. And it does sound like a throw-back to his earlier compositional style. To my ears, however, it sounds like he was revisiting some familiar territory while going through his transition and the end result is intriguing because of that. The second movement in particular caught my attention with some interesting modulations I hadn't noticed before.

As for the dun-dun-dun-duh... Symphony No. 5 may be one of the biggest warhorses of them all. A status partially earned by the quality of the composition and partially layered upon it by a bizarre fixation on the opening phrase of the first movement. How that phrase became shorthand for "foreboding" is a puzzle. It does set off an exhilarating, and maddeningly irresistible journey with all the unbelievable variation and development that follows.

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