Saturday, June 14, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Two Magnum Opuses and Two Quartets

Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury A Ritual of Dream and Delusion. 1970 (re-released in 1999). Innova: 406.

Danlee Mitchell: conductor

Partch's final magnum opus, and it's a major work in the HurdAudio constellation. For a musical language built upward from speech - with an intonation scheme and set of instruments designed specifically to match the contours of spoken word - there is precious little text in this particular work. In the relentless creative push to realize this corporeal experience Partch tapped into ritual and composed some outstanding instrumental preludes to these two acts in the process. The words that are part of the Delusion experience become a chorus-like commentary in the tradition of the ancient Greeks. And they are often a haunting commentary on the situations the characters find themselves in.

Hearing this music after having seen this theatrical work produced last December I am more acutely aware of what is missing. The stage filled with these visually and aurally beautiful instruments is a presence that recording can only partially represent. With ears drawn solely to the music and the mind filling in the memory of the African and Noh plays told through the Delusion the awe and joy of understanding this work continues to evolve.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Symphonies (disc 6). Recorded in 1994. The International Music Company: 305299-305.

Symphony No. 9 in D minor (op. 125)
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Raymond Leppard: conductor
The Ambrosian Singers
John McCarthy: choirmaster

It's with some trepidation that I approach the most notorious war horse of them all. One can hear the Romantic Era being birthed into existence in this work in the way it anticipates the large scale sense of development that finally breaks the classical mold into something composers would strive to equal or surpass for generations. The first four movements are a complete symphonic experience in and of itself. Then there's that choir inserted into the fifth that transforms this piece into something else entirely. Once the ears acclimate to the wide vibrato in the singing voices there is the struggle to hear "through" the now cliche "Ode to Joy." But this is the very source of that cliche. The culmination of the entire cycle of nine symphonies. Gazing directly into this sound is like taking a long look at the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper. Crushingly familiar and enduring at the same time.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Complete Quartets, Volume V. 1994. Delos: DE 3035.

Orford String Quartet
Andrew Dawes: violin
Kenneth Perkins: violin
Terence Helmer: viola
Denis Brott: cello

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No. 3 ("Razumovsky")

String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 ("Harfen")

The first movement of the String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 is about as definitive an answer to what makes Beethoven such a big deal that these ears have heard. Astonishing feats of thematic development that swims into a soaring moment of transcendent bliss. In many ways, these quartets have more meat than the symphonic cycle. This is partly a result of less exposure. But there is also something about the chamber medium that lends itself to a searing intensity in these polished, middle-period quartets.

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