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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tales from the CD Changer

I own an IPod but never listen to classical music on it. I find that ITunes and the CDDB data tracking system are completely unsuited to organizing classical music on the computer--you wind up with fifty files in your playlist all called "Adagio." The alternative is to go in and change them all by hand and I don't feel like doing the data entry. I'd much rather spend my mornings writing nice columns like this one.

So. Here's a sampling of what's currently in and out of my CD changer, with comments.

Disc One
Scarlatti: The Keyboard Sonatas, Disc 3

Still working my way through Scott Ross' behemoth achievement--each sonata is a revelation in the way that it is played and executed, with precise fingering and supple attack. Hearing these works on harpischord is very different--the plucking action of the strings lends a uniform quality to the notes which is absent in the loud-soft dynamic of the piano or pianoforte. This set keeps getting better. I might have something constructive to say about it in June....

Disc Two
Shostakovich: Symphonies No. 1 and No. 6, cond. Vladimir Ashkenazy
Yes, it's another cycle of all fifteen Shostakovich symphonies from the good folks over at Decca, joining the Haitink (highly recommended, it just got reissued last year) and the Solti, which (as far as I can remember) was left unfinished due to the conductor's untimely demise. The First and Sixth make an interesting combination--a good way to start before you get deep into the heavy stuff (i.e. the "teens.") Ashkenazy recorded this cycle with three different orchestras over a long period of time, and this new box set includes various overtures and orchestral preludes. Great music to leave on full blast with the speakers aimed at your upstairs neighbor while you're at the hockey game.

Disc Three-Four
Bruckner: Symphony No. 8, Mozart, "Haffner" Symphony, cond. Sergiu Celibidache

These recordings from Stuttgart (available in a hard-to-find bargain box in the DG Collector's Edition, along with the Bruckner 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9) are quite wonderful. Celibidache hated making records, but following the conductor's death, the conductor's family made some of his live radio broadcasts available to collectors. There's another, MUCH more expensive set on EMI. Here, the conductor can be heard in his element, putting his own unique stamp on the soaring, cathedral structure of Bruckner's most massive symphony. The dance movement is taken at an unbelievably slow pace that just adds to its overall heaviness. (See above note about the neighbors.( On omes with a wonderfully unconventional performance of the "Haffner" symphony, read at breakneck speed and played with verve and feeling.

Disc Five
Telemann--Tafelmusik, Disc 1

Another awesome baroque set on Brilliant Classics. Is this small indie label, which seems to specialize in presenting quality recordings of obscure and deserved repertory by little known artists (in effect fulfilling the proper function of a classical music record company) the salvation of a dying music industry? Here, the Tafelmusik is played complete on four discs, by Musica Amphion. This is a terrific Dutch ensemble playing with accuracy and precision. "Tafelmusik" is "Table-music", meant to be played during feasts. Telemann is a composer who has been historically overshadowed by Bach, but he's fascinating, as he points the way towards the classicism of Gluck, Haydn and Mozart.

OK. Time to go change discs.

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