Monday, January 31, 2011

#31 The Smell of Blue Skies

After the introduction, a cathedral is built. Its roof is missing, you can still see the blue skies. Very enjoyable piece of architecture.

Gardiner's account is grandiose, the sound is absorbent. Strict playing is combined with reckless joy. A peaceful movement that does not expect anything in reward. Enjoy.

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Work: Symphony No 2, IV. Allegro con spirito
Recording: Orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique, John Eliot Gardiner

Sunday, January 30, 2011

#30 The Smell of Naked Calf

Here we have a game, filmed in black and white. Licentious girl is exposing her calf and then she's running away, smiling, to a meadow. There's no lust. For us, it's a comical situation–the film is speeded up a little bit.

In the serious middle section, we expect fun again and we're not disappointed. The music goes fast forward, slows down; it tries to astonish us but it's never enough. We want our heroine back.

Composer: Gustav Mahler
Work: Symphony No 1, II. Kräftig bewegt, doch nichz zu schnell
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti

Saturday, January 29, 2011

#29 The Smell of Countdown

Vivid, intensive, and hasty dance. But the smell is of countdown–this will not last. Maybe it's because of its directness, especially in the middle part.

The outer theme behaves like a center piece. And the last chord in the final cyclone–the chord that should be the last one but is not–is from a different, better world.

Composer: Edvard Grieg
Work: Symphonic Dances, I. Allegro moderato e marcato
Recording: Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi

Friday, January 28, 2011

#28 The Smell of Edge

The edge of hysteria. The edge of collapse. The edge of living. The smell of Le sacre du printemps but it's not spring at all. A wheel of misfortune, of regret. And at the end, pure fatalism.

I can't focus my emotions, I'm getting hyperactive. This violin concerto–only five years old!–is moving on all levels.

Composer: Magnus Lindberg
Work: Violin concerto, 3rd movement
Recording: Lisa Batiashvili, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo

Thursday, January 27, 2011

#27 The Smell of Longing

First smell is the smell of Tom and Jerry. One goes after the other–pure fun, imitation, frivolity. But then... these are deep undertows. Ambition to be perfect. A younger sibling trying to match, to face up.

The performance is thrilling and intrusive. No wrong sounds, everything in place. It's delivering something complete. Nothing can or should be added.

Composer: Robert Schumann
Work: Sonata No 1 for piano and violin, III. Lebhaft
Recording: Andreas Staier, Daniel Sepec

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#26 The Smell of Black Flowers

Lay down and watch. The walls are fluttering. The lines are spreading across them: stems are everywhere, and they're sprouting. Leafs and blooms–all black. Incorporated into the walls.

The voice is forcing the flowers to appear; breathe with Goerne. The piano is holding them back; listen how Schmalcz sways between strophes.

Composer: Franz Schubert
Work: Nacht und Träume
Recording: Matthias Goerne, Alexander Schmalcz

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

#25 The Smell of Jump

They're jumping and jumping again... Two cats, playing a game we cannot understand. Slow down, quick start, fast, then slow again, turn around–and pretend nothing really happened.

Valrie Kantorski and Ann Almond Pope deliver amazing experience here, especially when you're used to the version for orchestra. Their dynamics and tempo are perfect, and the sound is anything but skinny.

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Work: Hungarian Dance No 6
Recording: Kantorski-Pope Duo

Monday, January 24, 2011

#24 The Smell of Rape

Crumb's music is overmuch literal. Forget about war. Open the windows so you don't smell napalm. Here you have primary, elemental fears.

The electric insects can lacerate your ears but that's only the visible crust. Deep below, there's something worse. Something you don't want to talk about, think about, hear about. Silence. Like if the movement is never really over.

Composer: George Crumb
Work: Black Angels, I. Departure
Recording: Kronos Quartet

Sunday, January 23, 2011

#23 The Smell of Natalie Portman

For me, the finale of Swan Lake was never beautiful. It's a nervous, fragile, unstable piece of music. The main theme goes too fast, the pauses in harmonies are scary, the harp rhythm is perverse.

After watching the film Black Swan, the demons are even worse and darker. The dreadful, lethal music cries for help but the rising sun is black.

Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: Swan Lake Suite, IV. Finale
Recording: Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

Saturday, January 22, 2011

#22 The Smell of City Built

It's a city that is building itself. In strings, and then in oboes, bassoons, and horns, clean lines are designed. The building rush starts at 0'45'' and the city is built in three minutes. After that, piano makes its entrée, and we see two different layers. It's a new architect who's explaining, showing new ways, and moderating. In the seventh minute, the two layers gets synchronized and new developments are coming.

The first movement tells everything, the whole story. This recording is superbly exhibited; it's a clever, clean, architectural approach. The layers of material and spiritual are fighting, and piano is losing again and again. In fortissimo of the last tutti, it has no chance. It goes down and then up in sixteenths but orchestra is just confirming its position by two chords per bar. Yes, at the very end, piano repeats the C notes, as orchestra does. But it's not a happy reunion–we know it was swallowed by the merciless city.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Piano concerto No 3, I. Allegro con brio
Recording: Richard Goode, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer

Friday, January 21, 2011

#21 The Smell of Arms Wide Open

Glowing, sensual recording of Beethoven's string quartets. The minuet of Quartet No 4 is especially welcoming. Here we don't play silly games–it says. You're right here where you belong, feel like home.

Do it. Enjoy the sun and the half shades. The end of the movement flies high. Turn your head up to the sky.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: String Quartet No 4, III. Menuetto: Allegretto
Recording: Pavel Haas Quartet

Thursday, January 20, 2011

#20 The Smell of Electricity

It's a big fight between reserve and emotion. Calm but under pressure. Will it hold?

Electricity is the result of the fight. Appassionata is a tension, a thrill in piano music.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Piano Sonata No 23, "Appassionata", II. Andante con moto
Recording: Lang Lang

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#19 The Smell of Clarity

Paavo Järvi with The Kammerphilharmonie Bremen has done for Beethoven's symphonies what John Eliot Gardiner did in 1994 with his Orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique. All the pigsty is gone, only music stays.

Bremen's Beethoven Project is a wonderful achievement and the Ninth symphony is its highlight. Clean lines, pure message. A gemstone.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Symphony No. 9, IV. Presto
Recording: Christine Oetze, Petra Lang, Klaus Florian Vogt, Matthias Goerne, Deutsche Kammerchor, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Paavo Järvi

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

#18 The Smell of Snivel

It's not my language. Alfred Brendel describes seventh Diabelli variation as sniveling and stamping.

Here we little girl who's wanting to dance but have no idea how, too afraid of the world of and for adults. Will she try again? One more time?

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Diabelli Variations, 7. Up poco più allegro
Recording: Stephen Kovacevich

Monday, January 17, 2011

#17 The Smell of Firmness

This is a very special recording of Coriolan. Smell the force of bows in the first chord, it defines the landscape. Here I am, here I stand, live or dead.

Depending on your mood, you can sense Coriolan music as either fragmentary or concentrated. It's nervous, pushing forward. And then (after 6 minutes), the heroic theme breaks in the middle. The finale brings nothing but emptiness with no salvation.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Coriolan Overture
Recording: Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, John Eliot Gardiner

Sunday, January 16, 2011

#16 The Smell of Recession

It's dancing but not moving: Two steps forward, two steps back, still on the same spot. It's not about the rondo form, you can hear it even in the main theme. It does not really want to move forwards–it makes the first two steps only to make room for coming back.

The recording is 58 years old and I bet you can find better today, more enlightening and swift. But there's something about good old Schneiderhan. Maybe it's the urgency of his playing. Maybe he's not afraid to recede if music asks for it.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Violin Concerto in D Major, III. Rondo: Allegro
Recording:Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Berliner Philharmoniker, Paul van Kempen

Saturday, January 15, 2011

#15 The Smell of Parody

These small phrases are always so vivid and true for the first time–but then, they are repeated by other instrument, and then once more, and that's pure mockery.

It's all funny: alla polka, the false ending in the middle, pauses, last thirty seconds, all the affectation and pretending. Great piece of music.

Composer: Bedřich Smetana
Work: String Quartet No. 1
Recording: Škampa Quartet

Friday, January 14, 2011

#14 The Smell of Rain

At first (0:30), it's just a common, friendly rain, setting your melancholy mood. Then, the wind changes its direction and the raindrops are hitting window panes (3:51). Stop it–it's a film frame. Zoom it out–somebody's at the window, waiting.

Janina Fialkowska is back, with poetry instead of cancer in her arms.

Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Work: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, II. Larghetto
Recording: Janina Fialkowska, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey

Thursday, January 13, 2011

#13 The Smell of Still Life

Four different still lifes. On the grass, on the beach, underground, and the last one–just hummed–everywhere. Beautiful stillstand, a cure for a hurried day. A poem by Octavio Paz.

Choir Polyphony needs just four minutes to slow down your heart beat and breath. Cool down. There's just una muchacha y un muchacho. Nothing more.

Composer: Eric Whitacre
Work: A Boy and a Girl
Recording: Polyphony, Stephen Layton

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

#12 The Smell of Energy

This is Prague Philharmonia at its top. Wonderful, soft sound, excellent dynamic shading, spontaneous.

You can gulp the energy coming from the recording. You can listen to it ten times in a row and it will never pall on you.

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: Suite in A major, II. Allegro
Recording: Prague Philharmonia, Jakub Hrůša

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

#11 The Smell of Restlessness

After twenty-four years being together and another eleven years being separated, my parent are getting divorced today. Romeo and Juliet sounds appropriate for such a day. The introduction is unstable, like off the beat, waiting for something to happen. When the Prince arrives, it's only pretending it's calm. The end in strings is restless, and although the contrabass exhales for the last six bars, the rest of the strings is getting nervous again.

Then plainly know my heart's dear love is set
on the fair daughter of rich Capulet.

Composer: Hector Berlioz
Work: Roméo et Juliette
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis

Monday, January 10, 2011

#10 The Smell of Countryside

There's music where's everything. It's funny, it's moving, it's majestic. The mood is changing every minute.

But above all, you can smell grassroots. So clean, easy to understand. Beautiful humbleness, no ornaments. Earthy, full-bodied, proud American music.

Composer: Aaron Copland
Work: Billy The Kid
Recording: San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas

Sunday, January 9, 2011

#9 The Smell of Strictness

Fascinating composition and fascinating recording. Recorded for the first time–25 years after Horowitz's American debut–at Carnegie hall. Soon, Mr. Horowitz announces his withdraw from public performances (he'll be back in 12 years; his final recital will take place when he's 84 years old).

Playful, yes; dancing, dignified, grandiose. Well calculated, very focused. It's not a strict piece of music. But the smell is there.

Composer: Franz Liszt, arr. Horowitz
Work: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
Recording: Vladimir Horowitz, RCA Victor, 1953

Saturday, January 8, 2011

#8 The Smell of Perfection

The tone! Ehnes is creating something very magical here. The concerto is well known yet I wonder how different it can suddenly sound. The violin is really singing, pattering, always round, always pleasant, airy and jubilant.

This recording is touching the inner worlds. At first, it may not sound so different from other ones (say, Kavakos has the same tempo through the last movement, never off by more than 1 second). But the tone of Ehnes's violin is reaching eternity of perfection.

Composer: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Work: Violin Concerto in E minor, III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace
Recording: James Ehnes, Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy

Friday, January 7, 2011

#7 The Smell of Leaving

It's really a subtle smell. The main phrase is sad and blaming. We have no idea what happened, it's like post mortem lamentation in sarabande rhythm.

Listen to its very end: Do you hear the echo of the wail? These bloodless high tones? That's the only answer the wail gets, its own broken echo. After that–there's nothing. Two last bars, played pizzicato and piano, are just closing the door forever. The smell is in the air.

Composer: Eugène Ysaÿe
Work: Sonata for solo violin No. 4, II. Sarabande
Recording: Maxim Vengerov

Thursday, January 6, 2011

#6 The Smell of Jollity

Today it's literal–Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. I haven't heard better six horns unisono and more joyful and rich playing than from LSO. It's a moving, blithe piece. It's forcing you to stand up and dance.

Do you feel how the tempo is uprising, how the theme is exalting? It's like if you should be proud of something, of yourself. When I feel blue, I listen to Jupiter. And I smell it's helping me getting better.

Composer: Gustav Holst
Work: The Planets, IV. Jupiter
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

#5 The Smell of Unexpected

Why unexpected? One, this dixieland ballet was written in 1927; two, the orchestra is actually only a sextet (piano, violin, cello, trumpet, basoon, and clarinet); three, tango, really?

Yes, tango. After the beginning, sounding like an ending, the rhythm is there, in piano. It's a dance kept unexpectedly low, with soothing trumpet solo. The second part is even darker, ending in void. It's the smell you don't expect from Martinů. I was not prepared to hear something like it at all.

Composer: Bohuslav Martinů
Work: La revue de cuisine, II. Tango
Recording: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Christopher Hogwood

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

#4 The Smell of Fairy Tales

It does not matter if it's an anti-sentimental parody (and it is, of course). For me, this will always be a sentimental piece of Disney and Hans Christian Andersen. It's a love story about standing on a single leg. I smell fairy tales.

The music was used in Disney's Fantasia 2000. It starts with military march (excellent strings) and its heart beat is peeping even in quiet tirades. The piano is organic and very hardline.

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich
Work: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F, Op. 102, I. Allegro
Recording: Dmitri Shostakovich, Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française, André

Monday, January 3, 2011

#3 The Smell of Betrayal

It's a weird situation: Vanessa is expecting her lover Anatol but she doesn't want him to see her face. She has waited for him for twenty years and now she's afraid she's old, not pretty anymore. So she's asking him to declare his love to her shadow (remember, after twenty years of abandonment!) or leave at instant.

Now here's the thing. Vanessa does not know she's not talking to her Anatol but to his son. She knows nothing about the tragedy to come. However, the music knows. It gives you a hint: Something's very wrong. The mirrors will be covered again.

Composer: Samuel Barber
Work: Vanessa, "Do not utter a word"
Recording: Kate Royal, Orchestra of English National Opera, Edward Gardner

Sunday, January 2, 2011

#2 The Smell of Pain

Listen to the violin. How forceful it is. Mayhem of soul. Misdoings of the world. Smell the pain that will never fade. This is not a dancing, playful recording but it's beautiful. It's a fight that cannot be won. Mr. Oistrakh, what have you done?

Composer: Maurice Ravel
Work: Tzigane
Recording: Igor Oistrakh, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Boris Khaikin

Saturday, January 1, 2011

#1 The Smell of Intimacy

It's a quiet, very intimate setting. It's magic of the night. Smell the affection between alto voice and male choir when they repeat leise, leise. In that moment, music is not around you, it's inside you, spreading through your body. Sip hot tea–that's the feeling.

Schlaf du nicht, schlaf du nicht–do not sleep. Not now.

Composer: Franz Schubert
Work: Ständchen, D. 920
Recording: Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner