Monday, February 28, 2011

#59 The Smell of Downbeat

A dance that starts so brightly is slowly decaying, turning into a nightmare. Down, down to depression, all the light is gone. It is–somehow–comfortable. During the last minute, there's not even one happy tone, and yet the last one is so sedative.

I'm not sure how Isserlis can play the cello and dance at the same time but he does. This is the best of modern recordings of these suites.

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Work: Suite No 3 for Solo Cello, VI. Gigue
Recording: Steven Isserlis

Sunday, February 27, 2011

#58 The Smell of Purity

Subtle, high-hearted, noble tone. Happy melody. I smell spring coming, gentle, green, embracive.

There's just one hard tone there (1'38''). It's a stamp of a child. Do you feel how indignant the child is? "Do it one more time, better, I want it!" And we do it–for spring.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: Sonata for Piano No 15, K. 545
Recording: Sviatoslav Richter

Saturday, February 26, 2011

#57 The Smell of Frozen Landscape

Paint it black and white: post-catastrophic landscape, frozen to death; ruptured streets, collapsed buildings.

It's somehow straussian (Richard, not Leo), perversely post-romantic. And then suddenly–absolute dragaway: it's not real, it's not happening. Party! (5'49'') Let's rock'n'roll!

Composer: Michael Daugherty
Work: Metropolis Symphony, II. Krypton
Recording: Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero

Friday, February 25, 2011

#56 The Smell of His Master's Voice

Smell the history. This recording was made in Vienna in June 1933, it's the first recording of the opera. Here's the conflict between Jeník and Mařenka. Each of them has his and her side of truth. They're not listening, it's not a dialogue but rather two monologues.

However, the music is telling us something: it's the same melody for Jeník and for Mařenka. They don't communicate but they belong together. At the end of the duet, they combine their voices, singing in tandem. They're separated but not for long.

Composer: Bedřich Smetana
Work: The Bartered Bride, "Tak tvrdošíjná, dívko, jsi"
Recording: Ada Nordenová, Vladimír Tomš, Chorus and Orchestra of the National Opera Company of Prague, Otakar Ostrčil

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#55 The Smell of River

This river is a wide, slow river. It flows in a relaxing manner and if there's an excitement (1'31''), it's a controlled one. Drift along, it's an amazing journey.

Jansons is able to stretch the orchestra out and keep the motion pulsing. Slow, natural, it's not sentimental in strings, yet wonderfully emotional in brasswinds.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg - Overture by Mariss Jansons on Grooveshark

Composer: Richard Wagner
Work: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Prelude to Act I
Recording: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariss Jansons

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

#54 The Smell of Edification

The finale of The Firebird gives you the unique feeling there's Good and there's Heaven. It's uprising, forcing you to stand up and tell it: Yes! Do whatever you have to do but keep the music playing!

It cannot be played too slowly, it cannot be too exciting, there's no "too much" in this piece, no excess is enough.

Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Work: The Firebird Suite, Finale
Recording: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#53 The Smell of Heat

One can hardly forget that this symphonic poem has a program, beat by beat. It's wild, dirty, abrasive. You can smell fear and abandonment. "Give me the child!" in trombones is pure horror.

But I really stare in consternation when Dvořák forms the heat of a summer day with all its terrible compactness and unfulfilled expectations. The combination of idyll and terror is unbeatable.

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: The Noon Witch
Recording: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Monday, February 21, 2011

#52 The Smell of Shaggy Garden

You're walking in a garden, it's late afternoon, the shadows are long. The garden is deprived, sometimes it's hard to find a path to walk on. Yet you can manage to go on, and in a while you're not really sure: am I really walking here or is it a dream? Weird trees are always in your way, you can see an alcove in a distance but you can never reach it.

Kempe's recording underlines the mystery of the garden, walking the line between real and unreal, balancing thirst and fear. The final chords are affirmative but not really telling what the truth is.

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Work: Tragic Overture
Recording: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#51 The Smell of Loneliness

Mariinsky cannot match the deadly drive of BPO/Levine but there's a different kind of fire. It's sparky, emotional, there's unspoken violence.

The soft solo sections are the most beautiful ones. Here stands a man, abandoned, lonely, and yet willing to survive.

Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Work: Piano Concerto No 3
Recording: Denis Matsuev, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#50 The Smell of Mountains

I know, it's The Great Gate of Kiev. But I've never seen the picture. What I've seen many times is the grand view of mountains. Majestic, with white tops, half hidden in a haze. As you come closer, they're bigger and bigger, above all and anything ever seen.

Pogorelich's wide playing totally fits the smell. He has enough time, there's no hurry, no pressure. Face the proud music and feel humble and small.

Composer: Modest Mussorgsky
Work: Pictures at an Exhibition, The Great Gate of Kiev
Recording: Ivo Pogorelich

Friday, February 18, 2011

#49 The Smell of Waltz

It's like a folk parody of a waltz by Strauss. Randy violin, touching melodies, jumpy rhythm.

It's fascinating how the mood is different for piano and for violins. Piano is always holding back, almost never supporting, trying to regulate violins–yes, two violins. Perlman is playing them both, overdubbing himself.

Composer: Pablo de Sarasate
Work: Navarra
Recording: Itzhak Perlman, David Garvey

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#48 The Smell of Montreux

Some smells are very personal, and this is one of them. It's from summer 1999 when I heard Manfred for the first time. John Eliot Gardiner was à la tête and the Swiss city of Montreux shined till late night.

Szell's account is not so ferocious but goes in big romantic waves and has wonderful old school sound of fifties.

Composer: Robert Schumann
Work: Manfred Overture
Recording: The Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#47 The Smell of Fuss

Here's music fussing around, always on its way, going somewhere. Hard to anticipate, hard to follow.

It's always fascinating when pauses are able to play music. In this sonata, and in Blechacz's interpretation, pauses are very important, and–now this is so weird–wonderfully played.

Composer: Joseph Haydn
Work: Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob. XVI:52
Recording: Rafał Blechacz

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#46 The Smell of Arrogance

The bar is dark. Smoke. Gin. Long legs. Steps. Money. Dance. Lust. And the smell of arrogance: it's them and it's us, and they know we can watch but cannot join. So we watch and drink and pay.

Brunello's recording is for solo cello and breathing. They both dances in wry waltzes, they both choke on the same nostalgia.

Composer: Gaspar Cassadó
Work: Suite for cello solo, III. Intermezzo e danza finale
Recording: Mario Brunello

Monday, February 14, 2011

#45 The Smell of Determination

Some people say how dark this symphony is. How darksome and obscure the themes are. It's not a melody to whistle, Benjamin Zandler argues.

I smell determination but no darkness. And I like to whistle the march–actually a lot. For me, this is likable music, trying to drag me to its inner world. Gergiev's reading is fast yet non troppo, contrasting. Not happy but definitely exciting.

Composer: Gustav Mahler
Work: Symphony No 6, I. Allegro energico, ma non troppo
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

Sunday, February 13, 2011

#44 The Smell of Fragility

Sure, Papageno's aria sounds joyful. But it's so fragile, so subtle, one is afraid to breathe. The music is fleet-footed: hopsasa!

Gerald Finley is pretty convincing as Papageno. Here's a land of good, nothing wrong can happen here. And we just swallow the bait. It really was ein Netz.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: The Magic Flute, "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja"
Recording: Gerald Finley, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

Saturday, February 12, 2011

#43 The Smell of Gunpowder

The cellos in the beginning are articulate, wild. You can hardly find such a sound in new recordings (this one is from 1958). You are expecting something to come and you're not failed–the omnivorous pressure explodes at 1'53''. And it all continues, combining different moods together, like that military march together with a romantic line at 3'40''. Marseillaise and God Preserve the Czar!

And here comes the original scoring: symphony orchestra augmented by brass band, church bells (74 bells of Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon), and cannon (Napoleon's bronze cannon "Le Constant" from 1775). Inspiring music for this sunny Saturday.

Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: 1812 Festival Overture
Recording: Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, University of Minnesota Brass Band, Antal Dorati

Friday, February 11, 2011

#42 The Smell of Madness

The beginning is like from a different, better universe. Then, a theme so subtle and fast, it disappears into a plain scenery (0'56'') where everything will be built again. The music pushes and pushes, tension is so high (2'16'') and then it all breaks (4'00''). We can try to fix it but the final reassuring chords are like shutting white doors. Do you want to be in or out?

Don't take me wrong but my music world is not the world of Chopin, in the same sense as Karajan's Beethoven is not my Beethoven. This piano sonata is an exception. Maybe this is a spot I can touch Chopin. Maybe it's because of young Pogorelich, after all.

Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Work: Piano Sonata No 2, I. Grave – Doppio movimento
Recording: Ivo Pogorelich

Thursday, February 10, 2011

#41 The Smell of Wheels Turning

I have this recording for 13 years. Nothing really serious, a nice, pleasant piece of music before going to bed. Even at that full stop after the first third, you can feel the wheels are still turning, never expected to be stopped.

Waiting at the airport where everything is stopped, it helps me to survive.

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: String Sextet in A Major, III. Furiant
Recording: The Czech Philharmonic Sextet

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#40 The Smell of Homesick

What else to listen to, in a hotel room in an unknown city, unknown (i.e. east) coast? The song shoves you into its thrill, the verses are building upon each other, and each is so different. It takes you so high and then, there are just tears and memories...

The symbioses of voice and piano is perfect. They're waiting for each other, communicating. It's like one person singing and playing in the same time.

Composer: Leoš Janáček
Work: Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs, Muzikanti
Recording: Magdalena Kožená, Malcolm Martineau

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

#39 The Smell of Dancing Lessons

Electric guitars, saxophones and drums in a suite from an opera. And I smell my first dancing lessons. Crisscross of legs, babel of movements.

However, it's not an ordinary lesson. This one has a touch of David Lynch (listen at 0'12''). Like if you're one of the dancing dwarfs. A one time experience you don't want to go through again.

Composer: Michael Tippett
Work: Suite from New Year, V. Donny's Skarade
Recording: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox

Monday, February 7, 2011

#38 The Smell of Seduction

You're watching a snake. It waves, it hisses, it bemuses. You–bewildered–are starting to dance a slow intoxicant dance. Breathe with the music. Acquiesce in it. Drink it. Tired out, you give in.

What a suggestive piece of music! Gergiev takes it a little bit faster than usual but it just fits. It's a compact, solid, toxic message. The footsteps starting at 2'19'' are irreversible. A parasite that grows with you, in you. It has never enough, it never will. And you like it.

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich
Work: Symphony No 9, II. Moderato
Recording: Kirov Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

Sunday, February 6, 2011

#37 The Smell of Pride

A very proud symphony. Strong cello lines are noble and vehement, flutes are so urgent. Brasswind instruments sound imperiously, and together, it's a march that cannot be stopped.

And yet, the recording is so plain. Nothing fancy. Pretty fast, totally synchronous, with chamber-like touch. The timpani sound in the beginning is actually made by violas. And the final five chords, oh my–like if they're saying: this is not over, this is not my final word. Well played.

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: Symphony No 8, I. Allegro con brio
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Antal Dorati

Saturday, February 5, 2011

#36 The Smell of Stallion

Gallops. Frenetic turns, and there's only one direction: forward! A sprinter reaching out for victory. No shadows, no dark tones–pure pleasure. The sudden fortes are not scary, it's just funny yapping.

ORR/Gardiner recording is the finest one. Fast reading, full of joy, excellent sound. I still remember when I've heard it for the very first time. Delightful.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Symphony No 7, III. Presto – Assai meno presto
Recording: Orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique, John Eliot Gardiner

Friday, February 4, 2011

#35 The Smell of Aversion

This music is circling. Big, slow circles. It's hawking but it cannot attack what's in the center. The presence there is surprisingly silent, unbearable; there's no mockery.

A masterpiece. Don't listen to it if you're alone because this is a power play, a very dark one. We will never recognize who or what is in the center, it's beyond all understanding. We just dread.

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Work: Symphony No 6, III. Vivace
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

Thursday, February 3, 2011

#34 The Smell of Power

This Andante is a great opening of the symphony. Nothing but strings (except for the first violins) and clarinets conjure a depressive melody full of pauses and musings. It's starting up and backing out, bassoons are joining in but we need to wait to allegro–an obscure curly waltz in 6/8–to get the full orchestra sound.

And what a sound it is! Mravinsky delivers a shivering and sensual performance. I would not say it's about precise playing–there's something more. You know what the orchestra is capable of (well, not really until the last movement) and you know Mravinsky will not let it go yet. It's his smell.

Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: Symphony No 5, I. Andante–Alegro con anima
Recording: Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Evgeny Mravinsky

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

#33 The Smell of Reproach

The list of things that you should've done. One by one, each of them is claimed loud and clear. Apologies are futile, The Voice is prosecuting.

Szell keeps the monotony of the charges, tempo is "lebhaft" (lively) but also kind of slow, heavy. In the apology parts, listen how the melody goes up: It's not cheerful at all. The music inevitably knows its destiny.

Composer: Robert Schumann
Work: Symphony No 4, III. Scherzo: Lebhaft
Recording: The Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

#32 The Smell of Dark Side

Forget the fairy tales about Scotland. From the first chord, here's the Dark Side of The Force. Pushing, stretching, reaching out (3'59''). Maestoso starts at 6'58''. Darkness is defeated by a broad, positive flow of energy. The victory is absolute.

Peter Maag's recording is maagical. True legend.

Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Work: Symphony No 3, IV. Allegro vivacissimo–Allegro maestoso assai
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Peter Maag