Thursday, March 31, 2011

#90 The Smell of Thirst

Wait for the strings: there's something in the air–slow strain, infinite waiting, determined pulsation. Combine it with the voice: trembling, soft, thirsty, sad.

Ludwig is so convincing you need to yield to her. Her voice is captivating–this song should never end.

Composer: Gustav Mahler
Work: Rückert-Lieder, II. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft
Recording: Christa Ludwig, Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#89 The Smell of Curly Waves

From the whole album, this song fitted best my Amtrak way from Los Angeles to San Diego. Bright green grass with yellow flowers, small houses above cliffs, and indefinite calm ocean with irregular waves. I can smell the waves in the song, its rhytm is so floating, moving, and jumping–it's so curly.

Gefors is a Swedish composer living in Lund, the city I have a lot of memories of. Today, however, he and von Otter hit the mood of south California.

Composer: Hans Gefors
Work: Lydias sånger, V. Sfinxen
Recording: Anne Sofie von Otter, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#88 The Smell of Eternity

It's very easy to love Credo. The heavenly choir parts, the fight with eternal fires, the primitive and subtle and humble piano line, so clean and pure it goes to heaven in the finale.

Here Pärt reaches the same eternity Bach does: the shivering, the light, the magic touch of something not coming from this world. It is easy to love Credo: it's about love.

Composer: Arvo Pärt
Work: Credo
Recording: Hélène Grimaud, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Monday, March 28, 2011

#87 The Smell of Skelet

This is really just the skelet, no muscles, no fat. The symphony moves in the way it should move but there's nothing bold, no attack, no full body. The sound colors are magical, very raw, like if the primitive colors are not fully blended yet.

Grossmann's account is historical one: playing Eroica on period instruments, in the same place and with the same number of musicians as on its premiere in 1804. It's great to hear the music skeleton but the fortes are not the best ones and actually the whole dynamic range of Ensemble 28 is flat. With only eight violins, I'd expect their pianissimos to be mysterious.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Symphony No 3, III. Scherzo
Recording: Ensemble 28, Daniel Grossmann

Sunday, March 27, 2011

#86 The Smell of Butchery

I smell flesh here. Animal rhythms and sequences but the animals are dead. Not a lovely view but an interesting one. Shocking at first sight but one becomes dull soon.

Stanze is Berio's last composition. This movement–or room–is based on a poem by Alfred Brendel saying that the voice of God can be found in Tritsch-Tratsch Polka by Johann Strauss, Jr.

Composer: Luciano Berio
Work: Stanze, IV. Alfred Brendel
Recording: Dietrich Henschel, Orchestre de Paris, Christoph Eschenbach

Saturday, March 26, 2011

#85 The Smell of Answered Desires

It's amazing how true this concert is, how good it is in answering question, pleas and desires. The assuring piano line against the doubts in strings like at 4'15''... Positive, self-assured music. It knows exactly where it's going.

Bronfman and Salonen understand each other, and it's always a pleasure to hear them together. Salonen wrote his piano concerto at the end of his LAP tenure, and he would like to focus more on composing now. Good for him, good for us.

Composer: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Work: Piano Concerto, Movement II
Recording: Yefim Bronfman, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen

Friday, March 25, 2011

#84 The Smell of Industrial Love

It's love that smells of oil. Cold, abruptive, steel love, pervert but still love. Fractions are combined with fractions, there's no rush, very spatial feeling comes from the music.

This is a composition for Los Angeles and about Los Angeles. I can hardly find something better to listen to during my first day in L.A. Through the windows of rented Ford Edge, the city looks distant, inert. I need to come back.

Composer: John Adams
Work: City Noir, II. The Song Is For You
Recording: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel

Thursday, March 24, 2011

#83 The Smell of Fortress

Attack the fortress! And the warriors are attacking it. From all directions, they're moving forward, so it's encircled and beset. And the standard–violin, flapping in the wind. It's actually not the smell of fortress, it's the smell of all around it.

RLPO under Petrenko has wonderful, sharp sound. Hahn delivers full, assured performance. Higdon was born in 1962 and wrote this concerto for Hahn. She received the 2010 Pulitzer Price in Music for it.

Composer: Jennifer Higdon
Work: Violin concerto, III. Fly Forward
Recording: Hilary Hahn, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#82 The Smell of Shallowness

No surprises here and no words really needed. Neat Lehár's csárdás, seductive, wild, stretching.

Garanča's approach is unsurprising, too. The dark tones are not developed, she keeps it light, affective only in her high range. It just slides down, no marks left.

Composer: Franz Lehár
Work: The Gypsy Love, "Hör' ih Zymbalklänge"
Recording: Elīna Garanča, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, Karel Mark Chichon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#81 The Smell of Ball

Orchestra starts with pretending  a serious piece of music is coming. But the piano flows in feebly and soon there's a ball in a big ballroom with all the candelabras and stairways and people floating up and down.

Blechacz plays nobly, with an aristocratic tone. RCGO fits well to both position of full blood orchestra and chamber playing.

Composer: Frédérick Chopin
Work: Piano Concerto No 1, III. Rondo: Vivace
Recording: Rafał Blechacz, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Jerzy Semkow

Monday, March 21, 2011

#80 The Smell of Mystery

Bartók, that's not just sturdy peasant rhythms and folk songs. The first movement of his concerto for orchestra is a wonderful, complex, and mysterious erection. Here you can wander from room to room and they're all different. You don't want to go but you're dragged into the journey anyway. Here: too much sunshine. Here: too many recollections. More, more, keep going!

Dudamel accents the melancholy and irreversibility (but how ferocious he is later in the third movement!). LAP is on the hunt for beauty. Its rich sound is fetching and abstract at once. At the end of the movement, you should have tears in your eyes.

Composer: Béla Bartók
Work: Concerto for Orchestra, I. Introduction: Allegro non troppo
Recording: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel

Sunday, March 20, 2011

#79 The Smell of Vaunt

The voice is fulfilled with the happiness, pride, and vaunt from the very beginning. It is saying: This is mine! That's all because of me! You don't need to understand the text to smell it.

Von Otter gives it a little twist, a pinch of irony. At the end, it's nur zu verkünden, isn't it.

Composer: Franz Schubert
Work: Geheimes, D.719
Recording: Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg

Saturday, March 19, 2011

#78 The Smell of Unconcern

The clarinet is like an unconcerned man sitting on a park bench. He's looking around but is not really interested in anything. And if something–anything–happens, he can successfully pretend he's not there.

Nothing jazzy in Goodman's tone; tempo is slower than I would expected. Some phrasing is maybe not typical but that can be only my imagination.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: Clarinet Concerto, III. Rondo: Allegro
Recording: Benny Goodman, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch

Friday, March 18, 2011

#77 The Smell of Storm

These are dark, stormy times. Rainy sabbatical night. Hell. The music is dramatic and mischievous. Evil is rising. Farewell, Francesca.

Munch generates suspension, he's wild and unforgiving. Even in the middle calm section, he's the dark master.

Composer: Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: Francesca da Rimini
Recording: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#76 The Smell of Hunt

Listen carefully: The pianist has no time to breathe in this scherzo. There's always note after note, no respite, just gasping. Don't stop! They'll catch you, kill you, eat you.

The orchestra sounds at ease. The players know the pianist cannot run forever. They dance around him, slowing down a bit just because they know they can go faster if they want. And then, they're getting tired of the hide and seek. It is time: They kill him with one chord.

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Work: Piano Concerto No 2, II. Scherzo: Vivace
Recording: John Browning, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

#75 The Smell of Puppet Theater

This is the very first BSO recording ever, from October 1917. The sound is so cute, it's like looking through tilt-shift lens. Miniaturized players with their Lego instruments and animated movements.

Muck's drive is almost removed, there's little drama (some of it at 2'25'' or 2'53''). The real drama happened in the real life: Swiss citizen Muck was arrested as a German alien. Without any trial or charge, Muck was deported at the end of the war. The issued discs had his name removed from the label, and BSO went for French conductors (Henri Rabaud and Pierre Monteux).

Composer: Hector Berlioz
Work: The Damnation of Faust, Rákóczy March
Recording: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Karl Muck

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

#74 The Smell of Macaron

This music is tender like a macaron. One is scared it will be smashed, eaten, annihilated. It starts from nowhere and submerges to nowhere again, but its path goes heavenly high.

Young Ozawa puts a soft, glittering shell around the movement. Boston Symphony excels in tenderness and tonal color.

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Work: Symphony No 1, III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
Recording: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa

Monday, March 14, 2011

#73 The Smell of Separation

This is like four orchestras playing in sync. The sound is so separated you can follow just strings, or woodwinds, or brasswinds, or timpani. I wonder how that really sounded in 1946. Did Boston Symphony Hall shatter?

Koussevitzky delivers stormed, roaring performance. BSO is sound and clear. This is not Mravinsky's predacity, the means are different. The ends, however, are very similar.

Composer: Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: Symphony No 6, III. Allegro molto vivace
Recording: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky

Sunday, March 13, 2011

#72 The Smell of Class

This is classy composition and classy 1960 recording. There's drive and dignity and thrill and sadness and victory. The stress of first chords is literal, the intensity does not drop.

Munch goes for clarity, it's a very classical approach, no fruitless romantism. BSO keeps beautiful, balanced sound.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Prometheus Overture
Recording: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch

Saturday, March 12, 2011

#71 The Smell of Rush

Lively and brilliant strings are pushing on, and even in slower or soften moments (3'11'') you can feel how nervous they are. The essential rush is never ending: dance me tonight, dance me to the end of life!

Abbado loosens the reins and let's the music flow. LSO plays boldly and zestfully, there are no limits. A very warming recording.

Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Work: Symphony No 4, IV. Saltarello. Presto
Recording: London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Friday, March 11, 2011

#70 The Smell of Mockery

Kožená is definitely not your typical Carmen. But listen closely to the energy, how she's hissing out, listen to the broken smile. She's superior and you have no chance.

Minkowski sets fast tempo and keeps bright sound. In the finale, the music goes into a vortex. Carmen flies high with her last whoop, while we route to drowning.

Composer: Georges Bizet
Work: Carmen, "Les tringles des sistres tintaient"
Recording: Magdalena Kožená, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Marc Minkowski

Thursday, March 10, 2011

#69 The Smell of Dignity

Recordings of Dvořák's Carnival Overture are typically jolly and cheered up. This one is different. It coheres to structure, it keeps its reputation. No place for drunk festivity.

Szell is concentrated, entries are explosive, everything works, brasswinds climp up–and yet, no smile in the music. As if it's not a carnival at all. Why so serious?

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: Carnival Overture
Recording: The Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

#68 The Smell of Fun

This symphony is the standard of fun, the gem of pure laugh. It's a clown, pretending to be serious, falling to his own traps, it's Charlie Chaplin of symphonies.

Philharmonia is in full bloom, and Malko drives us unfailingly. Great attention to detail, stratified layout, perfect dynamics, superb playing, clean and wonderful stereo. Maybe it's only because I've found this recording recently but I'm amazed.

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Work: Symphony No 1
Recording: Philharmonia Orchestra, Nikolai Malko

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

#67 The Smell of Dialog

Behold a shortcut! All the well known melodies from Carmen packed into 14 minutes. But forget about Carmen, focus on the dialog between violin and orchestra. It's a delicate and complicated one, no doubt.

Josefowicz can hold both lines, passion and structure. She's gliding but never too much. The dialog is balanced.

Composer: Pablo de Sarasate
Work: Carmen Fantasy
Recording: Leila Josefowicz, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner

Monday, March 7, 2011

#66 The Smell of Private Event

Voices as the best instruments. They in your living room, nonchalantly sitting here and over there. And they're singing just for you, for your ears only. It's pretty conversational, natural.

Die Singphoniker bring chilling qualities. The way how they slow down, how they quiet down, how they bend the rhythm, how they anticipate–this is really unique.

Composer: Franz Schubert
Work: Jünglingswonne, D. 983
Recording: Die Singphoniker

Sunday, March 6, 2011

#65 The Smell of Supremacy

This is a proud, absolute claim: I have nothing to lose, death is here for everyone. The music supports the words, it's fatal and fatalistic. Even when Herman also cries, the music is aloof and predetermined.

Herman sings "today it's you, tomorrow it's me" but it's he who will kill himself in the next minute. There's a breakdown in the second verse, we feel how lonely Herman is, we feel cold (1'13''), and yet he stands up again, face up, as strong as never before.

Composer: Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: The Queen of Spades, "Chto nasha zhizn?"
Recording: Gegam Grigorian, Kirov Opera and Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

Saturday, March 5, 2011

#64 The Smell of Yes

What an agreeing, approving sound! In every tone, there's positive energy shining at listeners. It's not funny, it's not really joyful; it's just determined to radiate.

Immerseel is subtle and tender. Period instruments of Anima Eterna touch the chamber currents. It's a powerful recording without any obtrusive massiveness.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Symphony No 1, IV. Adagio
Recording: Anima Eterna, Jos van Immerseel

Friday, March 4, 2011

#63 The Smell of Persistence

The smell here is really importune. Pa-pa-pa-pam! Pa-pa-pa-pa-pam! It's coming from everywhere, it's attacking from all directions. Tirelessly, persistently, steadily.

At all, the movement sounds comprehensive and exhausting. If I were Schubert, I'd drop after the first movement. This sonata does not need two movements.

Composer: Franz Schubert
Work: Piano Sonata in C Major, D. 840, I. Moderato
Recording: Imogen Cooper

Thursday, March 3, 2011

#62 The Smell of Softness

One would say it's brisk, sharp music. But I smell a special softness in this recording. Round tones, lyricism. And with a modern touch, no rampant over-romanticizing.

Even in the most animated moments, it's not rigorous. Harnoncourt makes it breathe. This is C Major at its best.  

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: Slavonic Dances Op. 72, No 7
Recording: Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

#61 The Smell of Deliberation

Years ago, I skipped slow movements in symphonies. There was not enough thrill in them for me. Today I'm maybe thrilled in different ways. I'm fascinated with the simplicity of expressive means, with orchestration, with inner intensity.

But perhaps the greatest beauty of this C Major symphony is contained in the third movement, in Adagio of such a lyrical intensity that it stands alone among the slow movements of its time, said young Bernstein about the movement. In this 1953 recording, there's no fear of misunderstanding. Pure music.

Composer: Robert Schumann
Work: Symphony No 2, III. Adagio espressivo
Recording: New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

#60 The Smell of ADD

It's a jagged piece of music for two violins. Imagine these two violins as one voice, one person, fragmentary, absent-minded. Obsessively exploring what's happening around, not able to focus, not willing to pay attention.

There's no absolution. The music is here to be accepted. Will you be able to make sense of it, will you be able to follow both lines?

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Work: Sonata for two violins, II. Allegro
Recording: Veronika Jarůšková, Eva Karová