Saturday, April 30, 2011

#120 The Smell of Walking with Child

Child goes first: happy, jumping, running forward, turning, acting like a soldier, like a fairy, like a lion tamer. You're walking with a hero, trying to understand where the energy and fantasy comes from.

Mullova plays boldly, accenting the dancing rhythm. The sound harmony between her and the orchestra is exemplary.

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Work: Violin Concerto No 2, III. Allegro, ben marcato
Recording: Viktoria Mullova, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, André Previn

Friday, April 29, 2011

#119 The Smell of Dominance

Figaro, pretending he's obliging and ready to please, shows his prevalence here. It's an accepted challenge: Oh, you would like to dance (read: sleep with my wife)? My pleasure! But be prepared, my dear, because I'm the cat and you're the mouse in this game.

D'Arcangelo is a great Figaro (and Leporello). He's combining satire and menace into an amusing mix. All for fun!

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: The Marriage of Figaro, "Se vuol ballare, signor Contino"
Recording: Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Thursday, April 28, 2011

#118 The Smell of Cats

Elegant, silent, soft. You want to dance into the music. There's no fight, it just wins from the first tone. Lean, blue, seductive. Purring. Claws.

Klee and music is a wonderful combination. And Dorati serves the jazzy music well; he and the Minneapolis orchestra also premiered the composition. If you're not familiar with Klee's works, now is the time.

Composer: Gunther Schuller
Work: Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, III. Little Blue Devil
Recording: Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, Antal Dorati.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#117 The Smell of Figure Skating

One leg, the other. Slow, elegant movements. Turn around, skate backward. Jump! Another! And two more! This piece of music is so instructional, you can rewrite every bar to skating terminology: spin here, toe jump there, speed up, extend arms.

Lewis is kind of strict, lathe-like. Merely dancing, more constructing. Maybe geometry is the word.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Piano Sonata No 10, III. Scherzo: Allegro assai
Recording: Paul Lewis

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#116 The Smell of Tempest

Tempest itself, that would be too simple. Here's the full game plan, board finely being built for the match. Even the peaceful intermezzo is well structured, some higher plans on mind. And then–the rage: everything works, all figures move at once. Attack, attack! The air is clear.

Martinů wrote this piece for Firkušný, what better recommendation would you get? He is a master of the keyboard.

Composer: Bohuslav Martinů
Work: Fantasy and Toccata, II. Toccata
Recording: Rudolf Firkušný

Monday, April 25, 2011

#115 The Smell of Falling

It starts in very airy mood, like a dragonfly above a lake. But the main theme exposes our mistake: It's not a flight, it's a free fall. Yes, there's wind dragging us away but inevitably we're still falling down.

Helfgott is trying to hide here. I don't know what he's trying to say, it's too organic, too compact. There are some inclinations to happiness, to flying. Stop analyzing it–Helfgott is preluding, after all.

Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Work: Prelude No 12, Op. 32
Recording: David Helfgott

Sunday, April 24, 2011

#114 The Smell of Everlasting Sleep

There's no hope in the music, no hope in the words. Painful, victimizing love. In this aria, Federico invokes  peaceful sleep but he wants to be punished, he wants to suffer. The only imaginable sleep would be death.

Alagna has a strong voice, sometimes too strong for me, so I've tried to find something soft in his 1995 recital. His voice is sad and beautiful, his passion is self-consuming. You don't need to know the whole opera to guess he'll kill himself soon.

Composer: Francesco Cilea
Work: L'Arlesiana, "Ela solita storia del pastore..."
Recording: Roberto Alagna, The London Philharmonic, Richard Armstrong

Saturday, April 23, 2011

#113 The Smell of England

Rejoice, O English hearts, rejoice! What's more English than Britten's Spring Symphony? Both layered and simple, gentle and noble.

When Robbin joins Ainsley at 1'11'', the words are like the olympic flame. And then the growing and the explosion at 1'35''... for this grass should be ever green. And so, my friends, I cease.

Composer: Benjamin Britten
Work: Spring Symphony, Part IV Finale: "London, to thee I do present"
Recording: Alison Hagley, Catherine Robbin, John Mark Ainsley, The Boy and Girl Choristers of Salisbury Cathedral, The Monteverdi Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner

Friday, April 22, 2011

#112 The Smell of Stasis

Take in your breath (as in the recording) and hold it. There are only four instruments in this movement. First and second violins are responsible for the indifferent wheel of noise. Principal violin plays protracted sad and craving tune that's muted by viola, hung in the space, not going anywhere, just repeating its two knocks in every bar.  These two notes are not evil, just completely detached and timeless.

Beyer and Gli Incogniti go crude here. There are really only four instruments, no real orchestra. In many other recordings, viola part is buried under the mass of violins, resulting in nice and boring music. However, Vivaldi wanted viola to be played very strong and ripped (molto forte e strappato), like a crying dog. Paralyzing.

Composer: Antonio Vivaldi
Work: Violin Concerto No 1, II. Largo
Recording: Amandine Beyer, Gli Incogniti

Thursday, April 21, 2011

#111 The Smell of Romantic Love

The two voices, piano and violin, are so bedazzled here, so in love. They are walking together, holding hands, complementing sentences. Opiate infatuation of the first weeks.

The sound is soft and rounded. No thorns, even the rise at 5'14'' is so amorous. At the end, the music tells us: go, leave the lovers alone.

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Work: Violin Sonata No 5, II. Adagio molto espressivo
Recording: Oleg Kagaan, Sviatoslav Richter

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#110 The Smell of Cutting

I smell meat and a sharp knife. With every note, there comes a cut: a short one, a robust one, a shallow one,  a bold one. In higher tones, it's more piercing. The whole cycle is only seven minutes long.

I smell Vermont-like melancholy. Is the end of winter really spring? Or is there something in-between, something like void and knife? Frazin's music does not give answers (actually there is an inkling of peace at 0'34''). All attempts (like the one at 1'08'') end in hollowness again and again.

Composer: Howard Frazin
Work: Music For The End Of Winter, 5. Music For The End Of Winter
Recording: Kate Boyd

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

#109 The Smell of Evil

There's no intention to be nice: it's supposed to be pagan, brusque. But this recording goes further. It's not devastating in the sound volume but it's so cold, mean, and bitchy.

Philharmonia Orchestra is bloodthirsty but the veins are empty. Pure rage is yet controlled by Markevich. Spring? Chilliness peeps through.

Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Work: The Rite of Spring, I. Adoration of the Earth
Recording: Philharmonia Orchestra, Igor Markevich (1959)

Monday, April 18, 2011

#108 The Smell of Pouring

It's easy to talk about folksy settings and square dances. What else do you want to smell here? I smell reunion in progress–small streams in a forrest, coming together, forming something bigger, of a higher call. They unite and continue in their way down, gurgling: smiling, sunny, festive.

You need to say Bernstein when you say Copland. A wonderful account, hearty and hilarious. Spring's in the air.

Composer: Aaron Copland
Work: Appalachian Spring Suite, 4. Fast
Recording: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein

Sunday, April 17, 2011

#107 The Smell of Oppression

There's a great strength pushing from the very first moment. These confirmatory chords at 0'11'', the prance at 0'20'', the shift at 0'26'', the punches starting from 0'34''. The hidden stress afterwards, leading to Allegro molto vivace at 2'10''. Here's dreadful oppression, tension of forces. Listen how it comes back at 7'25''.

Gardiner is an apostle of such strains. His reading of the symphony allows it to grow within you, for you to reach, to understand your limits. Spring walk with me.

Composer: Robert Schumann
Work: Symphony No 1, I. Andante un poco maestoso
Recording: Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, John Eliot Gardiner

Saturday, April 16, 2011

#106 The Smell of Sunrise

This piece is charged with positive energy. Everything goes up, everything grows and shines. Truly a magical world. Moreover, it's wonderfully recorded, so you can really follow different musical flows and be astonished how they intertwist and merge together.

This recording is from 1972 but there's still a touch of young Bernstein: swift tempos, fire, spontaneity. Is it even possible that strings can smile like that?

Composer: Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: Nutcracker Suite, 1. Miniature Overture
Recording: New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein

Friday, April 15, 2011

#105 The Smell of Hypnosis

Time is moving. Bemused, dreamy, circular ticking. Haze is disappearing (1'58'') and the main message grows stronger and denser (5'20''). There's no finale: The way is not over.

Originally scored for organ, this is a version for 14 string players and percussion–not so phlegmatic but yet airy and very spinal. A fine work.

Composer: Arvo Pärt
Work: Mein Weg
Recording: Talinn Chamber Orchestra, Tonu Kaljuste

Thursday, April 14, 2011

#104 The Smell of Dead Child

From the very first moment, here comes an irreversible tragedy of splendid power. The total passing of father and son, non-acceptance turned to non-existence. Primary narrative, sonorous, deafening.

Anne Sofie von Otter is magnificent in four different roles. She augments the predestination: The winner is known.

Composer: Franz Schubert, arr. Hector Berlioz
Work: Erlkönig
Recording: Anne Sofie von Otter, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Claudio Abbado

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#103 The Smell of Contemplation

Quiet, rest. This piece of music wants nothing more. It's a funeral music but it's not sad music. It's healing, reuniting. Touching.

This 1974 recording is from The Otto Klemperer Memorial Concert in London. Kubelík keeps very slow tempo, so you can feel how the music is interlaced. The intervals in the beginning are dazing.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: Masonic Funeral Music
Recording: New Philharmonia Orchestra, Rafael Kubelík

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#102 The Smell of Double Attack

It is not resting; attacking from two sides and on two levels: with a permanent high blatant voice and with a nervous detonative strong exclamations. They want something, they're bothersome, anxious, and–in a sense–calculated, mathematical. The end is so frustrating: an unfinished story, an accusation sublimed into nothing.

Yuja Wang is a true virtuoso here. She plays casually as it's not a big deal to be precise and fast. The composition is all along over and the smell is still staying in the head.

Composer: György Ligeti
Work: Étude No 4
Recording: Yuja Wang

Monday, April 11, 2011

#101 The Smell of Cheating

It starts like a game: The music invites you and eludes. It's sweet and allure but it tugs away at the last moment. This is cheating, false pretending: I don't know you, go away! Here's the art of musical seduction–are you game?

The quartet was premiered in Boston and I got the CD from Boston. But it was tough to make it to the special Boston Week and Pavel Haas Quartet fell short. Maybe it's their first failure ever.

Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Work: String Quartet No 13, I. Allegro moderato
Recording: Pavel Haas Quartet

Sunday, April 10, 2011

#100 The Smell of Show

Opulent feast! The birds are chittering, and then the big monumental wheels are starting to turn: It's show time. Circus performers, acrobats, stilts, miracles and marvels.

You need to admire Ančerl how clean, structural and picturesque sound he can squeeze out of CPO. No noise, concentration, attention to detail. Clever.

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich
Work: Symphony No 5, II. Scherzo: Allegretto
Recording: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Karel Ančerl

Saturday, April 9, 2011

#99 The Smell of Prudence

This piece of music is not in a hurry. Even when you'd expect it to get faster, to start act the fool, it's still prudent, judicious, broad, playing on its own terms.

PSO shines in strings, especially cellos and double basses have very vidid color with wonderful dark shadows. Right now I'm desiring to taste Bělohlávek's approach (much faster than this one) and compare him to Netopil (his pupil). Voracity, thy name is music.

Composer: Josef Suk
Work: Symphony in E Major, IV. Allegro
Recording: Prague Symphony Orchestra, Tomáš Netopil

Friday, April 8, 2011

#98 The Smell of Deceit

The soprano part in this symphony is normally sung by a woman. However, it tries to cover the deceit, the falsehood of the finale: These are heavenly lies, only children can believe them. If you listen to the symphony from the beginning, if you succumb to it, you realize the irony here.

This text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn should be sung by ein Knabe, a boy. It hits the chord of
naïveté: it's a childish ditty, nothing more. The adults are smiling knowingly and whispering to each other: lovely, lovely.

Composer: Gustav Mahler
Work: Symphony No 4, IV. Sehr behaglich
Recording: Helmut Wittek, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein

Thursday, April 7, 2011

#97 The Smell of Constraint

Here's the original overture to Jenůfa, discarded before its premiere. It's not a happy piece of music, all the menacing fanfares and nervous changes...

Mackerras is the Janáček's conductor, and despite the overture name, he's able to keep it soft, somehow lyrical, with bad ass prickles and thorns.

Composer: Leoš Janáček
Work: Jealousy
Recording: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Mackerras

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#96 The Smell of Knowing Better

Do you smell it? Leporello's predominance, his advantage? How safe he feels he is, how confident? And the music is totally clear: it's a game, it's a twiddling: randy cat and half-dead mouse.

The period instruments of EBS give the aria rough edges; it's wild, not so rounded. Donna Elvira should have known better.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: Don Giovanni, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo"
Recording: Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

#95 The Smell of Sadness

Silent grief: all dead, all dead. Gone are flowers, gone is love. Decent lamentations.

Netrebko keeps the serene way. She's not exalted, yo can smell the resigned sadness in her voice. It's not but it should be raining outside.

Composer: Vincenzo Bellini
Work: La sonnambula, "Ah! Non credea mirarti"
Recording: Anna Netrebko, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Monday, April 4, 2011

#94 The Smell of Fug

This is smell, literally. I smell fug, age, marasmus. It breathes with leather-bags: asthmatic, noisy panting. And in the same time, it goes high, very high. Or actually, it does not go: it's already there.

This recording is, above all, a recording by Monteverdi Choir. Utterly clear, pregnant sound, clean pronunciation. Together with unrivaled EBS, it's a masterpiece no one can match.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Work: Requiem, I. Introitus: Requiem
Recording: Barbara Bonney, Anne Sofie von Otter, Hans Peter Blochwitz, Willard White, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

Sunday, April 3, 2011

#93 The Smell of Ice Window

You're looking through a window pane. The landscape is lateral and before you're able to fully perceive it, the pane gets it own artwork. Ice is drawing complicated surreal shapes, you're trapped in them, trying to catch the glimpse of the real world–but what is real?

Wang is the one who can draw these shapes, precisely and with ease. It's a magical world we have a privilege to touch.

Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Work: Piano Concerto No 2, III. Allegro scherzando
Recording: Yuja Wang, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

Saturday, April 2, 2011

#92 The Smell of Reaching Out

These are strong musical waves and a great example of  big architecture. The forces are in motion and one does need to dance high to keep up with them.

Berman does not try to shine, he's not pushing the romantic line. His account is both bold and subtle–and very compact; the same goes for BPO. The evil essence Karajan is able to extract from the orchestral playing at 2'17'' or at 6'16'' is blood-stopping.

Composer: Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Work: Piano concerto No 1, I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso
Recording: Lazar Berman, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan

Friday, April 1, 2011

#91 The Smell of Pischinger

This might be a small opera (no overture!) but it's a real gem. Strong, solid harmonies, unorthodox use of counterpoint, demanding voice parts.

Here's a Greek drama in wagnerian settings. The Manager rules unfailingly in his grocery store but he's also a lyrical bloke (3'21''). Minor problems are always quickly resolved but the real tragedy comes at 6'35'': pischinger was stolen and bonuses are in danger.

Composer: Jaromír Vomáčka
Work: Samoobsluha
Recording: Milan Karpíšek, Settleři, Kvartet Inkognito, Jiří Štuchal