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Michael S

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Everything posted by Michael S

  1. Good choices. Among Stravinsky's ballets, I'm only familiar with The Rite of Spring and The Firebird (granted, those are his most popular ballets). I should do a Nielsen symphony cycle. I've only listened to his symphonies in a somewhat haphazard fashion, and not in chronological order. Plus, it's been quite some time since I've listened to any of them. Thanks for the reminder about that podcast. I've just downloaded it and will try to listen to it tonight or tomorrow.
  2. I love the 7th, and it's interesting to think, well, what is it really? A symphony? A symphonic fantasy? A suite? A tone poem? Depending on how loosely we think about form, perhaps we could give it any one of these titles, or maybe it's something else entirely (though in the end it's a symphony to my ears). And then whenever I listen to it I realize, ah, the important thing is that the music is really great, thankfully. The first third or so is very beautiful, and then the music becomes darker and more thrilling, and it concludes with a rousing end -- the pounding timpani signaling the end of the symphony and the end of Sibelius' symphonies. Now that you've been through all of Sibelius' symphonies, Andrew, what's next? Perhaps Nielsen's symphony cycle? Haydn (there are more than 100!)? Mahler, if you haven't gone through all 9 of his? Just curious. Doing surveys of any given composer's work can be a lot of fun.
  3. Andrew, it's nice to see you moving right along through Sibelius' symphonies. Only one more to go! Regarding the Fourth, it really is a unique piece. The second movement, marked allegro molto vivace, doesn't really seem molto vivace to me; similarly, the fourth movement, marked allegro, seems less propulsive than a real allegro, and even some of its sunnier moments feel relatively subdued. Of all the movements, I find the third, a largo, least successful (though I love how it ends so quietly!) -- if you compare it to, say, the slow movement of Shostakovich's Seventh, you can tell how much better Shostakovich was at symphonic writing. (Of course, these are two very different symphonies, and Sibelius was a fantastic composer, but there's great and then there's really great.) I agree that the string writing in the first movement is wonderful, and I love the mood shifts: from a somber beginning to a more enlightened tenor. There's also great horn writing in that first movement. To me, Sibelius' Fourth is unique in his oeuvre -- and, to draw another comparison to Shostakovich -- I feel somewhat similarly about Shostakovich's Fourth and its place in his own symphony cycle. I still need to get back to Sibelius' Third and give it another listen. I should revisit the Sixth and Seventh too.
  4. Just posted my write-up on Blade Runner. I went even longer on this one than usual -- writing or discussing Blade Runner is always a labor of love for me.
  5. Interesting impressions of the symphony, Andrew. I'll try to revisit it again soon and will reply later with my thoughts. In the meantime, here's something I just found online: a performance of Sibelius' Second by Paavo Jarvi and the NHK Orchestra from Japan. I've not watched the video yet, but I recall seeing the NHK play Brahms live at Walt Disney Hall years ago. They were impressive. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/3004599/
  6. Just posted my appreciation of In a Lonely Place (I compared the film to some others and focused more on Ray's depiction of violence than I had expected, but I think the violence (and its consequences) is the real point of the film anyway). By the way, Ken and everyone else: while writing, I noticed that the "preview" option isn't working correctly -- clicking on the preview button opens up a new page, but the main text box where you write your blurb shows up blank. Hitting the X in the upper-right corner of the text box brought me back to the main writing/edit page without losing anything, thankfully. Just a heads up if you write directly in the text box, instead of pasting everything from a word processor.
  7. Andrew, I need to go back and listen to his cello concerti, as I've not heard them in a very long time. It'll be interesting to find out if I have a similar emotional response. I know that urban commuters are often in a hurry, but if I heard someone playing Bach like that in a train station, even if I didn't know who it was, I'd certainly stop and listen for a while.
  8. I'll have my piece on In a Lonely Place up sometime tomorrow, followed a few days after that by my piece on Blade Runner.
  9. Andrew, that beautiful impromptu is the first track on his Sibelius album. Yeah, Sibelius' violin concerto is a real marvel. I'm glad that composers got away from the long-standing tradition of having a long orchestral exposition before the solo violin appears. Mendelssohn might have been the first, or among the first, of the major Romantic composers to do this (not that I necessarily mind a long exposition -- but I appreciate the evolution of the form). I can't recall if I mentioned this before, but Shostakovich's first v.c. is my favorite over all, and there are just a few measures (mostly the basses playing) before the violin enters. Britten's v.c. has a slightly longer exposition before the solo part begins, but it's still very short. I agree with you about the third movement in Sibelius' concerto; it's quite something. I've seen a few videos of Bell performing and like the fact that he moves on stage -- nothing worse than a performer who stands as still as a Roman statue (though, there are some performers who gesticulate way too much). Here's Bell playing Bach at a D.C. subway station ... it takes a while, but someone finally recognizes him.
  10. Ken, I'll do a write-up on Blade Runner, after I finish my piece on In a Lonely Place.
  11. Andrew, your survey of Sibelius' symphonies is inspiring me to listen to them again, particularly those symphonies, like the 2nd, that I haven't heard in quite some time. I had the 2nd playing a few nights ago while I was reading -- not really fair to Sibelius and not the most engaged way to listen, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In your analysis of the 1st symphony, you alluded to Beethoven, and I can hear strains of his influence in the opening of the 2nd symphony's first movement. Everything becomes a bit heavy-handed as the movement develops (especially around 6 minutes or so, depending on which recording you're listening to) -- but I mean that as a description, not a criticism. And I love how the fourth movement ends. When you finish up with all of his symphonies, you might check out a wonderful recording by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes -- it's simply titled "Sibelius." Two dozen selections from Sibelius' compositions for solo piano, most of which are rarely recorded and performed. It's a great album.
  12. I did. Thanks. I'll get started on it soon.
  13. Yeah, that trailer is either working hard to sell the film (sensuality!) or the people behind it thought, "audiences might not understand this movie, so we'll just tell 'em what it's all about." I honestly wish that studios would just stop making trailers. Too many of them are misleading -- the worst example of this I've seen so far is the trailer for Wong's In the Mood for Love. It actually presents the film as a happy love story.
  14. Just posted my write-up on L'Avventura. Ken, which films still need a writer? I can't guarantee I'd have time for more, but I thought it'd be work asking.
  15. This really is a great top 25. Kudos to all of you.
  16. I love Moby-Dick, even though I've ready it only once, many years ago as an undergraduate. I took an upper-division literature course on the American Renaissance and was fortunate to have a professor who was very incisive and, also, a generous guide as I and my classmates made our way (and struggled some) through the book. Since then, whenever someone asks me what Moby-Dick is about, I always say, "well, I can tell you it's not really about a whale ..."
  17. All of the above, indeed! I forget off-hand which movement it is, but there's a section in which the harp gets its moments of glory ... or its 15 minutes of fame ... and it's really enjoyable to hear. And Sibelius really proved how skilled he was at orchestration in his very first symphony. I don't know if the Berglund/Bournemouth cycle is still in print (if you happen to buy CDs still, as opposed to downloading digital files), but it's definitely worth listening to or even obtaining if it's at a good price. For a long time, Sibelius' violin concerto was my favorite in the repertoire ... until I heard Shostakovich's 1st v.c., and that instantly became my #1.
  18. Michael S

    Organ Music

    Evan, thanks very much for this primer on organ music! I'm going to bookmark the links you posted and go through them in due time. I hadn't heard of Vierne before, and you're right about Mendelssohn: I went through an extended phase years ago listening to his music, and I had no idea he wrote organ sonatas. I look forward to listening to them, along with everything you posted.
  19. Really nice post on Sibelius, Andrew. I like a lot of his music, but I've never taken the time to learn much about his life -- so I find what you wrote to be really interesting. I do know that there is a nationalist/patriotic spirit in his music, but I wasn't aware of much else, including the fact that he didn't compose for the last 30 years of his life. It seems like he was very troubled. Very keen impressions of his first symphony. Yeah, I agree that the fourth movement is the best part of the symphony; it has so much character, it's dynamic, and the ending, as you point out, is nice. Not a bang, but a nice whimper from the strings. Portions of the movement sound heavily Romanticized to my ears -- a good indication that Sibelius was influenced by the high Romantic composers. I can hear a little Brahms in the opening and the early parts of the first movement (which, by the way, has some great melodies). I can't remember exactly when I first heard this symphony -- it was definitely decades ago, though, in a recording by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, coupled with Finlandia. A few years ago, I got the symphony cycle by Paavo Berglund and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at a good price when Amazon had it on sale. It's really solid (plus it includes four of Sibelius' tone poems). When it comes to classical music by Scandinavian composers (among others), you can't go wrong with Paavo Jarvi, or his father, Neeme Jarvi. Looking forward to your thoughts on the other symphonies. Also, if you've not heard it yet, I recommend Sibelius' violin concerto. It's part of the main violin repertoire for very good reasons.
  20. Michael S

    Classical Music

    Exactly! Even when I think, "haven't I head more than enough Beethoven?" I then realize, wait, he wrote string trios, piano trios, string quintets, an opera, and more -- none of which I've taken the time to listen to. And then there are contemporary composers who continually come out with new music, not to mention "overlooked" composers in other parts of the world whose music hasn't been picked up by Western orchestras or is only gradually beginning to take notice here. Classical music really is boundless. One of labels that's really great at issuing recordings of lesser known composers and works is Naxos. I'm often surprised by what I can find in their catalogue.
  21. Michael S

    Classical Music

    Evan, I'd like to hear more organ music. Aside from some of the organ music that Bach wrote, I've never heard much else written for that instrument. So it'd be a nice learning experience. I've probably heard more Penderecki than I'm aware of, given that his music has appeared in a variety of films, but I never recognized the music or sought out who composed it. But I do have a recording of the violin concerto he composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter in the 1990s (a piece called "Metamorphosen"), and I've enjoyed it for a long time, even though I don't listen to it often. He's a composer I feel I should know more about -- so I'll check out his Hiroshima piece and the St. Luke Passion.
  22. Michael S

    Classical Music

    I sometimes feel the same way about Lutoslawski's music ( that grating feeling, as you mentioned), but I like his symphonies. For what it's worth, Salonen and the L.A. Phil recorded all four for Sony Classical, available in a single set, if you're ever interested in hearing good performances of them. I'll have to keep an eye out for Wilson's oral history of Rostropovich -- he's definitely a musicians who's life I'd love to know more about. Definitely report back whenever you can, re: Sibelius. I'm interested in hearing your take on his symphonies!
  23. Just a few thoughts in response to Beth's post (I've not seen the film, by the way). I've really tried, several times each, to get through Tartt's novels, and I've not succeeded. She's gifted, has imagination, and is skilled at setting the milieu in each of her books, but her prose is too stilted/self-conscious for my tastes. Beth, I'm with you on Catton's The Luminaries. Never cared for it much. By the way, it's been adapted into a TV miniseries in New Zealand. Not sure if it's available in the U.S. or other countries yet. I might eventually watch it if one of the streaming services in the U.S. picks it up.
  24. Michael S

    Classical Music

    Andrew, I listened to Dutilleux's Cello Concerto (the one you linked to) and enjoyed it so much that I bought a recording of it -- and not simply any recording, but Rostropovich's original studio recording of the work, which, by the way, Dutilleux had written for him specifically. Rostropovich was also the recipient of Witold Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto, featured on the same recording. I did a little searching before plunking down my cash and learned that Warner Classics reissued the album in 2017 with an additional cello concerto, one by French composer Andre Jolivet. So that's the one I bought. It's great. Thanks for the recommendation.
  25. Michael S

    Classical Music

    Evan, thanks for the clarification, re: Debussy. I hadn't realized the two were the same. Also, as Andrew mentioned, by all means shamelessly plug away! I admire anyone who can play an instrument (especially one like the organ), and I really enjoyed your performance. I grew up playing electric guitar, but, aside from copying a bunch of Van Halen's riffs and solos, I didn't get too far with the instrument. Andrew, something about me that relates in a way to your thoughts about contemporary music: for many years, I never listened to any composers who lived after the Romantic era (I just stuck with the big guys from Bach through Brahms). A Mahler symphony, for example, seemed overly dynamic and too cacophonous and just too anxiety inducing. Then, for reasons I can't explain, my tastes changed as I got older. Now, I deeply appreciate Mahler's work, Shostakovich's, Bartok's, etc., and the only Baroque music I can tolerate now is solo music, such as Bach's French Suites (and only on modern piano). With a few exceptions (such as Mozart's late piano concertos), I just don't have the taste anymore for Classical era music, whether it's Mozart, Haydn, or the like. In other words, I can see what you're saying about an "aural apparatus" or tastes. (Thanks for the Dutilleux link, by the way.) With recordings, I'm sort of like (if this analogy works) the baseball fan who loves sabermetrics and enjoys comparing different teams and how they work, and so with certain pieces of classical music, I'll seek out other recordings to hear how others might interpret something. Having said that, I always say the most important thing is to just listen to what I enjoy and not necessarily think or even worry about other renditions all the time. I do like your tastes. As good as Yo-Yo Ma is, I'd take Rostropovich over him any day, and I love Ashkenazy's piano playing -- his recordings of the two Brahms piano concertos (with Bernard Haitink) introduced me to those works, while his early recordings in the 60s of pieces by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev are wonderful.
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