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BOOM'S DUNGEON
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If I were granted only one wish before I die, I would ask to meet the fucking retard(s) responsible for this CD booklet, so as to find out

(1)  which "unforgettable concert" I am supposed to feel present at when listening to this recording, and

(2) which "great occasion" is preserved on a recording spliced from segments taped at muliptle concerts.


1 year ago | |
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Never thought I could enjoy a few minutes of a Paganini concerto so much (and laugh so hard along the way)!



The man in the video is Nicola-Frank Vachon, a French Canadian actor and photographer


1 year ago | |
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Recently I had to do several hours worth of mind-numbing paperwork.  I didn't want to do it in complete silence, but neither did I want to play music interesting enough to undermine my resolve to get through the necessary drudgery.  Which is why I settled on Bruckner.  I figured Buckner's relentlessly diatonic structures, bloated by stupefying repetitiveness (passing for development), would relieve my angst by proving that music can be as boring as the work I had to do.  And since all but two Bruckner recordings in my collection are conducted by Furtwangler, I ended up listening to Furtwangler's take on  five Bruckner symphonies.

It all worked out very well with regards to Bruckner (though, admittedly, not much better than if I were to play Philip Glass' music at a fraction of the normal speed).  But not with regards to Furtwangler and his famous orchestras.  Since I wasn't listening to music as such (once you've heard the movement's opening triad, you've heard pretty much everything Bruckner has to offer for the next 20 minutes or so, with the laendler-derived second theme being as certain as death and taxes), most of what registered in my mind was the orchestral playing.  And this time I was struck by just how ugly the orchestral playing was, primarily from the brass and the woodwinds.  Almost every chorale episode - so crucial to Bruckner's organ-based conception of orchestral sonorities - was badly marred by sour intonation and lack of cohesion (in addition to numerous mangled solo passages from the French horn.)  And too often the strings and the brass/woodwinds could not play together, despite the primitive level of complexity of the music involved. Whether the orchestra under Furtwangler's baton was the vaunted Berlin Philharmonic or the hyped Vienna Philharmonic, the amount of atrocious ensemble playing pouring from my speakers seemed to be roughly the same.

Given the exalted reputation of this conductor and the two orchestras, the natural question to ask is: What the fuck?  Here are some possible excuses I find unconvincing:

1.  Furtwangler's beat was notoriously ambiguous (because he felt that this kind of beat was necessary to produce flowing, organically shaped musical lines.)
     Well, these two orchestras had about 20 years to get used to this beat, and they still played worse in the above recordings than the supposedly inferior La Scala orchestra, which Furtwangler guest-conducted in the 1950 live recording of Wagner's Ring.  (In fact, the even more inferior orchestra of the Italian Radio in Rome somehow managed to be more consistent under Furtwangler's direction in matters of intonation and ensemble.)

2.  The playing of these two orchestras under Furtwangler was affected by the ravages of war.
     So was the playing of the English orchestras.  Yet when Toscanini guest-conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Brahms symphonies - only a year after Furtwangler's cringe-inducing amateurish performances of Bruckner's 4th (Vienna PO) and 7th (Berlin PO) in Stuttgart and Cairo respectively - the Philharmonia's playing was vastly superior.

3.  Even great orchestras can have an off night.
     True.  But not this often and in the music they had been playing for decades under the same conductor.  And anyway, a great orchestra is not one which occasionally plays with superlative instrumental craft.  It is one which consistently plays with security and tonal refinement.  Taking these live Bruckner recordings (and quite a few other live recordings of Furtwangler) as random samples from a decade of performances (1942 - 1951), consistency of instrumental craft is certainly not something one would expect from these two orchestras.  (Heard against countless live recordings of Toscanini's NBC Orchestra from the same decade, the Berlin and Vienna orchestras often sound as a bunch of inspired, badly under-rehearsed amateurs.)

I am not surprised that Furtwangler put up with this kind of inconsistent orchestral execution.  As with his good friends Alfred Cortot and Edwin Fischer, Furtwangler's music-making was all about the deep concepts, the big line, the metaphysical grandeur in the music he conducted.  To these musicians, matters of pure technique seem to have been of marginal importance at best.  Which is why I am inclined to hold Furtwangler responsible, at least in part, for the abominable technical lapses I hear in many of his performances.
     But I think the principal reason for such poor orchestral playing is that the two orchestras in question were simply not good, at least at the time when they were playing for Furtwangler.  And I think Furtwangler was aware of this.  I vaguely recall that he once gave a speech at some jubilee celebration of the Vienna orchestra, in which he claimed defensively that American orchestras, although superior in matters of instrumental craft, cannot produce music with the the emotional (spiritual? metaphysical? or some other Schopenhauerian) quality of the Vienna orchestra.
     Oh well...  If sour intonation, poor ensemble, and hollow fortes are signs of spiritual music-making, then who needs the Vienna Philharmonic?  Furtwangler could have gotten this kind of music-making from any semi-professional regional American orchestra.



1 year ago | |
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What better way to mark Elliott Carter's birthday today than to add a few live recordings of his music to this blog's slowly growing Carter collection? 
  
First, there is Carter's dreamy and poetic Boston Concerto, performed in 2008 by Oliver Knussen and the BBC SO.  My old copy of this performance came from a very dynamically compressed FM broadcast.  The present copy (sent to me by an online friend in U.K.)  comes from a gloriously uncompressed BBC HD webstream (320 kbs AAC).  On first hearing, it sounded like a completely different piece, not so much because of a much more refined sound quality, but because the dynamic range of the actual performance conveyed by the BBC HD stream is 9.0 db (!) wider than my old FM broadcast.  (6.0 db already amounts to doubling the loudness difference between the loudest and the quietest parts.)
 
Then there is my first recording of Carter's charming 9-minute long Concertino for Bass Clarinet and Ensemble (2009).  The performance was the US Premiere of the piece, given on June 18, 2009 by Virgil Blackwell and the Orchestra of the League of Composers at Columbia University's Miller Theater.  The sound quality is on a mediocre side (it was extracted from HD video), primarily because of its rather distant perspective, which does not convey the interplay among instrumental sections with as much immediacy as Carter's music deserves.
    
Finally, there is a new copy, in improved sound, of Carter's irresistibly playful Two Controversies and A Conversation.  The performance, given by Colin Currie and Eugen Huebner with the NY Philharmonic conducted by David Robertson, was originally offered by WQXR as a 128 kbs webcast.  At a later time, the NY Phil itself offered this performance in 192 kbs bitrate, and with properly balanced channels (the WQXR webcast's right channel had about 3.0 db of excess loudness).   The improvement may not be dramatic, but it is noticeable, and I thought it would be well to offer the new copy to Carter fans here.  (New link added in comment #5.)


1 year ago | |
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Last Tuesday was the first anniversary of Elliott Carter's death.  Yesterday I came across a live recording of the all-Carter "Memorial Concert" which took place last January at New York City's club Le Poisson Rouge.  The bitrate of the captured webcast is humble, but the list of musicians includes some of the most illustrious advocates of Carter's music.


1 year ago | |
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From the program description of a recent BBC Radio 3 broadcast:
Louise Fryer explores Bruckner, the man behind the music...

Now, I have a pretty good idea of what exploring music is about.  But when it comes to exploring "the man behind the music", the only thing that comes to mind is this:



1 year ago | |
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Carter's 7-min long String Trio was one of several chamber works completed in 2011, about a year before he died.  Although it was premiered in December 2011 by Rolf Schulte, Fred Sherry, and Richard O'Neill  at the 92nd Street Y concert celebrating Carter's 103rd birthday, I have not come across a recording of that premiere performance.  The present live recording from the 2013 REMUSIC Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia (performed by members of eNsemble Pro-Arte Fund) was my first chance to get acquainted with this little gem. 

1 year ago | |
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The only words that pop into your head when you look at an image of Atlas are...





SCOLIOSIS

SCIATICA

HERNIA


1 year ago | |
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http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0a/Kant_foto.jpg


The New York Times

 World Briefing | Europe
 September 16, 2013

Russia: Shooting in Philosophical Clash

An argument over the teachings of the philosopher Immanuel Kant between two men standing in line for beer at an outdoor festival in southern Russia ended when one man shot the other in the head with gun loaded with rubber bullets, the state RIA news agency reported on Monday, citing the police. Though the wound was not critical, the attacker faces up to a decade in prison if convicted on assault charges. Among educated Russians, including those who drink, classical literature and philosophy are sometimes debated in casual social settings, the way sports often are in Western countries.


1 year ago | |
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The 1952 Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harpsichord has never been among my favorite Carter pieces.  Still, after having spent many years with a hideously balanced studio recording of this sonata (a technical embarrassment for the otherwise very competent Nonesuch label), it was thrilling to hear it for the first time in an excellently engineered live recording.
     The performance was given by members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (except the harpsichordist) on September 10, 2013 at the Concertgebouw (Kleine Zaal).  The musicians were Fred Edelen (cello), Julie Moulin (flute), Miriam Pastor Burgos (oboe), and Christina Scott Edelen (harpsichord).

1 year ago | |
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