‘Warm and Beautiful’ is a classic – but not that well known – song by Paul McCartney that can be found on the 1976 album Wings at the Speed of Sound.
I like it so much I (sort of) taught myself to play it on piano, so that’s doubled my repertoire, Silent Night being the other half.
Anyway, I was supposed to be doing something important recently – a PhD submission – and naturally I decided to do literallyanything else instead so tried to arrange the song for choir. As you do.
This is the result – it’s not perfect by any means and I think there are some rookie harmony mistakes in there. But it is what it is. I’m rather proud of the third verse, after the chorus (1 minute 30 seconds in). You can download the score here.
They can sing it at my funeral, which will probably be the result of an accident involving a rather large pile of books I’ve been collecting for the aforementioned PhD.
This is the playlist for the 20 February 2016 edition of BBC Radio 3’s Record Review. As usual, the items listed here as not available on Apple Music may well appear after broadcast and I’ll come back occasionally to update it.
Is Apple Music worth it?
I have to say, it’s the best £10 a month I’ve ever spent; it’s saved me hundreds of pounds already and helped me listen to music I otherwise would never have found. So yes, I’d say it’s worth it!
Here’s the playlist for BBC Radio 3’s Record Review of 6 February 2016.
You can access the whole playlist by clicking this link, or individual recordings, where available, by clicking the links below. (NB individual links will, confusingly, take you to an iTunes Store webpage. If you are subscribed to Apple Music, clicking the ‘store’ button will open the album in iTunes for your streaming delight. One day, this will all make sense – Apple Music… love the service, hate the usability.)
Diana Ambache (piano), Anthony Robb (flute), Jeremy Polmear (oboe), Neyire Ashworth (clarinet), Philip Gordon (bassoon), Richard Dilley (horn), David Juritz (violin), Richard Milone (violin), Ilona Bondar (viola), Rebecca Knight (cello), Tim Amherst (double bass), Tristan Fry (timpani), Sue Rothstein (harp)
Steibelt: Piano Concertos Nos. 3, 5 & 7
Howard Shelley (piano, conductor), Ulster Orchestra
Agnes Baltsa (Santuzza), Placido Domingo (Turiddu), Juan Pons (Alfio), Susan Mentzer (Lola), Vera Baniewicz (Lucia), Philharmonia Orchestra, Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Giuseppe Sinopoli (conductor)
Here’s the playlist for BBC Radio 3’s Record Review of 23 January 2016. At the time of broadcast, only four recordings were available in Apple Music although most of the artists have extensive presence there, which suggests a lot of what’s missing will arrive eventually – particularly if the recording hasn’t actually been released yet.
The Romantic Violin Concerto 19 – Bruch (not available)
Jack Liebeck (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor)
Tasmin Little plays British Violin ConcertosDELIUS: Suite for Violin & Orchestra (not available)
Tasmin Little (violin), BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 4 (not available)
Violin Concerto in E minor Op. 64; A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music Op. 61
Jennifer Pike (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner (conductor)
Bela Bartok (1881-1945) wrote two violin concertos, both great pieces. However the first violin concerto was only published in 1959 after his death . Why? Therein lies a sorry tale, and part of the reason why I find this piece so moving and why I count it as particularly ‘inspirational’.
Bartok was in love. With a violinist, Stefi Geyer. And to demonstrate his love, he wrote this concerto for her.
And she rejected it, and him.
Such is life.
The concerto is in two movements, which is unusual, with a slow andante followed by an allegro. We know that the first movement is a portrait of Stefi Geyer, so the assumption is that the second represents Bartok himself.
It’s the first movement particularly that I want to put forward as my sixth inspirational piece.
What is so special about this piece? It is, for me, the best representation of unrequited love I’ve ever come across. Anyone who has been in that situation will feel the emotions depicted here. It opens with a solo violin line playing a quirky, hesitant and awkward theme, with a layered accompaniment being added bit by bit. It feels ‘out of tune’ but it isn’t. As it progresses the harmonies fill out but there’s something ‘missing’. I’ve tried to put my finger on it and as far as I can tell it’s because for the first five minutes the music doesn’t resolve itself – in musicology a resolution is when a perfect of imperfect cadence happens, and the section ends satisfactorily. That doesn’t happen here for a full five minutes.
Listen to the movement in the video and follow the violin. It doesn’t ‘breathe’ until around the five minute mark at which point the line is taken over by woodwind and a mournful timpani beating in the background.
After that the music becomes more and more ravishing with a climax at 6:17 which sees the violin come back with a calmer version of the original theme – but not for long. By 7 minute mark we’re into anguish again with the full orchestra having its say.
At around the 8 minute mark the bitter sweetness comes back in and a new melody is heard, but soon replaced with the one that started us off.
The second movement is a complete contrast and I’ll let it speak for itself. Suffice to say, if the first represented Ms Geyer, and the second Mr Bartok, maybe they weren’t best suited…
My recommended recording is by Elizabeth Faust – it won at the 2014 BBC Music Magazine a couple of years ago, which is how I discovered the work. It’s presented along with the wonderful second concerto. Highly recommended.
Some Mozart today – and what to choose? Despite dying in his early 30s he left behind a wealth of music, some of it trivial and trite it has to be said, but more masterpieces than is decent.
The piece that keeps coming to mind is a single scene from one of his late operas, Don Giovanni. It’s the tale of a young, sexually promiscuous man who abuses just about everyone he meets, including his faithful servant. While attempting to seduce (or worse) a young girl, he kills her father, the Commendatore.
Later in the opera, Don Giovanni is in a cemetery by a statue of the slain Commendatore and laughs, only to hear a ghostly voice proclaim that his laughter will not last past sunrise. The inscription on the statute says ‘Here am I waiting for revenge against the scoundrel who killed me’ but Don Giovanni simply invites the statue to dinner, in mockery.
The opera concludes – you guessed it – with the statue turning up to dinner. Don Giovanni nonchalantly orders his servant to set another place, ignoring the statue’s plea to repent. After refusing a final time, Don Giovanni is dragged down to hell by a chorus of demons.
Here’s the scene as rendered in one of my favourite films, Amadeus.
I’m not a huge opera fan but I do like Mozart’s – they’re great music even if you can’t follow the plot, or find it ridiculous. I chose this scene because it highlights the sheer drama that Mozart could conjure up.
There are quite a few videos of this on YouTube spanning everything from traditional performances up to quite modern ones, and I chose a fairly minimal production – the statue isn’t in full costume as in some, the singer simply standing dead still. And I love the acting in this – Don Giovanni, performed by Rod Gilfry, comes across as the arrogant bastard he’s supposed to be.
He was nominated for a Grammy for his recording, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (I believe the performance in the video is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt). It’s not cheap, despite being twenty years old but it is available to stream on Apple Music. Or click the image below to purchase on Amazon.
I was going through my CDs when I got to Berlioz and suddenly thought about this. It’s a piece that’s not widely known and I only encountered it as a filler on, I think, the Berlioz Te Deum (which is another contender for this slot). So if you read my first three posts and thought my choices lacked originality I’m hoping this one will stop you in your tracks.
The Symphonie is an odd beast – written for large wind and brass ensemble, some strings in some performances, and a lot of percussion, it’s a classic funeral march of the sort you might hear at a great state occasion. These tend to be repeated ad nauseum as the procession makes its way from the start of its route to its finish (British state funerals use a march by Beethoven for this).
Berlioz’s march is hypnotic and dramatic – this is a hero’s march.
This work was performed at the Proms a few years ago and they took advantage of the venue, placing different sections of the orchestra around the building. This is the recording in the video above.
The work is in three movements, a march, a slow interlude and finally a triumphant hymn
If you don’t want to sit through the funeral march you can skip to 24 minutes for the third section, or watch the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle (this is a coincidence, but he is popping up a lot in this series of posts) in a short extract.
Why do I find it inspiring? I just love the absolute drama of it. It’s batshit crazy in parts.
A really good performance should let rip, I think. If my neighbours are out, I’ve been known to play this as loud as I dare. Really gets the blood flowing.
Elgar wrote The Dream of Gerontius in 1899/1900, a setting of the poem by Cardinal (now Saint) Newman. By the time he wrote it, Elgar had gained something of a reputation internationally, especially for his choral works, and this was a commission for the Birmingham Triennial Festival. It was completed only three months before the premiere and, famously, the choir and orchestra found it difficult to master. The conductor, Hans Richter, only got his copy of the score the day before the first rehearsal. Consequently the first performance was a failure. But, unusually, critics heard something audiences did not and after its London premiere three years later it quickly became established as one of the core repertoire items in British choral tradition.
Why do I find it inspirational?
I was raised a Catholic and though it’s all very dormant now, there’s something about Gerontius that gets the incense flowing again. It took me a long time to ‘get’ the work, and Elgar generally. This was the first piece of classical music where I tried the technique of basically just listening to it over and over again and now I can follow every ebb and flow of it. If you’re wanting to give it a go, do what I did and listen to the first half repeatedly. The opening introduction (below) is a masterpiece of orchestral writing, and just about every main theme Elgar uses is in there. (It’s quite Wagnerian in that sense – Elgar had recently discovered Wagner before writing Gerontius, and it shows).
Seriously – just listen to this:
But the subject matter is not what I find particularly inspiring, unlike Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, which was my first choice in this series of posts. It is, simply, the music which is some of the most powerful and sublime you’ll hear.
Most performances tend to play up the drama, particularly the demons’ chorus. My favourite recording is, as with the Mahler, by Simon Rattle and the CBSO and chorus. Gramophone, if I remember correctly, criticised it for its lack of drama and pure focus on the music. That’s why I like it: the drama is inherent in the text and the detached approach to that seems to breathe new life in to a work that can, in the wrong hands, be almost a pantomime.
Click on the image to buy it for the bargain price of £6.99!
The extract at the top of this post is the emotional high point of it all, the ‘Praise to the Holiest’ chorus. I’m really doing a disservice by letting you hear it without the long sustained build up to it, which makes the eventual outburst all the more emotional. But as I said about the Mahler, if you don’t like this there’s something wrong with you…
And here’s the demons’ chorus for you…
Fun fact: I was in the audience for the Proms performance in the top video…