Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rembrandt Q. Einstein's Seventieth Annual List of the Top Ten Three Classical Albums of the Year!

One would assume that when preparing the packaging for an orchestral CD or DVD, one wouldn't use a shot where the conductor looks like he just stubbed his toe or is dealing with a severe case of constipation.

Anyway, why only three? Because only three of the classical CDs I bought this year were actually released between January 1 and right now. Believe me, there exists an extensive list of stuff I need want, but my sometimes-better-half continually bitches about these things called "bills." I told her I don't know anyone named Bill. Then she, in her righteous anger, chopped my head off. Then I woke up. It's very strange to be staring at your headless corpse from across the room. At least it was only a dream. For now. On to the list.

1. Osmo Vänskä, conductor, Ludwig van Beethoven, symphonies nos. 2 and 7. Harnoncourt's early 1990s take on these greatest of all musical works is still sitting on top of the mountain, but the climax of this series inches these fresh views on The Nine ever closer. Crisp, clear, muscular and, according to the experts who actually know something about musical theory, pretty damn exact when it comes to following the Maestro's markings for tempi and such. All I know is that this bloody fucking brilliant playing stirs the soul. It's so easy to screw up something this involved, this large and Vänskä erases any fears of that within the first measures.

2. Steven Osborne and Alban Gerhardt, Charles-Valentin Alkan and Frédéric Chopin, cello sonatas. Both of these composers, one legendary and one far less known than he should be, are synonymous with the piano. You'll be disabused of that notion after hearing these wonderful works. Don't get me wrong, the piano writing is stellar, but the interplay between the keys and the cello's lower registers in the propulsive, thick Alkan piece and the lighter one of Chopin shows that there was more than high-wire virtuosity to these gents. If there's a highlight in this brilliant disc, it has to be Alkan's weeping adagio.

3. Rachel Barton Pine, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Clement, violin concertos. If you've read anything on Beethoven, there are plenty of composers, dedicatees and musicians name-dropped within the text, violinist Franz Clement being one of them. This is the world-premiere recording of his work and if it isn't on the same level as Beethoven's -- impossible, really -- it's pretty goddamn good in its own right. Very lyrical, but not showboaty, certainly a beautiful work that goes far beyond being a mere historical curiosity. And the Beethoven ain't too shabby, either.

Gothic Voices, The Medieval Romantics. One other album that I already have but has long been out of print was happily rereleased this year, and if you dig vocal music, you should definitely pick it up. Don't let the fact that it consists of 14th and 15th century French tunes scare you. That first track is pure ear candy.


Bull said...

Your reviews are fascinating. Guess I'm a classical fan who can identify what he likes, but is about as illiterate in music theory as you are in quantum theory.

Which is why I'll definitely take your word and look into the first three.

pissed off patricia said...

Would you be terribly surprised to know that I have not heard of a single one of these? I thought not.

Happy New Year!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review and tips. I'm more of a 1-10 rating kind of guy, but I appreciate how you elaborate on your preferences. As for the conductor's face, I've seen that one before on many a guitar player lashing out an orgasmic solo to appreciative-but-screaming, bic-lighting (now cellphone lit-screen showing) audience. I think it's the conductor's way of telling his fans, "I fucking rock!" Happy New Year to you and yours.

Mauigirl said...

Happy New Year, Randal! I'll have to check out your recommendations!

Randal Graves said...

bull, I'm illiterate in both, but I knows what I likes. As for these, you can never go wrong with Beethoven (unless it's by Bernstein, far too melodramatic, which is funny coming from me) but the cello is such a cool instrument, and these are lovely sonatas.

POP, you never heard of Beethoven and Chopin? Are you sure you didn't mean this comment for the heavy metal thunder below?

spartacus, 10, 9, 9. That help? ;-) I certainly get the Rock God® Guitar Face, but here the dude simply looks stricken by illness. And Happy New Year to you and the family.

Randal Graves said...

mauigirl, ditto! They're excellent, I just wish I had some musical training so I could actually discuss particulars!

My Inner French Girl said...

Finally! Musicians I've actually heard of. ;-)

Agree with you on the cover of the 1st album. The poor man looks to be on the verge of a massive sneeze.

Love the cover of the Beethoven one. Will have to find that, as I'm obsessed with his symphonies. Merci! And while I don't care much for vocal music (does Chanticleer count? They make me weep), the French album sounds very intriguing.

Happy New Year!


Tom Harper said...

This is Michelangelo Q. Hawking wishing you a Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

You and your crazy long haired music.....Happy New Years to you, Randal!

La Belette Rouge said...

Hee-hee to what Dcup said. I do my best to avoid music by men with long hair. That leaves me out of almost all of your recommendations. Happy New years to you, Randal!

S.W. Anderson said...

I'm close to being in Patricia's position here, but salute you for a fine post on a type of music that matters to you.

So, I'll join the chorus wishing you and all here a happy new year, keeping in mind that after '08, it's almost sure to be a big improvement.

susan said...

You may actually have reawakened my interest in classical music this year. I've saved your list and I'll definitely be checking them out - even the last one.

As SWA said, after what we've seen 2009 is bound to be an improvement.

Rachel Barton Pine said...

Thank you so much for your kind mention of my album. Beethoven rules! And Clement ain't bad either... Happy New Year!

Rachel :)

Utah Savage said...

Happy New Year, honey!

Beach Bum said...

Happy New year Randal, I think I'll buy Alkan and Frédéric CD today as I actually go out today and do my patriotic duty and support our economy.

Suzan said...

Thank you for this new year's offering, Randal.

As you are my god/guru of all things classical now, the moment someone places a coin or two in my Pay Pal account I will hurry to the local emporium and buy your selections - if they can be found in the backwoods.

Merry new day!


anita said...

i just ordered the medieval romantics cd (album) ... hope it's good !!

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