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Musical Thank You #6: Longhair Music

Concert posterThis “musical thank you” will encompass a whole genre of music. Several genres, really: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and more. I’ve used the catchall term “classical” (small C). It’s not perfect, but it is probably better than “white male decomposers.”

This thank you goes to my dad, who (like me) has no significant formal music education, but who enjoys what he’s always called “longhair” music. He took me to my first concert. If memory serves it featured a Czechoslovakian ensemble and, though I am not positive, it may have been the Prague Chamber Orchestra. We saw them at the Redding, California Civic Auditorium at a time when the population of the city was less than 20,000. Redding did not see many visiting European orchestras in those days (or these).

Years later, Redding got its own orchestra: the Redding Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor John Hess. My dad and I attended many of their concerts. The one I most remember featured Jon Holden playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. He was the son of a teacher at my daughters’ elementary school, and I still have a copy of the promotional poster (the photo above is a scan of part of the concert program).

Instead of linking a video here, as I have done in other posts in this series, I will put together my “classical desert island disc list.” It’s a ridiculous exercise for many reasons. What is the likelihood I actually will find myself stranded on a desert island? Even if this were highly likely, why wouldn’t I bring along a 64-gigabyte music player the size of a quarter? Discs would be so impractical. I don’t even have a Sony Discman anymore. If I did, how many batteries would I need to pack? And, of course, the ten discs I pick today probably won’t be the same ten I would pick a month from now. Nevertheless, I will go ahead and waste the bandwidth.

Desert island discs

If you are unfamiliar with “desert island disc lists” then you probably never read Rolling Stone or BBC Music magazines in the 80s or 90s. My rules: Only discs currently in my collection are eligible and one disc (or set) per composer.

My taste in classical music is unsophisticated and you will notice my list is heavy on the most familiar composers of long-bygone days. The only 20th-century composers I wholeheartedly enjoy (Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Sibelius and Shostakovich) are all decidedly late-Romantic. No Schoenberg.

Choices are listed in a particular order (Alfred-betically):

Disc coverAs a going away present when I moved to Minnesota in 1995, my colleagues at the Shasta County Office of Education bought me a pair of tickets to a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra series called “Basically Baroque.” Even back then, I was known to be a Bach-man.

I couldn’t lie around on the beach without at least one recording of Bach‘s Goldberg Variations. My daughters won’t forgive me for picking against the Trevor Pinnock harpsichord version they loved to hear as children, but I have to go with Glenn Gould’s 1955 piano version. This may be the last truly popular recording of classical music. Richie Cunningham would have owned this record.

Disc coverI’d like to “cheat” and pick one of my two sets of the complete Beethoven Symphonies, but I will do the right thing and pick my favorite disc instead. I would take George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra’s recordings of Symphonies #8 & #3 (the Eroica). I can’t explain exactly why this is my favorite disc of Beethoven symphonies. I have at least seven recordings of the Eroica, but I’m sure I listen to this one twice as often as any of the others. Probably because it was one of the first versions (but not the first) I owned. The Eighth is the little gem of Beethoven symphonies.

Disc coverI have quite a bit of Johannes Brahms‘ chamber music, but it is his big-canvas works that make an impression. His Double Concerto, his Variations on a Theme (not really) by Haydn, his four symphonies (my favorites are the middle two) and, most of all, his Piano Concerto No 2. I have an exciting live performance of this concerto by Van Cliburn on disc, but the one I listen to most often is a performance by Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Vienna Philharmonic and Bernard Haitink.

Disc coverA recording of Handel‘s Water Music suites was the first compact disc I ever owned. I still have it. The disc features Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert playing on “original instruments” (or at least they use 18th-century tunings). I have a recording of the same music played by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I know this is a top-flight group, and I really enjoy several of their recordings of Haydn symphonies. But, undoubtedly because it is what I am used to hearing, I much prefer the brighter, more open sound of Pinnock and the English Concert here. This ensemble is still my “go to” orchestra for the music of Bach and Handel.

Disc coverI do love me some Joseph Haydn. For whatever reason I enjoy his symphonies more than Mozart’s; possibly because Haydn’s often have distinct personalities. This is probably a trick of their nicknames. I think I have managed to accumulate some 70 or so of his 104 symphonies. Of course, even with nicknames and “personalities” I can reliably recognize only about a dozen of them. At least two of these are in the group of six called “Paris” symphonies. I have two box sets of these and enjoy them both. I would have to take the Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic set to the island.

Disc coverOpera isn’t my thing. I’ve tried a few times without success to enjoy it. (I don’t think Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas really counts.) I do enjoy a good overture. My single favorite is Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. But for a whole disc’s worth, nothing beats Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Field’s recording of Mozart‘s complete overtures. I’m bringing it with me. I’d like to have about ten of Mozart’s piano concertos, half of his chamber music, and his sublime Sinfonia Concertante KV 364 as well. But I would settle for these nine overtures.

Disc coverI’d love to carry along some of Prokofiev‘s piano sonatas or maybe his Sonata for Cello and Piano Op 119 (as a bonus, Rachmaninov’s Op 19 would come along for the ride), but how could I not choose a piece of music I like so much that I once named a dog after it? I have two versions of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kizheh Suite (the more popular spelling of the name is Kije). One recording employs a baritone voice for the famous “Troika” movement; the other a bassoon. I’m going with Leonard Slatkin, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the voice on this one. As a nice bonus I get two works based on Prokofiev film scores: Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky. Both are worth hearing, especially the Nevsky cantata.

Disc coverMy first Rachmaninov record LP was something picked up at a supermarket. It contained his second piano concerto and two movements of his Symphonic Dances. I don’t remember the artists and, in fact, they may not even have been listed on the LP jacket (think Eastern European super-budget issue). Later I began obsessively to collect all of Rachmaninov’s music on CD, but both of these pieces remain among my favorites. In this case I won’t choose my very favorite Rachmaninov recording (a live version of his Piano Sonata No 2 performed by Vladimir Horowitz) because I would not want to be without his second piano concerto. I would pack Yefim Bronfman’s recording of Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3. Gotta have them both.

Disc coverShostakovich has been called “the Beethoven of the 20th century” and not just by me. I can’t remember what impelled to pick up a copy of his fifth symphony, but sometime in the early 90s I did. Now I have all of his output except for some of his film music. Love four or five of his 15 symphonies, four or five of his 15 string quartets, his piano concertos, his Opus 87 Preludes and Fugues, and more. I’m tempted to take the Opus 87; but Jarrett or Nikolaevna? I guess I will stick with my first Shostakovich CD: Bernard Haitink’s recording of Symphony No 5 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Disc coverSymphony No 2 by Jean Sibelius contains some of the most beautiful, lyrical music of any symphony I know. I’m slowly learning to love the rest of his symphonic music, especially Symphony No 5. Not such a big fan of his Violin Concerto and, it’s nice, but I do not understand exactly why Finns are so enraptured by his Finlandia. I have to have the second symphony with me, so I will take Adrian Leaper’s recording with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra.

Man, I left a lot of music I love at home. Should have packed a small 64-gigabyte MP3 player!

Musical Thank Yous:
10/04/2019 #12: The Beatles
08/19/2016 #11: Van Morrison
04/11/2016 #10: Conor Oberst
01/29/2016 #9: Reina del Cid
10/01/2015 #8: Ron Sexsmith and Neko Case
05/13/2015 #7: Elvis Costello
10/09/2014 #6: Longhair Music
08/27/2014 #5: Neil Young
06/19/2014 #4: Arcade Fire
03/14/2014 #3: Mike Doughty
02/10/2014 #2: Lucinda Williams
02/07/2014 #1: Richard Thompson


Lieutenant Kizheh

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