Sunday, 28 August 2016

Blaugust 24, 2016: Classical Music Catch-up

So hey, I have fallenwell and truly behind, haven't it? But on the whole I think I have done a pretty good job this Blaugust, so I'm going to bring things home in style with a few catch-up posts. This first one relates to classical music, one of my favourite things to enjoy while I am drinking tea or otherwise.

I was thinking while driving home this afternoon that it might be nice to share my current favourite pieces. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here we go. I have been quite picky in which recordings to link, particularly where voice is involved. I am very fussy about that.

The piece that kicked this thought train off is Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights, also known as The Montagues and the Capulets, from his ballet score of Romeo and Juliet. Few pieces evoke such importance, pompousness, tension and menace all at once while still being quite so beautiful.

The words of the psalm itself aside, the transcendental beauty of Allegri's Miserere mei, Deus is both sad and uplifting, perfect for melancholy or grief. The story of its transcription by a fourteen year old Mozart, after hearing it once and in defiance of prohibition, also tickles my fancy. Apropos of nothing it is traditionally performed at Tenebrae, and 'Tenebrae' has this wonderful ring to it as a word, don't you think?

Ahhhh, Shostakovich. I really do love his work. Although I usually favour his more serious works, such as the Suite from The Gadfly, Waltz 2 (in C minor and E-flat major) from his Suite for Variety Orchestra regularly pops into my head on a loop. It is utterly addictive, and makes me want to learn how to dance.

Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World" is another one that pops in and out when I least expect it. The work speaks of an enormous fondness for the US, but also a longing for home. All four movements are wonderful in their own way, but I think the triumphal fourth is where it is at.

The thing I love about Jupiter is the enormous gravity. HA! I MAKE FUNNY JOKE. Although I am reasonably partial to the entirety of Holst's The Planets, Jupiter stands out for me by a mile. I don't even like the first three minutes of it much, but after that point it is all worth it.

Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is perhaps my favourite piece to listen to of a night-time, and this is possibly my favourite recording of any piece of classical music, though YouTube doesn't do it justice. The soloists are so distinctly solo! The setup in the cathedral is superb and allows for superb subtlety where it is called for.

Not much needs to be said about The Requiem Mass in D minor by good old WA Mozart, beyond that it is easily my favourite of his works. I am particularly fond of the sequentia, from Dies irae through Lacrimosa.

To lighten things up just a little, the stirring but sweet Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite is rather wonderful, don't you think?

Grieg's Peer Gynt, Op. 23 is some of the finest incidental music ever composed. Three movements in particular stand out to me: Morning Mood, In the Hall of the Mountain King, and Solveig's Song, the latter of which is one of the more beautiful pieces for female voice. Hard to find a recording of the whole lot that I am satisfied by, so that movement will have to do.

Speaking of solo female voice, Dvořák's Song to the Moon from Rusalka. The most beautiful piece for female voice.

And finally we have Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor. It is perhaps the least interesting choice on this list, but it still gets me every time I listen to it. Three movements of build-up, culminating in the amazing emotional conclusion. Utterly glorious, stupendous, and in my opinion the greatest artistic achievement of our species thus far.

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