Archive for the ‘Classical’ Category

Tchaikovsky – Arabian Dance (Coffee) (1892)

June 11, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve been working my way through a 70 CD box-set of classical music featuring some of the finest work of conductor Fritz Reiner. I’ve loaded up a few of my favourites onto my iPod and, happily, while strolling across our local water-meadow to enjoy a pint at the local pub, this came on.  With Russia due to play England in Euro 2016 in a couple of hours, what better way to prepare than to consider this sublime piece from one of that country’s greatest composers.

First premiered in 1892, “Arabian Dance (C0ffee)” is taken from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker. It turns out that Pyotr and I have a fair amount in common – like me he was  educated for a career as a civil servant and, like me, his father was an engineer …. I am hoping that the similarities end there as he died at the age of 53 and I reach that milestone in 8 months time … gulp.

No sign of the Reiner version on Youtube but this is more than good enough!


Max Richter – Spring 1 (2012)

May 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the years, I have watched my kids perform in a vast number of dance shows – ballet, modern, tap, etc. Now, sadly, they don’t appear in every single dance and, when this happens, one simply hopes that time will pass as quickly as possible or that something calamitous will befall one of their hapless contemporaries …

However, occasionally, you find yourself watching a dance where you are hearing a piece of music for the first time and it just takes your breath away. One example was hearing Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” a few years ago … (I haven’t yet put that on this blog for fear of attracting some derision from my handful of followers who usually think that any departure from the world of Crispy Ambulance b-sides is an appalling sell-out).

A second example is this piece by Max Richter – a reworking (or recomposing) of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  Layering sample upon sample of violins from the original and complementing this with a spot of Moog synth, Richter achieves near perfection in a beautiful composition.

There are a small number of other CDs in the Recomposed series on legendary German classical label Deutsche Grammophon (including a fantastic LP featuring a variety of recompositions  by techno legends Moritz von Oswald and Carl Craig).

The only flaw with this piece is that it is too short …

Portsmouth Sinfonia – Play the Popular Classics (1974)

December 12, 2014 3 comments

The Portsmouth Sinfonia at the absolute height of their powers.

Founded by a group of students at the Portsmouth School of Art in England, in 1970, the Sinfonia had an unusual entrance requirement, in that players had to either be non-musicians, or if a musician, play an instrument that was entirely new to them.

Among the founding members was one of their teachers, English composer Gavin Bryars who was interested more in experimenting with the nature of music than forming a traditional orchestra.

Instead of picking the most competent musicians he could find, he encouraged anyone to join, regardless of talent, ability and experience. The only rules were that everyone had to come for rehearsals and that people should try their best to get it right and not intentionally try to play badly.

Brian Eno was interested enough to join the orchestra, playing clarinet, and subsequently produced their first two albums.

I couldn’t single out a favourite so here’s three for your delectation. A stirring romp through Rossini’s William Tell Overture, a remarkable reading of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony,  and then a definitive interpretation of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra – if only this had made it into 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Arvo Part – Berliner Messe (1990-1992)

December 6, 2014 Leave a comment

I am not a religious person but I love the work of the Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Part who specialises in the production of sublime sacred and choral music. I have previously posted his magnificent Tabula Rasa here.

Wikipedia helpfully (but drily) describes the piece thus:

Commissioned for the 90th Katholikentag in 1990, it was originally scored for SATB soloists and organ. Pärt later revised the piece for chorus and string orchestra. Pärt uses his tintinnabuli technique throughout, with movements taking many forms within that style—flowing from quietly reverent duets between parts to full chorus proclamations of faith.

Two recordings, my favourite “part” of this mass – the Credo – and then the whole magnificent piece.

Sergei Rachmaninov – The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 (1908)

November 22, 2014 Leave a comment

hat could be better on a Saturday morning than to step back and reflect for twenty minutes on the magnificence of Rachmaninov’s wonderfully evocative and brooding symphonic poem.

The piece was inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting “Isle of the Dead” which Rachmaninoff saw in Paris in 1907.

There are several recordings of this masterpiece available but my favourites are the ones by Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw Orchestra and by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Check them below!

Henryk Górecki – Symphony No. 3 (1976)

June 8, 2012 1 comment

The start of the European Football Championships (jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine) provides me with a weak excuse to add one of my favourite Polish compositions to the blog ….

This is a piece of immense power; a simple harmonic motif that builds and builds …. the double basses never relent. It starts very slowly but stick with it …..

Wikipedia provides a great entry for those wanting to dig deeper (here). However, what is clear is that the motivation for the piece remains opaque and a plausible case can be made for a personal, matrimonial muse or a much more political, Holocaust inspired, piece. Remember, this was composed in the pre Solidarność days before the eventual raising of the “Iron Curtain” – hence, I suggest you make of it what you will.

The three movements are each utterly perfect and you can’t beat listening to each, properly, in turn. The way the first the movement builds is a classic piece of minimalism but, for me, the third movement is the one where genius is attained ……



Puccini – Nessun Dorma (1920-24)

May 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Hey, football night. Unbelievable performance by Barcelona. The best performance by any club side since Manchester City beat Notts County 1-0 at home in December 1984 in the old second division.

For gentleman of a certain age, this piece of music will mean almost everything.

The 1990 World Cup was just one of the greatest of all time experiences.

I was in my mid 20s; Alice, my first daughter, was born 5 minutes before kick-off of the crucial game against Belgium and, for once, England played like worldbeaters.  Of course, it all ended in tears but, for a few weeks, this piece was the soundtrack to the summer – it was the theme tune to the BBC coverage. New Order’s “World in Motion” was a close second but this transcends time.

Puccini started work on Turandot in 1920 but died in 1924. The opera received its premiere in 1926.

Even now, the moments from 2:21 onwards sounds like the best music ever recorded.

From 2:59 onwards, even Pavarotti seems stunned.

“Nessun Dorma”, of course, translates as “one nil down at half time due to poor refereeing” or, alternatively “Clearly offside ref, why has the linesman not got his flag up?”. The song then a few football clips!

%d bloggers like this: