Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Kate McDonnell [Where The Mangoes Are]

Now here's something really nice, a disc that i bought maybe a year ago, from Amazon, brand new with cellophane for something like £2, which includes postage and packing, i search through cheap discs, and if i find something which catches my eye, i listen to the samples, this one sounded good enough, so i bought it, for £25 i can easily acquire ten discs, so a year ago i gave it its first listen, and i felt it was really quite ordinary, but what a difference a year gives, i played this today, and now it sounds fantastic, her voice sounds like Beth Nielsen Chapman, when she sings harder and her voice breaks she sounds like Joan Baez, nearly the whole album are Kate McDonnell originals, some of them wouldn't be out of place on a Joni Mitchell album, she's a great Folk Singer-Songwriter new find.

Kate McDonnell is American, not well known, she brought this album out in 2005, the front cover picture [by Michael Nakao] shows a close up of her face, her hair in her eyes, along with the orange lettering, i think this is a lovely portrait, better than conventional straight on shots.

Well on this listen i now like a whole load of tracks, 1, 4-5 & 8-11, that's over half the album!, and here's a short synopsis of each, 
1 Tumbleweed [4:10] - In essence a Soft Rock song, very electric, very lyrical, though unlike most of the tracks on the album, nice organ swirls on the instrumental bridge [3:01+], very sparse lyrics, almost just rhyming words only, best lyric 'greasy spoon, coffee soon'.
4 Mercy [4:15] - A certain military rhythm to the brushes on the drums, at times she can really cry, the chorus is just one word 'mercy', the track slowly builds up and up to a nice high, best lyric 'how can i love the guy next door, i don't even know his name'.
5 5:05 [5:11] - McDonnell has this ability to weave short guitar themes, which serves as a great motif throughout the whole song, about a boat on the ocean, there's a certain feel to the song which reminds me of Joni Mitchel's Hejira album, best lyric 'i'm inches from the water, but miles from the shore'.
8 Lemon Marmalade [5:55] - This is my favourite track on the album, some really good acoustic guitar work here, there's a fantastic phrase on the guitar running throughout the whole album, giving it a real Bluesy feel, the track is nearly six minutes long, giving it real time to weave its magic, it's guitar really casts its spell over a nice length, the lyrics give the album its title, best lyric 'the sun will stick to everything, like lemon marmalade'.
9 Luis [3:05] - A clever song, about a daughter who died, and the need to bury her, i guess the parents are separated, yet brought together in the death of their child, some really good mandolin work [Scott Petito], i like the way it ends fairly abruptly, best lyric 'now she's just skin and bones, it's time for her to go on home'.
10 Mayday [4:43] - I listened to this album on random, and this was the first track i listened to, a strong Soft Rock feel to it, best lyric 'now i look back on that January, and how we melted the winter freeze'.
11 Goodbye Song [4:30] - A Steve Earle song, originally called just 'Goodbye', it has a certain TexMex feel to it, makes me want to delve into Steve Earle some more, a sad song of goodbye and regret, perfectly vibed by a superb fiddle [Mindy Jostyn], best lyric 'most November's i break down and cry, but i can't remember if we said goodbye'

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Beethoven - Symphony 7 [Bruggen-Orchestra Of The Eighteenth Century]

Here's a disc that i acquired recently, and giving it its first spin, it's a historically informed reading, on period instruments, and that means that the string tone can sound rather thin and sinewy, instead of warm and full, but it also reveals the brass / woodwind / percussion more, it takes some getting used to, but it's also good to hear something in a fresh way, and these are good performances.

Frans Bruggen was Dutch [1934-2014], i didn't know he had died, he was 80, he recorded this disc in 1988, the front cover shows nine individual shots [by Fernando Van Teylingen], of members of the orchestra and Bruggen, nicely laid out, and the lettering inbetween is excellent.

On this listen it was the wonderful first movement that i was most impressed by, it's in the key of A Major, like i said it's a period performance, and a live recording too, the recording is bright, so fortes can sound a bit harsh, but also really quite alive, Bruggen doesn't wallow in warmth and tone, but rather brings out more of the rhythms in Beethoven, the timpani is hard and loud, and it gives you a good idea how Beethoven must have heard it on its first performance, there's a long Poco Sostenuto introduction, and there's this flute bridge to the Vivace [4:19-4:46], and then the whole thing explodes [4:46+ & 7:11+], full of  brass and timpani, it's a lovely cacophony of sound, it's good to hear the 'incessantness' of this movement, it keeps moving forward, i think Bruggen uses the exposition repeat, of course this makes it nearly 15 minutes long, near the end Beethoven has a sort of respite, where he lets the woodwind have some nice pleasant sweet things to say [11:32-12:02], at the end the brass really make themselves heard [14:09-14:45], a real triumph.

Here's Bruggen playing this Symphony on YouTube.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Beethoven - Violin Sonata 9 'Kreutzer' [Vengerov/Markovich]

This is a great disc, bringing together the best Violin Sonatas by Brahms and Beethoven [or at least my favourites!], i think it's a great coupling, even though it's an unusual one, i count ten versions of this work in my disc collection, i must have listened to this work 120 times, and it still always amazes me, what a work of pure genius Beethoven has made here, i am actually quite shocked to find this disc has never featured in my Blog before!.

Maxim Vengerov is Russian, he's now 41, he recorded this disc in 1991 at the unbelievable age of 17, the front booklet photo [by Klaus Thumser], shows Vengerov in a tight head shot, almost a silhouette, and Vengerov busy with his violin, the lettering to the left is really good.

The whole of this work was superb, but i really loved the first movement, it's in the key of A Major, even though it certainly sounds like it's a Minor key work, the movement is Presto, but the intro is Adagio Sostenuto [0:00-1:32], the violin sounding screechy and out of tune [on purpose by Beethoven], the violin and piano take it in turns to set the tone, the movement only really gets going on the two minute mark [2:06+], and it's a mix of fast virtuoso music, and more slower lyrical stuff, Vengerov & Markovich really let fly after a few minutes [3:18-4:23], the intensity of their playing is tremendous, and Beethoven never lets up, the music is relentless, the difficulty of the fast passages [5:02-5:39], are compensated by the beauty of the lyrical passages, Beethoven loves these pizzicato moments from the violin, each new fast moment gets more intense [6:15-7:20], the interplay is fantastic [8:41-8:59], especially from the Pianist Markovich, the preciseness at times is really quite thrilling [10:22-11:01], there's anger aplenty between both players [11:36-12:47], it really is a tour de force, and even with the reflective coda at the end, Beethoven can't resist an angry flourish to end the movement on.

Here's Kremer & Argerich playing this Sonata on YouTube.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Van Der Graaf Generator [Still Life]

Ah, there's two great records by Van Der Graaf Generator, this one and World Record, this probably isn't quite as good as the other, but they're close, i bought the vinyl LP of World Record first, choosing it completely blind, knowing nothing about VDGG, and i hit the jackpot, and so off i went looking for another gem from them, and here it is, VDGG don't have many tracks on their albums, that's because some of them are so long [in fact most of them!], also you might not agree with the cosmic re-incarnation of Peter Hammill's lyrics [i don't particularly], but they're still meaningful, i must have bought this album when it was quite new and freshly released, now all these years later i find that i've probably listened to it fifty times, and it's still a revelation each time i hear it, it's timeless music, it's racking up quite a 'following' in my Blog [3rd January 2011 / 5th February 2012 / 6th September 2012].

Van Der Graaf Generator are a Prog Rock band, started up in Manchester in 1967, and still going strong today, though they did have an amazing quarter of a century hiatus in the eighties and nineties, they brought this album out in 1976, the front cover is of an electrical discharge, i think it's quite good, the small VDGG logo at the top is excellent, there's a lovely symmetry to it all.

Well in listening to this again, it was actually the first two tracks on the album that i liked the best, i listened to the album in random order [3 / 5 / 2 / 4 / 1], so it ended up being the last track i played that was the best of all, a really strong musical statement, here's a synopsis of the track,
1 Pilgrims [7:07] - If you don't know VDGG, then Peter Hammill takes some explaining, his voice is almost operatic, and yet it's not a melodic singing voice, at times it degenerates to almost wailing, it's something to get used to, this is the shortest track on the album at seven minutes!, the lyrics are a little naive, about everyone on the beach holding hands in brotherhood!, it's quite a slow number in the verses, very much organ led, i like the transition to the chorus [1:29-2:17], and when the chorus hits it goes up several notches [2:17-3:18], there's real passion in his voice, the second verse is stronger than the first, and the second transition has a greater sense of surprise, the second chorus is a gem [4:42-5:42], VDGG build up the song nicely, that it gets better and better, plus there's the most loveliest surprise at the end, a sort of third chorus, except it's only instrumental [5:45-7:07], and without any vocalist, this is where they play their hearts out, and especially David Jackson who hasn't done a lot, comes to the fore with his saxophone, it's a tour de force, it's a wonder why so many other bands don't use this brilliant technique, it's a fantastic opener to the album.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Dvorak - Piano Quintet 2 [The Gaudier Ensemble]

This is one of the very best discs that i own, i've probably played it about 25 times, but it's only featured in my Blog once before [21st May 2012], both works are truly gorgeous, and even though i'm writing about the Piano Quintet 2 here, the String Quintet on this disc ran it a very close second, the third movement Poco Andante is a real gem, there's real soothing spirituality there, the Piano Quintet has some of Dvorak's very best tunes, you would think that he would use them in a big important work, a Symphony or Concerto, but Dvorak sometimes reserves his best tunes for his intimate chamber music, i went out for a walk around my neighbourhood listening to this today, a very sweet experience.

The Gaudier Ensemble comes from a group of soloists to record and play chamber music for strings / wind, with piano, they have built up a small discography on the Hyperion label, they recorded this work in 1995, the front cover is a painting by Hans Thoma called 'The Rhine Near Sackingen'.

I so much loved the first three movements, and i suppose the opening movement was the best of all, it has some truly delicious tunes, it's start is a revelation, a gentle rippling piano accompaniment [Susan Tomes], with the cello [Christoph Marks] announcing one of Dvorak's most sublime and underrated tunes [0:00-0:30], but all this sharply comes to an end when the whole Quintet explode into action in an Allegro [0:30+], on one hand it's a shame that Dvorak didn't develop this theme further, but on the other the Allegro is an exciting moment, and certainly the first movement goes all over the place, fast and daring music interspersed with themes from the sublime opening theme, and this theme makes short [1:19-1:53], and that's Dvorak for you, mixing the zest with the smooth, and at times literally mixing the fast and slow themes [3:57-4:38] in a heady concoction, the Pianist Susan Tomes must be given a special mention, she is so sublime, her piano work is scintillating at times [4:38-5:21], she somehow just gets that 'tone' just right, there's a gorgeous reprise of the opening theme [6:53-7:14], now played by the whole Quintet in a glorious serenade, followed by some irresistible stuff by the five [7:27-7:37], Dvorak really packs it with so many good things, it's ten minutes of the highest quality music possible, and as a finale the Quintet throw the themes into one final fling [9:25+], and if that's not enough, there follows the inspired Dumka second movement!.

Here's the Quintet being played on YouTube.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Dvorak - Symphony 9 'From The New World' [Jansons-Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra]

Another lovely clear recording, this is my equal favourite version of Dvorak's Ninth, along with Jarvi on Chandos, in fact Jansons made another disc on EMI of the same work, this time with the Oslo Philharmonic, which is also in my Blog [1st November 2012], they're both worth getting to know, this disc doesn't have a great deal of music on it, just over forty minutes, but it is a SACD disc, and it's superbly presented.

Mariss Jansons is Latvian, he's now 72, and he made this recording in 2003, the front booklet cover is absolutely brilliant, now i like colours, and so of course this is right up my street, showing what seem to be fishing flies, but they can't be, it shows very colourful insects and birds, with yellow feathers, whatever it is they look great, and the lettering in white, with orange and maroon bands is great also, it's a tremendously great visual product

It was the middle movements that were the best, i would like to talk about something other than the famous second movement Largo, but it's cast its magical spell over me, it was a terrific musical statement, full of the most sublime music, and who cannot be enchanted by that cor anglais!, of course it's a Largo, meaning Broadly, like a slow meandering river, after the horns begin the piece, it doesn't take long for Dvorak to introduce the cor anglais and his genius of a tune [0:41-2:10], it's very much a plaintive refrain, a sad weeping, the strings take up the same tune, and really caress it in a sublime way [2:40-3:36], but in a lot of ways it's like the slow movement of a Cor Anglais Concerto, and the main character / melody reappears [3:35+], there's a middle section, and Dvorak changes tack, and this is mainly reserved for the flutes [4:36-5:58], another sad song, but a bit faster, i like the way some of the woodwind join in to make a gentle chorus, and like in the first section the strings take over this melody, giving it a different variation [5:58-7:57], with the same flutes / woodwind in the background, and even a variation on the lower strings, and then it bursts into a sort of birdsong on the woodwinds [7:57-8:22], sort of reminiscent of a Dvorak's Slavonic Dance, of course the movement wouldn't be complete without a return to the opening cor anglais theme [8:50+], and the lower strings create a hesitant version of this theme [9:18-10:07], a real piece of nostalgic beauty, i like Jansons interpretation, in lovely sound, and the audience are so quiet!.

Here's Jansons conducting the Symphony on YouTube, the work starts at 3:20, and the Largo starts at 14:10.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Saint-Saens - Violin Concerto 3 [Chee Yun /Lopez Cobos-London Philharmonic Orchestra]

This is a truly wonderful disc, found for half price new in a record store, it's a darling of a coupling, and it was hard to choose between these two when it came to deciding which should get in my Blog, they are both such wonderful works, the Lalo i know and love better, and certainly i've played more, but in listening to this today, i just felt that Saint-Saens pips it, plus it's a riveting performance as well, this appeared in my Blog five years ago [24th August 2010].

Kim Chee-Yun is South Korean, she's now 45, now the front cover is one of those truly inspired photos [by Nancy Ellison], Chee-Yun on a beach, violin in hand, and gown flowing in the wind, the picture set at an angle, i love the lettering, and the Denon logo is great, what a fantastic finished product.

This Concerto started off great, and got better and better the longer i listened to it, thus it was the last movement that i enjoyed the best, it's a great culmination to all that has gone before and a fitting end to the Concerto, Saint-Saens knows how to bring all the threads together into something satisfying, it starts of inauspiciously, with a sort of solo violin cadenza versus orchestra, but it's only an intro to the movement proper, a dazzling show of virtuosity, it has a tendency to go all over the place, one of the major triumphant tunes comes through quickly [2:33-3:10], both violin and orchestra make the most of a lovely moment of glory, there's sweet tenderness to [4:02-5:36], where both violin and orchestra play delicately, and right afterwards Chee-Yun plays some fun and scintillating playing [5:36-6:10], and after the intro at the start comes back, so does that excellent scintillating violin playing [7:25-7:54], eventually of course the orchestra build up and up into a glorious majestic tune [9:04-9:26], in the last minute the violin gets to have some of the most dazzling music [9:51-10:31], especially towards the end of this little section [10:12+], and both orchestra an violin have a bravura ending.

Here's Julia Fischer playing this movement on YouTube.