Exposed Fifths
classical music blog
July 01, 2006
Lady Viola
The Viola is the little cinderella of the classical world. In terms of instruments, it is outsung by the brighter violin, and when it comes to gloom and depth, the cello has that market all cornered. So when there is music for the Lady Viola, a concerto perhaps, as by Walton, or a complete expose for solo instrument, as here by Lillian Fuchs, we should be excited.

No relation to the great Johann Fux of counterpoint theory, Lilian Fuchs (1903-1991) was a violist of fine pedigree, and was quite unusual in her performance technique by using a Dodd bow, a bow shorter than normal, and one that Lillian claimed gave her greater control. Certainly in the sporting arena, a shorter backlift is often associated with reduced errors and greater "punch", so I'll go with her here.

There's no greater impetus to creative activity than meeting an unmet need, and there is an extreme dearth of music for solo viola. This vacuum is almost entirely due to one JS Bach, amongst whose prolific legacy count 6 cello suites, and 6 sonatas/partitas for violin. Few have been daring enough to go where Bach never stepped, so the Viola Repertoire remained empty. Well, Lillian has done her best to emulate Paganini is writing dashing and musically viable studies for her instrument. On these two discs are 3 Collections of Etudes, and a Sonata Pastorale. Performer is Jeanne Mallow. Listen here.
Piano and Memory
Hugh has a very nice piece today on learning the Rackmaninov Third Concerto. It's all about the mental feats, and training the memory in certain ways. There's the sharp focus on difficult passages and refining the fingerwork, working on the glue between sections, and then the drift out, the wide lens shot, where the music flows from beginning to end. It sounds as though the neurons and synapses are getting a full workout in someone's brain, and I'm much happier here typing away, than struggling with hundreds of thousands of notes.

Gieseking would be so proud of Hugh. A pianist's agony here.
June 30, 2006
Naxos Refresh
For those who haven't dropped in in the last couple of days, the Naxos webpage has had a bit of a redesign. Well not a bit, it's more like a radical makeover. They've dumped the widescreen format that was in vogue for a few years, and gone for a sleek, almost minimal look. It's certainly much quicker to navigate, and loads in a snap compared to the old site.

Being a baroque man, I can certainly appreciate functionality, but there seems to be something stripped back about the new naxos page. Maybe its the drab silver design, or maybe I just miss that fire red of old, the jury's out on this one.

Go for a greek island visit here.
June 29, 2006
The Hyperion Experience
One of the more admirable independents in the game, Hyperion Records has compiled a curious catalogue of 1400 discs over 25 years. They have recorded the little known works of major composers, and the major works of little known composers. Among their list of artists there is Angela Hewitt, who has a valid claim for being the Bach Interpreter of our Times, and Leslie Howard, who undertook the insane project of recording the complete Liszt, that's a block of 94 discs to add to the end of your shelf. And from a piano perspective, another important artist is Marc-Andre Hanelin, an advocate of Alkan, and other impossible to play works of the Romantic age, like Godowsky's combined Chopin etudes.

It's an impressive catalogue, and their openness to the Renaissance era is especially warming. Hyperion have assembled all their sample tracks into one easy to access page, and there are over 700 complete files here. Most of their selections are under 5 minutes, but its quite a gift to the online world. Open your ears here.
Piano Picture of the Day
lots of wood in this one ...
June 28, 2006
Classical Music is dead?
I wonder is Classical Music really is dead? An arcane hobby of a dedicated few, kept functional by government grants and longtime bequests, an industry bred by high school lessons and University studies. An Art that cannot sustain itself any longer, parasitic on others. Sure the passion is there, I can see it in the dozen or so blogs dedicated to Classical, and they have a devoted audience of maybe a hundred, but we are talking about a worldwide entity here, and the numbers are so miniscule. We might as well be Students of Euclid, reading and rereading his divine Books of Geometry. Such is the marginal and pleasantly tolerated nature of our Pasttime.

Parents still see reason to give their offspring music lessons, and if you come from a middle class family of Asian background, the gentle prod will be towards the violin or piano. Guitar seems the first real preference of children - it's complete, they see others playing it, and it's easy to carry round. And so a whole industry of Music Teachers with Tertiary Degrees finds their employment.

Orchestras survive off public grants, and so employ more Graduates. The major labels seem to have done with Classical Music, I think they recognise a carcass when its rotting at their feet. No more new recordings, just rereleases. Naxos get by with utilising an army of Soviet bred musicians - themselves an ideal product of their State Development programs. Nowhere can Classical Music stand on its own feet, a Proud Tradition facing the world square on.