December Classical CD Purchases

My December purchases came in two main waves, a large order from Amazon at the beginning of the month which brought several of Beethoven's symphonies as well as a pair of two-disc sets from Rubinstein's renowned catalog of Chopin, the Mazurkas and the Nocturnes. Later in the month I got several more discs at bargain basement prices from a seller on Half.com, and finished off the month with two of Mahler's symphonies purchased at my local Borders with 30% off coupons.

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November Classical CD Purchases

At the end of October I had the pleasure of attending a concert at the Fox Theatre featuring Itzhak Perlman with a piano accompaniment. The duo performed violin sonatas by Leclair and Beethoven, Stravinsky's Suite Italienne, and then a series of violin encores selected by Perlman spontaneously, such as John Williams' Theme From Schindler's List. Perlman appeared to have a list of every piece he's performed in Atlanta, and endeavored to play new pieces for the audience. It was a wonderful experience and prompted me to add further Perlman recordings to my collection:

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It was particularly gratifying to snag a copy of his rendition of Paganini's 24 Caprices, which Amazon continues to sell only as an import, but which I found on the shelves of my local Borders when I happened to have a 40% off coupon burning a hole in my pocket.

October Classical CD Purchases

Considering the killing I made last month, I felt a more urgent sense that I should restrain myself to my original $25 per month budget in October. I had actually hoped to make it the whole month without any purchases, but good deals on a pair of recordings of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas made that impossible.

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The first set was recorded by Itzhak Perlman, my favorite violinist (who I will see later tonight at a concert at the Fox Theatre). Though I attempted to order the discs through Amazon, the set has apparently gone out-of-print here in the States. Fortunately, Perlman's recording is still in-print in Britain, and Presto Classical happened to be having a sale on EMI's catalog; even with international shipping the price was right. The Szeryng I did get through Amazon, heavily discounted, and it makes the fifth recording I own of these pieces (alongside Perlman, Milstein, Mintz, and Grumiaux), cherished since I was introduced to them as a teenager by my violin teacher.

September Classical CD Purchases

Just as with the last time I redeployed from Kuwait, my final weeks in the desert had me hungry for some new classical music. During those three long months, my main escapes were literature and classical music; I thus become very familiar with the two dozen titles I'd transferred to my Ipod, but also ready for more, particularly after reading Jan Swafford's The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (reviewed here). My first stop was Amazon, as usual, where I found a few used bargains and redeemed a gift certificate earned through this site's referral fees:

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The Brahms' symphonies round out the set begun with my purchase of Carlos Kleiber's rendition of the Symphony No. 4 with the Vienna Philharmonic. I like the idea of building symphonic cycles from individually lauded recordings, rather than the boxed sets featuring complete cycles featuring the same conductor and orchestra. I have greatly enjoyed Arthur Rubinstein's rendition of Chopin's Ballades and Scherzos, and am very excited to hear Dinu Lipatti's performance of the Waltzes, which earned a Rosette in the Penguin Guide. The remaining three titles were inspired by Swafford's book, which gave considerable attention to choral music and finally convinced me to dip a toe into the Wagnerian end of the pool.

I had planned for that to be my entire spending for the month; those discs should, after all, keep me busy for at least a few weeks. But alas, the best-laid plans for self-restraint were foiled by an excellent sale at British retailer Presto Classical, which offered 50% off most of the 2-disc titles in the DG Originals series. Coming in at less than $12 each, including shipping across the Atlantic, my admittedly limited self-control was insufficient to resist the temptation:

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Nathan Milstein's reading of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas is the third recording of that extraordinary work to enter my collection, after Grumiaux and Mintz. It will surely not be the last; Perlman, Heifetz, and Szeryng are still out there, at the very least.

Another title with multiple recordings on my shelf is Bach's ever-popular Cello Suites, where Yo-Yo Ma is now joined by Frenchman Pierre Fournier, whose performance tops the list of many Bach aficionados. I think it is safe to say this is another piece where I have yet to buy my last recording, knowing that the renditions by Rostropovich, Bylsma, Starker, and Gendron have not yet entered my collection.

Maurizio Pollini's full cycle of Beethoven sonatas has been much-lauded, but his recording of the last five "have assumed almost legendary status," in the words of Amazon editor David Hurwitz. This is another one where I'd like to put a collection together piece-by-piece rather than buy one of the $100 collections. Similar praise has been heaped upon Russian Emil Gilels' recordings of the Brahms concertos, backed by Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic. My cautious approach to an appreciation of Gustav Mahler continues; enjoyment of his first symphony has given me the courage to tackle one of his later pieces, Symphony No. 6 with Herbert von Karajan leading the Berliners. Finally, Mozart's late symphonies, the final two of which I already own in an excellent Leonard Bernstein recording, were labeled "sublime" by Swafford and Karl Böhm's recordings, according to Hurwitz, "belong in the collection of every fan of the composer."

The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Swafford

swafford_vintage.jpgOne of the many marvels of classical music is the symbiosis of efforts from three different actors: the composer who writes the music, the performer who plays it, and the listener who hears it. This is not a universal characteristic of classical music (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms were all accomplished concert keyboardists), though it became nearly so as the composer/performer archetype went out of vogue in the last century. And it is not unique to classical music as compared to other genres; some musicians have made a lot of money playing music written by other people, and I've long been a fan of "covers" in rock and folk (see e.g., the Cry Cry Cry album). Nevertheless, I think there is something special about the mechanics of this phenomenon in the classical genre, where an enthusiastic contemporary listener can be exposed to multiple interpretations of the same written piece of music, each synthesizing an entirely new experience every time it is played.

As my collection of recordings has slowly expanded, I've put together a simple page displaying the covers of each album I own. A quick perusal of the first few rows reveals that I have already crossed that line from novice to enthusiast (or obsessive) demarcated by owning multiple recordings of the same piece, in this case Bach's Cello Suites and Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. As works for solo instruments, these lend themselves especially well to the varieties of style and technique of the different performers. But even in the most heavily-orchestrated symphonies or choral works, there is plenty of room for interpretation by different conductors, by different orchestras, or even by the same conductor at different stages of his career (Herbert von Karajan famously recorded no less than four complete cycles of Beethoven's symphonies; one each in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s).

A second-order benefit of this aspect of classical music is that it greatly increases the number of subjects to which I can devote my literary appetite. To help me navigate the thousands of classical recording options available today, I've consulted several sources, including The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music and The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection. But that leaves a great deal to learn about the artists themselves, both the composers and the performers. Of the latter, I've spent an embarrassing number of hours reading Wikipedia biographies of the great violinists and pianists of the past century. For the composers, and the developmental arc of the Western classical tradition, I turned to Jan Swafford's The Vintage Guide to Classical Music:

I don't claim that the life of a composer tells you everything about his music. There are technical factors, too, that I touch on to the extent appropriate in a nontechnical book. I do claim, however, that a composer's life, personality, and milieu tell you as much about his music as anything else does. Haydn wrote over a hundred symphonies as compared to Beethoven's nine, because for various reasons a symphony for Haydn was a less weighty matter than it was for Beethoven. What symphonies were to Beethoven, operas were to Mozart; in both cases, they were the most ambitious of their works and what they preferred to be writing most of the time, As we move through the years we'll find that each new generation tends to raise the ante of its forebears: the achievements of Beethoven prepared the way for Wagner's exalted notion of the artist, which led in turn to the still-more-exalted ideas of Mahler and Schoenberg. Meanwhile, that train of thought--involving the near deification of the artist--contributed to Stravinsky's disgust with the whole Romantic apparatus. While these historical developments did involve technical concerns, they were social, political, economic, and personal as well, so they fall within the scope of this book.

Swafford takes a strictly chronological approach to his subject, opening with the Middle Ages and proceeding through the major composers of each of five subsequent periods: Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Twentieth Century. The basic template for each composer is a brief introduction, followed by a biography, an outline of their music development (and how it fits into those that came before and after), and finally his recommendations for introductory works by that composer. Interspersed through the text are a series of sidebars in which Swafford provides an introduction to important musical topics, such "Consonance and Dissonance," "Fugue and Canon," and "Sonata Form," in a way that does not require the reader to have any existing technical proficiency:

What we call sonata form indicates a general way of organizing shorter pieces or individual movements of longer pieces... It can be found in numerous genres--symphony, string quartet, and sacred choral works, to name a few. Most commonly, first movements of instrumental pieces are organized according to sonata form.... In the classical instrumental works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, key changes became dramatic events, often signaled by thematic, rhythmic, and textural contrasts. To rationalize this new variety, composers of the period developed some habits of musical syntax and long-range organization which worked so well that they pervaded Western music for over a century. It was these habits that were later abstracted and dubbed "sonata form."

In addition to these sidebars, Swafford also provides a twenty-page glossary of musical terms, covering everything from "a capella" to "glissando" to "woodwind instruments." In his vignettes of the various composers, he makes an effort to indicate the changes in the lifestyles and social status of composers, from the sponsorship of church and court in the Baroque to greater independence with success dependent on popular approval (resulting either in mass fame or utter obscurity) to the almost anti-social alienation of some movements in the 20th-century. Particularly enlightening are Swafford's insights into the evolution of classical music in the context of broader artistic movements; composers, after all, were influenced and inspired by the same economic, social, and political events as other artists, as well as by those artists themselves. Take, for example, the explosive premiere of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps:

That evening in the spring of 1913 was the symbolic beginning, with a bang, of twentieth-century music. In fact, Schoenberg's Pierrot luniaire had made an equally important beginning the year before in Berlin. But Schoenberg did not have the glamour of the Ballets Russes backing up his revolution, and Paris in those years was the epicenter of the new in the arts. So in history books if only partly in reality, Le Sacre begins musical Modernism. It shook the Western tradition to its foundations; it made Stravinsky the champion of the avant-garde and the bete noire of traditionalists. He was seen as the musical counterpart of his friend Picasso, the Cubist and Primitivist. Just under a year following its tumultuous premiere, after the first concert performance of Le Sacre, Stravinsky was paraded through the streets of Paris on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. Around the world, the same pattern was enacted: violent rejection at the early hearings, soon followed by enthusiasm. By the thirties, the work was famous--and safe--enough to accompany animated dinosaurs in Walt Disney's Fantasia (Stravinsky was outraged but helpless to stop it).

The book is not perfect; for one, I question spending more pages on the 20th-century than any other period, with composers such as Ives, Webern and Shostakovich getting equal or greater attention than Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky. Swafford pleads as an excuse that the passage of time has yet to measure the relative worth of more recent composers, but that seems all the better reason to spend more time on those whose work has already passed that test. I also would have appreciated a greater number of musical sidebars, to further bridge the gap between those with musical training and those without. Nit-picking aside, this is an excellent introduction for those who lack a musical background but want to complement their listening with a basic understanding of the history and lives behind the music.

June Classical CD Purchases

After the bevy of classical music purchases I made in April, I had planned to wait until my return from Kuwait this fall to buy any more. But the week before last I saw that Amazon was running a sale on some Living Stereo series discs, and I had to snag a few.

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I mean, how could I resist? Beethoven, Chopin, Dvorak, et al played by Rubinstein, Heifetz, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Fritz Reiner? At less than $8 per disc, these were bargains, and the Living Stereo series now compromises a hefty chunk of my collection. I rounded out this month's haul with a used copy of the inexplicably out-of-print collection of four major violin concertos as performed by the incomparable Arthur Grumiaux.

April Classical CD Purchases

On Monday I discussed my (once again) renewed interest in classical music, and the six CDs I purchased shortly before departing Kuwait. I have been enjoying these discs immensely over the past several weeks, finally putting the built-in CD holder in my car's armrest to good use. Sitting in a few minutes of Atlanta traffic is made substantially more serene when accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach's Cello Suites.

In keeping with my desire for a gradual reimmersion into the classical music realm, my plan is was to place one order for new CDs every couple weeks or so, with a budget of $25. This is sufficient for roughly 2-3 titles, with the occasional splurge for a boxed set. I placed the first such order ten days ago:

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There is a sizable contingent that thinks Glenn Gould owns the Goldberg Variations. After all, his 1955 recording, which Gould himself came to dislike, launched his much lauded career. Whatever his merits as a pianist, Gould drives me to distraction as a recording musician. The man audibly hummed while he played, sound engineers were unable to find a way to isolate this from their microphones, and so the humming is prominently displayed on all of Gould's albums. In any event, Murray Perahia's interpretation, which introduced me to the work, is a gorgeously-recorded revelation that easily rivals Gould, humming or not.

My affection for Grumiaux's recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas quickly led me to his performance of the composer's concertos. The Belgian virtuoso was Philips' go-to violinist for many years, and we continue to reap the rewards of that recording relationship. I have also admired Nathan Milstein's reading of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, so when I saw his version of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concertos available for under $4, it seemed a worthwhile bet.

You may have noticed the strikethrough above regarding what the plan "is." Borders threw a wrench in the "gradual" aspect of my reimmersion last week with a 40%-off sale on selected CDs. I had actually stopped by just to return a book, but then wandered over to the classical music area to browse for a moment. Lo and behold, many of the discs had a little orange sticker which signified a 40% discount. What with Amazon's prices fluctuating on a daily basis, and some discs (especially mid-price) having no online discount at all, it seemed worthwhile to at least take a look. That look turned into three trips to two different Borders, and quite a bevy of titles for my nascent collection:

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Not so gradual a beginning as I had planned, but it is hard to feel bad considering I snagged these fifteen albums for about $100. The bad news is that this sale may be a harbinger of Borders' demise; at least I can say I did my part to boost the company's cash flow.

Classical Music: A Gradual Reimmersion

A few years ago, I experienced a surge of interest in classical music. Though I'd always had an affinity for such music, with a decided preference for works that showcased the violin, I underwent an intense, albeit brief, obsession during my last year of law school. Perhaps this is a strangely cyclical experience; during my last deployment to Kuwait, I felt the urge again.

This time, however, I am determined to take things slow. During the last iteration of classically-oriented compulsion, I purchased so many new discs in a short span that I was unable to provide each piece with its proper share of attention. The best music, of any genre, only improves upon repeated listening, and I intend to pursue a gradual approach this time around.

It might be worth a few words to explain why I am, at this late stage in the digital music revolution, going back to purchasing physical CDs. The simplest answer is that the price is just not much different. Unlike popular music, where one might purchase a few songs from any particular album, it would be rather odd to download a single movement from an symphony or concerto. Many discs are now so inexpensive that there are no savings at all for buying digital. Not to mention the benefits of owning the CD itself: a medium that is not subject to compressed encoding or DRM restrictions and that often comes with attractive and informative liner notes. And I can still get all the benefits of digital downloads by ripping the purchased CD to my hard drive and Ipod.

I placed my first order just a few days before I left Kuwait, so that they would be waiting for me upon my return in March. Though I limited myself to a budget of $50 (and almost stayed within that budget), this was probably the easiest order I'll place; I simply bought my very favorite works:

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The Grumiaux Bach has been the standard for me since I was introduced to it by my violin instructor (I spent a single quixotic year taking lessons in high school). Ma and Ashkenazy are top-flight performers who can be trusted with just about anything in the repertoire and these recordings of Bach and Rachmaninoff, respectively, are nicely mid-priced. The Fournier Dvořák is not as famous as Rostropovich's recording with Karajan, but is a steal at its budget price. The only disc I have reservations about is the budget-priced Slavonic Dances, which are professionally handled by Szell but seem timid next to the fiery rendition conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Sometimes it is worth a few dollars more to get the best.

I augmented these with a disc of violin showpieces featuring Itzhak Perlman, my favorite violinist, backed by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic. This disc collects a series of works either written by or for violin virtuosos of the past couple centuries. I had a CD of Perlman's "greatest hits" in high school that featured these recordings, and it quickly became a preferred disc in my collection. Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is my favorite piece of music and Perlman's version was actually the inspiration for my brief attempt to learn to play the violin (I did not quite get to Saint-Saens).

Sufjan Stevens

sufjanAtlanta's Fabulous Fox Theatre played host to Sufjan Stevens on Wednesday night and my wife and I had the pleasure of being in attendance. Stevens actually puts on a whole show, not just a concert, with the band wearing butterfly and bird wings and vintage film footage thematically related to each song playing on a screen behind the stage. I have not heard much of Stevens' music, just enough to think it would be a fun show. And it was, though the large band (at least six or seven string instruments and three horns) was not to my liking and most of the songs could have been two minutes shorter. Nonetheless, Stevens himself is a prodigious talent and the simpler songs which highlighted his skills were wonderful, with "Casimir Pulaski Day" a particularly stunning piece (having grown up in northern Illinois, I actually did get out of school for Casimir Pulaski Day).

And the theatre itself is gorgeous, a true testament to the restoration work that has preserved a great landmark. The history of the Fox is fascinating in and of itself, but one really must visit the theatre and see a show to appreciate the beauty of the building, particularly the attention to detail, which is where the Fox really shines. We enjoyed the concert as much for it being at the Fox as for the performance itself.

A warning, however: if My Brightest Diamond is the opening act for a concert you are attending, plan to arrive late. About an hour late, so that there is no chance your ears have to suffer the noise which attacks from the stage when Shara Worden is performing. She was bad. I have listened to the clips on her website, and they are significantly better than her live performance. Almost listenable, in fact.

UPDATE: CNN has a review of the show, noting the originality of both the venue and the performer, but mercifully making no mention of the opening act.

The Promise of Dar

mybetterselfDar Williams has been among my favorite musicians for nearly a decade now, having been introduced to Mortal City by my favorite high school teacher as a way of easing me into folk music. With the release of her latest album, My Better Self, I had been hoping for the long-awaited return to the quality that hooked me back then. I have enjoyed everything she has recorded since, without a doubt, but alas, this Amazon reviewer sums up all too well the way her last several albums have been received:

"My Better Self" is arguably Dar's most accomplished album since "Mortal City", but lyrically it still falls well below the mark set by her first two albums. Somehow the major poetry ("major" as in Paul Simon, later Lennon/McCartney, earlier Billy Joel major) in songs like "Traveling Again", "When Sal's Burned Down", "The Babysitter's Here", "Iowa", "As Cool As I Am", and "Western New York" turned into a Frankenstein third album, and then two nice sounding albums with far too many boring cliches, and now this: a *very* nice sounding album with some great collaborations, where, unfortunately, the best poetry is in the covers.

If the above seems surprisingly negative for a 4-star review, it's because Dar still has one of the most amazing voices out there, and because she and her people have gotten very skilled at blending the best elements of folk, indie pop, and old-school Beatles pop into something both soothing and challenging to my ear. As a poetry lover, though, I have to say that Dar needs to go back and read some Auden, some Millay, some... something. The author of "The Ocean" has far too much poetic talent to be coasting.

Scratch the Billy Joel reference and I feel the same way. It may be unfair to expect so much from one person, particularly when you get the sense that a lot of what drives a great artist is the pain of life (especially when you really read the lyrics to a song like "The Ocean"). So when an artist cheers up, gets married, and her music stops hitting those very highest notes of genius, it is awful to say that you wish she were more depressed and thus more lyrically creative. Still, the feeling lingers.

Bach Recommendations?

With the exception of Coldplay's brilliant new album, I have found myself listening to little other than three of Johann Sebastian Bach's greatest works. I have found myself enraptured by his Cello Suites, Goldberg Variations, and Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (performed by Rostropovich, Perahia, and Milstein, respectively). I reckon that means I like the guy. Anyone have recommendations for my fourth Bach album? And then a fifth?

Faulkner Variations

As I venture to finish off Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust tonight, I have some classical music playing in the background. Or so I intended. It is just so engaging, however, that it is distracting me completely from finishing this book.

It is a recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations, perfomed by Murray Perahia. David Hurwitz has written a wonderful review of this recording:

I have no hesitation at all in acclaiming Murray Perahia's recording of the Goldberg Variations as the finest on piano since Glenn Gould's pioneering version of the 1950s. Both in its broad conception and individual details, it offers incontestable evidence of Perahia's penetrating musical intellect, sensitivity to emotional nuance, and exceptional technical gifts. A performance this rich and varied in expression deserves to be considered at much greater length than that of a simple record review, but perhaps a few general observations will suffice to indicate what an extraordinary listening experience this release represents.

Read the whole review, then get yourself a copy, put aside an hour one evening, and pay attention. This is not background music.

Great Music on a Budget

This is an example of why, when used correctly, the offers available from places like BMG Music Club can be amazingly worthwhile. The basic deal that you see in magazines and newspapers is simple: buy 12 CDs for the price of one. First, pick seven free CDs and just pay shipping ($18.73):

Ornette Coleman - The Shape of Jazz to Come
Miles Davis - In a Silent Way
Miles Davis - Milestones
Benny Goodman - 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert (2 discs)
Thelonious Monk - Brilliant Corners
Oscar Peterson - Night Train

Then, you buy one for full price. However, if you've got a promotional code (like the one I found on the DVDTalk forums), you can get a "Buy One, Get Two Free" offer. Pick three CDs, pay full price for one and shipping for all three ($24.55):

Bill Evans - Sunday At the Village Vanguard
Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto - Getz & Gilberto With Jobim
Dexter Gordon - Our Man in Paris

Finally, you pick four more free CDs and just pay shipping ($11.16):

Thelonious Monk - Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (SACD Hybrid)
Wes Montgomery - Incredible Jazz Guitar (SACD Hybrid)
The Quintet - Jazz at Massey Hall (SACD Hybrid)
Sonny Rollins - Tenor Madness (SACD Hybrid)

All told, I paid $54.44 for fourteen discs (counting the Goodman set as 2), for an average of $3.89 per disc. By comparison, these discs would cost $204.33 from Amazon. The savings are a bit greater on this order because I got the SACD hybrids (which cost $20 on Amazon), but the point is the same. The key is to then cancel the account (none of that monthly selection stuff), and start again.

For less than four dollars a CD, I am getting some of the greatest music ever made. It's a great way to build a collection on a budget.

On a side note, I've listened to Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else about fifteen times today. Genius. A good place to start if you're trying to take a baby step beyond Kind of Blue (almost invariably the first and often only jazz CD in many music collections).

Music, Marriage, You Know

So I'm getting married next week, which is one reason I'm not blogging as much. The other reason is that I've been working on other parts of my life, particularly digging further into my nascent interest in classical and jazz music. I've even finally gotten around to creating a section to keep track of my classical CDs and my jazz CDs. All suggestions are welcome! I may not have time to post again this next week, but I'll be back with gusto after the honeymoon.

Mozart Symphonies Bargain

There are quite a few CD shops out there which seem to specialize in selling European and Canadian imports to customers in the U.S., often at a great discount. I've always been skeptical of these companies, though they have good feedback ratings on Amazon and eBay. But when this deal came along, I took the plunge and am entirely satisfied.

Trevor Pinnock is a conductor famous for founding The English Concert and specializing in period-instrument performances, a practice I think quite worthwhile and enjoyable. Under Deutsche Grammophon's Archiv label, Pinnock and the English Concert have produced a complete set of Mozart's symphonies, praised by the Penguin Guide as "an obvious primary recommendation for those wanting period-instrument performances." The playing "has polish and sophistication, fine intonation, spontaneity and great vitality" and there is "clear, well-balanced sound throughout."

This 11-CD set fetches $88 at Amazon. Make a visit to MyMusic.com, however, and you can get the Canadian edition for $29.99. I got mine in the mail a few days ago, and it is identical to the American edition in all ways except the cover. Well-packaged, shipped quickly, highly recommended.

More Classical Music

A generous reader wrote in with some recommendations for future classical music purchases, and he was so thorough that I thought it worthwhile to share his picks:

Brahms Violin Concerto with Henryk Szeryng/ Pierre Monteaux cond. London Sym./RCA
Any Chopin with Artur Rubinstein, pianist /RCA
Mozart Piano Concerti with Robert Casadesus/George Szell cond. Cleveland or Columbia Symphonies
Haydn Symphonies with Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica
Janacek with Karl Ancerl and the Czech Phil
Rachmaninof Piano Concerto No. 3 with Van Cliburn/Kiril Kondrashin cond. Symphony of The Air/RCA
Prokofief Piano Concerti with Vladimir Ashkenazy/ Andre Previn Cond. London Sym./London
Mahler Symphony No. 1 with Jascha Horenstein/Unicorn
Mahler Symphonies No. 2,3,7 with Leonard Bernstein/Columbia-Sony
Mahler Symphony No. 4 with George Szell and Cleveland Orchestra/Judith Raskin sop/Columbia-Sony
Mahler Symphonies No.5 and 6 with Pierre Boulez and Vienna Phil/DGG
Mahler Symphony No. 8 with Jascha Horenstein and BBC Phil/BBC Masters Series
Mahler Symphony No. 9 with Bruno Walter and Columbia Sym.(LA PHil) or John Barbarolli and Berlin Phil.
Anything by soprano Janet Baker on EMI
Anything by pianist Rudolf Serkin
Tchaikovsky Symphonies Mariss Jahnsons cond. Oslo Sym/Chandos
Sibelius Symphonies and Tone Poems by Colin Davis and Boston Symphony/Phillips
Any orchestral Richard Strauss by Fritz Reiner and Chicago Symphony/RCA
Hector Berlioz by Pierre Monteaux or Colin Davis
Mozart Symphonies by George Szell and cleveland Orchestra
Brahms Symphonies by Kurt Sanderling and Dresden Staatskapelle (good price, too)
Leos Janacek by Charles Mackerras
Anything by the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble
Anything by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble
Anything by the Emerson String Quartet
Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic/Columbia (accept no substitutes, as this is one of the greatest recordings ever made).

I can also recommend just about any recording of the standard repertoire by George Szell, Bruno Walter, Bernard Haitink, John Eliot Gardner, George Solti, Carlos Kleiber, Artur Rubinstein, Itzahk Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yo Yo Ma, Andras Schiff, Murray Perahia.

You are embarking on a very rewarding quest. I'm jealous of all the
wonderful experiences you will have.

I can't wait. What a treasure trove to explore!

Classical Music

I have noticed in the past few years a growing indifference to popular music. Whether a sign of age or merely a change in tastes, I no longer find much pleasure in all but my most preferred popular CDs. Luckily, at the same time my interest in classical music has risen dramatically. I always had an above-average appreciation for classical, and violin-centered music in particular. But not until the past few weeks have I really started being serious. I picked up a copy of the Penguin Guide and added about a dozen titles to my nascent collection. Here's what I now own:

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra - Reiner
Bartok: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-3 - Anda
Beethoven: Late Quartets - Quartetto Italiano
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 - Klemperer
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 - Kleiber
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Furtwangler
Beethoven: Violin Concerto - Perlman/Giulini
Brahms: Violin Concerto - Perlman
Brahms: Violin Sonatas - Perlman/Ashkenazy
Debussy: La Mer, Nocturnes - Boulez
Dvorak: Cello Concerto - Yo-Yo Ma
Dvorak: Cello Concerto - Rostropovich/Giulini
Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 - Kondrashin
Elgar: Cello Concerto - Du Pre
Elgar: Sea Pictures - Baker
Herbert, Cello Concerto No. 2 - Yo-Yo Ma
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 - Maag
Mozart: Requiem - Marriner
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante - Perlman
Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35-41 - Bohm
Mozart: Violin Concertos - Perlman/Levine
Orff: Carmina Burana - Jochum
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Cliburn
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Ashkenazy
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Ashkenazy
Saint-Saens: Cello Concerto No. 1 - Rostropovich/Giulini
Schubert: Late Quartets & Quintet - Emerson String Quartet
Tchaihovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Cliburn

As you can see, I've already crossed what I consider a most important threshold demarcating the boundary between amateurs and amateurs with serious pretensions: I purchased second copies of pieces I already owned, because I wanted to hear how different performers would play them. Too much fun.

The End of the Summer

In honor of the last day before classes start, a meditation by Dar Williams on the changing of the season:

The summer ends and we wonder where we are
And there you go, my friends, with your boxes in your car
And you both look so young
And last night was hard, you said
You packed up every room
And then you cried and went to bed
But today you closed the door and said
"We have to get a move on.
It's just that time of year when we push ourselves ahead,
We push ourselves ahead."

And it was cloudy in the morning
And it rained as you drove away
And the same things looked different
It's the end of the summer
It's the end of the summer,
When you move to another place

And I feel like the neighbor's girl who will never be the same
She walked alone all spring,
She had a boyfriend when the summer came
And he gave her flowers in a lightning storm
They disappeared at night in green fields of silver corn
And sometime in July she just forgot that he was leaving
So when the fields were dying, she held on to his sleeves
She held on to his sleeves

And she doesn't want to let go
'Cause she won't know what she's up against
The classrooms and the smart girls
It's the end of the summer
It's the end of the summer
When you hang your flowers up to dry

And I had a dream it blows the autumn through my head
It felt like the first day of school
But I was going to the moon instead
And I walked down the hall
With the notebooks they got for me
My dad led me through the house
My mom drank instant coffee
And I knew that I would crash
But I didn't want to tell them
There are just some moments when your family makes sense
They just make sense

So I raised up my arms and my mother put the sweater on
We walked out on the dark and frozen grass
The end of the summer
It's the end of the summer
When you send your children to the moon

The summer ends and we wonder who we are
And there you go, my friends, with your boxes in your car
And today I passed the high school, the river, the maple tree
I passed the farms that made it
Through the last days of the century
And I knew that I was going to learn again
Again, in this less hazy light
I saw the fields beyond the fields
The fields beyond the fields

And the colors are much brighter now
It's like they really want to tell the truth
We give our testimony to the end of the summer
It's the end of the summer,
You can spin the light to gold.

Wonderful things to look back on. Wonderful things to look forward to.

A Small Detail About the Man in Black

cash.jpgI don't know when Alex Knapp redesigned Heretical Ideas, but it looks great. Very nice color scheme. And I have to second this sentiment:

I always find it strange to read tributes to Johnny Cash's faith in the pages of National Review. I mean, it's not surprising that National Review and its readers would be interested in a country star who wore his faith on his sleeve. But you'd think they'd at least mention in passing that as a result of his deep Christian faith, Johnny Cash was, you know... liberal.

But I guess that wouldn't play as well to his audience, wouldn't it?

Right... I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I've read books like "Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Love in the Time of Cholera." And I think I've understood them. They're about girls, right? Just kidding. But I have to say...my all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash's autobiography "Cash" by Johnny Cash.

(If you didn't catch that reference, well... I'm sad).

Office Space Soundtrack

I never thought I'd be quoting this song, but having finally gotten a hold of the Office Space soundtrack, I discovered that "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" actually has something to say on the political front:

So voters of the world keep supporting me
And I promise to take you very far
Other leaders better not upset me
Or I'll send a million troops to die at war
To all you Republicans, that helped me win
I sincerely like to thank you
Cuz now I got the world swingin' from my nuts
And damn it feels good to be a gangsta

I've never heard it better said.

A Confession

I'm listening to the new Avril Lavigne album. And I like it. A lot. Oh, the shame.

Favorite Oldies

During the past couple weeks, I've spent dozens of hours trying to catch up in classes long ignored. While doing so, I've listened almost exclusively to the local oldies station, and have decided that there are three oldies in particular that I really like, simply because they are so damn catchy:

Come a Little Bit Closer - Jay and the Americans
Hold On I'm Coming - Sam & Dave
Gimme Some Lovin' - The Spencer Davis Group

That's all, just wanted to share some deep insights into my state of mind.

Better Things

The last time I saw Dar Williams in concert, she described this Ray Davies song as "the song your dog would bring you if he thought you were sad." Sounds about right to me. It's upbeat, it's optimistic, but it's not claiming that all of life is just ease and joy. It's not even about overcoming adversity so much as enjoying the time after adversity, getting back on track. Of course this song appeals to my optimism, but it also appeals to my sense that the way to make the future a wonderful place is to enjoy the present moment.

Here's wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on the way.

Here's hoping all the days ahead
Won't be as bitter as the ones behind you
Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on their way.

It's really good to see you rocking out
And having fun,
Living like you just begun.
Accept your life and what it brings.
I hope tomorrow you find better things.
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.

Here's wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the drudge and sadness
I know that better things are on the way.

I know you've got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone, it's all been said.
So here's to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.

I Am a Patriot

As a longtime Pearl Jam fan, I began collecting bootleg copies of their live shows long before they began releasing them officially. Steve Van Zandt's "I Am a Patriot" has been a part of their cover repertoire for just about as long as they've been performing, and was always one of my favorites. But it did not really become what I'd call an important song for me until after 9/11. At that time, I'd only been playing the guitar for a few months, and had barely mastered rudimentary chord progressions and strumming. Yet I knew that music would be one of the only outlets that could help me cope in the days after that tragedy. So I sought out songs that gave some emotional catharsis, but could be played by a novice guitarist. I would sit in my little studio apartment in Cambridge, Massachussetts, play these songs, and immerse myself in something less horrible than the world outside my walls. Two songs in particular became important to me in this way, in those days: Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Who'll Stop the Rain?" and this song.

And the rivers shall open for the righteous...
And the rivers shall open for the righteous...
And the rivers shall open for the righteous someday...

I was walking with my brother,
And he wondered, oh how I am.
Said what I believe in my soul
Ain�t what I see with my eyes,
And there�s no turning back this time.

I am a patriot, and I love my country,
Because my country is all I know.
Wanna be with my family,
People who understand me.
I got no place else to go.

I was walking with my girlfriend.
She looked so fine, I said
�Baby, what�s on your mind?�
Said I want to run like the lions
Released from their cages...
Released from the rages
Burning in my soul tonight.

I am a patriot, and I love my country,
Because my country is all I know.

And I ain�t no communist,
And I ain�t no socialist,
And I ain�t no capitalist,
And I ain�t no imperialist,
And I ain�t no Democrat,
Sure ain�t no Republican either,
I only know one party,
And that is freedom.
I am...I am...I am...

I am a patriot, and I love my country,
Because my country is all I know.

And the rivers shall open for the righteous,
And the rivers shall open for the righteous,
And the rivers shall open for the righteous someday...
Someday...someday...

Song Lyrics

I've been busy today trying to catch up on some work (and maybe even get ahead), so I've not got much interesting to say, or much time to surf around and see what others are talking about. I did notice that Juan Non-Volokh has decided to try a new tradition of posting song lyrics, and I was reminded that this was one of my favorite things to do on my now defunct college blog. I would often post favorite song lyrics and include a little description of what they meant to me. I think it is is a practice worth continuing.