What am I listening to? September 2017


<Again, apologies for the delay>

Welcome back to "What am I listening to", a series in which I briefly talk over some of the music that has my attention at this time.

No.1 - Symphony No.4 by Johannes Brahms

This last great symphonic work of Brahms is one of his most popular pieces today, but anybody who reads over what the composer's friends and critics had to say about it must surely remark what a close run thing it was. The work's dedicatee, Hans von Bülow, apparently said "I feel I’ve just been beaten up by two terribly intelligent people" after the piece was played in its reduced form (for two pianos). The score went through intense scrutiny from its composer thanks to his insecurities, and Brahms did not expect the symphony to last long after its premiere. We are fortunate that he was wrong: this work is a cornerstone of the romantic repertoire and deservedly so.

In the below recording, the London Symphony Orchestra play the Scherzo under the baton of Bernard Haitink.

No.2 - Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninov

Rachmaninov has the talent for creating very long musical phrases (a trademark characteristic of many a piece of Russian liturgical music), but such sentimentality is blown to smithereens in the first movement of Rachmaninov's "last spark". Sketched in the mid 1910s, the short score version for two pianos was not completed until mid 1940, with the premiere of the work taking place on 3rd January the next year.

I love the first movement. It is a contrasting piece on its own, with sharp chords and bold striking rhythms taking much of one's attention, but such march-like music surrounds an altogether quieter section with a distinctly long melody played by first the saxophone and then the strings. It always hits me in the heart when the strings take over the tune!

This time, the London Symphony Orchestra is directed by Valery Giergiev, playing the first movement.

No.3 - Simple Pictures of Tomorrow by Bob Chilcott

Bob Chilcott can be described as one of the foremost composers of contemporary choral music of our time. I have sung a fair few of his works, and next on the bucket list is this piece. Scored for a double choir and solo tenor, the text is adapted from the French of Paul Eluard describing a serene image of a couple with their child while the sun frames the scene, and has many a rich harmony and sumptuous melody.

In this recording of the piece, the composer conducts the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic Choir.


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