Mendelssohn’s Octet: Youth Meets Maturity

If you’re beyond your teenage years, take a moment and try to remember what you were doing when you were 16 years old. Then listen to Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20 and consider that this is the music of a 16-year-old. It brims with youthful joy, virtuosity, vitality and a playful sense of delight in showing off. At the same time, there isn’t a hint of immaturity in this music. …

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Nicola Benedetti’s Scottish Homecoming

Scottish-Italian violinist Nicola Benedetti’s recording, Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy, released on July 4, has made it to number 19 on the UK pop charts. The CD features traditional Scottish folk music like The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, as well as German composer Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46.  If you’re looking for authentic Scottish fiddle playing, you may be disappointed, but all in all this seems like a fun and eclectic recording. Benedetti talks about …

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The Ladies Who Lunch

Legendary Broadway performer Elaine Stritch passed away last week at the age of 89. She may be best remembered for her performance of the song, The Ladies Who Lunch in the original 1970 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy, Company.  Company offers a psychological look at the nature of relationships and marriage. It eviscerates the musical theater’s traditional escapism, replacing it with a healthy dose of realism. The song Sorry-Grateful contains the searing line, “You’ll always be …

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Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Reverent and Terrifying

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major enters strangely mystical territory. The hushed intensity of its opening string tremolo seems to emerge out of silence. The first movement gradually begins to unfold from an expansive theme which, according to some accounts, came to Bruckner in a dream. It’s simultaneously serene and ghostly, reverent and terrifying. It hints at majestic, awe-inspiring, mysterious, and even frightening aspects of the sacred. In Bruckner’s music we sense …

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Hiro Kurosaki Plays Handel

You may be familiar with classic recordings of George Frideric Handel’s Violin Sonatas by Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, Henryk Szeryng and Szymon Goldberg. For the most part, they’re all Romantic performances, emphasizing a large, singing tone and lots of vibrato. For a slightly different take, add to the list an excellent 2003 Baroque recording by violinist Hiro Kurosaki and harpsichordist William Christie. No one knows if Handel actually wrote all seven of the sonatas on this disk. A …

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The Eighteenth Variation

Last week we heard a sample of music inspired by Niccolò Paganini’s solo violin Caprice No. 24, which included Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. Let’s return to the Rachmaninov and “drop the needle” at one of its most memorable moments, the Eighteenth Variation. This stunningly beautiful melody seems far removed from Paganini’s original bouncy theme in A minor, but it actually develops from the motivic seed of Paganini’s first five notes (the top …

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Charlie Haden, Embracing the Moment

Charlie Haden, the legendary and influential jazz double bass player, passed away last Friday in Los Angeles at the age of 76. Haden enjoyed long associations with fellow jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett. His death comes a month after passing of another important figure in American jazz, pianist Horace Silver (listen here). This interview offers a glimpse at Charlie Haden’s extraordinary life and political activism. He believed that …

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