Choral Evensong – Trinity Sunday (London Festival of Contemporary Church Music)

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Yesterday’s Choral Evensong was a treat for lovers of modern Church music, being a live broadcast of the final service in this year’s London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, from St Pancras Church. As such, it was interesting overview of current practise, as well as a blessed relief from the generic fare too often dished up at these services.

Anthony Powers‘ introit had its moments, despite its excited chord progressions sometimes sounding arbitrary; there’s an earnest, heartfelt quality in his setting, sounding (as all Church music should) “sung to God”. Peter Nardone‘s Responses were pedestrian—getting the choir to sing loudly doesn’t equate to “joyful”; more about these later. The office hymn had a pleasing grandiosity to it; i’d not heard the tune “Straker” before—if anyone can tell me who it’s by, i’d be very grateful. Director of Music (and Festival Artistic Director) Christopher Batchelor clearly couldn’t resist including his own music, which was a shame as his chants for the Psalms were mundane and predictable. The latter of the two had some interest to it, but the music and the performance did little to capture the power of Psalm 94’s words. Why composers aren’t doing more interesting things with the Psalms is beyond me. Read more

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Messiaen’s Méditations – the greatest organ work of all time?

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Trinity Sunday, and an opportunity to share one of the most prized CDs of my collection. It’s a complete recording of Olivier Messiaen‘s organ cycle Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité, performed by Messiaen himself on the organ of the Parisian church where he was organist for most of his life, the appropriately named La Trinité. The nine meditations (which i shall be hearing in concert in a month’s time) are among Messiaen’s finest creations—still controversial for some due to his quirky creation of a “communicable language” that he then uses to “say” phrases from Scripture. Nonetheless, the sounds and textures are unique in the organ repertory, bearing little resemblance to conventional—or, indeed, any other—organ music. Despite taking liberties with his own score, Messiaen’s performances are incredibly exciting, and the recording is marvellously vivid, capturing the timbres brilliantly (the deep bass notes are, literally, breathtaking). Read more

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Mix Tape #5 : Beats

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If music was my first love, then my fascination with rhythm was the first part of that attraction; beat-driven music—particularly early hip-hop and electro—dominated my earliest teenage years. My taste in beats has evolved since that time, of course, and the selection represented here (which may well come as little surprise to regular readers) is a selection of relatively recent music. Each of them has something distinctive, something that separates it from the terrible plethora of dance music that predominates the current musical landscape (at least, the popular landscape); each of them, too, is in my opinion one of the very best tracks by that artist. Read more

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Thomas Adès – These Premises Are Alarmed, Concerto Conciso, Asyla (World Premières)

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i’ve been interested in Thomas Adès‘ work for many years, so here are recordings of the world première performances of three of his compositions. The tale behind his miniature orchestral work These Premises Are Alarmed is interesting, if disappointing. Adès was commissioned to compose a piece for the series of three inaugural concerts at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, which opened in September 1996 (i was fortunate enough to attend these concerts). For some time beforehand, the word was circulated that Adès was at work on a piano concerto, which—in Classical fashion—he would direct from the keyboard. As the concert approached, however, rumours began to fly that Adès was having difficulties with the piece and things seemed to be getting rather desperate. Eventually, all that could be salvaged from the project was a mere three minutes of music, a pretty meagre offering (George Benjamin, also commissioned for these concerts, wrote Sometime Voices, a substantial work). It’s difficult to be too praiseworthy about These Premises Are Alarmed; the orchestration is interesting and lively, but there’s the ever-present sense that this is material pieced together in haste. Nonetheless, it’s a testament to Adès’ abilities that the result has such aplomb. Read more

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An archetypal journey on a road from nowhere: The Hafler Trio – Dislocation

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Pretty much all of the music that qualifies for the lame but vital epithet “interesting” is found among the fringes and shadows of most people’s perception. Unfortunately, these days a great deal of dross and detritus lurk there too (the kind of feeble fodder served up on blogs such as “Deleted Scenes, Forgotten Dreams”), but that’s usually music that has placed itself at the edges actively, with the intention of disassociating itself from the mainstream. The best (or, rather, the best of the best) is there because it simply cannot be anywhere else; in fact, truth be told, it’s not even here: it resides precisely nowhere, and makes its point with a beautiful intensity of thought and bewildering clarity of utterance. With the literal meaning in mind, such as this may be called ‘Utopian’ music. The output of The Hafler Trio could be said to reside in just such a “no place”.

Various parameters need re-thinking and re-shaping in approaching The Hafler Trio’s works: this isn’t, in any conventional sense, ‘music’—nor, indeed, could it be described as ‘art’; it is something ‘other’ than either of these things. This need is, literally, mirrored in the plethora of paraphernalia that accompany many Hafler Trio releases, where text and image are frequently shown back-to-front; it suggests many things: the need to look at things in a new way, and that what appears backward may well not be; the backward writing also suggests Da Vinci’s practice of secreting his thoughts and concepts. and yet, nonetheless, these works have qualities that can be said to be both artistic and musical, and as such they provide a ‘way in’. It’s certainly a better approach than to question the author, Andrew McKenzie, who chooses to hide himself behind layers of pseudo-arcana and quasi-esoterica; this doesn’t matter, of course (outside of religion, when has it ever been profitable to shift attention from the creation to the creator?), it is the work that must command our interest (not our questions) and, in turn, it is the work’s response (not its answers) that we must face; then and only then, we shall be provoked for the right reasons. Read more

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Client B – Acoustic At The Club Bar & Dining

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Throughout the Easter season, Client have been releasing a free EP of “Client B” (i.e. the wonderful Sarah Blackwood (whose birthday was two days ago, so the timing is apposite)) performing an acoustic set, one track being made available per week. It’s a real treat, for many reasons, not least of which being the opportunity to hear Blackwood’s beautiful voice performing in a more stripped-down context; it’s something of a reunion too, with Dubstar colleague Chris Wilkie accompanying on guitar. The tracklisting is great, a mixture of songs by Dubstar, Client, The Smiths and New Order; Sarah Blackwood sounds nervous at first, but it’s clear after a short time that she’s really enjoying herself (she introduces “True Faith” as “one of my favourite northern folk songs”!). Hearing “Not So Manic Now” and “Stars” still sends a shiver down my spine after all these years… Read more

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NIN – The Slip

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Continuing the practice of Ghosts I-IV a few months back, Nine Inch Nails‘ new album The Slip (Halo 27) is again available entirely free of charge. The 10-track album can be downloaded in a variety of audio formats: mp3, FLAC, apple lossless and high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz WAV files (apart from mp3, these are all downloaded via torrents). The last of these is a remarkable offering; Trent Reznor seems to be the only significant artist at present who both acknowledges the reality of how listeners want to procure the music and also that they’re rather keen to have that music at the highest possible resolution. In truth, i can’t see many people downloading the high-res files, as it only makes sense if played back on high-end audio equipment. It’s possible to download any/all of the available formats, so i went for everything except the mp3; download speeds this morning were very fast, the FLAC and apple formats taking about 4 minutes each to download (the high-res files took about 40 minutes!). In addition to the music, a JPG of the cover art and a PDF booklet are thrown in; an advantage to downloading the high-res WAV files is that the individual track artwork is included in separate high-quality JPGS (as it can’t be encoded within the audio file). Read more

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