Richard Strauss

Symphony Hall, Birmingham: Iris ter Schiphorst, Richard Strauss, Gustav Holst

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i had many reasons for wanting to hear last night’s National Youth Orchestra concert at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, not least of which was simply to hear NYO in action again. They are an astonishing orchestra, not merely able but mature, sensitive and abounding in talent; their rendition of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie a few years back is a particularly vibrant memory. Beyond this, i was intrigued to hear more music by German composer Iris ter Schiphorst, whose Aus Liebe had been one of the most striking works at the Arditti Quartet’s HCMF concert last year. But most of all, i wanted to hear Richard StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra, a work i’ve known intimately since my teenage years but which i’ve never, until yesterday, had the opportunity to hear performed live.

There’s something very strange about this; the rest of Strauss’ tone poems enjoy regular performances in the UK, both at national and local level (particularly Ein Heldenleben, Till Eulenspiegel and Don Juan), but trying to find a performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra is almost impossible. In this respect, it’s completely the opposite of the other major work included in last night’s concert, Holst’s The Planets, a work so ubiquitous in the UK that it borders on the absurd. Hearing the Strauss and Holst in close proximity (a superb bit of concert programming) only makes the absence of Also Sprach in British concert halls all the more unfathomable. Read more

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Mixtape #35 : Moon

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Taking inspiration from the lunar events at the start of this week, the new 5:4 mixtape is devoted to music related to the moon. i’ve crammed it with a veritable shed-load of personal favourites, small and great, old and new. The mix encompasses a broad spectrum, from the kind of soft delicacy heard in pieces by Toshio Hosokawa, Tor Lundvall, Pram, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, Implex Grace, Sunken Foal, Andrew Liles, Aun and The Noisettes to more abrasive expression in works by First Human Ferro, Philippe Petit (& Friends), Paul Dolden, John Williams and Chelsea Wolfe. Wolfe’s is one of a number of moon-related songs featured in the mix, alongside the very lovely Cemeteries (with one of my favourite tracks of 2015), Betty Ween, Radiohead and—heard in a miniature epic of gorgeous proportions—Julia Holter. The timebound yet timeless Johnny Howard Orchestra adds a bit of froth, immediately followed by its more sour hauntological answer courtesy of The Caretaker; Ochre and some vintage Multiplex bring a bit of play to the proceedings, while Eric Serra adds a brief note of cinematic grandeur and Natasha Barrett dives into a strange but exquisitely light soundscape. A sumptuous bit of nocturnalism from Richard Strauss acts as a coda, leading into the night proper via Chris Watson. Serving as structural markers throughout are the four parts of Harry Partch‘s hilariously mental Ring Around the Moon. Lycanthropes might want to give this particular mix a miss.

A little under two hours of sound from the lunatic fringe; here’s the tracklisting in full. If you enjoy the mix, there are links below to buy the music. Read more

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Mixtape #31 : Autumn

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For the latest 5:4 mixtape, i’ve opted to explore music associated in some way with this time of year. Autumn is arguably the most poignant of the seasons, the ostentatious eruption of its gorgeous colours militated against by the pointed melancholy of its inevitable transition into the wastelands of winter. My infinitely greater namesake, the poet E. E. Cummings, often indignantly pitted the season against his beloved, despite its beauty:

cruelly,love
walk the autumn long;
the last flower in whose hair,
thy lips are cold with songs

for which is first to wither, to pass?
shallowness of sunlight
falls and,cruelly,
across the grass
Comes the
moon

Composers are no less affected by autumn, and the choices in this mixtape testify to the conflict it brings about. Something of its sheer loveliness can be heard in the still profundity of Celer, Brian Eno, Gunner Møller Pedersen (whose massive 6-hour A Sound Year is well worth exploring) and Darren Harper, as well as in the transfixed ecstatic overload of Belong. Autumn’s raw physicality finds expression through the exploration of field recordings in tracks by Manrico Montero, Scott Taylor, Steve Roden & Machinefabriek and Ennio Mazzon. The flipside of this can be heard in heartfelt ballads; i’ve included four hugely contrasting incarnations of the finest of them all, Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves, by Mantovani, Emmy Rossum, Coldcut and The Flashbulb. Its melancholic lyricism is taken to the apogee of expressive force by Richard Strauss, saturated with an escapist surge by Andre Kostelanetz, and given a playful tilt by both Kalevi Aho (whose theremin sounds strikingly like a human voice) and Max Richter‘s subtle reworking of Vivaldi, rhythms made irregular and harmonies enriched with more romantic flavours. The seriousness of the season receives fittingly wistful treatment from Tor Lundvall and Wendy Carlos, while Takemitsu‘s engagement is almost shockingly aggressive. The inclusion of tracks by EL Heath and Kenneth Kirschner are (im)pertinent red herrings, both simply composed during this time of year but, wittingly or otherwise, fitting well into its general tone.

A little over two hours of autumnal bliss and brooding; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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