Saturday, 5 March 2011

Car Park Moments

I can't remember whether I've posted about "car park moments" before. I'm sure you have them, too: you're driving to work with the radio on, and a piece of music is playing as you pull into the car park that compels you to sit in the car until it's finished. I keep a little notebook in the car for writing these down; I've made most of my best musical discoveries this way.

Last week it was the new recording of the Alessandro Striggio 40-part mass by Robert Hollingworth that's attracting a lot of attention at the moment. It's thought to be the stimulus behind "Spem in Alium", the famous Tallis 40-part motet, which is on the same recording with a novel "Venetian" colouring (jnstruments are used in place of some vocal parts). Both I and and the Head of Archives emerged from our cars at the same moment that day, and shared our stunned enthusiasm. (It's released on Monday -- be there or be square, Jackson).

The week before it was "If I Were A Boy" by Beyoncé. What a fantastic, perfect song, just kept enough within the bounds of the mawkish to deliver a strong, original take on the oldest (only) theme there is in diva power pop. As I've said before, I have broad tastes.

This week, it was Red Priest playing the "Four Seasons". If, like me, you thought you could probably get by if you never, ever heard another recording of Vivaldi's warhorse -- especially holding the phone, receiving reassurances every few bars that "your call is important to us; please hold; you are 47th in the queue" -- then think again. This is something special.

Red Priest have given performances at our campus concert-hall, but I ignored them as I've always recoiled from attempts to give classical music a "pop" facade, whether it be that arse Nigel Kennedy or various doe-eyed violinists in wet blouses. I now suspect I may have missed out on something quite remarkable.

Basically, these are four talented chamber musicians with a sense of fun taking on the Baroque repertoire, in this case an orchestral piece which is over-familiar, and simply making it new again. It's wonderful: they have taken the cartoonish, programmatic side of Vivaldi and run with it. It's not often a recorder, a harpsichord, a violin and a cello can make you laugh out loud, whether at the deconstruction of Vivaldi's music, or the sheer virtuosity of the playing and arrangements. Watch out for the "Oi!" in the third movement of "Spring", played like a tight but demented gypsy dance band.

I thoroughly recommend it, and you can buy it direct from them here.


Poetry24 said...

I'll listen for the Robert Hollingworth. Incidentally, whilst on a 'home ed' trip to the Great Hall in Winchester, we were treated to a Janet Cardiff sound installation, which features 'Spem in Alium'. Forty individual voices delivered via forty arranged speakers. Highly recommended.

Mike C. said...


There was a live performance in the cathedral of Spem in Alium a couple of years ago, but I missed it -- that must be pretty overwhelming.

Renaissance polyphony has clearly emerged from the academic shadows into the spotlight in recent years -- it's the new "authentic instruments" -- watch for the Hollingworth to become a left-field bestseller, like the Garbarek / Hilliard Ensemble "Officium" a few years ago.


Martyn Cornell said...

Baroque'n'roll – I always though "Tony Vivaldi and the Four Seasons" sounded like the name of a doo-wop band anyway.

Sorry you don't like Nige - I thought his "Four Seasons" was an interestingly different take: I bought his version with the Berlin Phil of three pieces I have loved for almost 40 years, the Bach violin concertos BWV 1041-43, and while it's a bit "look, ma, I can play really fast", there's real respect for the music. And he's one of the very, very few classical musicians who doesn't make an idiot of himself when he has a go at jazz.

I heard "Officium" in St Paul's Cathedral soon after it came out - thought it ought to have worked really well in that setting, but for me, at least, it didn't.

Mike C. said...


Yes, Officium gets old very quickly -- if you've heard one track, you've pretty much heard them all. In fact, the same could be said for Garbarek in general -- if I'm in the mood, he hits the spot (hard to define what that mood is) but he's not exactly versatile.

I just hate Kennedy's persona -- the music's OK, though violins and jazz don't mix for me (and that includes Grapelli).

I suspect Red Priest may get old quickly, too, but I thought I'd share the enthusiasm while it lasted.