Friday, June 1, 2012

MOR alert

While we're on the subject of music and recommendations, here's a tip:  do not -- do NOT -- be persuaded into buying a CD which is getting some attention at the moment, Shakespeare: The Sonnets, produced under the direction of the very estimable early music enthusiast Robert Hollingworth, who directs the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini, and who was responsible for the revival of the brilliant 40-part Striggio motet I mentioned in an earlier post (Car Park Moments).

Here is the description on Amazon:

Fresh from his success of recording an outsize Renaissance mass for a massive 40 parts that had not been heard for 400 years (and winning a Gramophone Album of the Year Award in the process), Robert Hollingworth, director of vocal ensemble I Fagiolini (also a judge on the UK s Choir of the Year and involved in a number of films) was looking for a new challenge. To a specialist of the Renaissance period, Shakespeare s sonnets are an intriguing challenge: the most romantic and personal poems ever written but rarely set to music. All the lyrics are Shakespeare s own and no additions made, although occasionally lines have been moved around to fit the contemporary song structures. Within this, the meaning is never altered and the emotional content of the sonnets is always sustained. What is amazing is how modern some of Shakespeare s language is: Blind Fool Love , or the blues sonnet No Longer Mourn - or the final track, Love is a Babe . Singers from all over the UK perform on the album, some of whom have performed at the New York Metropolitan, La Scala Milan and just about every stadium and concert hall across the globe. Finding players of these rare and ancient instruments ought to have been incredibly difficult but in fact the UK is the world leader in modern performers on these recreated period instruments, and experts in playing in period style. What proved to be harder was securing their services, as they are constantly flying around the world, giving concerts and making recordings of the music of the time. February 6th seems like the perfect day to launch the project, the day in 1952 that Elizabeth II became queen. Words composed in the time of one Elizabeth, re-imagined in the time of another. The album The Sonnets will be officially released in the UK this year on Shakespeare s birthday, April 23rd.

Sounds interesting, doesn't it?  Well, it bloody well isn't.  Despite the rash of five star reviews it's the most toe-curling example of MOR "crossover" I have heard in recent years, and I heartily recommend you stay well away.  Nice sleeve design, though.

If you are interested in the contemporary interpretation of Elizabethan music -- and who wouldn't be? -- I do recommend the work of the Dowland Project,especially In Darkness Let Me Dwell,  a classic piece of ECM's sombre brilliance, bringing together the Hilliard Ensemble's tenor John Potter and saxophonist John Surman under ├╝ber-producer Manfred Eicher in a moody examination of Dowland's complex, edgy melodies.  Perfect late night music.*





Hilliard self-portrait
(V&A collection)

* Defined in my case, these days, as "between 23:00 and 23:30 hours".

21 comments:

David G. said...

Can it be any worse than that terrible Sting thing?

Mike C. said...

David G.,

I've never listened to that, but this is truly awful, like "Kiri Te Kanawa sings Joni Mitchell", or "James Galway: in a Miles Davis Mood"...

It's amazing, really, how rarely good taste and accomplishment in one style of music translates successfully into another.

Mike

Mike C. said...

David G.,

I should say, what is so tacky (to me) about this effort is that they have taken some Sonnets, and turned them into perky, irritatingly catchy pop songs by pouring singer-songwriter syrup all over them.

It's a perfect mismatch of style and content -- James Last and the Late Beethoven Quartets, or Harrison Birtwistle and Your Favourite TV themes!

You can get samples on Amazon, I think.

Mike

David G. said...

It was Sting sings/plays Dowland, as I recall - unfortunately it's probably still here in the house somewhere!

ps The robot that asks you to prove you're not a robot is getting more and more difficult to decipher.. I think it's moving towards mastery of the universe.. (and it probably won't let me ..

Mike C. said...

Yes, the robot is intensely annoying, and increasingly difficult for over-18s to read. I don't know what Google are playing at.

I may think about experimenting with turning it off, but if I start getting lots of obvious spam (with some of my commenters it's hard to tell) I'll have to turn it back on again.

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Mike,

Thanks for the lovely self portrait of N. Hilliard, WITH frame. Just wandered off and spent some time reading about miniatures and Mr. Hilliard, which I was quite unfamiliar with.

Music, OK.

Robot, bad.

Mike C. said...

Bron,

You could save yourself a lot of money on materials, if you went down the miniatures road...

As a painter, you might appreciate Hilliard's "Treatise Concerning the Art of Limning", which describes his technique. I think it's available as an e-book on the web somewhere.

Mike

Paul Mc Cann said...

Education, that is why I come here. Introduction to arcane esoterica.

Paul Mc Cann said...

5 acedute

Paul Mc Cann said...

Arghh. The robot got me. Ignore my last post

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Mike,

I'll look for the book. As to miniatures, my big painting this year was 12" x 24". 8-)

Bron

Robot still bad. Bad robot!

Struan Gray said...

The closest I get to crossover I like is Bach played on viols. Radical it is not.

Mind you, the Wombles' version of Minuetto Allegretto is pretty fine.

Or, at least, just as not-bad as any other crossover.

Mike C. said...

Struan,

I have a secret liking for Jacques Loussier, but that's just between us, OK?

Mike

Struan said...

I don't have a problem with musicians borrowing tunes or phrases and making them their own. It's the opera-singer-does-torch-songs guff that sounds so naff.

There's an interesting point that expertise once developed far enough becomes a restriction. There are photographers like that too.

I didn't know Loussier. Jan Johansson did something similar with Dowland on In Pleno, but he's best known for jazzing folk tunes (wonderfully).

Talking of viols, I once heard Stiff Little Fingers' instrumental Go For It performed on a consort. It wasn't bad.

Mike C. said...

Talking of viols, I was given a terrific recording last year of Jordi Savall playing Purcell's Fantasias (on the Alia Vox label) -- it's become a favourite listen when I'm in the right mood, though I admit I tend only to listen to the "one note" fantasia.

Mike

David Brookes said...

Mike

I see that this same group / conductor have produced a DVD called "The Full Monteverdi" - says it all really.

Jordi Savall is appearing at the Gregynog Festival this year - bit far from Southampton for the evening, though.

David Brookes

Mike C. said...

David,

I am intrigued by Gregynog -- it's one of those places I know I am intended to visit. There is some magic in the name I can't explain (esp. once you've learned to pronounce it properly!).

A colleague who used to run our in-house bindery went to run the Gregynog Press bindery some years ago.


Not this year, though.

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

How about Kronos does Hendrix? I think I've heard it at some point.

http://www.amazon.com/Kronos-Quartet-Sculthorpe-Sallinen-Nancarrow/dp/B000005IXL/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338757225&sr=8-1

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Sounds like a further example of crossover abomination. I'm think I'm probably the equivalent of an unreconstructed racist when it comes to mixing the musical genres -- "separate but equal" is the road to harmony...

Mike

Martyn Cornell said...

I confess to greatly enjoying Klazz Brothers and their Salsa takes on Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and the like, though I'm sure they induce apoplexy in many: very probably in YOU, Mike, especially if you don't like the Kronos Quartet does Jimi (I've seen them do it live: they also do lovely versions of, believe it or nay, Bollywood film songs).

Jacques Loussier is great with Bach, but I have a CD of him attempting to do the same thing with Handel and it doesn't work at all. Mind, there's a great version by De Danaan of a piece they call "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway)"

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

In the end, something either works or it doesn't. My instinct (backed by the stinking trail of evidence) is that attempts at "crossover" generally don't work.

But, yes, sometimes it's a triumph -- Miles Davis and Rodrigo (Sketches of Spain / Concierto de Aranjuez) comes to mind. But for every triumph, there are a hundred failures.

To my taste, the failures are most obvious when they go "up" the imaginary cultural gradient from "low" to "high" culture -- Kiri Te Kanawa cannot and should not explore "The Great American Songbook", nor should the London Philharmonic be attempting Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin (all true examples!). The result is usually horribly middle-brow.

I'm not so much a purist as allergic to the sort of musical compromise that renders the world safe for fans of James Last.

Mike