U Pick ‘Em!
Admit it. You look forward to seeing those year-end “best of” lists. It could be just curiosity, though you might be looking for a suggestion from those who seem to have explored hundreds of CDs, films or books. Have you heard that audio preview for the public radio program All Songs Considered? Host Bob Boilen says he has a pile of about 600 CDs, from which he’ll probably “fall in love” with about 7. I audition quite a few promotional CDs that are made available to WILL-FM, yet I still don’t recognize more than a handful of the recordings that show up on the classical 'best of” lists.
I’m guessing that deep down inside, you have your own list of sorts – at least the yearning to put together a list. Whether you listen occasionally or regularly, now and then your attention is drawn to a particular selection. If you took the time to make more than a mental note of it, you’d be amazed at what a unique and interesting list you’d compile in a matter of weeks or months. With the recent availability of Classic Mornings playlists online, it made me want to make the suggestion while it’s still early in the year. There was a good excuse when you couldn’t begin to remember the names of the pieces, the composers or the performers. Now you can look up all of that information.
Many of the “best of” lists out there are limited to new recordings. That indeed makes those lists attractive. But there’s no rule that lists have to be restricted to new recordings. You might make a list of pieces that are new to you or performers who are new to you. You could include some of each and simply make a list of great selections. It’s a way of reminding yourself just how many pieces of music you enjoy each hour, each day and throughout the year on Classic Mornings or on WILL-FM in general. You can be sure I’ll provide you with music each morning to fuel the list – including selections from new recordings.
This year’s new recordings began to trickle in even as the cold temperatures stopped all else from trickling. Back in the early 1990s, we anxiously awaited any new recordings by the Polish-born American pianist Mieczysław Horszowski. He was approaching his 100th birthday at the time. Horszowski died in 1993, just shy of his 101st birthday. He still was performing an occasional recital at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he taught for many years. His last pupil at Curtis was Rieko Aizawa. Aizawa is the pianist of the Horszowski Trio, which was formed a few years ago. She’s joined by violinist Jesse Mills and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan. We’ve enjoyed a couple of selections from the first of the two piano trios written by Camille Saint-Saëns on their recently released CD of French piano trios.(Bridge 9441)
Some childhood stories surfaced with the acquisition of 2 recordings over the past month. One of the CDs features the legendary Alicia de Larrocha. She’s quoted in the notes by Jeremy Nicholas as having said: “Everything about me is small.” She was 4’ 9’’, with small hands. She even admitted that her repertoire of piano concertos was small. Tributes to her following her death in 2009 included the story she told of wanting to play the piano as a young child and banging her head against the floor to express that desire. She did begin to play at age 3. Alicia de Larrocha’s mother and aunt were students of the Spanish pianist/composer Enrique Granados. So was her one and only piano teacher, Frank Marschall. Alicia de Larrocha is remembered for her interpretations of the music of Granados and other Spanish composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. We recently acquired a re-issued collection of her performances of music by 18th century composers Antonio Soler and Domenico Scarlatti. (Decca 480 6882)
Diego Fasolis is the music director of the Swiss ensemble I Barocchisti, based in Lugano. He has revealed that when he was a child, he learned all about rhythmic impulses when he played dance music on the accordion for family and friends. He says a sense of rhythm and the joy instilled by dance rhythms are for him the basis for the interpretation of Baroque music. He’s convinced that Antonio Vivaldi was very much inspired by dance in his time. Diego Fasolis and violinist Duilio Galfetti founded I Barocchisti. You may recognize the names. Late last year, they were featured in a new Vivaldi recording with the Swiss recorder player Maurice Steger. The recording prompted me to go searching for more where that came from. I found it in a recording that dates back to 2008 with Galfetti on center stage. It’s a collection of violin concertos by Vivaldi subtitled “Il ballo” or “The Dance.” (Naïve 30474 ) .
While some were reminiscing about childhood days, a new recording arrived featuring performances by Junhong Kuang, a 15 year old guitarist from China. (Naxos 8.573432) The story is told that he began professional training on the guitar at age 9. He won first prize in the Thailand International Guitar Competition two years later. He has performed in more than 100 concerts, including one at Carnegie Hall. We heard him featured in caprices by the 19th century Italian guitarist and composer Luigi Legnani and in one of the Spanish dances by Enrique Granados.
There was a time when young people couldn’t wait to get their hands on a Gibson, one of the most celebrated names in guitars – and mandolins. In classical music, when you’re talking about a Gibson, it’s the Scottish conductor Alexander Gibson. We remembered him on January 15th, the 20th anniversary of his passing, by cranking up a performance of one of the Pomp & Circumstance Marches by Edward Elgar. Sir Alexander was conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Though the orchestra doesn’t bear his name - like the instruments made by the company founded by Orville Gibson - you could say that Alexander Gibson made that orchestra an international brand. It was during Gibson’s tenure, on the occasion of the centennial of the orchestra in 1991, that it became the “Royal” Scottish National Orchestra.
The new year is still young. There’s so much more to come, including new recordings and an endless number of musical celebrations! Join me for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, and for the Classic Morning Prelude at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu. Put it on your “to do” list!