• Philip May

Off the Digital Shelf: February 2016

I buy a lot of CDs. Below are three recent purchases, downloaded to my iPod, that are to my mind worth a second listen:

Astor Piazzolla, Le Grand Tango from Live at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio, Gidon Kremer & the Astor Quartet. Released 2012.[1]

Piazzolla writes top-shelf tangos for the distinguished gentleman – the kind of refined pleasures that would be kept behind the counter and only brought out when asked for by name. Perhaps it’s the rhythmic anchor of the tango rhythms and the solid bass lines, but Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango style manages to incorporate a striking level of dissonance that, for some, would simply be intolerable in another context. In Piazzolla’s hands this sets him apart. If you’re not familiar with his music, go straight to track number ten on the album, Le Grand Tango, for an introduction-cum-summation. If this sparks your interest, try Muerte Del Angel (track 13) and Giya Kancheli’s Instead of a Tango (track 12). Then let the album play from the beginning.

In this live recording the atmosphere is palpable. Kremer and the Astor Quartet play with directness and wit, taking the notes clean off the page.

Paul Hindemith, Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber[2] from Paul Hindemith, Mathis Der Maler, etc., Herbert Blomstedt & the San Francisco Symphony. Released 1988.

Who knew that Hindemith had such a good sense of humour? Or a sense of fun, at least.[3] Though as one of his apparently most popular works, I may just be late to the Oktoberfest. Nevertheless, if you only have space for one Hindemith recording in your collection, let this one be it. It’s tub-thumping, quirky and with a surprisingly understated and moving Andantino. The second movement is reason enough to run off in the night and join a brass section.

Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in B Minor, K. 27 from Murray Perahia Plays Handel and Scarlatti, Murray Perahia. Released 1997.

There is a little more to this piece than first meets the ear. The harmonic progressions, suspensions and overall flow are immediately satisfying to the ear (not to mention the fingers), but it is worth listening a second time with a score to hand[4] – the Sonata flows effortlessly between various two, three and four-part textures, but its most touching and delicate moments lie between bars 11-20 (0’16”-0’33”), and 37-61 (1’46”-2’17”), where a simple two-part texture conceals an implicit four-part interaction.

Scarlatti got deep.

[First published Feb 20th 2016]


[1] Though recorded 15 years previously in 1997.

[2] Based on Weber’s music for Turandot (movement two) and some piano duets (movements one, three and four).

[3] That said, Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2 for wind quintet is certainly quirksome.


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