June 27, 2004

Brief note for classical lovers

I recently added Brian's Culture Blog to my blogroll. Brian Micklethwait is a British blogger who writes more-or-less daily notes about things he's up to - mostly digital photography and old movies, but occasional notes on pop culture and classical music, amongst other things. It's the last that I am particuarly interested in, because I can identify with his listening habits:

As I have often confessed here, I think, I am not as disciplined a listener to classical music as classical music listeners are, I imagine, often imagined to be. I just love the stuff so much, and love to have it on, in the background for when I am concentrating on something else, or in the foreground when I either attend to it or it forces itself upon my attention.

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It's because of an older post of his, however, that I recently started tuning in BBC 3 on a sort-of-weekly basis. In particular, there are two programs that caught my attention.

CD Review is exactly what its name suggests: a three-hour program devoted to sampling new classical CD releases. Of particular interest to me is the regular "Building a Library" feature, in which various recordings of the same composition are evaluated. Someone unfamiliar with classical music might be surprised that so much variation exists in the interpretation of a given piece. I include myself in this, as my listening habits tend to be "horizontal" - I prefer a wide range of different compositions, as opposed to a more "vertical" study of multiple recordings of the same piece. (Nonetheless, there are two classical pieces with which I have a more vertical relationship: Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.) So it is neat to hear a single passage of, say, Mozart studied that closely.

The second of these programs is The Cowan Collection, a more general-interest classical program in which selections by the host and listeners are played. The feature I most appreciate is the opportunity to hear the complete recommended recording recommended on CD Review's "Building a Library."

As a result, I am enjoying Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in B flat, which I heard for the first time on CD Review a few weeks ago. This isn't the recommended disc; rather, it's Philips' recording of Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martins in the Field, nonetheless a good rendition by a competent conductor of Mozart.

CD Review airs on BBC 3 at 9 am on Saturday, local time; The Cowan Collection at 9 am Sunday. Fortunately both programs can be heard live or later in the week thanks to the magic of the Internet. Sound quality is pretty good, too. Check it out if you have the patience to sit through seven hours of programming.

On an unrelated note, my recent disappointment with Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods has prompted me to look into an artist who took the old myths more seriously. I have started listening to Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, a cycle of four operas - Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Die Götterdämmerung - about a ring of power desired by mortals and gods alike. (Gee, sounds an awful lot like a certain other highly regarded, lengthy cycle of stories inspired by mythology.) The local public library has the complete set of the classic recording by Karl Böhm and the Beyreuther Festspiele. Wonderful stuff. But long.