Friday, December 15, 2006


Joshua and I are, once again, spending the weekend at my parents' house, helping my parents prepare for the Christmas holidays. We have assigned ourselves the cleaning duties, freeing my Mom to do the Christmas baking, which she loves to do, and letting my Dad assist her.

Everyone is getting excited about the coming holidays, including my parents' dog. He can sense our excitement, and he knows that my brothers are coming soon. He knows this because we have told him that they are coming--and he understands this--and he also knows that a major cleaning regimen, covering everything in the house, is a prelude to a visit.

We are having lots of fun while we work, nibbling on stuff and listening to music and enjoying the Christmas tree and putting up other Christmas decorations and entertaining the dog.

We have six discs on the disc player to get us through the weekend. We have chosen music we know my parents enjoy, and all of the music is either festive or gravely beautiful.

Music of Vivaldi, performed by the Italiano Concerto under Rinaldo Alessandrini, on the Naive label

Haydn Symphonies, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin, on the RCA label

Schubert's Quintet In C, performed by the Brandis Quartet and cellist Wen-Sinn Yang, on the Nimbus label

Piano Music of Brahms, performed by Richard Goode, on the Nonesuch label

Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker", the complete ballet, a two-disc set, performed by the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa, on the Deutsche Grammophon label

The Vivaldi disc contains the Gloria, RV 589, the Concerto For Strings, RV 128, the Magnificat, RV 611, and the Concerto For Two Trumpets, RV 781. It is a wonderful disc, pairing two choral works with two concertante works. The varied nature of the musical forces involved in each composition prevents the onset of musical fatigue, a danger in any all-Vivaldi disc. The performances have lots of energy, and we are enjoying this disc very much.

The Haydn symphonies are late Haydn, from the "London" set: numbers 95, 97 and 101. I enjoy big-band Haydn, and I hope that Haydn's music is never relegated to the exclusive province of original-instrument ensembles. The performances are pretty good, which I found to be slightly surprising, since I have never been much of a Leonard Slatkin fan. Based on these performances, it is clear that Slatkin should have programmed more Haydn during his unsuccessful Washington years.

Schubert's Quintet In C, one of his very greatest late masterpieces, is one of my favorite pieces of music. Joshua loves this quintet, too, and it is one of the first pieces of music we listened to together. The Brandis performance is very mellow, very "European", and the musicians make no effort to "sell" the music, a mistake many American musicians make when performing Schubert.

The Richard Goode Brahms disc is somewhat of a disaster. The disc contains the Eight Pieces, Opus 76, the Seven Pieces, Opus 116, and the Four Pieces, Opus 119. This is some of the greatest piano music ever written. The latter two sets, especially, are distillations of everything Brahms had mastered in a lifetime of writing music. However, one would never know this from Goode's performances. Goode's Brahms is lumpen, heavy and foursquare, his tone unvaried, the subtle moods evoked by Brahms hardened into granite. There are also numerous slips of the fingers, which should have been rectified. This disc should never have been issued.

The complete "Nutcracker" discs are filled out with five short excerpts from Tchaikovsky's "The Sleeping Beauty". These are very nice performances, all in all, and who can resist this music at Christmas time? Much of Ozawa's conducting is elegant, and he highlights some of the unusual orchestration in the characteristic dances, and there is a balletic feel to his work. On the other hand, Ozawa's conducting is not very dramatic--and this IS a score for the theater--and a lack of flexibility creeps into his conducting now and again, creating a brittle effect. However, I may be carping, as this is probably one of Ozawa's better discs with the Boston Symphony. It provides enjoyable listening, and that is all that we want from it.

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