Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cage, more than 4:33 of silence

American composer John Cage (1912-1992) had the misfortune that his best known composition has gained such widespread notoriety that it overshadows everything else he has done. I am of course talking about the infamous 4:33, which consists of 273 seconds of listening to nothing special, just taking in background noise. I have several Cage CD's, and he really deserves more attention for his music than many give him. Perhaps his most important contribution is the creation of the prepared piano as an instrument: the piano sound changed by placing various objects in the strings. For my CD recommendation, I am going for that speciality. Naxos have released two excellent CD's with Cage's compositions for prepared piano. I am linking to the second, which I think is the best of the two, but the first is worthwhile as well. The music on this second disc covers a wide range of moods, from the ghostly Daughters of the Lonesome Isle to the aggressive And the Earth Shall Bear Again. Pianist Boris Berman does a great job in these less familiar pieces. Recommended to check it out.

Amazon

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rouge

This painting, very typical for my wife's Shanghai Expressionism style, dates back a few years. The canvas shape is of course echoing traditional Chinese art - in fact, when I started exploring this shape in photography, I dubbed it the "Chinese crop".

The Art of Lu Schaper

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Terezin/Theresienstadt

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an event I always pay attention to in my blog ever since I visited Auschwitz a few years ago. For the occasion, a beautiful classical music album cover, dedicated to the works of Jewish composers who ended up in the concentration camp of Terezin/Theresienstadt (the album itself is great as well). This camp was originally designated as a propaganda showcase to house privileged Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria: at least four concert orchestras existed in the camp, as well as chamber groups and jazz ensembles. The grim reality of the Endloesung soon set in, and many Jewish composers died either here or, after transportation, in other death camps. The ones collected on this CD include Ilse Weber (1903 - 1944), Karel Svenk (1907-1945), Adolf Strauss (1902 - 1944), Hans Krasa (1899 - 1944), Carlo S. Taube (1897 - 1944), Viktor Ullmann (1898 - 1944), Pavel Haas (1899 - 1944) and Erwin Schulhoff (1894 - 1942). Rest in peace.

DG

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Das Lied von der Erde - lyrics development

From the preceding post you might conclude that I am a bit obsessed with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde - and you would be right. I was delighted to find the linked web site, where the development of the lyrics of each of the six sections is shown, from the original Chinese dialects via French and German translations to Mahler's own interpretation. If you share my fascination for this masterpiece, do check this out!

web site

Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the eleventh installment, I re-examine one single work of the late romantic Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), my second-favourite composer after Bach, and who will get even more exposure this year than usual as he died a century ago. Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth), composed in 1908-1909, is a symphony for two vocal soloists and orchestra after Hans Bethge's poem The Chinese Flute. There are six movements, the odd-numbered more up-tempo for tenor, the even numbered more slow for alto (except for an explosion in the fourth movement). I have five distinctly different versions of this masterpiece, one of my ten all-time favourite classical compositions.

Original version for tenor and alto
My version: Wunderlich/Ludwig/Philharmonia and New Philharmonia Orchestras/Klemperer (EMI, 1967, 63 min)
My version: Kollo/Ludwig/Berliner Philharmoniker/von Karajan (DG, 1975, 66 min)
My version: Patzak/Ferrier/Wiener Philharmoniker/Walter (Decca, 1952, 61 min)
My version: Araiza/Fassbaender/Berliner Philharmoniker/Giulini (DG, 1990, 64 min)
My version: King/Baker/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Haitink (Philips, 1975, 65 min)
The Klemperer was my introduction to this masterpiece, and the singing of Fritz Wunderlich is still unsurpassed. With Christa Ludwig in great form as well, this is vocally the outstanding version. The orchestra under Klemperer is marvelous - but the recorded sound is a letdown. Therefore I decided to get the second listed version as well. Rene Kollo is remarkably good, if not quite Wunderlich, Christa Ludwig shines here too, and the orchestra is even better. And the recording is much, much better. Recently (2011), I acquired two more versions. The legendary 1952 Walter recording with the unsurpassed Kathleen Ferrier and a more than adequate Julius Patzak shows its age obviously, but the performance is breathtaking. Especially poignant is the near-death theme, given that Ms Ferrier would perish from cancer a year later. Then, there is the Giulini, which has a personal history for me: I actually tried to buy this CD in the early nineties - twice, in two different shops. In both cases, they could not find the actual CD which they stored separately from the jewel cases. This year, I got it as a gift. The recording is the best of the four, with excellent orchestral playing. Araiza is adequate if not outstanding and suffers at places from the fact that he is not a native German speaker. I originally wanted to buy this version for Fassbaender, one of my favourite Lieder singers. Surprisingly, although she has made great recordings of Mahler's gorgeous orchestral song cycles, I find she is missing some nuances here. Good, but definitely not in the league of Ferrier and Ludwig. In 2011, I bought the Haitink. Excellent orchestral work (this is core repertoire for the Amsterdam orchestra), great singing by Baker, and Decent performances by King - but vocally not as strong as some others. All in all, of the five versions, I would pick von Karajan with Kollo and Ludwig.

Alternative version for tenor and baritone
My version: King/Fischer-Dieskau/Wiener Philharmoniker/Bernstein (Decca, 1966, 67 min)
The original score calls for tenor and alto soloists, but Mahler also includes the note that "if necessary, the alto part may be sung by a baritone". For the first fifty years or so after the work's premiere, this option was little used until the outstanding baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau decided to have a go at it. This recording has a good tenor (James King), even though he just succumbs to the competition of Wunderlich and Kollo in the original version - of course they both have the advantage that they are native German speaker. The even numbered movements are now sung by Fischer-Dieskau, and they are stunningly beautiful. A direct comparison with the alto versions (Ludwig) leads me to prefer the baritone as such by a very small margin. However, in the context of the complete work, the alternation tenor/alto tends to work still marginally better than tenor/baritone to my taste. But a decent classical music collection should find a place for both - I would want them both if I were to start again.

My version: Liang/Mok/Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Shui (BIS, 2007, 70 min)
The German texts of Das Lied von der Erde were based on translated versions of Chinese poems by Li Bai, the famous Tang dynasty wandering poet. In 2005, a Cantonese version was prepared by Daniel Ng. The Cantonese language was chosen as it bears closest resemblance to the lost 8th Century Northern Mandarin dialect in which the original texts were written. I have been trying to get hold of this version, but when I finally succeeded, I was disappointed. The Cantonese lines do not really add something, and indeed distract as we are used to the German lines. This holds especially for the tenor. The sheer class of the composition is still undeniable, but all in all, this is an interesting but in the end superfluous experiment.

Adapted version for tenor and alto and chamber orchestra
My version: Blochwitz/Remmert/Ensemble Musique Oblique/Herreweghe (HM, 1994, 63 min)
Das Lied von der Erde is scored for a massive orchestra consisting of piccolo, three flutes (the third doubling on second piccolo), three oboes (the third doubling on English horn), three clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, three bassoons (the third doubling on contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, percussion (timpani, bass drum, side drum (omitted in the revised score), cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tamtam, glockenspiel), celesta, two harps, mandolin, and strings. Arnold Schoenberg began to arrange it for chamber orchestra, reducing the orchestral forces to string and wind quintets, augmented by piano, celesta, harmonium and percussion. Schoenberg never finished this in his lifetime, and the arrangement was completed by Rainer Riehn in 1980. This severely reduced version has two obvious advantages: it is easier to arrange a performance, and there are more choices available for the singers. In particular the tenor, who does not have Wagner Heldentenor qualities to combat the usual stunning orchestral forces, and can show more expression than usual - as demonstrated very well on this recording by Hans Peter Blochwitz. And as good as Christa Ludwig's performances are, with Birgit Remmert I have less problems actually hearing the words. The disadvantage is of course that some of the lusciousness of Mahler's orchestral tapestry is unavoidably lost. On the other hand, it is stunning how much of the atmosphere of the original work is maintained in this bonsai version. In the end, I still clearly prefer the fully orchestrated versions, but this is well worth listening to.

Adapted version for tenor and alto and piano
My version: Vorzellner/Haselboeck/Berchtold (Cavi-Music, 2009, 65 min)
When I read that a version had been recorded where the piano replaces the orchestra, two thoughts crossed my mind: [1] that is utterly ridiculous; [2] I want to hear it. Well, the result is astonishing. The orchestral colours are translated surprisingly well to the piano, and the singing is even more clear than in the chamber version. Both singers are very good (if not superb) and the piano playing is excellent. If the orchestral version did not exist, this would definitely make it to my short list of  hors concours compositions - as it is, I still deem it essential.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: Original version for tenor and alto
Essential: Alternative version for tenor and baritone, Adapted version for tenor and alto and piano
Important: Adapted version for tenor and alto and chamber orchestra
Good to have:
Not required: Original version, but with Cantonese text

Saturday, January 22, 2011

China

An appropriate choice for today: Tori Amos' masterpiece China. I will be heading for Shanghai in the afternoon to spend the next four weeks with my wife. As usual, I have pre-posted contributions so the blog will continue in my absence (although any comments will have to wait until I am back). More about Tori Amos on the linked wikipedia page.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ice on fire

One of my better water (or in this case ice) reflection shots. It is actually the lights of the hospital I spent a few days after my November heart attack, reflected in the lights of the little lake that I see every day whilst walking the dog in the park. A photograph that got a lot of good reactions and faves on Flickr. The large version makes a good wallpaper, actually.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/7.1
Focal Length: 96 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Love

An appropriate title for another masterpiece by my Flickr friend aftab: in a week from now I will be with my wife in Shanghai. Back to the shot: this extraordinary coastscape is a beautiful abstract combination of colour and shapes, with just a hint of postprocessing to get a painting-like effect. Stunning.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Cathedral of light

My Flickr friend caeciliametella keeps turning out great shots, many of which end up in my favourites list. Here is a recent example, where she turns the pedestrian walkway of a railroad bridge, flooded with low winter sunlight, into a marvellous image. Perfect in every way: shapes, light, title.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The yumyum tree

The Ozric Tentacles, a legendary British psychedelic/space rock band, have released 18 studio albums over the past 25 years, most of them with fairytale like covers that are well worth looking at. The yumyum tree is their latest effort, from 2009.

All Music

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kodachrome

A few weeks ago, Dwaynes Photo in Parsons, Kansas, officially ended their Kodachrome processing, effectively ending Kodachrome's 75-year-long career (Wikipedia). An era has come to an end. As a holiday shooter this was my favourite film by the way. For the occasion, the appropriate Paul Simon hit from 1973.
Art Rock score: 8/10 (great song, I'd put it on my MP3 player)

YouTube

Thursday, January 13, 2011

More Souveche

It's amazing what some people still find unused in their archives. I have posted before on the results of the model shoot session of my Flickr friend andy_57 and the model Souveche - well, here she is again, posted to Flickr six months after the session. Absolutely amazing. Both Souveche (but we knew that) and Andy's skills in portrait photography (but we knew that). Fantastic portrait, mysterious and sensual.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Monday, January 10, 2011

Clowns of America versus Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons may be one of the most successful living artists (certainly when measured in financial terms), but I personally think his art is mostly crap. Now I am starting to doubt his quality as a human being as well. Click the link to find the baffling story how he is suing the American clowns for making balloon dogs that look like his art. If I were the president of the Clowns of America International organization I would immediately counter-sue: there must be numerous examples of such balloon dogs having been made before Koons produced his crap.

web site

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Modern art at my feet 1

My Flickr friend peggyhr recently outdid herself with a fantastic series of abstract shots. Literally looking at het feet: these fascinating colourful abstracts are the result (in her own words) of the ravages of time, weather and vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the painted steel deck of a Brazilian car ferry. I am posting all five in one day. This is #1.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Modern art at my feet 2

My Flickr friend peggyhr recently outdid herself with a fantastic series of abstract shots. Literally looking at het feet: these fascinating colourful abstracts are the result (in her own words) of the ravages of time, weather and vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the painted steel deck of a Brazilian car ferry. I am posting all five in one day. This is #2.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Modern art at my feet 3

My Flickr friend peggyhr recently outdid herself with a fantastic series of abstract shots. Literally looking at het feet: these fascinating colourful abstracts are the result (in her own words) of the ravages of time, weather and vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the painted steel deck of a Brazilian car ferry. I am posting all five in one day. This is #3.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Modern art at my feet 4

My Flickr friend peggyhr recently outdid herself with a fantastic series of abstract shots. Literally looking at het feet: these fascinating colourful abstracts are the result (in her own words) of the ravages of time, weather and vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the painted steel deck of a Brazilian car ferry. I am posting all five in one day. This is #4.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Modern art at my feet 5

My Flickr friend peggyhr recently outdid herself with a fantastic series of abstract shots. Literally looking at het feet: these fascinating colourful abstracts are the result (in her own words) of the ravages of time, weather and vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the painted steel deck of a Brazilian car ferry. I am posting all five in one day. This is #5.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Friday, January 07, 2011

Quiet life

I have posted the passing of Gerry Rafferty earlier this week - I did not know that we lost another one of my pop/rock heroes the same day, until Richard Gonzalez left a comment on the Baker Street post. Mick Karn, best known as bass player for Japan, one of my all-time favourite bands, died from cancer at the age of 52 (that's younger than I am, damn it). In his honour, one of many personal favourites from Japan, the title song from their 1979 album Quiet life. This album marked their welcome transition from glam rock to high-class synthesizer driven new wave, although their sound is still far from the sophisticated art rock they produced in their next (and last) two albums. The title track is a great pop song, showing off Mick Karn's exquisite fretless-bass work and David Sylvian's smooth yet penetrating vocals. It was a minor hit in the UK, just reaching the top 20.
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Distant echoes I listen to

One of the latest masterpieces by my Flickr friend aftab, a "left-over" from his September trip to Namibia. I have taken his own subtitle as the title instead of the Bengali title he used. I can't describe it better than my friend word artist did in his comment: "Fabulous light on such a delicate animal: as though the slightest thought could shatter the illusion".

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

The town

Here is an artist I had frankly never heard of until I came across this particular painting on a Naxos CD cover. August Strindberg (1849-1912) was a Swedish playwright, novelist, and essayist - his extensive wikipedia article hardly mentions his fine art at all. But works like the above show what a strong talent he had in this field as well. Great post-impressionism, bordering on expressionism - quite visionary for a 19th century work! More on Strindberg in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Baker Street

It must be a sign of getting older when artists who were important in your youth (and later on) are starting to die one after another. Yesterday we lost Gerry Rafferty, former singer of Stealers Wheel (Late again, Stuck in the middle with you), and most famous for his fabulous sax driven rock ballad Baker Street. Only 63. Rest in peace and thank you for the music.
Art Rock score: 10/10 (brilliant masterpiece, one of 200 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Winter in the park

One of those chance encounters when walking the dog in the park, but this study of repetitive patterns in man-made nature turned out to be rather popular on Flickr.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.013 sec (1/80)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 63 mm
ISO Speed: 200
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Monday, January 03, 2011

Water art monster

My Flickr friend peggyhr regularly turns out fantastic reflected waterscapes, but here she explores a different version: what we see here is not a puddle or lake, but reflections on a rain-drenched car wind shield. An amazing combination of colours and shapes.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sunday, January 02, 2011

In moderation

The first shot posted in 2011 of my Flickr friend caeciliametella - and undoubtedly there will be many more to come. This is one of the amazing abstracts that she excels in. And even though in this case the original shot was by someone else (fellow Flickrite phantom blot - who gave permission to post it here), her processing really made this a co-production. Love it.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Rock art orchid

A special Flickr favourite to kick off this subject for 2011. My Flickr friend missnoma (Claire) has not featured yet in my blog, and it is high time she did. Since she dedicated this beautiful shot to me, I could not resist. Lovely almost cubist effect with the texture she applied, and the orchids remind me of our Singapore years.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr