My listening has shifted back towards the world of classical music over the last week. Whereas before I downloaded a bunch of samplers from Amazon, I am now listening to box sets, or portions of box sets I have recently acquired. This includes music by Wofgang Amadeus Mozart, George Frideric Handel, Josef Haydn, Edvard Grieg, Arcangelo Corelli, and Thomas Tallis.
In this first of two articles I will talk about the Grieg, Corelli and Haydn Brilliant Classics collections.
While Edvard Grieg is most known for “In The Hall of the Mountain King,” “Morning Mood” (both from Peer Gynt) his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, I find his piano miniatures (the Norwegian Melodies and Lyric Pieces) to be wonderful listening. In fact, I found myself enjoying his works so much that I acquired a fourteen CD set of all of his piano works, and a six CD set of symphonic works several years ago.
[amazonshowcase_f50405eb22e4dfe3ea89e9c008044674]While some of the Symphonic pieces included vocals (especially Peer Gynt), I had not listened to much in the line of vocal works by Grieg. The fact is, I typically am not a big fan of vocal pieces. This is because I have been exposed to a lot of choral works (Masses, Oratorios, etc.) and Opera, which I mostly don’t care for. But, would I have this same reaction of seven CD’s of Songs and Lieder by Edvard Grieg?
The answer is a resounding: no. While I admittedly struggled a bit with working my way through all seven CD’s (that’s the most classical vocal music I’ve listened to in years — with the notable exception mentioned below in the Haydn Edition section), I found that I was able to do it by taking breaks occasionally of anywhere from an hour to a day. And now, having made my way through these discs once, I will likely find myself listening to them more frequently along with other portions of my Grieg collection.
You may be asking: Why? What is so appealing about Grieg’s vocal music when I haven’t had a preference for vocal music by other composers? There are several reasons:
- Grieg wrote his vocal music specifically for his wife. A lot of the love and passion Grieg had for his wife comes out in this music even over a hundred years after Grieg’s death. This is also a testament to the interpretations on these recordings.
- On the whole these pieces are not overly ornate and mannered as other Lieder I have listened to. The only pieces that I felt were a bit too ornate were the “Seven Children’s Songs” Op. 61. I think this reaction here is to remembering what I thought music should be like when I was in grade school, and I couldn’t see myself thinking in terms of the songs on in this Opus.
- Grieg is at his most masterful in lyrical, miniature pieces. In fact, the more melodic the pieces, the better. This is attested to by his “Norwegian Melodies” and “Lyric Pieces” for piano.
I am now looking forward to trying another experiment: intermixing Grieg’s piano works with the lieder and songs. With the commonality of themes in Grieg’s music, there should be several interesting ways to go about arranging the works in a playlist. However, I need to find some time to work on doing this. I also need, at some point, to gather a set of English translations for the texts of these works. Someday I may find the time to do these experiments.
[amazonshowcase_0944cdaedd32621d1884e5749a4acc44] Until recently, I thought the really large Brilliant Classics box sets were something that were best left in the store. I thought they were the equivalent of the High Definition Classics box sets (reviewed here and here), just on steroids. After doing some research I found out that Brilliant builds their boxes by leasing recordings from other very fine labels (like the now defunct Nimbus label), compiling them into collections, and supplementing gaps with their own recordings. This made their collections much more interesting to me.
Josef Haydn is possibly the least acknowledged master of classical music there is. The influence Haydn had on the Symphonic and String Quartet forms alone should be enough to earn him a place above the status of Mozart or Beethoven, and only rivaled by Bach. At least that is my opinion. However, it doesn’t seem that this is how Haydn is viewed. (For example: Phil G. Goulding’s book Classical Music places Haydn in the 5th slot, putting even Wagner above Haydn. An opinion I cannot agree with.)
Given my regard for Haydn, you might have thought that I would already have some extensive collections of Haydn pieces in my collection. You would be right: I have two complete sets of the Symphones and String Quartets, a one complete set of the Masses, Oratorios and Choral works, Concertos and Piano Sonatas. So, why would Brilliant’s Haydn Edition be appealing to me?
First: there were two things in the collection that I did not have in my collection: the Baryton Trios and the Scottish and Welsh song settings. Just these two parts of the collection make up over 40 CD’s of the 150 disc set, or almost a third of the collection. The acquisition of these two items would have cost more than one third of the price of the box set.
Second: in addition, the String Quartets and Symphonies are performed on period instruments in this collection. The sets of these pieces that I have in my collection thus far are on modern instruments. I like having a set of recordings on period instruments alongside recordings on modern instruments when I have the opportunity.
Third: included in the box set are quite a few pieces that I didn’t previously have in my collection. These are pieces and arrangments that tend to be more difficult to find in compilations or on standalone CDs.
Thus it made sense to add this box set to my collection as it represented a great value for the included material at the price, and filled in a couple of larger and smaller gaps in the recordings that I do own.
As with my reservations about the Grieg Lieder and Songs, I had my reservations about the Scottish and Welsh song settings by Haydn. Unlike the Grieg Lieder, however, I still have my reservations about the Haydn songs. Why? First, they are more ornate than I personally like to hear in vocal music. Second, they are settings of folk songs in a style that I don’t think they are particularly well suited for. However, that’s just my first impression after listening to about 6-10 discs worth of the songs. However, I didn’t find them to be so bad that I won’t listen to them again and see if my opinion either changes or is refined with multiple listenings.
On the other hand, I have listened to all the Baryton Trios. I have to admit, these are definitely lesser Haydn pieces, having been specifically written for his patron Prince Esterházy to perform, and as such are geared to the Prince’s skill with the Baryton. However, if nothing else, the texture of the sound of the Baryton makes the pieces more interesting than say similar String Trios would be. What would be more interesting to me, however, would be to create a play list of chamber pieces that mixed the Baryton Trios, String Quartets and other Trios. The lightness and texture of the Baryton pieces might serve as an interesting compliment to some of Papa Haydn’s major works.
[amazonshowcase_1d42dc27d3d498fb23c1deb4ae76db13] Finally, I have the best find and happy accident of my recent purchases: Arcangelo Corelli’s Complete Works. I say this was a happy accident because I was mistaken about the types of works Corelli wrote, and a best find as Corelli is something of a missing link.
Corelli was an influential teacher, orchestra leader, violinist and composer of instrumental music. This last item is particularly remarkable in a period where Operas and Choral works were the primary musical styles due to the influence of the Catholic Church in Italy, and especially in Rome, where Corelli lived. In writing Trios, Concerti Grossi, and other instrumental pieces that were performed inbetween Oratorios, Corelli was a style setter. The influence of his work his work can be heard through the next generation of composers including: Bach, Haydn, Telemann, Handel, Vivaldi and Couperin.
Based solely on the invention in these works, it is no wonder that Corelli was so influential for so long. The works are quite remarkable and stunning, even sounding like the belonged to the next generation. Indeed a remarkable “accidental” find, the Musica Amphion is an extremely talented group of performers, and their interpretations are highly enlightening and wonderful to listen to. I am certain to return to these recordings and possibly seek out alternative recordings for comparison.
When buying box sets, especially from what appears to be a “budget” line company, it’s frequently difficult to know if you are going to be getting high quality recordings. While some reviewers have reservations about Brilliant Classics lines of recordings, I can say that for the most part I don’t. They are not necessarily the most advanced interpretations of the music, and are sometimes uneven in the quality of the engineering of the recordings (a fact that I tend to believe has more to do with the difference in sources for the recordings), however they offer extensive, and wide-ranging exposure to the works by the composer in question. And, if you really want to dive into a particular composer in-depth, these are a good starting point.
The January Classical Listening: Part One by The CerebralRift, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.