This is the third list of preferred recordings that started with “A Few of My Favorite Things” (Issue 129) and “More of My Favorite Things” Issue 134). These eclectic collections consist of CDs and LPs I particularly like and listen to on a regular basis. The current mix includes an orchestral overture for a play that doesn’t have music, excerpts from a completed score for an unfinished movie within a movie, and an oldie but goodie song that makes the impossible possible.

    Samuel Barber/Overture to “The School for Scandal”/St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin, cond. (EMI CD) Samuel Barber wrote melodic pieces in a modern idiom that made him one of the foremost writers of 20th-century Romantic music. The appealing Overture to “The School for Scandal,” first performed in 1933, wasn’t intended by Barber to act as a prelude to Richard Brindley Sheridan’s comedy but to be “a musical reflection of the play’s spirit.”

    Slatkin leads a more sharply focused performance than some other conductors represented on YouTube…conducting that heightens enjoyment by engaging me to a greater extent.

      

    Erich Wolfgang Korngold/Violin Concerto/Hilary Hahn, violin/Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano, cond. (Video) Korngold’s Violin Concerto is similar in style to and usually paired with Barber’s Violin Concerto [1] on recordings. Both compositions are lyrical, melodic, and Romantic in a 20th century kind of way.

    Here’s a spectacular live performance of the concerto that isn’t as crisp-looking as more recent videos but comes with a very young, very talented Hilary Hahn as the soloist and an undoubtedly younger, very talented Kent Nagano conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

     

    The Elfin Knight: Ballads and Dances from Renaissance England/Joel Frederiksen, lute/Ensemble Phoenix Munich (Harmonia Mundi CD) The Elfin Knight is an album that includes many familiar oldies but goodies – really old, really good standards like “Greensleeves,” “Barbara Ellen,” and “Watkin’s Ale” arranged for voice and instruments.

    Frederiksen explains that all of the songs and dances on The Elfin Knight are arrangements:

    “The results heard here are based on my general experience in Early Music. Of course in consort music working together with the other musicians plays an important role. As leader of an ensemble one has to show the direction that one wants to go, but at the same moment be open for the imagination and other experiences of the players. When good suggestions come from the group that are convincing, I build them in. What is important is the result.”

    The first two selections indicated below, “Scarborough Faire” and “Whittingham Faire,” are very similar: “Scarborough” is slower and more leisurely; “Whittingham” is faster and more lively. Along with a third variation, “The Lovers’ Tasks,” all three songs can be traced back to the same source: The Elfin Knight ballads. [2]

    Frederiksen continues:

    “The elfin knight gives three tasks to his beloved; if she doesn’t fulfill them she will have to submit to his will. ‘Make me a shirt, but with no seam, wash it in a well, but with no water, hang it on a rose bush, but without thorns.’ She counters, to protect herself, with three just as impossible demands. The mythic context has disappeared in our arrangement. What is left over is a pure love song with the statement that it is possible, through true love, to make the impossible possible.”

     

     

     

    Herbie Mann/Caminho de Casa/Herbie Mann, flute/Jasil Brazz (Chesky CD) Jazz musician Herbie Mann started playing Brazilian music in 1961: “The first time I went to Brazil I realized that the lyricism of Brazilian music, and its melodic strength were unique in the third world…I heard this wonderful combination that every jazz musician looks for: incredible melodies and wonderful harmonies to lay on, combined with a bubbling rhythm.”

    Almost all of the compositions on this recording are by contemporary Brazilians. The first cut, “Caminho de Casa” (“Pathway Home”), gets my attention immediately and I stop whatever I’m doing to listen. The other selections are worth hearing too, whether I’m sitting directly in line with the loudspeakers to appreciate the disc’s audiophile sound or being mindful working at my desk.

      

    Antonín Dvořák /Symphony No. 7/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/James Levine, cond. (RCA CD) Dvorak’s music is almost always appealing. You don’t even have to look at a title: just pull any recording of his orchestral or chamber music off the shelf and you’re likely to take great pleasure in it (if well-performed, of course!).

    ClassicsToday.com’s Executive Editor David Hurwitz describes Dvorak’s 7th symphony as lively, textured, punchy, flowing, melodic…a gorgeous late-Romantic piece with strings that sing and is endlessly refreshing. He calls Levine’s interpretation one of the best recordings of this symphony:: “a great performance that’s wonderful, taut, clean, sharp, exciting, and rhythmic.”

    The third movement in particular is always a treat to hear: it’s gorgeous, flowing, and melodic with those singing strings making make an especially memorable appearance.

     

    Nino Rota/8 ½/soundtrack (various LPs and CDs) In Federico Fellini’s 1963 Academy Award-winning film 8 1/2, [3] Italian filmmaker Guido Anselmi (played by Marcello Mastroianni) struggles as he tries to get a new movie off the ground. Overwhelmed by his work and personal problems, the director retreats into his thoughts which often focus on his loves, both past and present, and frequently wanders between fantasy and reality as he tries to sort out his entanglements.

    “8½ is both autobiographical and brilliant. Its surface flow of images dazzles us with sharp contrasts of black and white, startling eruptions from off screen, unexpected changes of scene, and a virtuoso display of all the possibilities and effects of camera movement. We find almost a catalog of humanity in its stream of faces; some of them are momentary visions, while others persist through the film and long after in our memory, such as Saraghina, that lumbering monster transformed into the embodiment of joyous life and movement. But Fellini’s brilliance reaches beyond the surface to include an intricate structure of highly original, highly imaginative scenes whose conjunction creates an unprecedented interweaving of memories, fantasies, and dreams with the daily life of his hero and alter ego, Guido Anselmi. This, more than anything probably, made the most influential film of the 1960s, liberating filmmakers everywhere from the conventions of time, place, and mode of experience that had prevailed in cinema for decades.” [4]

    Nino Rota is widely known for his soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s first two Godfather films, and the music for Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. The musical excerpts here reflect the spirit of 8 1/2 and are two of my favorite things, especially the 10-note motif that comes and goes throughout the film (“Carlotta’s Galop”).

     

      

    Peter, Paul and Mary/Such is Love (Collector’s Edition/Warner LP) Okay – so it took me over 20 years to start appreciating a group that was formed in the early 1960s. Such is Love arrived at my door during the early 1980s. The local PBS station had just broadcast a PP&M performance, and this was the groovy bonus for having made a donation during pledge week. I’ve been listening to the LP ever since.

    It’s a terrific collection of slightly lesser-known PP&M material (i.e., it doesn’t have any blowing, puffing, hammering, or songs about jet planes) in excellent sound that’s good enough to use for testing your audio equipment. The tracks include audience interaction and fine performances that make it an LP I reach for often.

     

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart/Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major K332/Maria João Pires, piano (Video) I sometimes enjoy brief musical moments like the way this sonata’s first movement seems to speed up and slow down in places. Some performers play the piece in a formal, straightforward manner. Portuguese pianist Pires, who is considered to be one of the best interpreters of Mozart, demonstrates that the elegance and simplicity of music from the Classical period can be just as enjoyable as the grandiosity and complexity of compositions from the Baroque era.

     

    Vivaldi/Concerto for Two Cellos in D minor RV 531/Apollo’s Fire/The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra (Video) Since Vivaldi was such a prolific composer, a common criticism is that all of his compositions sound the same. But there are moments that stand out in many of his pieces and invite regular listening. The Concerto for Two Cellos in D minor, like the Mozart sonata above, is another piece with one of those “magic moments.” [5] It has a slow second movement (the Largo – at 3’59”) with a beautiful, ornamented descending pattern that appears twice. When played properly as it is here – not so slowly that it becomes disconnected, not so quickly that it loses its poignancy – it’s a memorable instant I always look forward to hearing.

    This concerto is performed by the excellent early music group Apollo’s Fire complete with period instruments, energy, feeling, and a well-deserved round of applause.

     

    [1] See “Mister Mister and the Misses” in Issue 145.

    [2] With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel for leaving out their modern version of this material (www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Jj4s9I-53g).

    [3] “By 1963, Federico Fellini had made, by his count, seven and a half films. Hence 8 ½ is like an opus number: this is film number eight and a half in the Fellini catalog. Self-referential enough, but only the beginning. is a film about making a film, and the film that is being made is 8½. Notice how everything Guido says about the film he is making turns out to be true of 8½, even the sailor doing a soft-shoe dance; how all the screen tests are for roles in the film we are seeing; how some camera movements create an ambiguity between Guido, the director in the film, and Fellini, the director of the film, thus taking self-reference one step beyond the work to its maker.” [Alexander Sesonske, “8 ½: A Film with Itself as Its Subject,” The Criterion Collection, 2010.]

    [4] Ibid.

    [5] With apologies to Perry Como for leaving out his popular hit “Magic Moments” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ_hWTuSYSk).

     

    Header image: Antonio Vivaldi, public domain.

    2 comments on “Play it Again, Sam”

    1. I love the Houston Symphony Orchestra’s Dvorak 7 (and 8 on the same recording) under Estrada, will check out the VSO under Levine if it’s on Qobuz. Thanks for recognising a great piece that’s also one of my favs.

    2. Thanks for writing. FYI, there are several performances on YouTube of Dvorak’s music conducted by Estrada, including a video of Dvorak’s 7th played by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. I’ll keep an ear out for the Houston recording.

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