Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy new year to all my readers


Unsurprisingly, I listened to more Bach than anything else in 2008. Raphaël Imbert's Bach/Coltrane CD for the Zig-Zag Territoires label captivated me, and judging by the emails it generated, it captivated many readers as well. Linn Records' one-to-a-part eight voice recording of the 1742 final performing edition of Bach's Matthew Passion was a new release, and it was, for me, one of the best new recordings of the year. An article about it waits in the upload queue, delayed by the sheer volume of wonderful music I have heard in the year.

Also missing from my posts was the extraordinary Alpha Productions CD of parodies and transcriptions of music by Bach for organ and violin, played by Raphaël Oleg and Vincent Dubois. An endlessly fascinating disc that is also a wonderful example of the art of the balance engineer. A very welcome female interloper in a predominantly male profession, engineer Aline Blondiau achieves the impossible and produces a demonstration quality balance between the organ and violin recorded in l'église Saint-Pierre de Guignicourt, France.

For me, the outstanding live music event of the year was Glyndebourne's new production of Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel. During the year I listened with much pleasure to Karajan's 1953 EMI recording of the opera with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Grümmer in Naxos' EU-royalty-free version, which is not available in the USA. A chance encouter with Pablo Casals' choral music in a small church in rural France in the summer sent me down a rewarding path and I returned repeatedly to Casals' recordings of the Bach Cello Suites from the 1930s, again a Naxos EU-only version of an EMI recording.

I wrote in praise of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in August, and their recording of Jonathan Harvey's Body Mandala conducted by Ilan Volkov was one of the outstanding new contemporary music CDs of the year. It also fuelled my increasing interest in Buddhism, a philosophy that has attracted many figures in the music world including Jonathan Harvey, Philip Glass and John Cage. Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle delighted me with his live performances of Cage and Stockhausen in Belgium and London, and also introduced me on disc to the solo piano music of Gordon Mumma. Staying with the piano Ellen Ugelvik's CD for Sigma Classics of George Crumb's Makrokosmos was yet another delight.

Comments from readers are crucial in deciding the directions that the path takes. I knew the orchestral music of Valentin Silvestrov, but perceptive comments from two regular readers led me to his Stille Lieder on ECM, sung by baritone Sergei Jakowenko. This sublime song cycle, in a recording which dates from 1986, was one of my great musical discoveries of the year. That Silvestrov path ended in an unusual destination, the New York Times. Another reader put me on the path to the neglected music of Maurice Ohana following my visit to Morocco early in the year. And returning to the baritone voice Chad Runyon's recording of John Jacob Niles' settings of Thomas Merton's poetry was another priceless discovery.

World music produced many riches in the year. These included the music of Moorish Spain from L'Ensemble Aromates, oud music from the Palestinian Trio Joubran, and ambient Turkish music from the Taksim Trio. One of the great finds was the traditional gnawa trance ritual from Marrakech which I webcast complete, and without interruption on Future Radio.

Among the wonderful sounds there was also great sadness, particularly at the loss of Richard Hickox, Vernon Handley and Esbjörn Svensson. The recordings of the symphonies of Edmund Rubbra (and Leo Black's fine book on him) in interpretations by Richard Hickox and others brought much reward in the year. Elgar's early oratorio The Light of Life recorded by Richard Hickox for Chandos brought much needed consolation. Contemporary and world music are now fashionable. But the sacred choral music of Elgar remains deeply unfashionable. Dualism is one of the many enemies in the 21st century. Why can we not be moved by The Kingdom, The Apostles and the Dream of Gerontius as well as Crumb's Makrokosmos?

My Christmas presents from my long-suffering family included the cycle of complete Haydn symphonies originally recorded for Nimbus by Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra, and now re-issued at super budget price (around £2 a disc for 33CDs) by the Dutch low price licensing specialist, Brilliant Classics. The 'complete works' box is an excellent way of filling gaps in a CD collection, and Brilliant's Bach and Mozart complete editions have also filled many hours of listening in the year.

I was fortunate to see Jordi Savall perform in concert twice in 2008. His fiercely independent brand of early music making has gone from strength to strength, and his blockbuster celebration of Jerusalem was one of the truly great artistic and humanitarian achievements of the year. But when will they ever learn? Jordi Savall's Alia Vox label is not afraid to swim against the tide and take risks, and the first solo album by his son Ferran, Mireu el nostre mar, returned to my CD player many times.

Alia Vox means 'alternative voice', and the success of Jordi Savall's independent and innovative record label carries an important message for 2009. All around there is economic gloom. But, despite this, I am immensely optimistic about the future. Yes, 2009 will bring more pain, triggered by the greed and stupidity of those managing the large corporations. But there is a growing awareness that the corporate system is not working, and, more importantly, there is an increasing willingness to listen to alternative voices.

Working outside the mainstream, daring to be different, and replacing individual greed by shared values can provide a viable alternative to our present broken structures. Looking back over what I have written, not one of the CDs featured in this post comes from a major record label (OK, two were originally recorded by EMI more than fifty years ago), and not one is performed by a 'top ten' orchestra (except the 1953 Hänsel). Yet, I challenge anyone to argue that the music I have written about is not outstanding in every respect. Time and time again the same names appeared on the path in 2008, and they appeared because they are important alternative voices - the Britten Sinfonia, Zig-Zag Territoires, Jonathan Reakie and his team at Aldeburgh Music, Glossa Music, Alpha Productions, Concertzender, Alia Vox, and many more.

2009 will see increasing problems and further decline for those who still believe that global is beautiful. That includes the major record labels, the big-name orchestras, the jet-set music directors, the international music festivals and the major media groups such as the BBC. As corporate structures buckle alternative voices will follow the path blazed in the theatre by Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble and Peter Brook's Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. These musical voices will ignore established categories, work outside the celebrity system, explore new repertoire and make dwindling funding go further by rejecting top-heavy management structures. They will connect locally rather than globally, dispense with intermediaries, put activism before corporate schmoozing and create their own networks to bypass the corporate 'gate keepers' that currently control the recording, broadcasting, venue and talent industries.

2009 is going to be very exciting. Alternative voices will become increasingly important. As a leading critic wrote 'This is the future of classical music'.

With many thanks to Christopher Bishop, whose 2008 Christmas card provides my header graphic. All reviewed items bought at retail price except for the Niles/Merton Songs, the Gordon Mumma piano music,the gnawa Black Album and Leo Black's book on Rubbra. The latter items were supplied at no cost at my request, my thanks go to the suppliers. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dances for peace


I'm not keen on the music industry's current obsession with anniversaries. But one anniversary needs to be marked before the year ends, because it gives me an excuse to display the stunning sleeve art above, which is by Henrik Drescher. The classic Kronos Quartet recording of Terry Riley's Salome Dances For Peace was made twenty years ago, in August 1988. Terry Riley's In C here, Requiem for Adam here, piano music here, The Cusp of Magic here, and Kronos' Bollywood tribute here.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Classic songs in a new and attractive form


The 1977 Transcriptions for Guitar by Toru Takemitsu include four Lennon & McCartney songs, Here, There and Everywhere, Michelle, Hey Jude and Yesterday. John William's 1992 CD of Takemitsu's guitar music includes one of the transcriptions. Takemitsu features in Zen and the art of Aldeburgh.

More art of typography here. The header image is the box from one of my childhood games. Beetle Drive dates from the mid-1950s. We played it a few days ago and it is far more fun than Wii. But a quick internet search suggests that the Beetle Drive party game is exclusively British, so it probably won't mean anything to a lot of readers. Sony Takemitsu CD was purchased in 1992 for £12.75, which shows how the real price of CDs has dropped. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 will bring ...

· Salzburg will go the Bayreuth way, stale, inward-looking and unable to survive administrative red tape.

· Several opera houses will go down next year or will reduce dramatically their activities, European as well as American.

· European institutions will fare better than the US because of the funding system - am I glad I now live in Geneva.

· More classical music will be heard in Asia than elsewhere.

· The Berlin Philharmonic will not even be on the best 10 orchestras in the next stupid and unnecessary poll of the Gramophone - which I have stopped reading.

· Boston will become the US's best orchestra.

· I could add that CDs are really dead, but I just bought two EMI Testament Karajan CDs of concerts from London's Royal Festival Hall. These include a 1984 concert which I attended which remains a lifetime souvenir. Highly recommended if you do not own these.

· The age of jet-hopping artists going from one continent to the other like crazy is gone, save for Gergiev. This being said, too many conductors will be artistic directors of more than one institutions . Could we find a way of making this illegal once and for all?
Those predictions for 2009 are from French born, Swiss resident and sometime Overgrown Path contributor Antoine Leboyer, whose concert and opera going experience is in the same league as the legendary Hedgehog.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Music to rescue humanity's honour



For me the existence of Pablo Casals is a source of joy. He is one of those artists who come to the rescue of humanity's honour ~ Thomas Mann
Pablo Casals was born on December 29, 1876 in El Vendrell, Spain. The film above of him playing J.S. Bach's Suite No. 1 for Cello Solo was made at the Abbaye Saint-Michel-de Cuxa, France, in 1954. My recent homage to Casals was inspired by hearing his sacred choral music live in France last summer. There is a video of his O vos omnes here. Read In Search of Pablo Casals here.

More Casals resources here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Le Boeuf sur le toit


The ballet's composer included Stockhausen among his pupils.
Remembering Richard Hickox, Vernon Handley, Esbjörn Svensson and the other musicians who left us in 2008. More Lux Christi here. Photo of Le Barroux, France taken December 2008. All original photos on the path are taken with a Casio EX-Z120 digital pocket camera. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I am the true vine


Arvo Pärt set the biblical text 'I am the true vine'.
Remembering Richard Hickox, Vernon Handley, Esbjörn Svensson and the other musicians who left us in 2008. More Lux Christi here. Photo taken at Le Barroux, France, December 2008. All original photos on the path are taken with a Casio EX-Z120 digital pocket camera. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, December 26, 2008

Every missing picture tells a story


The iTunes 'Get album artwork' function does not always locate the required graphics. The missing artwork during a recent update of my iPod included Jordi Savall's Francisco Xavier and Jerusalem, Valentin Silvestrov's Stille Lieder and the Niles/Merton Songs. Which started me thinking. If someone could write a routine to identify all the missing iTunes artwork, that would be a list of music very well worth exploring.

It just confirms, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Yes, I know the artwork can be manually imported into iTunes. That's how it appeared on to the screendump above. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What do you expect? - it's Wagner


Slightly more respect for the master of Bayreuth here.
The King Charles Cavalier dozing in front of my CD collection is Alice (after Alice Elgar), and belongs to legendary recording EMI recording producer Christopher Bishop. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace


Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience ~ Thomas Merton
Happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year to all my readers. With thanks for all your support in 2008.

Remembering Richard Hickox, Vernon Handley, Esbjörn Svensson and the other musicians who left us in 2008. More Lux Christi here. Photo taken at Le Barroux, France, December 2008. All original photos on the path are taken with a Casio EX-Z120 digital pocket camera. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Taizé Christmas


The icon of the Virgin Mary in the Church of Reconciliation, Taizé. This icon was blessed by Metropolitan Nicodim of Leningrad, during his visit to Taizé in 1962. Read about, and hear, the music of Taizé here, and see a photo-essay here. Find Western takes on Russian music here.

More Lux Christi here. Image credit Taizé Community. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The composer and the community

'The Composer must not shut himself up and think about art, he must live with his fellows and make his art an expression of the whole community - if we seek art we shall not find it' ~ Ralph Vaughan Williams, Royal College Music Magazine 1912







'It is better to be vitally parochial than to be an emasculate cosmopolitan. The great names in music were at first local and the greatest of all, Johann Sebastian Bach, remained a local musician all his life' ~ Ralph Vaughan Williams, Abinger Chronicle, 1939.
As his anniversary year draws to a close my photos show Ralph Vaughan Williams in his local community of Dorking, Surrey. The lower photo shows him outside St. Martin's Church, Dorking with Isadore Schwiller and Gerald Finzi. Schwiller led the Leith Hill Orchestra for many years, and his eponymous quartet gave the first performance of RVW's String Quartet No. 1 in 1908, and played in the 1949 private performance in Dorking of the Fantasia on the 'Old 104th' before the first public performance of the work at the 1950 Three Choirs Festival.

My memories of Dorking and a forgotten maestro here.
Photo credits, The Local History Group of the Dorking & Leith Hill Preservation Society. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, December 22, 2008

Years of pilgrimage


View from my room at the Benedictine L'Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine in Provence during my recent visit. In the foreground is the monastic cloister which is only open to men on retreat. Behind it is the west wall of the great Abbey Church. Above that can be seen the 1,912 metre (6,273 feet) high summit of Mont Ventoux. The Italian poet Petrarch climbed Mont Ventoux in 1336 and wrote about his ascent in one of his Epistolae familiares. Pierre Boulez has a holiday home in the area, presumably not as grand as Lorin Maazel's. Franz Liszt joined the Franciscan Order in 1857, and six years later settled in a monastery outside Rome. Boulez is not normally associated with either Franz Liszt or religion. But he has a connection with a monastery in nearby Villeneuve les Avignon. And his first season directing the New York Philharmonic focussed on the music of Liszt and Alban Berg. The Petrarch Sonnets were originally written by Liszt as settings for tenor voice. They are known today as solo piano works which form part of the composer's Années de pélerinage (Years of pilgrimage). My preferred version is by Lazar Berman on DG, but Jeno Jando's budget priced Naxos recording is also perfectly serviceable. Less well known, but equally as appealing, are Liszt's contemplative Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. I strongly recommend Hyperion's 2CDs-for-the-price-of-one set played by Steven 'Tippett can still empty a concert hall' Osborne.


This rather gloomy engraving of Liszt is by the Hungarian realist Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900) and the original hangs in the Hungarian National Museum, Budapest. The print is the work of the Hungarian engraver and art critic József Rippl-Rónai (1881-1927). The signatures of both artist and engraver on this original 19th century print are visible.

Petrarch climbed Mont Ventoux. What goes up must come down.
I flew on a Ryanair cheap ticket London - Marseille return. The total cost was £52 by the time the hidden extras were added on. The carbon produced was more than offset by using public transport while in France and walking the last four miles uphill to the monastery carrying a 35 kilo backpack. All CDs mentioned in this article were bought at retail price. Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

New York Philharmonic takes a stand


Joe has left a new comment on your post 'Standing on tradition':- When the New York Philharmonic played Messiah last week under the direction of Ton Koopman, there was a program note similar to the Boston Baroque one noted above, discussing the origins of the standing tradition and inviting audience members to do as they wished. On the night I attended, nearly everyone stood - some shot up right away, while others followed a half-minute or so later, some with bemused or sheepish looks on their faces that suggested that they weren't really sure what was going on and felt they should follow the crowd.
Thanks for that Joe. I assume that Ton Koopman used Handel's original scoring and the trombone shall not sound. Another Ton Koopman Christmas path here.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Music without moderation


The über moderators at the BBC have decreed that Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Purcell are 'composers of the year' for 2009, and official Radio 3 bloggers have been appointed to moderate what we read about them. While elsewhere trombonists are busy moderating which conductors we can hear. Moderation will be the big thing in classical music for 2009. As Tariq Ali said recently - 'The 'elite' control not by choosing the topics of discussion, but by controlling those topics not discussed.'

The moderation madness will multiply in 2010 and 2011. Gustav Mahler was born in 1860 and died in 1911. Double anniversary cycles of his symphonies will tick all the boxes for the modish mass of music moderators. Besides, what an opportunity for Gilbert Kaplan to expand his repertoire.

The BBC moderators have decided that classical music died together with Mendelssohn in 1847. So Bohuslav Martinů has been written out of history, despite 2009 being the fiftieth anniversary of his death. But fear not, a moderate amount of Martinů will feature here. As I said some time back - more of Martinů's music please.

Now playing - Bohuslav Martinů's Symphony No. 4. For me this is one of the great life-affirming works of the 20th century. I grew up with Václav Neumann's account from his complete cycle of the symphonies on vinyl LP. The box is seen above, my discs still sound superb despite the variable quality of the Czech Supraphon pressings. This set is now available as three CDs and is highly recommended. Why, with the current obsession with all things Shostakovich, do the myopic moderators ignore Martinů's equally deserving music? Is there an orchestra immoderate enough to programme one of Martinů's two quite superb, but virtually unknown, cello concertos instead of the ubiquitous Shostakovich alternatives?

Not quite as authentically Bohemian, but recommended nevertheless, are Bryden Thomson's recordings of the Martinů symphonies with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra from the late 1980s. These are available from Chandos as MP3 downloads. Bryden Thomson's early death in 1991, aged 63, was a sad loss. If he is remembered at all today it is as a British music specialist. But these Martinů symphonies are confirmation that such a categorisation is grossly unfair. He also recorded a fine cycle of the Nielsen symphonies for Chandos with his Scottish orchestra more than a decade before the composer's music was 'approved' by the moderators.

Another Nielsen champion and victim of BBC moderators here.
The gorgeous typography on the Martinů symphony box is by Miroslav Jiránek. All CDs mentioned were bought by me at retail price. I probably bought Václav Neumann's Martinů cycle with money from my newspaper delivery round. I have used CDMusic.cz successfully to buy Czech CDs, their prices are good and delivery is fast. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

New kids off the blog


I've removed the New kids on the blog listing from the right side-bar. The listing was adding a download overhead to the path. But, more seriously, I was concerned and disappointed at the number of these blogs that were offering no more than CDs for file sharing in breach of copyright law in both the US and UK. I simply do not have time to check each blog for copyright breaching content, and I'm not prepared to promote theft from musicians. Some of the new blogs were worth finding. But, in general, the answer to my question - 'Where are the new blogs? Where are the musical options? Where is the risk-taking?' is 'I'm still looking.'

But then, the BBC does give permission for file sharing.
Photo taken at Marseilles Provence 2 airport and (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Candles for Valentin Berlinsky


Valentin Berlinsky (above), cellist of the renowned Borodin Quartet, has died aged 83. He played at Stalin's funeral in 1953. Obituary here, paths here and here, candles here.

Photo credit Borodin Quartet. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lux Christi


Winter view of the Catholic Abbaye Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, Le Barroux, France, which featured in a New York Times article a while back. Over the Christmas holiday I will be featuring photos taken on my recent visit to France and inspired by the late Richard Hickox's recording of Elgar's oratorio The Light of Life. Paths converge here. Richard Hickox's father was an Anglican vicar, while Sir Edward Elgar was a practicing Catholic. The Light of Life was originally called Lux Christi, but the title The Light of Life was deemed more suitable for a work commissioned for the Anglican cathedral in Worcester. Today the oratorio is known for the opening Meditation which is sometimes performed as a concert piece. The Light of Life predates Elgar's three choral masterpieces The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles and The Kingdom, and themes from it appear in the latter two works, most notably the deeply moving Light of Life motif in The Kingdom. Today, The Apostles and The Kingdom are overlooked, and the Light of Life is virtually unknown. A pity, because, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, Elgar was carrying on Beethoven's business.

Dedicated to Richard Hickox, Vernon Handley, Esbjörn Svensson and the other great musicians who left us in 2008. More Lux Christi here. The Chandos CD of The Light of Life was bought online for surprisingly little. I stayed at L'Abbaye-Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux. The Rule of Saint Benedict says all travellers should be welcome. Donations are what can be afforded, some monasteries suggest a minimum of 30€ a day for accomodation. All original photos on the path are taken with a Casio EX-Z120 digital pocket camera. It is no longer available but retailed for around £70. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Double-dipping Mahler


Here we go again. New York Philharmonic trombonist David Finlayson plays Mahler under Gilbert Kaplan, a Wall Street billionaire and orchestra donor. Mr Finlayson does not like Mr Kaplan's technique, so savages him in his blog. The knees jerk in agreement. We are not told whether Mr Finlayson returned his fee.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Early music unplugged

'Els Segadors is not just an anthem, it is above all a song that talks about and condemns injustice. I sing these little-known verses because they speak directly of people's suffering, and the helplessness of the victims of all conflicts. It is therefore a lament, a song of grief that cries out and demands that such suffering is never repeated.'

These are the words of Ferran Savall writing in the sleeve notes for his first solo album. Mireu el nostre mar is part of the new wave of music making that transcends all established categories and ditches marketing hype in favour of letting the music speak for itself. Ferran's roots are in early music as a théorbe player with his father Jordi Savall's ensembles. But he is equally as home jamming in the jazz and folk clubs of Barcelona and other European cities, and the accompanying photos from the CD sleeve show him well and truly unplugged from early music.


Mireu el nostre mar has its roots in folk music, and Ferran Savall sings and plays guitar and piano with an acoustic group that includes fellow guitarist Mario Mas (seen in footer photo) and frequent Jordi Savall sideman Dimitris Psonis. Ferran Savall's great achievement on his first solo album is to make ancient Catalan and Hebrew folk melodies speak powerfully to contemporary audiences. His arrangements follow in the footsteps of that master folklorist Pete Seeger, who transformed a Ukrianian folk tune into the contemporary classic 'Where have all the flowers gone?' Ferran Savall's arrangements of traditional folk tunes are coupled with his own beautiful settings of verses by Rainer Maria Rilke and other poets. The humanitarian message of the songs follows in the pacifist tradition of the 1960's folk movement and, of course, Ferran's parents, Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall, who are UNESCO 'Artists for Peace'.


I took Mireu el nostre mar with me on my recent journey to France. This article is being written using a biro and an exercise-book in a café in the university quarter of Avignon, and I will transcribe it when I return home. Time and time again I have found myself returning to Mireu el nostre mar during this tough and thought-provoking trip. The album has none of the polish and perfection of Hesperion XXI's music making. Instead the 45 minute disc has an refreshingly improvisatory and spontaneous feel that is summed up in the final cut which was recorded live in Paris. There is something of an underground feel to the whole project; the sleeve graphics are more ECM than Alia Vox, the obligatory YouTube video is conspicuous by its absence, Ferran's own website is rudimentary and MySpace seems to be where he hangs out. So to convey the special atmosphere of the album I've taken some grab-shots with my camera in the café here in southern France, and I'll intercut those images with sleeve shots. If you like the feel of this post you will like Mireu el nostre mar .


Savall family magic here and here. Another great Catalan here.
Mireu el nostre mar was purchased from amazon.co.uk. Photos 2 and 4 are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008, photos 1,3 and 5 are (c) Alia Vox. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The end of innocence


In 1963 an English teacher, who considered passion more important than protocol, smuggled me and a few of his other 14 year old students into a cinema to see a '16' rated film. The newly-released Lord of the Flies was directed by Peter Brook and filmed on a very low budget. It brilliantly transferred William Golding's novel, which we were studying for 'O' Level English, to the screen, and went on to become a classic of the cinema. The DVD of Lord of the Flies, which restores Tom Hollyman's stunning black and white photography to its original glory (images above and below), is essential viewing.

A bonus on the DVD is the optional commentary by Peter Brook and his production team, which was recorded in 2000. But in the 90 minute commentary there is not one single mention of the music score which, with its repetition of the Kyrie Eleison motif, is an integral part of the film. The music for Lord of the Flies was written by Raymond Leppard. It is his best known score, but his other film credits include the music for Laughter in the Dark, and Hotel New Hampshire.

Leppard, who is now 81, was a central figure in the 1960s revival of baroque music, and in particular baroque opera. His approach was musical and scholarly but it avoided the 'brown rice and sandals' approach that infused early music of the time. His 1973 recording of Bach's harpsichord concertos plays as I write. The non-period instrument English Chamber Orchestra accompany Andrew Davis, Philip Ledger, Blandine Verlet and Leppard himself at the harpsichords. Raymond Leppard's repertoire is wide-ranging, and also includes Britten and Nicholas Maw.

In the 1980s Raymond Leppard became disillusioned with musical life in Britain and developed his career elsewhere, including 14 years as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. But sadly the second part of his career has never quite matched his achievements of the 1960s. The DVD of Lord of the Flies is well worth seeking out. Not just as a masterpiece of cinematic direction, but also as a unique document celebrating a prodigous musical talent.


A journey through that 1960s revival of Baroque music here.
The DVD of Lord of the Flies was borrowed from Norwich Library Services, who, thankfully, still just manage to keep passion ahead of protocol. The Philips CD of the Bach harpsichord concertos dates back to the early days of the compact disc and was, I recall, bought in Edinburgh in the late 1980s - it now seems to be deleted. Images are from the DVD sleeve. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Proud not to be an official BBC music blogger


Congratulations to my friend Jessica Duchen who has been appointed BBC Radio 3's official Mendelssohn blogger for his bicentenary year in 2009. Readers will be disappointed to hear I did not apply for the post. Anyway, Jessica will do a much better job of 'moderating comments and discussions' about Radio 3's output. I hardly listen to Radio 3 these days. But this morning I heard a presenter, who would not have got past the first interview for a call centre job, imploring listeners to send in emails dissing Brahms' music, presumably so the 'listener participation' box could be ticked.

The arrival of BBC 'official bloggers' is relevant to the discussion about double-dipping. Having got critics including Norman Lebrecht, James Jolly and Tom Service on-side the lower orders in the classical music food chain are now being targeted by the BBC. I can just see what is going to happen. An official Radio 3 blogger decides, as I did today, that a programme is unlistenable crap, and posts accordingly. Official blogger is assigned to other duties by the BBC. Anguished screams of 'free-speech' from the blogging music critics. Thanks, but I'll stick to 'unofficial' blogging.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Hendrix in the Strand


My post about Handel's Messiah attracted record numbers of readers from around the world. It just goes to show you can't keep a good old'un down. Which reminds me that Jimi Hendrix lived in an apartment next door to Handel's famous London residence at 25, Brook Street. That conjunction has even inspired a contemporary music project. And not only is 2009 the 250th anniversary of Handel's death. It is also the 40th anniversary of Hendrix's feedback-tormented Star Spangled Banner at the legendary Woodstock concert. And talking of Hallelujahs, cover versions of Leonard Cohen's 1984 song Hallelujah by Alexandra Burke and Jeff Buckley are currently taking the UK rock charts by storm. Which just goes to show you can't keep a good old'un down.


Now playing - Handel's Trio Sonatas op. 5 played, appropriately, by the all-girl Brook Street Band, who also featured in a post which asked when does a recording become a forgery? Moving from old to new takes us to new music's very own Woodstock.
The Avie CD of Handel Trio Sonatas was bought at Prelude Records. The re-released DVD of Woodstock came from HMV for just £5. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Great moments in score design


Geoff Hurst scores his third goal to seal victory for England over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final. Football has a history of adopting classical music themes. So the just-republished and much-praised Directory of Classical Themes should be a best-seller on the terraces. I listened to the 1966 World Cup final on a transistor radio on a train returning from a school trip to Austria. That trip introduced me to the art and music of Vienna. How sad that educational travel has become a victim of our Health and Safety culture. My school was Glyn County Grammar in Epsom. One of the school's more celebrated pupils was David Hemmings who, in those heady pre-Health and Safety days, shared some champagne moments with Benjamin Britten.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Play it again Sam


'Later that year Zuckermann abandoned his harpsichord business and America in disgust at the country's involvement in the Vietnam War.'

It's a good story about how a search to find Olivier Messiaen's birthplace in Avignon leads to a conversation with the man who used to provide harpsichords for John Cage, but that sentence belongs in an old Woody Allen story.
Writes Boring Like A Drill.

So what's wrong with old Woody Allen stories?

Header image is from Woody Allen's 1972 film Play It Again, Sam. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Fridge over troubled waters


'Why do you care about the US? It's the old UK behaviour. Pretending to be the Bridge. Ahum. The better way is to overlook those US guys & concentrate on all things European' - chides a regular reader who is also a friend, Fred Frith fan, and sometime Belgian Kyle Gann. Also in the inbox was the email below, which I had to feature. Not because it says nice things about the path, although that never goes amiss. But because it introduces a blog described as 'A quiet place for music and arts'. I may not always succeed; but the path does try to be multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and, with the help of my readers, molto bene.
Dear Pliable, I'm a regular reader of the Overgrown Path, that I consider as a model for all of us. I've read your post about the shortage of new music blogs,but I was not sure that you were interested also in other languages. Now that I've seen a French blog, and I decided to write.

My name is Sergio Bestente. I work "by day" as editor for an Italian publisher (http://www.edt.it/), specialized in musicological books and travel literature, and in the evening, to remain in touch with practical music, I work at the surtitles for the local opera theatre (Teatro Regio di Torino).

After many years of musical criticism for some Italian reviews, many discussions with editorial boards and arguments with editors in chief, in 2007 I decided to open a blog: http://www.fierrabras.com/ I can't explain the exact reason, but it's something about freedom and curiosity.

It's not an easy work, but I discovered a world of free thinkers, many of them with a knowledge, an erudition and a mastery of the musical field that I've never met on newspaper and reviews. Time is always a problem, and many times I've thought to quit. But I really think that blogs are a real revolution in the world of communication and media, and I've understood that the best way to understand it is by trying it.

I thank you for all the ideas, the knowledge and the wit that you pour every day on your posts, and I hope that the Overgrown Path will be more and more read. On my side, I try to make my part, linking it in my favourite sites.

Many thanks, and all the best. Sergio
Now back to the US for more troubled waters.
The header image is a print by the artist Simon Drew titled Fridge Over Troubled Waters and is (c) the artist. A signed copy of the print hangs on the stairs of our house. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, December 15, 2008

Concerto for double-dipper


Much coverage elsewhere of Donald Rosenberg's lawsuit against the The Plain Dealer newspaper in Ohio. Rosenberg is a music critic on the paper, and he was reassigned to other duties after posting critical reviews of performances by the Cleveland Orchestra under its music director Franz Welser-Möst. This has prompted the critic to sue his paper for $50,000. Now, I too have written critically about Franz Welser-Möst and his orchestra. I also staunchly defend free speech, and I wish Donald Rosenberg every success in his battle against big media. But I do think the Plain Dealer case is about much more than one journalist's right to pen a critical review. I have only read the media reports of the Rosenberg case. So the following comments apply generally, rather than in any specific way to the Cleveland action.

Anyone with experience of the music industry will know the relationship between critics and commerce is not an entirely platonic one. I have written here about how, when working for EMI, I gave the music press a slap-up lunch at a top London hotel to encourage them to write nice things about a new Karajan recording. Later, when working for electronics giant Grundig, I instigated one of the first commercial sponsorships of a classical recording. It was the 1980 EMI recording of Deryck Cooke's performing version of Mahler's Tenth Symphony played by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The conductor was a youngster I thought had potential called Simon Rattle. But the reason I arranged the sponsorship was to sell hi-fi equipment.

Free lunches, free concert tickets, free CDs, free books, commissions for sleeve notes, broadcast work, and overseas trips to hear wunderkind are a fact of life for journalists. And we have to accept that double-dipping is one of the few perks of the underpaid and undervalued music critic. But recently things have changed. Funding for classical music increasingly comes from public and corporate sources whose objectives often don't include making great music. Super agents not only control orchestras, soloists and tours, but also some of the venues. Orchestras own their own record labels and opera houses are in the video business. Venture capitalists run the once-great record companies. Broadcasters run music festivals, they control young artist development programmes funded by global financial services giants, and they hire critics to front their programmes.

These same critics write for newspapers that are part of media conglomerates whose advertising revenue comes from the very corporations that fund the music. The media conglomerates also own ratings driven radio and TV networks that broadcast music, and that have huge investments in music related web sites. In some cases, as in Cleveland, senior media figures sit on orchestra boards. And the lubricant for this huge engine of self-interest is the good review. The surprise is not that the Plain Dealer conflict happened. The surprise is that it didn't happen earlier.

Readers will now expect me to deliver the predictable punchline that music blogs are the solution to this sordid mess of conflicting interests. Well, sorry, they are not. Increasingly music blogs are being used as viral marketing for the commercial activities of the blogger, and good luck to those who do it. Readers who persevere to the end of my long paths will have noticed that for a while I've been tackling the problem of conflict of interest in the small print. I'm not doing it for altruistic reasons. I'm not doing it because I expect others to follow suit. I'm doing it so readers can follow my tentative attempts to jump on the double-dipping bandwagon.

Header image is cover of Nicholas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective. I don't actually own it, the image is from Amazon.com. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Standing on tradition


Do audiences outside Britain stand for the "Hallelujah” chorus in Handel's Messiah? I assume not, as the tradition is said to originate from our King George II once standing for this number, possibly to alleviate his gout. The Britten Sinfonia and Polyphony are very models of modern performing ensembles. At last night's Norwich Messiah there was not a tuxedo in sight. But still conductor Stephen Layton gestured expansively for the audience to stand for the words 'Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth'. Isn't classical music strange?

Stephen Layton's used his own edition of the Messiah for the performance. So he missed an opportunity to end the royalist tradition with a pithy annotation in the score. It was a cracking performance from the Britten Sinfonia, Polyphony and four outstanding young soloists. Hearing the Messiah played by a top-of-their-game chamber orchestra on modern instruments in the acoustics of a concert hall underlined just how great Handel's string writing is. For further evidence look no further than the composer's somewhat neglected Concerti Grossi, op. 3. I'll give period instruments the nod on this one and recommend Tafelmusik's recording directed by Jeanne Lamon.

There was certainly nothing traditional about the sound we heard last night. The venue for this Messiah, Norwich's Theatre Royal, has just had the French CARMEN® digital sound enhancement system installed to enhance its dry acoustics. The results, judging by last night's concert and the recent Glyndebourne Hänsel und Gretel, are certainly very impressive. More on this subject in my 2006 article Digital technology builds a virtual concert hall.

Last night's forces are recording the Messiah for release in autumn 2009 as part of the celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. The two CDs will be released on the Britten Sinfonia's new record label which is a joint venture with innovative independent Signum Classics. There have recently been outstanding new recordings of the Messiah from The Sixteen and Dunedin Consort. (I have to point out that the Dunedin recording on the Linn Records label, which dates from 2006, is also available on vinyl LP). On last night's showing the Britten Sinfonia and Polyphony version should be up there with the best.

Stephen Layton is not usually one to stand on tradition.
The Britten Sinfonia/Polyphony Messiah can also be heard in Ely Cathedral on Dec 18, and St John's, Smith Square on Dec 21, 22 and 23. My ticket for last night's performance was provided free by the Britten Sinfonia as sole payment for chairing the pre-concert talk with three of the soloists. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

It's the sharing that matters in music


Internet sleuth Walt Santner contributes to my initiative to highlight fresh new music blogs with a couple of search tips. Prognotfrog is a blog aggregator which Walt reports has led him to good classical music blogs. Walt also recommends the music blog search engine Captain Crawl (apart from the ads) which I have already noticed sending readers to the path. Thanks Walt: it's the sharing that matters in music, not the money and power.

Photo taken at London Stanstead airport and (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Experimentation in all things


In the 1960s we were open to experimentation in all things from natural to unnatural to supernatural. I believed that knowledge acquired from instinct and observation was as valid as an academic search for factual verity. Parsing everything was not a path to discovery - it was a deterrent. It wasn't that I was against study and excavating for information, but I believed that overanalyzing was harmful and interfered with the ability to see. I was wary of entering a tunnel of thought that ignored the surrounding terrain and the weather above it.
Those words from Suze Rotolo's 'A Freewheelin' Time' remind us of how new approaches to the creative process produced remakable results in the 1960s. Here are four examples of the notable new music that was composed in one year alone - 1968

Roger Sessions - Eighth Symphony
Harrison Birtwistle - Nomos
Luciano Berio - Sinfonia
Luigi Dallapiccola - Odysseus

But instinct is not always a good thing. In 1972 the self-styled black activist and friend of John Lennon and Yoko Ono Michael X was found guilty by a court in Trinidad of the murder of a fellow black revolutionary. John L. William's excellent biography of Michael X has recently been published, see cover below. Here, from that book, is a salutary reminder of what happens when the heart rules the mind. This is the open letter sent by 1960s icon, poet, and sometime Philip Glass librettist Allen Ginsberg after Michael X's conviction.

I last saw Michael X in London 1967 at elegant parties with Mick Jagger and William Burroughs and Alex Trocchi on Hanover Terrace, there was social ferment, new music and poetry, an artistic furore and flower-powered new consciousness wave that swept halfway round the planet, new awareness among poets, blacks, musicians, ladies and even police that we all on the same boat of Change, that the world was facing new horrors and new glories as a result of vast population technologically armed to create Eden or Hell's fiery gardens on our little ball rolling through the Solar System, Michael X was part of that communal effort to work out our local destiny... I pray with him that Mercy be the last judge of the world and not our own cruel confused hearts. And in this context and the context of his karmic nobility I here plead for his life ~~ Om Ah Hum ~~ Allen Ginsberg.

Despite, or perhaps because of, that letter, Allen Ginsberg was enshrined as one of the most influential people of the hippie era.
Power to the people' poster from Paris 1968 credit to Victoria University Library. The atmospheric front cover illustration on the Michael X biography is by Nicolas Castellanos. Suze Rotolo is the lady with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Both A Freewheelin' Time and Michael X were borrowed from Norfolk Library Services. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk