Thursday, October 28, 2010

Complete Sets of Bach Cantatas on Spotify

Places in which Bach lived throughout his life
During J.S.Bach's tenure in Leipzig it was part of his job to perform a church cantata every Sunday and Holiday, so he composed a new work every week and conducted the first performances. Three annual cycles of cantatas survived. Here are three Spotify playlists for three complete recordings of these cantatas, one of the greatest achievements in the history of art.

Bach Cantatas - Rilling (1383 tracks, total time: 2 days) Performed by Helmuth Rilling and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, recorded during 1969-1985. Sorted by BWV number. The most complete set on Spotify so far.

Bach Cantatas - Suzuki (986 tracks, total time: 1 day) Performed by Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan. An ongoing project. The latest recording, Vol. 47 was released last month. Arranged in numerical order of the recordings.

Bach Cantatas - Gardiner (1029 tracks, total time: 2 days) Performed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. All recorded during Gardiner's transcendental Pilgrimage in year 2000, the releasing progress in still going on. Arranged in numerical order of the recordings. Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view

Update: Three more complete sets on Spotify, by Harnoncourt & Leonhardt, Leusink, and Koopman.

Some useful sites: the Wiki page, the "official" Bach Cantatas, A Listener's Guide, Haenssler page for the Rilling set, BIS page for the Suzuki set, and Cantata Finder for the Gardiner set.

BTW according to Spotify, they are "currently experiencing some problems with playlists not loading normally". If you find these playlists empty or incomplete, just subscribe to them, then restart Spotify. Enjoy the eternal blessings of Bach, with Spotify.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Sampler of Brahms's Solo Piano Music

"For me, the slow movement is the most beautiful love music after Tristan, and the most erotic." Claudio Arrau on Brahms' Piano Sonata No. 3.

I am not sure if Arrau temporarily lost his mind to the beauty of that slow movement, because actually it was written 12 years before Tristan. Anyway here is another playlist to throw off the Friday fever. Lately I grew a fondness for 20-track playlists, which you can listen through in one sitting, and get a good overview on one theme or genre, so you can investigate further by yourself. And this Brahms playlist is my first try that I want to share. Brahms is by no means my favorite composer, but just as Britten said that he played through all of Brahms' music every year just to see if he still disliked it as much, I constantly find myself listening to Brahms. Even when my heart still resents the marble coldness on its surface sometime, I have come to realize that he is perhaps very underrated as a composer for solo piano. The Op.10 Ballades, which Brahms wrote before the age of 22, are up there with the masterpieces of Chopin. And Op.116-119 as a whole is in the same league with Beethoven's last three piano sonatas.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Brahms Solo Piano Music (20 tracks, total time: 1 hour). It features 20 pianists from Michelangeli to Yuja Wang playing 19 pieces. The only duplication being the C-sharp Minor Intermezzi, both performance from Gould and Pogorelich are included. The bookends of the playlist are a enchantingly beautiful A minor waltz and the last of Paganini Variation Book I. I know the four-hand waltz is not strictly solo piano music but I like the current shape of this playlist, hope you enjoy it too. Have a nice weekend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Better Way to Browse Coltrane Albums on Spotify

Imagine one day, some boy in his early adolescence wants to express his individuality by listening to some music of that wild-eyed guy, whose poster was on the wall of Alex DeLarge's room in the Clockwork Orange, what would he do? Maybe he would type Beethoven into the Spotify search box, then click the first result: Ludwig van Beethoven. Then, if he had the patience to wait for over one minute for the artist page to load, he would be totally bemused by the hundreds of albums under Beethoven's name. The same thing could happen to a Jazz fan too, almost every famous artist's page is a jumble of studio albums, re-issues, re-packaged box-sets, live albums and all sorts of compilations. Try John Coltrane yourself.

For pop artists this is not a problem, most of the time. As their catalog are normally not as formidable as jazz or classical composers, and sometime it's nice to find an obscure cover song for some unknown soundtrack or tribute album in the compilations sections. But for jazz and classical artists, the artist page are pretty much useless. You have to know what you want exactly, otherwise you'll get lost. Therefore I suggest Spotify to modify the way the artist page was presented: do not load the compilation albums by default, but put them into a drop-down menu under the main studio releases. And only load the highlight albums for the artists that have too many albums under their name, at the first click. Then give the users options to explore their whole catalog. It would save the users more time, and also help Spotify to reduce server load and to save bandwidth, IMHO.

I compiled some Coltrane playlists for my own pleasure, grab them if they can save you some time as well:

Coltrane: Prestige Albums (99 track 13 hours)
Coltrane: Atlantic Albums (181 tracks, 17 hours)
Coltrane: Impulse! Albums (182 tracks 1 day)
Coltrane: Live Albums(152 tracks, 1 day)

Albums are filed in chronological order. Press Ctrl (Command on Macs) + G to browse in album view. You may subscribe to these playlists and then put them into a Coltrane folder.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Spotfiy Index For EMI's Icon Series

All 36 gorgeous box-sets in one Spotify playlist. I put one track per set into the playlist so that you can browse the whole series at ease, or listen to this playlist as a sampler. Check out the official site for detailed information.

Here's the Spotify playlist: EMI: Icon (36 tracks, total time: 2 hours) Press Ctrl + G to browse in album view.

P.S. If you have the slightest interest in this year's laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo, please read this great article. I wish Mr. Liu regain his freedom asap, and I hope one day, people in this country will all know his name and his propositions, till no one could ever imprison them again.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Great Conductors of the 20th Century

Check out the official site for detailed information, and Classical Notes for an exquisite survey of this wonderful series.

Here's the Spotify playlist: EMI: Great Conductors of the 20th Century (516 tracks, total time: 2 days) Press Ctrl + G to browse in album view.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Argo Collection On Spotify

"Argo was originally established as an independent label in 1951. Although Argo’s initial intent was to record British music by British musicians, this innovative philosophy and constant quest for originality meant that the range of recordings expanded rapidly. In the end Argo became synonymous with a broad mix of recordings. Whilst this may not seem unusual to an audience in the 21st century, in 1950s Britain this was bold and innovative, paving the way for the rich array of musical genres now available in our record shops and provoking interest in hitherto unexplored realms of music, pushing the boundaries as to what could be regarded as ‘classical’ music.

Thus Argo’s catalogue came to include world music: gamelan music from Bali was among the company’s first recordings. Contemporary music by composers such as Reich, Birtwistle and Hindemith also featured in the increasingly rich catalogue.

As well as becoming a showcase label for artists, Argo was largely responsible for encouraging the popularity of Renaissance and Baroque music and bringing many unknown but spectacular works by composers such as Vivaldi, Palestrina and Monteverdi to the listening public. The famous recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons conducted by Neville Marriner, was first released on Argo. Similarly, Argo’s recordings of organ music with the great British organist Peter Hurford brought less popular but no less brilliant musical gems to a broader audience."

Check out full introduction and discography on Argo's official site.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Decca: The Argo Collection (640 tracks, total time: 1 day) It features all 50 releases from Argo, plus a sampler disk at the beginning of the playlist. Press Ctrl + G to browse in album view.