Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ad-free Playlist For Spotify's Free Users

First off, please consider buying a Spotify premium if you haven't. Listening to symphonies with ads in between movements is a crime. Both you, Spotify and the music makers will benefit from your subscription. Let's keep the best and most innovative online music service growing fast and reach more music lovers.

OK if you've decided to live with free Spotify for more time, here's a ad-free playlist for you. It consists of long compositions recorded in single tracks. Like Richard Strauss' Don Quixode, Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians, and Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of The Titanic. I only collected tracks longer than 45 minutes, so that you would not hear any Spotify ad in quiet a while once you put on this playlist. The only exception is John Tavener's The Protecting Veil, which lasts only 42 minutes and a half. I have to put it in as it's one of the most powerful yet purely beautiful modern composition I've ever heard.

In this playlist, Alvin Curran's piano piece Inner Cities No.10 is over 50 minutes long, but it's only a small part of the whole composition, so does Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum VI, they both belong to the list of longest non-repetitive piano pieces. And if you want to be a purist of the highest order, try play the hour-long 42 Vexations from this playlist from start to the end, and repeat 20 times. Yes 840 repeats of the four-part theme, that's the way Eric Satie implied to play the Vexations.

Warning: you should never listen to Gary Sill's cheesy new-agey rendition of Satie and the Canon In D in this playlist, unless those are the only "classical" music your girlfriend/wife can stand. Well, maybe now you can guess why I put them in;)

You can read the full playlist below, or just click this link:No Ads For A While, to load the 32 tracks, in this case 1.3 day of music, into your Spotify and start your ad-free listening now:)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Arnold Schönberg: Complete Works With Opus Numbers on Spotify

Arnold Schönberg: Complete list of compositions with opus numbers:

2 Gesänge [2 Songs] for baritone, Op. 1 (1898)
4 Lieder [4 Songs], Op. 2 (1899)
6 Lieder [6 Songs], Op. 3 (1899/1903)
Verklärte Nacht [Transfigured night], Op. 4 (1899)
Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5 (1902/03)
8 Lieder [8 Songs] for soprano, Op. 6 (1903/05)
String Quartet no. 1, D minor, Op. 7 (1904/05)
6 Lieder [6 Songs] with orchestra, Op. 8 (1903/05)
Kammersymphonie [Chamber symphony] no. 1, E major, Op. 9 (1906)
String Quartet no. 2, F-sharp minor (with Soprano), Op. 10 (1907/08)
Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11 (1909)
2 Balladen [2 Ballads], Op. 12 (1906)
Friede auf Erden [Peace on earth], Op. 13 (1907)
2 Lieder [2 Songs], Op. 14 (1907/08)

15 Gedichte aus Das Buch der hängenden Gärten [15 Poems from The book of the hanging gardens] by Stefan George, Op. 15 (1908/09)
Fünf Orchesterstücke [5 Pieces for Orchestra], Op. 16 (1909)
Erwartung [Expectation], monodrama in one act, [for soprano and orchestra], Op. 17 (1909)
Die glückliche Hand [The lucky hand], drama with music, for voices and orchestra, Op. 18 (1910/13)
Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke [6 Little piano pieces], Op. 19 (1911)
Herzgewächse [Foliage of the heart] for Soprano, Op. 20 (1911)
Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21 (1912)
4 Lieder [4 Songs] for Voice and Orchestra, Op. 22 (1913/16)
5 Stücke [5 Pieces] for Piano, Op. 23 (1920/23)
Serenade, Op. 24 (1920/23)
Suite for Piano, Op. 25 (1921/23)
Wind Quintet, Op. 26 (1924)
4 Stücke [4 Pieces], Op. 27 (1925)
3 Satiren [3 Satires], Op. 28 (1925/26)
Suite, Op. 29 (1925)

String Quartet no. 3, Op. 30 (1927)
Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 (1926/28)
Von heute auf morgen [From today to tomorrow] opera in one act, Op. 32 (1928)
2 Stücke [2 Pieces] for Piano, Op. 33a (1928) & 33b (1931)
Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene [Accompanying music to a film scene], Op. 34 (1930)
6 Stücke [6 Pieces] for Male Chorus, Op. 35 (1930)

Violin Concerto, Op. 36 (1934/36)
String Quartet No. 4, Op. 37 (1936)
Kammersymphonie [Chamber symphony] no. 2, E-flat minor, Op. 38 (1906/39)
Kol nidre for Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 39 (1938)
Variations on a recitative for Organ, Op. 40 (1941)
Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte for Voice, Piano and String Quartet, Op. 41 (1942)
Piano Concerto, Op. 42 (1942)
Theme and variations for Band, Op. 43a (1943)
Theme and variations for Orchestra, Op. 43b (1943)
Prelude to “Genesis” for Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 44 (1945)
String Trio, Op. 45 (1946)
A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46 (1947)
Phantasy for Violin and Piano, Op. 47 (1949)
3 Songs, Op. 48 (1933)
3 Folksongs, Op. 49 (1948)
Dreimal tausend Jahre [Three times a thousand years], Op. 50a (1949)
Psalm 130 “De profundis”, Op. 50b (1950)
Modern psalm, Op. 50c (1950, unfinished)

Here's the Spotify playlist: Arnold Schönberg: Op. 1-50, sorted by opus numbers. (Op. 18, 20, 27, 28, 32, 39 and 44 are not available in Spotify at this moment)  Both the original version and orchestral version of Verklärte Nacht and Chamber Symphony No.1 are included.
Also some important works without opus numbers not in the playlist but definitely worth hearing, like the Gurre-Lieder, and the unfinished opera, his master work, Moses Und Aron (not in Spotify for now).

The self portraits above are from: Arnold Schönberg Center.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Label:NonClassical - G. Prokofiev's Concerto for Turntables, Quartets, Etc.

If you look for classical music in Spotify by searching "genre:classical", all you get is a bunch of film scores and ambient music. Before Spotify makes better navigation for its enormous classical library, we can try "label:nonclassical", you will find out that Sergei Prokofiev's grandson, Gabriel Prokofiev, is a composer who has written a concerto for turntables and premiered his string quartets in clubs.

Here's the Spotify playlist of the Label:NonClassical It includes G.Prokofiev's concerto and quartets. I put Sergei Prokofiev's two quartets at the end, as the most played 20th century classical composer, his chamber works always seems to be overshadowed by his keyboard and orchestral works. But to me his only two quartets, together with his majestic cello sonata, are among the very best of this genre.

Now back to the turntables once more, here's a video of Dr.Octagon's Blue Flowers(unavailable in Spotify), the twisted violin sampler is from the first movement of Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No.2. Magic.

Happy weekend and happy listening.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Round-up of NMC on Spotify: The NMC Samplers & Songbook

To me NMC is the best independent classical label from the UK, only second to Hyperion, which is my most wanted label in Spotify. They have done wonderful recordings of some of the most interesting contemporary composers like Jonathan Harvey and Michael Finnissy.

Their catalog is dazzling, and luckily they have released a series of sampler CDs. Last year their 4 CD set The NMC Songbook has been voted Best Contemporary Release at the Classic FM Gramophone Awards. I created a Spotify playlist for these eight sampler CDs and the songbook collection. I'm sure every contemporary music fan will discover a lot of unheard gems in it. My personal favourite for now are Andrzej Panufnik's throbbing cello concerto played by Mstislav Rostropovich, and Ian Pace's performance of Christopher Fox's intricate piano music. Search for full recordings in Spotify when you find any sampler irritatingly bewildering:)

Here's the Spotify playlist for the NMC Samplers and Songbook: NMC Samplers & Songbook

Happy listening, and thanks the official Spotify twitter for twittering about this little blog:)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Classical For The Weekend: Fugue Around The Clock

There are some refreshing arrangements of classical chestnuts.

Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet – Fugue Around The Clock

Fugue Around The Clock

Amsterdam Guitar Trio – The Amsterdam Guitar Trio

Classical Symphony for Guitar Trio: Bizet Symphony in C; Prokofiev Classical Symphony; Falla Nights in the Gardens of Spain

The Swingle Singers – A Cappella Amadeus

A Mozart Celebration (A Capella Amadeus) - The Swingle Singers

Progetto Avanti – Baroque Illusions

Baroque Illusions

Click images above to read introductions and reviews in Amazon, and click the playlist below to add all four of them to your Spotify:

Fugue Around The Clock

Wanna hear Mozart's great G minor symphony sang by a barbershop quartet? Don't hesitate! Happy weekend and happy listening:)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

NPR Classical 50 on Spotify

Here's the Spotify playlist: NPR Classical 50

Please check out NPR's wonderful site for introduction to each recording.

For the recordings that are not currently avaialbe on Spotify, I have substituted them with the best different recordings of the same composition I can find.

Off every recording I chose the same track that NPR sampled on their site to add to the playlist, like most playlists on this blog, it should just function as an index, you are advised to click the album title in the playlist and listen to the full composition.

Kudos to NPR, and enjoy the music:)

Here's the playlist NPR Classical 50.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Goldberg Variations: On Harpsichord, Accordion, Harp, Guitar, Organ, a Wacky Piano and Piano Duo

One of the most fascinating things about Bach's music is that it is open to seemingly unlimited possibilities of interpretations. The Italian Concerto for harpsichord can be turned into a swing jazz trio, and Cantata 140 made a perfect countermelody for A Whiter Shade of Pale. After Glenn Gould's legendary 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations, numerous instrumentalists and ensembles have approached it in so many different manners. Personally I found Murray Perahia's the most satisfying, but there's also many other interesting recordings available on Spotify.

Here's my Spotify playlist of some Goldberg recordings: Variations Goldberg

Céline Frisch's version is the best one on harpsichord I've heard. Denis Patković's accordion version includes a series of musical interludes--specifically conceived for insertion into Bach's score--composed by Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu. The young German pianist Martin Stadtfeld offers arguably the most orthodox performance of BWV988 ever, I can't say that I love it or I'm convinced, but it's definitely not wacky for wacky's sake. I think that any interpretation that stirs the listeners to disagree with the artist in a creative way is worth hearing.

Besides versions played on harp by Catrin Finch, on guitar by Kurt Rodarmer, and on organ by Bernard Lagacé, I also including a very new recording of Max Reger's piano duo arrangement of Goldberg, released in November, 2009. Another recording of this arrangement was selected as the best new recording of 2009 by WETA, here's a quotation on the arrangement:

"There are moments where, in reference to the opera paraphrases of Liszt et al., you might want to re-title: “L’Grand Fantasie d’Goldberg”, but surprisingly few. Instead, the joy is to perk your ears and listen for the often subtle little additions, fourth melodies, staccato octaves added in hushed shades of pianissimo. Even the aria, which is traded among the players but not actually modified, is so captivating that you go from incredulous eyebrow-raising (as you unwrap) to astonished eyebrow-raising as you listen to what’s played."

Of all the artists that yet to release a Goldberg, I look forward to Till Fellner most. His Bach recordings on ECM so far are very pleasing, and here on NPR you can hear him playing a truly graceful Pastoral sonata.

Again here is the full playlist, happy listening, and leave a comment if you have other versions to recommend, or any of these versions drove you mad:)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Classical Piano Music To Study To

Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights. I only wanted... to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home. - Edvard Grieg
I know that lots of people listen to Baroque music when they study or want to concentrate, more likely J.S.Bach, and most likely played by Glenn Gould. I understand the point: the pleasing inner logic and clarity of Bach's music and the verve of Gould's playing are spellbinding and sobering at the same time, they will never distract you into romantic sentiment, because they are always engaged in their awe-inspiring self-analysis.

There's nothing wrong with using Bach's music as a tool for studying, but I do think it is a misuse. I mean, it's like memorizing alphabet under the Sistine ceiling.

And I don't want to use Chopin either, the beauty in his music was too dazzling, what even worse is, you can always hear him giggling "screw you I can write such beautiful things based on almost nothing" in your face, when played by a great Chopinist like Horowitz. Study to Chopin is like doing math in a grand banquet.

Therefore I recommend Grieg's Lyric Pieces for solo piano. It's a perfect balance between clarity and beauty. Like a little cabin in the quite woods, in the morning light, after a snow.

This is a good "greatest hits" of these works on Spotify: Leif Ove Andsnes – Grieg : Lyric Pieces

This is the Spotify playlist of the BIS 10 CDs set, Edvard Grieg: Complete Piano Music Vol.1-3 are the complete Lyric Pieces. I have found that there are lots of scratches in CD 3, and have reported the problem to Spotify. Hope they will fix it soon.

This one is pretty good too, Philip Glass – Solo Piano, though maybe a little bit moody at times.

Some Mompou and Satie would also be great, here's two albums on Spotify: Herbert Henck – Federico Mompou: Música Callada and Peter Lawson – Satie: Piano Music

Compare to Bach's cathedral, this one is a nice little chapel that suitable for reading: Vladimir Spiakov – Arvo Pärt: Alina

Well the list could go on and and on, but you know what? By far the greatest piano music to study to is:

John Cage – 4'33''

Happy listening, and leave a comment if you have something to recommend, thanks:)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Chinese Contemporary Classical Music

I just made a Spotify playlist of Chinese and Chinese-born contemporary composers' works. These are not traditional Chinese music, just like Takemitsu's music are not Gagaku, though many of these composers did draw inspirations from the tradition.

Just for fun, I also included Der Abschied from the new BIS recording of Mahler's Song of the Earth, in which the vocalists sang the original Chinese text of the Tang poetry, in Cantonese. Der Abschied was based on Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei's 送別 (Farewell), you can find more about him on this page, it also includes a translation of his poem Hut Among The Bamboo, upon which Zhou Long set the first movement of his orchestral suite: Poems From Tang. About other titles of the works: Tu for Orchestra is from Zhou Long's wife, China's leading female compose Chen Yi, Tu means the picture or the map. Meng Dong means haze or ignorant, Wu Xing means five elements.

Biographies of these composers:

Bright Sheng, Chen Qigang,Chen Yi, Ge Gan-ru, Lei Liang, Qu Xiaosong, Tan Dun, Zhou Long, Zhu Jianer, and the Butterfly Lovers(traditional).

Zhou Long – Out Of Tang Court
Orchestre National De France – Wu Xing: L`eau (Water)
Orchestre National De France – Wu Xing: Le bois (Wood)
Orchestre National De France – Wu Xing: Le feu (Fire)
Orchestre National De France – Wu Xing: La terre (Earth)
Orchestre National De France – Wu Xing: Le métal (Metal)
The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
Bright Sheng – H'un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-1976
Shanghai Quartet – Poems From Tang: I. Hut Among The Bamboo
Chen Yi – Tu For Orchestra
Qu Xiaosong – Mong Dong
Tan Dun – Orchestral Theatre II, "Re"
Arditti Quartet – Lei Liang: Serashi Fragments
Chen Qigang – Three Laughs
Zhu Jianer – Symphony No. 4: Symphony No. 4 "6.4.2 - 1"
Ge Gan-ru - Chinese Rhapsody
Gustav Mahler – VI. Sung Bit - Der Abschied Ending Of Cantonese Version

Click here for the Spotify playlist. Check out their full works if you like the sampler, most of these composers have more than one album on Spotify, just search for them yourself. I hope Spotify will add some Wen Deqing and Wang Xilin's works soon.

Click here to read Alex Ross' article "Symphony Of Millions" on the Chinese classical music scene.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Alex Ross' 20th Century Limited

Alex Ross' bestseller The Rest Is Noise is a great read for music lovers of any genre who are interested in finding out what music is about and what "contemporary music" also means beyond "now that's what I can music!". He's blog, is one of the very first classical music blogs that inspired numerous readers and other bloggers. It seems that nowadays he mainly updates his New Yorker blog Unquiet Thoughts.

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

He posted a twentieth-century playlist here, originally for the iTunes store. I made a Spotify playlist after that, most of the tracks are available in Spotify, for the few ones that the very recording version he chose was not available, I substituted with the best recordings I can find.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Alex Ross' 20th Century Limited Kudos to Mr. Ross, and enjoy the music.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Schumann: Piano Quintet And Other Chamber Works

"It is quite true that in man himself the world of the senses, whatever bitterness it may harbor, is made first and above all to enchant us with its sweetnesses and its joys."  -  Jacques Maritain

Schumann's chamber works holds a special place in my heart, especially the piano quintet in E-flat. Even at his wildest moment, Beethoven was perfectly sane. But for Schumann, even when he was totally enchanted by love, his crazy love still causes him fear and pain. Just listen to the heart-pounding opening bars of the second movement of Fantasy in C op.17, after the fist movement which is one of the most beautiful and passionate ode to love ever written, he suffers. Schumann never seemed to be able to get along with the angelic visions he pictured with his music, it's not a question of his faith or devotion, the insecurity was in his blood. That sense of insecurity made some of his most moving music heartrending, the piano in the final movement of the quintet shines like yellow stars in Starry Night. Van Gogh suffered from bipolar disorder too.

This is a gorgeous performance of the quintet form Martha and her friends:

Martha Argerich/Dora Schwarzberg/Lucia Hall/Nobuko Imai/Mischa Maisky/Marie-Luise Neunecker/Natalia Gutman/Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky – Schumann - Chamber Works

If you are not familiar with Schumann, try this first: Martha Argerich – Schumann: Scenes from Childhood, it's the Waltz For Debby in the Classical repertoire.

Happy new year and happy listening.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Sea of Timbres: Higdon's Percussion Concerto

A female composer, a female conductor, and a percussion concerto!

At times it sounds a bit like Béla Bartók's Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta, but with a shifted emphasis almost recklessly focused on the different timbres of percussion. There are many fascinating  examples of contemporary classical composers' use of percussion, Reich's Drumming, Lachenmann's Interieur I, and Wilco's drummer Glenn Kotche's solo works on Nonesuch is well worth a spin. When fragment of John Adams' Nixon In China begins to play in Sid Meier's Civilization IV, you know for sure that you have entered the modern age.

Here's Higdon's Percussion Concerto on Spotify:

James MacMillan – Macmillan: The Confession Of Isobel Gowdie / Adès: Chamber Symphony / Higdon: Percussion Concerto

Conducted by Marin Alsop, here's her writing on Higdon:

Happy listening, and I hope someday someone will make another Shining for Higdon's deep yet exciting music:)