Thursday, 1 January 2009

Desert Island Discs

New Year's Day can be pretty grim - one way of lightening things is to go out for a walk (which I'll be doing soon); another is to listen to some good music (my plan for later on).

Catching the famous theme from Brief encounter on Classic FM one Sunday morning reminded me of how wonderful I think Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos are - and there are more reasons than that film why Number 2 is his most popular. Later on, listening to Radio 4's Desert island discs (and exercising my prejudices, thinking that some of the guests' musical choices are unbelievably poor) made me think of my own list of favourite records. Try it yourself - if you have any love of music at all, it's quite hard to get it down to eight!

  • Debussy's La mer (strangely enough, not all about his mother...). Debussy was a pioneer of a whole new musical sound, dubbed "impressionism", and this is probably my favourite example.
  • Finzi's Severn Rhapsody. An encapsulation of everything that's good in pastoral "English music" in less than seven minutes, this is an amazing piece. I only discovered this one about three years ago.
  • The Police's Message in a Bottle (from "Regatta de Blanc"). The eighties pop track that I think has stood the test of time better than any other.
  • Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto number 2. Enough said!
  • Ravel's Bolero. One of my eccentricities is that I collect different versions of this, and currently have more than twenty. It can be quite boring if it isn't played right, but a good performance is electrifying. However, contrary to Ravel's instructions, it sounds much more exciting if the tempo is slightly increased throughout. The best recording I've heard is a Decca recording from Riccardo Chailly conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra.
  • Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis. See my post Dark and Tempestuous for more on what I think of Vaughan Williams.
  • Villa-Lobos' Forest of the Amazon. I'm always going on about Villa-Lobos and how underappreciated he is, and this is one of his most colourful and uplifting orchestral/choral works.
  • Villa-Lobos Piano trio number 2. The wonderfully melancholy berceuse-barcarolla in this really speaks to me - its use of rhythm and conterpoint take chamber music to a level of sophistication I had never heard before, and it seems to be saying that even in a bleak and strife-torn world, there is always hope.
The presenter of the radio programme always asks which one disc the guest would choose if all the others were being swept away: this is even more difficult but, for me, I guess it would be Forest of the Amazon.

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