Music Reviews

A New Pergolesi Stabat Mater

By Cathy Fuller   |   Saturday, November 27, 2010
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Monday, Nov. 29

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi died when he was only 26. 18th-century opera lovers were wild about his comic opera “La Serva Padrona” and a Pergolesi craze erupted after he succumbed to tuberculosis.

For a very long time, it was believed that he had managed to write some 320 works, until it was discovered that publishers had been printing pieces by obscure composers with Pergolesi’s name attached. In the end, there are only thirty-six that are certainly his.

One work that has profoundly affected people throughout these last 300 years (born in 1710, this is Pergolesi’s tricentennial year) is the Stabat Mater, written just before he died. There has been great temptation to imagine Pergolesi writing it on his deathbed, bringing up the similar and painful picture of Mozart and his Requiem. But it was apparently conceived in many stages, intended to be sung each Friday in Lent at the church of San Luigi di Palazzo in Naples.

The great philosopher/writer/composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote: “The first movement of the Stabat Mater is the most perfect and most moving that has ever issued from the pen of any composer.”

The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin has a new recording of the Stabat Mater and one of Pergolesi’s Salve Regina settings. The voices belong to soprano Anna Prohaska (left) and mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink. We’ll hear some of it at 10am on Monday on New and Notable, as well as conductor Valery Gergiev’s recent release on the LSO Live label of music by Ravel with the London Symphony Orchestra.

(Visit ArkivMusic to purchase Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin's Stabat Mater and Gergiev's Ravel.)

Listen To This

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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"The best kind of classical performance is not a retreat into the past but an intensification of the present.  The mistake that apostles of the classical have always made is to have joined their love of the past to a dislike of the present.  The music has other ideas:  it hates the past and wants to escape."

Those words were written by Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker and author of a new collection entitled Listen To This.  If you have this evening free, you might consider stopping by the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge to meet and hear from Alex Ross.  (Details on the event at the Harvard Book Store site.)  A few years ago, his The Rest is Noise, a wide ranging tour of the development of music through the 20th century, won all kinds of awards and acclaim, and to me, it was a truly brilliant work because it placed the often encapsulated and insulated academic history of music in the context of the wider cultural history of the last hundred plus years.

Now, in Listen To This, readers and listeners have a chance to take in Ross's ideas and narratives in essay form, which might be the ideal way to get in touch with one of today's most perceptive observers of music and its place in our culture.  And what better way to learn about the book before buying it than by meeting the author in person?

During this afternoon's program on 99.5 All Classical, from 2-4pm, I'll touch on a few themes from the book, including the title essay, in which Ross describes his initial reaction to Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica."  Also, in response to a chapter on the rock band Radiohead, we'll turn to a recent performance from our Fraser Performance Studio in which the piano duo Anderson and Roe performed their arrangement of Radiohead's Paranoid Android (you can hear it on demand below, too.)  And to kick things off at 2pm, listen for music by Henry Purcell, one of several composers included in a chapter called "Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues," in which Ross traces the trajectory of what is commonly known as a chaconne from its 16th century Peruvian roots through Bach, Tchaikovsky, and on to Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.  To see a bit more about that, check out this video Ross made with a few friends:

Anderson and Roe, from the Fraser Performance Studio, Oct. 2010:

Stefan Jackiw's New Brahms

By Cathy Fuller   |   Friday, October 29, 2010
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In June, 2001, a recording was made of the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic Orchestra during their tour of Cuba and Venezuela.  Conductor Benjamin Zander invited a 16-year-old NEC Preparatory School student to play Paganini and Massenet as a featured soloist.  The beauty of his sound, his endlessly singing lines and his mature sense of pacing were miraculous.

Now Stefan Jackiw has a new recording with Boston-based pianist Max Levinson featuring the three Violin Sonatas by Johannes Brahms (available from ArkivMusic).  Jackiw performed the three of them together for the first time in 2006 (he was 20) on his graduate recital for the prestigious Artist Diploma at the New England Conservatory.   

Stefan talks with real love about the Violin Sonata No. 1, a piece saturated with yearning, and which you’ll hear this morning at 10am.  In it, Stefan hears Brahms “expressing his feelings about facing old age and looking back on memories of his youth.”  Brahms has found a language for nostalgia that can break the heart. The Sonata uses fragments of Brahms’s own song “Regenlied”  (Rain Song), a setting of poetry by his friend Klaus Groth. Stefan takes the trouble to devote a page of his liner notes to the poem and its translation:

Pour, rain, pour down,
Awaken again in me those dreams
That I dreamt in childhood,
When the wetness foamed in the sand!

When the dull summer sultriness
Struggled casually against the fresh coolness,
And the pale leaves dripped with dew,
And the crops were dyed a deeper blue.

What bliss to stand in the downpour
With naked feet,
To reach into the grass
And touch the foam with one’s hands!

Or upon hot cheeks,
To catch the cold drops;
And with the newly awakened fragrances
To air one’s childish breast!
Like the flowers’ chalices, which trickle there,
The soul breathes openly,
Like the flowers, drunk with fragrance,
Drowning in the dew of the Heavens.

Every trembling drop cooled
Deep down to the heart’s very beating,
And creation’s holy web
Pierced into my hidden life.

Pour, rain, pour down,
Awaken the old songs
That we used to sing in the doorway
When the raindrops pattered outside!

I would like to listen to it again,
That sweet, moist rushing,
My soul gently bedewed
With holy, childlike awe.

I’m delighted to share this new recording with you.  The  warmth of Max Levinson’s playing creates a lustrous, haunting world that Jackiw inhabits beautifully. 

And I hope you'll take some time to hear Stefan in a 2006 performance recorded in WGBH's Studio One.  He and pianist Timothy Bozarth visited for a live performance that included Mozart's Violin Sonata in A, K. 305, and you can hear it below.
(photo:  Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

Boston Gets Hit by the Wrecking Ball

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
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March 27, 2012


BOSTON -- Last night Bruce Springsteen brought his Wrecking Ball Tour to Boston’s TD Garden. Yesterday WGBH Boston Public Radio took a close at “Born to Run”; the song that cemented Springsteen’s career.  Today WGBH's Phillip Martin and Bob Seay talk about the concert, the fans and the politics of Bruce Springsteen.

Martin greeted fans coming out of last night's sold out show, and asked them what they thought about the Boss's latest performance, how his message foreshadowed the Occupy movement's theme of speaking for The 99 Percent, and how many fans still see Springsteen as a sort of Everyman.

One local fan Martin spoke with, Pat Healy, music editor of the Metro newspaper chain, takes his admiration of Bruce to the stage as Uke Springsteen.

Uke Springsteen - "Atlantic City" from Johnny Anguish on Vimeo.

The Best Rock And Folk Of 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010
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The music industry is a juggernaut, the Rock Band video game franchise is thriving, TV singing competitions like The Sing Off are scoring in the ratings, and—despite the near total disappearance of retail record stores—recorded albums continue to be released in droves.

NPR Music editor and reviewer Stephen Thompson and writer Steve Almond.

By some estimates, upwards of 100,000 albums were released in the United State this year alone. With nearly all of them available for download with the click of a mouse, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to new music. Stephen Thompson, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, and Steve Almond, author of Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, help out by sharing their favorite albums of the year.

Stephen Thompson's Picks

Jonsi, Go
Though its name has become synonymous with atmospherically eccentric beauty, Sigur Ros has taken steps to find its quirky, joyful side in recent years. But it took a side project called Jonsi — technically a band led by singer Jon Thor Birgisson, who prefers not to be addressed as "Jonsi" — to dump out Birgisson's endlessly surprising toy-box of exhilarating ideas. Go showcases plenty of swirling ballads to balance out relentlessly ingratiating thrillers like "Go Do" and "Boy Lilikoi," but the net result is the year's most life-affirmingly sweet, unexpectedly sunny gem.

Horse Feathers, Thistled Spring
The first minute of Thistled Spring is as exquisitely lovely as any 60 seconds of music this year, and that's before Justin Ringle has begun lending his simultaneously comforting and disconcerted voice to the mix. If Horse Feathers' ingredients were listed in order of their prominence, strings and portent would be right at the top, but Ringle's soft croon keeps Thistled Spring grounded in genuine grace. He may sing of "a blossom that's bloomed / a house that's a tomb," but he's also peddling comfort food, to be washed down with an ice-cold glass of sweet tea.

Jeremy Messersmith, The Reluctant Graveyard
The phrase "worthy heir to the power-pop throne long held by Fountains of Wayne" and the phrase "concept album about death" don't usually appear in the same sentence, but here we are. Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith closes out his self-released "life-cycle trilogy" with an absolute corker of a record, full of songs that sparkle and shine while Messersmith examines the personae of dead gangsters, casket salesmen and others who traffic in life after life. But for goodness' sake, don't be put off by the concept: The Reluctant Graveyard is an immensely sweet string of infectious pop ringers. As colorfully as they shine, these songs could just as easily be about rainbows or suncatchers.

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor
It's been a great year for New Jersey rock 'n' roll, all suitable for blaring through car stereos on turnpikes. The Gaslight Anthem's American Slang is a terrific slab of Springsteenian odes to fading youth, but even better is The Monitor, Titus Andronicus' messy, monster sprawl of a concept album. Name-checking not only its favorite musicians — including Bruce Springsteen, naturally — but also the history of the Civil War, The Monitor finds room for back-to-back nine-minute anthems, a 14-minute album-closer and several historical speeches. All, of course, while rocking spectacularly.

The Heligoats, Goodness Gracious
The Heligoats' Chris Otepka doesn't write songs so much as he stuffs them with ideas until they brim over with imagination. Take "Fish Sticks," from the sublime Goodness Gracious: It's about a guy who escapes the day-to-day grind by building a biosphere in a swamp, only to learn that the swamp-dwellers view him as an outsider, too. As Otepka's intellectually curious observations whiz by, it takes a while to sink in that the singer has an awful lot to say about the way escape routes often lead back to where they began. Like his friend and frequent tour-mate Eef Barzelay — whose band Clem Snide also released a fine album in 2010 — Otepka has a way of writing sideways, so that the poignancy hits harder when it inevitably arrives.

See more of Stephen Thompson's favorite albums of 2010 on NPR Music

Steve Almond's Picks

Kim Taylor, Little Miracle (Don't Darling Me Records, 2010)
A record so good it reminded me of Patty Griffin's epic Living With Ghosts. It’s got the same haunted beauty—a woman with a guitar speaking straight to her demons. "Anchor Down" is to going to stay with you through the beautiful doom of autumn.

Gil Scott Heron, I'm New Here (XL Recordings, 2010)
The great unsung prophet of American music returns in triumph.

Drew Smith, Drew Smith's Lonely Choir (Fat Caddy Records, 2010)
A pop record so pure-hearted and lush you'll swear Van Morrison has taken an apprentice. Smith filters his soul music through the stringed instruments of Americana. His obvious pleasure in the obvious pleasure of hooks feels both old-fashioned and completely revolutionary.

Robbie Fulks, Happy (Boondoggle Records, 2010)
Fulks has been a world-class wisenheimer for years, a welcome antidote to the soggy cornpone of the Country Music Industrial Complex. Happy brings his shenanigans to its logical conclusion. It is composed entirely of ... Michael Jackson covers. They range from gorgeous traditional country ("Going Back to Indiana") to wiry swamp rock ("The Way You Make Me Feel"). Fulks is entirely reverential to the source material and, at the same time, able to find new magic inside the mishegas.

Boris McCutcheon, Wheel of Life (Cactusman, 2010)
Brother Boris keeps producing albums that make me and missus long for the days of our cross country drives. There's an endless quality to these songs, as if they've been around forever, waiting for you to find them. Meg Whitman should listen to "I Remember California" until she grows a legitimate soul.


Nov. 27: Hanneke Cassel

Thursday, December 2, 2010
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