17 January 2013

Favourite albums of 2012

Now that it is January 2013 a post about my favourite music of 2012 is probably appropriate. In a couple days I'll write about my favourite concerts, but for now I want to highlight two CDs that were released in 2012 that were definitely the highlight of my musical year. Both involved Esa-Pekka Salonen; one CD is his "Out of Nowhere" with the Violin Concerto and Nyx, and the other is his premiere recording of Shostakovich's Orango as well as Symphony No.4.

I wrote about Salonen's Violin Concerto here, and I hope you've all listened to and loved the piece. The CD recording is actually spot on as well, never too clean and it's just very dynamic. Leila Josefowicz is a star in her own right and of course her playing is stunning. In that earlier post I lamented about Nyx not being on youtube, but now it is! It's fast growing to be my favourite Salonen piece, so listen and enjoy:

The Shostakovich CD by Salonen is something else altogether. Orango is an unfinished opera by Shostakovich of which 30 minutes survives(he and the librettists decided it wasn't a good idea to continue with in their current political climate). Some of the music will be very familiar to Shostakovich-lovers, however, as he re-used quite a bit of it for his ballet The Bolt (and rightly so, it's fantastic music). However, there's still lots that was never played or released before and it's such an honour to be around for its rediscovery.

In 2004 Olga Digonskaya, a Russian musicologist, found the piano score of Orango in a museum in Moscow. Because of her research we now know that it was commisioned by the Bolshoi Theatre in 1932, and that Alexei Tolstoy and Alexander Starchakov were to write the libretto. Tolstoy and Shostakovich together decided to make it "an uproariously irreverent squib, a satirical farce taking potshots at all kinds of aspects of contemporary culture" (CD liner notes by Gerard McBurney). The story tells of some sort of weird experiment of breeding a cross between men and apes to produce a hybrid (named Orango). This hybrid then becomes a successful soldier, a wheeler-dealer and a press-baron (quite a career!). Only the prologue survives both in word and music, as all involved decided to abandon the project. It's raucous piece, with probably the loudest percussion I've ever heard (and that includes Varèse), it's full of irony and humour but there's darkness in the music as well. All in all, it's an absolutely amazing work and it's sad that there are only 30 minutes left, though that's certainly better than nothing. There's nothing on youtube with the music, but here's Esa-Pekka talking about Orango:

Salonen and the LA Philharmonic's recording of Shostakovich Symphony No.4 has very much reaffirmed my belief that Salonen understands Shostakovich. Or perhaps I should say, he understands Shostakovich in the same way I understand him. The performance is absolutely and entirely spot on. There's not one thing I can say that I'd like to see differently (and this is usually the case with Shostakovich recordings, especially the Fourth of which I have too many so there's usually something I disagree with). Even though I will probably forever be loyal to Rostropovich and especially Kondrashin's recordings, Salonen comes really really close to my favourites. The recording is crystal clear but still has enough depth (which you definitely need in the Fourth). So if you're in the mood to buy some music; get these albums!

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