Enough politics. Introducing The First Inkless Classical iMix

I came off the campaign trail last night and went home, napped for three hours, went out for dinner, and then started listening to music I’ve been too busy to enjoy for a while. I thought I’d share some with you.

As most of you know, I’ve been a jazz fan forever, and my three previous iTunes iMixes have been aimed at getting listeners up to speed on some of the best recorded jazz. But in truth, I’ve spent far more time over the past five years listening to classical music — catching up, really — than to jazz. So my fourth iMix is designed to share with you some of what I’ve discovered.

Click here and, if you have iTunes and it’s connected to your browser, you’ll be taken directly to the iMix, which you can then purchase for less than $8. (If the link doesn’t work, search for Inkless in iTunes under iMix.) As always, I emphasize that Inkless and Apple have no commercial relationship. I paid for these tunes just as you are welcome to. I just find iTunes a convenient way to get music out to our little Inkless community.

I make no claim to authority in this field, and there’s no method to this selection, or none beyond this: Everything on it is a pleasure to listen to. As it turned out, six of my eight selections are from the 20th and 21st centuries (but they’re not scary-modern!); two are by Canadian composers (but they don’t suck!). The mood is largely, but not uniquely, lyrical and contemplative. As always, I can pretty much guarantee that if you trust me, you’ll hear extraordinary things. Here’s what we’ve got:

1. François Couperin, Les Baricades Mistérieuses, Angela Hewitt, piano. It’s really surprising that this piece was written by a composer who died in 1733, while Bach was still in his prime. The fresh, gently rolling keyboard tune sounds like it could have been written two centuries later. Ottawa’s Angela Hewitt, one of the best in the world on this repertoire, is the piano.

2. John Estacio, A Farmer’s Symphony I: Seeds of Spring, Edmonton Symphony, dir. Mario Bernardi. A brooding, sweetly yearning piece written a few years ago by Edmonton composer John Estacio. Estacio’s music is easy on the ears, and cinematic in the way it evokes images, but it’s not bland or formulaic.

3. Zoltan Kodaly, Hary Janos: Song, Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, dir. Adam Fischer. I’m a sucker for Central European tonalities, so this majestic work by the great Hungarian composer always makes me pause. At 2:10, Kodaly introduces the consummate Hungarian folk instrument, the cimbalom (essentially piano strings struck with mallets), and the effect is magical.

4. Jacques Hétu, Piano Concerto No. 2, II: Andante, André Laplante, CBC Radio Orchestra, Mario Bernardi. A dark, obsessive slow movement from an absolutely monumental piano concerto that I would love to hear, live, a few times a year. But Canadian music doesn’t work that way, a topic I plan to return to in print. Every time I hear this movement, and the rest of the concerto, I want to hear what else Hétu has written for piano. In a pretty listenable set, this tune probably has the highest “difficulty” level, but I really think it’s also one of the most rewarding.

5. Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes: “Peter Grimes, I here advise you!”, dir. Benjamin Britten. The early, key crisis in Britten’s great opera. A harrowing moment, barely 20 minutes in and barely two minutes in duration. Peter Grimes, a fisherman hated by the townsfolk, has been accused of complicity in his apprentice’s death. The judge cheerfully, patronizingly drops the charges — and Grimes is horrified, because he knows he can never clear his name now. He begs for a chance to state his case and is rebuffed. From that moment he’s doomed. The way Britten marshals orchestra, chorus and soloists is astonishing.

6. Georg Philipp Telemann, Trumpet Concerto No. 1, I: Adagio, Niklas Eklund, baroque trumpet with Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. It doesn’t get prettier than this. Eklund, a very fine performer on the baroque trumpet (no valves; that’s his lips doing all the work), performs an early staple of the instrument’s repertoire. Soaring and pure.

7. Leos Janacek, On the Overgrown Path: In the Mists: Andante, Leif Ove Andsnes, piano. Probably about a third of the reason you still remember Philip Kaufman’s film The Unbearable Lightness of Being is that Kaufman scored it with music by the Czech composer Leos Janacek. Again with the Central European vibe, again with the elegiac mood. This piece wasn’t used in the film. It stuck with me after Andsnes played it as an encore in Paris last year. Tragic but composed, like grief held in check. (Czech?)

8. Nico Muhly, Honest Music. Anyone see Nico and his friends open for Final Fantasy at the Danforth Music Hall a few weeks ago? I was there. That’s the sort of thing this Juilliard-educated composer, still in his mid-20s, does: opening for pop acts (well, slightly poppier acts) at pop venues. He’s worked as Philip Glass’s librarian and Bjork’s keyboardist, and both worlds come together in his ragged, deeply felt music that incorporates electronics, tape manipulation, the odd bit of minimalist repetition, and gorgeous melodies. This piece is a knockout, confusing, half-unfinished and entirely unforgettable.

I do hope you check this music out and let me know what you think of it. And now, back to the election thing.

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