Ox Box #5 - Music I’m Enjoying - From Mahler to Radiohead

      Date posted: September 5, 2008

Mahler - Barbirolli
I have been trolling through some old favourites and want to share a couple with you to begin. They knocked me right out.‭ ‬One is the Mahler Symphony No.5  in a performance by the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli on EMI and the other is the Brahms Violin Concerto played by Jascha Heifetz with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner on RCA Victor.‭ Supplying CD numbers for either is, at best, confusing given the number of times they have been reissued and, H‬eaven knows, the praise that has been heaped upon them over the years hardly needs another line from me.‭ ‬Nonetheless,‭ ‬I was so struck by their artistic and sonic excellence I feel I have to share my enthusiasm.‭

‬Hearing old favourites, now, on my Aurum Acoustics system is a very special experience.‭ ‬The excellence of the sound couples directly with the matter of artistic worth.‭ ‬I’m not saying the New Philharmonia was in my listening room,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬you get the idea.‭ ‬Neither had I realized how well recorded are both performances.‭ ‬The Mahler was recorded in Watford Town Hall in‭ ‬1969.‭ It’s simply stunning in its detail and transparency.‭ ‬Barbirolli had the music of Mahler as his lifelong companion.‭ ‬The playing of the orchestra is great and the lead hornist‭ (‬Alan Civil‭?) ‬reigns supreme.‭ ‬The Heifetz Brahms comes from‭ ‬1955,‭ ‬the early years of Lewis Layton’s tenure as recording wizard for RCA.‭ ‬Most were made in Chicago but he traveled to Boston to tape the Symphony Orchestra there under Charles Munch.‭ ‬I am fortunate enough to have several of these recordings in the JVC XRCD reissues, though not the Brahms which is a straight mid-priced reissue.‭ ‬I wasn’t expecting much, but my, oh my! ‬Unbelievable in every way.‭ ‬Heifetz.‭ ‬Unbelievable.‭ ‬There are several great recordings of both works these two stand with them.

To some newer discs.‭ ‬I haven’t yet bonded with the new Martha Wainwright CD, i know you’re married but I’ve got feelings too, from Maple Music Recordings (MRCD‭ ‬6484).‭ ‬All the songs are by her except for‭ ‬Love is a Stranger‭, ‬which is by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.‭ ‬They are personal and provocative and delivered superbly by Wainwright, who has a distinctive voice and the talent to make a compelling impact with her singing. That alone makes the CD worthwhile.‭ ‬She is aided and abetted by a stellar group of musicians,‭ ‬many playing acoustic instruments,‭ who rotate in and out depending on the recording location.‭ ‬The recording itself is excellent,‭ ‬very faithful.‭ ‬I’m beginning to bond.
Ron Hynes
Ron Hynes‘ release‭ ‬Ron Hynes  (Borealis BCD175) ‬isn’t exactly new but it is his latest.‭ ‬It stands out on the CD rack by virtue of one of the least welcoming‭ covers I’ve ever seen. It is a an original work by Newfoundland artist Clem Curtis, a portrait sketch, almost a mask. Once you get past that, and I certainly hope you do, inside is a wealth of wonderful singing and songs by Hynes. Most were produced and recorded at Millstream  in Toronto by Paul Mills who sometimes moonlights on guitar as Curly Boy Stubbs. Backup is almost all acoustic and has been recorded in a most natural manner. Several other cuts were recorded with great faithfulness by the CBC live in the LSPU Hall in St. John’s. They are gripping, especially Dry. Ron Hynes sings Newfoundland’s story, and by virtue of his artistry tells tales that are universal.

‭Since he played with Chico Hamilton in the mid fifties I have been interested in the flutist and multi-reed player Charles Lloyd, in part because I so love his best known composition Forest Flower: Sunrise-Sunset. He was one of the first jazz musicians to play with rock musicians and, as a result, developed a much larger fan base than if he had not. As with so many artists mid career is a struggle. Luckily for Lloyd he attracted the attention of ECM’s Manfred Eicher and in the glowing later years of his career has released a half dozen splendid recordings, and they keep coming. The latest, is Rabo de Nube (ECM 2053 B0010663-02). Everything about these releases bears the ECM stamp, including outstanding sound recording.

The Lloyd of these later years is what I would describe as a world-jazz musician. He is very much oriented to the life of the spirit, and some of the experiences of hippie California of the early 60s have stayed with him to blend with his respect for the culture of the middle east and the sub continent. He plays flute, alto flute, alto and tenor saxophone and tarogato, a wooden soprano saxophone with Arab-Magyar origins. Lloyd loves it. With his inclusive approach to making music I believe he loves everything he does. Rabo de Nube  is a recording of a concert given by his quartet at Theater Basel in April, 2007. It is straight ahead and to a high standard. But, before I bought it I would want to have Voice in the Night  (ECM 1674 78118-21674-2) which includes an update on Forest Flower  and a thrilling Pocket Full of Blues, and the amazing Sangam (ECM 1976 B0006160-02) with Zakir Hussain, tabla, and Eric Harland, percussion. It is very special, almost exhausting in its intensity and with demonstration quality recording.‭
Radiohead - Hail to the Theif
I have been listening through Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief  (EMI/Parlophone 7243 5 845442 0). Not a lot was made of it when it was released and I’m afraid it might get lost in the shuffle. It is up to the very high standard set by Thom Yorke and his colleagues, a standard that includes songs that mostly don’t make sense to me, sung with such poor enunciation I make out one word in a hundred, but so interesting and carefully produced, and so musical that the effect is compelling. Worth getting to know.

Context for my mention of the fabulous Guitar Music of Chile with ‭Jose Antonio Escobar (Naxos 8.570341) can be found at the Naxos web site where you can link to the albums produced for Naxos by Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver. I was surprised at their enterprise (they do it all for Naxos), and very pleased to see how many discs were by Canadian performers. The ones reviewed have earned high praise and the ones I have heard are excellent. When it comes to recording guitar recitals, the fact that Kraft, himself, is one of Canada’s most distinguished guitarists, stands them in very good stead. Escobar is from Chile and plays the music of his country, both traditional and contemporary, with ease and authority. It is good to get a guitar disc which lets us hear something different.

A word about the sound. The Kraft-Silver team do most of their recordings in St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket, Ontario. Once again it proves to be a perfect venue. The guitarist is set back on “a stage” and is surrounded by sound, that is the sound reflected by the church walls, which combines with a fairly long decay. ‭I was afraid at first the there was too much “after sound” but I quickly realized Kraft had judged it just right so that even the quickest passages ‭are clearly heard. The total effect with tones and after-tones is a joy to listen to.

‭Am I leaving the best to last? You must decide but, I have a box from Chandos (Chandos 10392(6) that is a treasure: the Tchaikovsky Symphonies  played by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. They were recorded between early 1984 and late 1986 when Jansons was the Oslo music director. I vividly remember hearing some of them on their release and reading the rave reviews. I longed to buy them but there was one sticking point -  price. They were issued on single discs at what was essentially a premium price, certainly more than the classical releases from the major labels (when they used to be in the classical music business). I said no, and reasoned they would have to come out as a more favourably priced boxed set. It didn’t happen.

I gave up hope. I even bought the Pletnyev set on DG, a big mistake. Then, a couple of months ago, had a special on Chandos discs and low and behold -  the Tchaikovsky Symphonies, all in one box, were there at pretty close to budget price. I was thrilled and have been even more so listening to them. ‭Jansens gets everything right, the orchestra plays magnificently and the ‭sound will drop your jaw. This compilation is copyright 2006 so I imagine it is still very much available.

Bob Oxley

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