tue 16/04/2024

Classical LPs Weekly: Corker, Sveinsson, Tchaikovsky | reviews, news & interviews

Classical LPs Weekly: Corker, Sveinsson, Tchaikovsky

Classical LPs Weekly: Corker, Sveinsson, Tchaikovsky

An eclectic blend of old and new in this week's all-vinyl selection

Explosive sonics: Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen

Adrian Corker: The Have-Nots OST (SN Variations)

German director Florian Hoffmeister’s debut film The Have-Nots is a European exploration of the emotional after-effects of 9/11. The score comes from the British musician Adrian Corker. He’s worked with the likes of Antonia Bird and mentions Giacinto Scelsi on his website, so he must be worth investigating. Corker’s palette is dominated by a string quartet, though one including viola da gamba and bass. Luminous string textures are often undercut by ominous crackles, spits and hisses, the effect achieved by recording their parts straight to acetate discs with locked grooves. Rerouted through Corker’s computer, we hear the decaying analogue tracks in conversation with their live counterparts, “a rich, spectral tapestry that thickens and thins, coalesces and explodes…”

As with all film soundtracks it’s difficult to judge the effectiveness of the music without seeing the accompanying images, though much of this score is communicative and appealing on its own terms. Corker also includes a violin piece by Aisha Orazbayeva and a gorgeous chunk of piano minimalism from Laurence Crane, both in sympathy with the disc’s mood. Odd that the newest music often sounds best on the oldest technology; listening on vinyl means that you have to sit still, concentrate and reflect. The sweetest moment comes minutes before the close of Side B, when Orazbayeva steals in with an enigmatic, quietly beautiful song by John Cage. Recommended.

Kjartan Sveinsson: Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen Filmorchester Babelsberg, Filmchor Berlin/ Davíð Þór Jónsson (Bel Air Glamour Records)

Is this actually an opera? And isn’t the presentation slightly over the top, with a 50-minute work split over four 10” LP sides? No matter - the packaging is exquisite, the gatefold sleeve decorated with paintings by the performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who collaborated on the work with the one-time keyboard player from Sigur Rós, Kjartan Sveinsson. What the sleeve won’t tell you is very much about this enigmatic but irresistible work. The title translates as "The Explosive Sonics of Divinity", the whole inspired by World Light, a novel by the Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness (whose Independent People should be on everyone’s reading list). No texts or translations are provided, though googling throws up some telling comments by Sveinsson, describing the work as “a theatre play without actors… an homage to the art of stage-painting and the scenery.” Or, “opera without divas”. Kjartansson’s stage paintings are exquisite. I suppose you had to be there.

As a four-movement piece of music, it’s tremendously enjoyable: long passages of slow burning, sustained choral magnificence, supported by rich, multi-layered string writing. Don’t expect high drama: this work operates very much on its own terms, never once sounding like new age drivel. The final minutes, with just a few singers repeating the same phrase under high strings, are radiant. Experiencing it on vinyl adds to the fun: the inevitable pauses while the discs are changed or flipped over acting as mini-intermissions. Surfaces are immaculate, and even the disc labels are things of beauty.   

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 Felicja Blumental (piano), Orchestra of the Vienna Musikgesellschaft/Michael Gielen (Brana Records)

This looks like a handsome fascimile of a Sixties LP, but appearances can be deceptive; Felicja Blumenthal’s 1957 version of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 was recorded in that year and has drifted in and out of publication ever since. She was born in Warsaw in 1908, studied composition with Szymanowski and spent much of her life in Brazil, ending her days in Tel Aviv. Brana Records exists solely to promote her discography, and it’s fitting that each new LP sleeve features artwork by Blumental’s husband Markus Mizne. This concerto’s ubiquity means that, as with warhorses by Grieg and Rachmaninov, the musical qualities and quirks can easily be overlooked. This is a very decent piece, though its successor is better still. Here, Tchaikovsky’s iconic opening flourish builds and swells magnificently aided by punchy horns, before being discarded and forgotten.

Blumental’s playing is rhythmically sharp and full of energy, her flowing speeds making this one of the concerto’s faster recorded performances. There’s plenty of impish fun in the first movement’s main section, the young Michael Gielen securing taut, exciting orchestral playing. The central movement’s wind solos are sweetly done, and the swift middle section really sparkles. Reach the finale and it’s good to hear tutti strings dig in with such oomph. The closing pages are marvellous. Brana’s restored sound is excellent, the stereo image disarmingly wide. You can hear Blumental’s intakes of breath; close your eyes and it’s like travelling back in time. My copy, on 170g vinyl, was refreshingly free of clicks and crackles.

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