I chose this disc to review because it sounded interesting as indeed it is. That said, on my first hearing I did have the thought that maybe this was just another of those compilation albums - all those bleeding chunks torn from the body of music they came from - which almost always leave me cold. This disc however, is saved by the fact that, while the pieces are in the main extracts from larger works, many are far from the ‘run of the mill’ selections one might normally expect to find on such a disc. No fewer than four of them are here receiving their first ever recording. Brace yourself for the rather oversweet nature that leaves a question mark in my mind. I don’t intend to be damning with faint praise, or, worse still, not wishing be accused of musical snobbery. This is nonetheless the kind of disc that I predict will become a listener’s favourite on the UK’s popular classical music radio station Classic FM; perhaps that’s the target.
I find myself warming to the disc despite all that and can identify with the feeling expressed by James Jolly a Radio 3 presenter and a one-time Editor of the BBC Music Magazine who described one piece as being “immediately communicative”. This description can be said to be applicable to all the pieces.
They say there’s nothing new under the sun and I felt that with the first piece. Although it dates from the 17th
century it has a very ‘minimalist’ sound with its shimmering pattern of repeated notes. It reminded me of the ‘reinventions’ of Michael Nyman and surprised me with its actual compositional date. Daniel Hope has written that in his opinion had it not been for the set of violin partitas Johann Paul Von Westhoff wrote Bach might not have composed his since Von Westhoff provided the model; praise indeed!
This is followed by Einaudi’s I giorni
, which was the first item that had me thinking on the lines explained above, since it strikes me as somewhat trite. It wasn’t the only piece that prompted that thought. How does a piece become hackneyed? The dictionary definition of trite says it becomes so through ‘overuse’. Could anyone imagine that happening to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue or Beethoven’s 5th
Symphony or Vaughan William’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis? I think it is more likely to happen if a piece is simplistic. I recognise that is a reason why such pieces find favour with a lot of people and what is appealing is often not a matter of choice.
Speaking of overuse the word ‘beautiful’ is overused. I know that too well as I find myself deploying it more often than I care to. It is the word so often employed by the advertising gurus who are charged with coming up with a strap line to help sell compilation discs such as “The most beautiful music in the World – ever!” However, sometimes there is no other word that will fulfil the function. It is the only word that really describes much of the music on this disc irrespective of any other feelings I may have on some levels about it.
Philip Glass’s Echorus
has at last given me a way into his music which up until now I haven’t been able to warm to. I look forward to finding out whether I will find others of his works similarly enjoyable. I have always loved Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine
so I was pleased to see it included here in John Rutter’s extremely successful arrangement. Siberian-born American Lera Auerbach, whose name I had not come across before, wrote the next work. It’s a movement from her 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano
, another of which comes later. Both made me want to hear the entire cycle. If that is the reaction that many have who hear the works on this disc then I’ll hold my hands up and say “fair enough” it has fulfilled a valuable function - one I always hope compilation discs will have.
is an astonishing work that has been successful in many different guises. Its composer has arranged it for many different sets of instruments each of which give the work a new life. Elena Kats-Chernin is an Australian composer who was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1957. It was her work, taken from her suite for the ballet Wild Swans
, that led James Jolly to describe it as “quirky and immediately communicative” and so it is.
Alex Baranowski, two of whose compositions are included here, is a composer who emerged from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). The first of his pieces entitled Musica universalis
, is wholly in keeping with the declared aim of the disc which is to reflect Daniel Hope’s lifelong interest in and fascination with the universe as amateur astronomer. He wanted to produce a disc that had as an overall idea that of achieving a representation in music of the concept of ‘Music of the Spheres”. His idea was to include music that spanned the centuries to reflect the connection between music, mathematics and the study of the heavens.
Hope writes in his introduction that he included “works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same “galaxy” but yet are united by the age-old question: is there anything out there?” The general impression of this disc is indeed an ethereal one and with Spheres
by Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei Prokofiev, we reach the album’s title track. Coming to classical music writing via the composition of electronic music including garage music Gabriel Prokofiev has created a work, here receiving its world première recording, that certainly fits with the ethos of the disc. It could easily be subtitled “music to explore the heavens by” as could all the music here.
British composer Max Richter’s piece Berlin by Overnight
is another one that uses shifting patterns of notes. It contrast of the busyness of the violin counter-posed against the stolid background of the double bass is most affecting. Baranowski’s second piece Biafra
is once again extremely ethereal. It seems to reflect the atmosphere of what one imagines a journey through the blackness of space illuminated solely by the stars might be like.
Aleksey Igudesman, born in Leningrad divides his time between a career as a violinist, composer and as one half of a music comedy duo with pianist Hyung-ki Joo. Though their professional name of Igudesman and Joo might not trip off the tongue an extract from their hit show “A little nightmare music” has been watched 28 million times on YouTube. It is interesting to speculate how much use the great composers of the past might have been able to make of the power of the internet. His piece Lento
for violin, string orchestra and choir in another world première recording is a very lovely tune with the choir adding a heavenly dimension.
Einaudi then returns with his second contribution to the proceedings and one is obliged to say he knows how to create a beautiful (that word again!) melody. Passaggio
is certainly one such. Lera Auerbach’s second outing is another movement from her 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano
. She was born as recently as 1973 but is a prolific composer with over fifty works to her name. Alongside a busy schedule of solo piano recitals she accepts commissions. In 2011 alone she was working on some from five different venues simultaneously.
The name of Karl Jenkins is one I have known since 1970 when he played oboe
, baritone saxophone
, electric piano
, wrote five of the tracks and collaborated on two others on the UK’s seminal jazz-rock album Elastic Rock
, my cousin Ian Carr’s debut disc with his band Nucleus. This multi-talented Welsh instrumentalist and composer has composed music for a wide range of different combinations. Many people in the UK may very well remember the music he wrote for an advert by the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society that accompanied a boy pearl fisher swimming down to find treasure. The track on this album is Benedictus
taken from his work The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace
which he arranged specially for Daniel Hope. It is a powerful statement which is as timely in its message today as it has ever been. I have been rather too dismissive of it up but I shall now make sure I hear it all as I feel a reappraisal coming on.
The inclusion of a work by Bach continues the theme of bridging the centuries and an extract from his Well tempered Clavier
fits in perfectly between two 20th
century pieces. The penultimate work on this disc is by Michael Nyman, one of the most prolific of 20th
century composers with well over three hundred works to his name. He is known for his often haunting minimalist music that came to prominence in films such as The Draughtman’s Contract
, Prospero’s Books
, The Piano
, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover
as well as Drowning by Numbers,
from which the work here is taken, Nyman has drawn on many influences to inspire his compositions such as Purcell, Mozart, Biber and Dowland. Once again a reappraisal on my part is due after hearing his music in this context.
The final work on this disc, by Leipzig born Karsten Gundermann, is an extract from his work Faust
. It is tantalising in that four minutes is too short a time to really get an idea of it. I can see that more searching will be the order of the day.
Daniel Hope who is a seriously excellent violinist has done a great job in exploring the notion of the “music of the spheres” and his playing is wonderful as one would expect.
This disc has been a ‘learning curve’ for me. It has taught me another salutary lesson about being judgemental which I admit can stifle one’s own appreciation of things before time. After many hearings this disc has grown on me quite considerably, even since my opening remarks. It has lead me to a desire to further explore the works of these composers, many of them complete unknowns to me. I strongly advise giving this disc a chance to do the same to you as it has for me; to prove conclusively that you’re never too old to learn – thank God!