Earquake – The Loudest Classical Music of All Time
Finnish Philharmonic Choir
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
rec. Finlandia Hall, August 1995 (Rautavaara), January 1997
ONDINE ODE1210-2 [59.07]
Thomas Beecham notoriously said: ‘The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes.’ If that description is apt for some listeners, then this CD might well appeal to those who just want noise, preferably as loud as possible. The works on the CD all come from the 20th Century, meet the criteria of being loud – though there are a few quieter moments – are excellently played by a fine orchestra, conducted by Leif Segerstam, one of the great musicians of our day, if a sometimes controversial and eccentric one, as well recorded as we would expect from Ondine.
And yet… to whom is this CD meant to appeal? Those who like loud noises? The very uninformative booklet (no information about composers or their works) instructs the listener not to turn the sound down, but to enjoy ‘the wildest, most dynamic music we could find’. But if there is only wild and dynamic music (and this certainly is) it loses some meaning when presented just by itself. Loudness has an important place in significant music, but as part of something greater. Just as the spiritual would be meaningless without some sense of the physical, so the full force of the loud gains its sense from the contrast with quieter moments.
This CD presents us with a series of bleeding chunks – small pieces, splendidly performed and played, but wrenched from any context. The Rautavaara is an excerpt from a rather splendid and continually interesting symphony – but from the three minutes here, one has little sense of the majesty of the whole. If all one knew of the Icelandic composer were Hekla (here given in an orchestral form – the original version for mixed choir and orchestra may be enjoyed on BIS-CD-1030), despite its excellent performance here, with full complement of 22 percussion, including heavy metal chains, rocks, anvils, steel plates, sirens and cannon shots, then one misses the opportunity to meet the range of this interesting and worthwhile composer. (An interesting philosophical question is whether cannon shots and sirens should be counted as percussion.) Similarly, if someone’s impression of Rangström were restricted to the three minutes of the excerpt here, then the opportunity to immerse oneself is lost. Hence my question? If a listener wanted to know about these composers, this is no place to begin.
But if the listener just wants noise, but is indifferent to who produces it, then, for interesting noise, try the recordings of the British noise-rock group, Aufgehoben, who do very interesting things with sound.
If, on the other hand, this CD encourages someone to explore the composers performed, then perhaps it will appeal. Leifs, Rangström, and all listed here are significant figures, the performers are outstanding, and perhaps the CD will encourage some who hear it to explore more widely. But, for myself, I wouldn’t start from here.
Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No 6, 6th Movement - Allegro [1.55]
Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884 -1947)
Symphony No 4, 2nd Movement [2.58]
Aram KHATCHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Mountaineers (from Gayaneh) [1.54]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Ala et Lolly (from Scythian Suite) [2.22]
Jacob DRUCKMANN (1928 – 1996)
Prism, (from After Cavalli) [2.49]
Silvestre REVUELTAS (1899-1940)
Night of the Maya (from Night of the Mayas, 4th Variation and Night of Enchantment finale) [3.47]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Negro Dance, Aladdin Suite [4.26]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Malambo (from Ballet Suite Estancia) [3.45]
Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
Weapon Dance (from Ogelala) [4.17]
Leif SEGERSTAM (b.1944)
Nostalgic Thoughts (from Nostalgic Thoughts in KAAMOStime…) [2.20]
William BOLCOM (b.1938)
Machine (Symphony No 5, 5th Movement) [3.42]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Excerpt from Bacchanale [3.22]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
War Dance from Belkis, Queen of Sheba [2.44]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Can-Can from The Golden Age [6.21]
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (1928-2016)
Angel of Light (excerpt from Symphony No.7, 3rd Movement) [3.00]
Jón LEIFS (1899-1968)