Mischa Elman's sound has a burning beauty to it, the opposite to the intense sound of Heifetz
Leoš Janáček Sinfonietta
Rafael Kubelík/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
I came across this piece as a teenager in the late 1980s. I was already in love with Janáček’s string quartets and I was trying to extend my reach into his orchestral work. The Sinfonietta is rarely played because it calls for twelve trumpets, but it has all the hallmarks of great Janáček, with melodic outbursts and inventive harmony. The modulations in the work are extreme and pass through so many keys, and even when the music’s in one particular key, there are so many wonderful ‘blue’ notes.
Wieniawski Violin Concerto no.2 in D minor, 2nd movement
I love Mischa Elman’s sound in this recording. It’s incredibly rich and there’s a certain vulnerability to his vibrato. His sound has a burning beauty to it, the opposite to the intense sound of Heifetz.
Morton Feldman Rothko Chapel, fifth movement
Feldman’s music is often regarded as impenetrable minimalism, but in the fifth movement of Rothko Chapel he includes the most exquisite melody for viola and percussion. The lilting of the viola in combination with the flowing, looping marimba line is mesmerising.
Aphex Twin Gwely Mernans
John Cage Sonata no.5 from Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano
I often listen to these pieces one after another. Gwely Mernans is a great minimalist– techno piece from the 1990s. It’s largely made up of computer-generated sounds and the result is beguiling: it’s not just empty-headed dance music. Somehow, it fits played next to Cage’s prepared piano work from 1945. The nuts and bolts attached to the piano really extend the instrument’s sound world. There are metallic sounds and muted sounds, and some really ring out. The dynamic range is strong and it has a funky rhythm to it. It sounds as if there’s a gamelan orchestra inside the piano.
Witold Lutoslawski Livre pour orchestre
I find this piece spine-chilling! At some moments the music is terrifying and at others it’s incredibly beautiful. Lutoslawski also writes an amazing orchestral crescendo about three quarters of the way through, which fades into a heavenly quiet sound. I consider him the most important aleatoric composer. In the work he gives written instructions to players at certain points, but when performed, every note sounds like it’s been perfectly scored.
From the December 2011 issue. Click here to find out how to download it for free
Photo: Jason Catlett