Album reviewsMusic

Classic music for young men

The most pointless album on earth?

Ever paid attention to the fact that a fairly large share of Western classic orchestral music is belligerent, or at least sounds warlike, that is, go unbearably loud with trumpets, trombones, percussion instruments etc., and the worst of all, cymbals! (The use of cymbals presumably  inherits from the times of military bands!)

I’m not pointing at contemporary classic/art music where the main role is often assigned to a long row of various drums and other percussion instruments, but the standard repertoire from the mid 19th century onwards (post-Baroque).

Honestly, in order to listen to that sort of music, one needs to have fresh mind and body. Be in a good mood. Even so I’d say that one can stand – aurally enjoy – such rumble and hammering (notice that the music itself can be well written, although the fact that it often is programmatic, lessens its savor and value) only a piece per day (30-50 min), preferably in a live concert, and in the concert hall that is designed to make such music ear-friendly.

But not at home, and certainly not at a low volume level. To do so would make no musical sense. Such miniature orchestral music sounds awful. It sounds worse than rhythmically trivial pop & rock. I really don’t get it why some classic music radio stations broadcast such music at 2 a.m. and throughout the night! Are they deaf? Or just alienated from the practical world? Do they have a shortage of suitable music?

If such big “aggressive” orchestral music is to be reproduced at home, the playback system (speaker/amp) needs to be a sufficiently massive one in order to go loud without distortion, the tweeter quality must be as high as possible, and the system have the ability to reproduce large dynamic variations effortlessly and with ease. One that breaths freely and deeply.

If you can play the tracks with the volume intended by the composer, and still enjoy them, I’m first to congratulate!

Needless to say I didn’t exactly enjoy the 1997 Ondine disc: THE EARQUAKE EXPERIENCE, which is said to bring together some of the loudest music ever written. The user manual advises: “Brace yourself! Hide the children! Warn the neighbors! Evacuate low-lying areas and coastal cities! EARQUAKE has finally arrived, and neither music, nor your hearing, will ever be the same!”

The CD is said to be the first in the history of recordings to assemble the wildest, most dynamic music that can be found. I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I recall LPs filled on purpose with loud orchestral/big band music. It’s telling that the material on the disc has been arranged “for continuous listening”, meaning that three quiet “valleys” (“Prism”, “Nostalgic Thoughts” and “Angel of Light”) have been programmed to provide contrast with the very loud music following them. Those with a really high aural threshold of pain may  skip the calmer tracks, but others are led to believe that the contrast actually adds to the excitement.

But as said, if there’s anyone who’ve been looking for an explosive collection of “great tunes,  driving rhythms, and sonic thrills”, this CD may be it. Even better, the CD might of use in testing the resources of the playback system. If you can play the tracks with the volume intended by the composer, and still enjoy them, I’m first to congratulate!

The loudest music ever written?

A contender for the title: the final track “Hekla”. It describes, in very graphic terms “the eruption of Hekla, lceland’s largest active volcano. The 140 piece orchestra (which insisted on wearing earplugs for the recording sessions) includes parts for organ, chorus, and a 22-person percussion section sporting – among other hardware – four sets of rocks hit with hammers, two heavy metal chains, anvils, steel plates, sirens, and several dozen cannon shots. The CD: “DO NOT adjust the volume to comfortable listening levels. If your speakers (and your hearing) aren’t in jeopardy, it just isn’t an EAROUAKE experience!”

The other day I went to listen to Mozart’s Great C Minor Mass in a mid-sized, cube-shape church. It was loud, and it sounded fantastic! The small orchestra with two or three  trombones, a kettledrum, an organ, the choir and the soloists, but no cymbals! Nothing belligerent. Just tremendous, resplendent music!

www.ondine.net

Works on This Recording:

1. Symphony no 6: 6th movement, Allegro by Howard Hanson
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1968; USA
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 1 Minutes 55 Secs.

2. Symphony no 4 in D minor “Invocatio”: 2nd movement by Ture Rangström
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1936; Sweden
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 2 Minutes 58 Secs.

3. Gayaneh: Dance of the Highlanders by Aram Khachaturian
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1942/1957; USSR
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 1 Minutes 54 Secs.

4. Scythian Suite, Op. 20: The Adoration of Veles and Ala by Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1915; USSR
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 2 Minutes 22 Secs.

5. Prism by Jacob Druckman
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1980; USA
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 2 Minutes 49 Secs.

6. La noche de los mayas: Suite by Silvestre Revueltas
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1939; Mexico
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 3 Minutes 47 Secs.

7. Malambo, Op. 7 by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1940; Argentina
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 3 Minutes 45 Secs.

8. Nostalgic Thoughts in KAAMOStime… by Leif Segerstam
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1996; Finland
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 2 Minutes 20 Secs.

9. Symphony no 5: 4th movement, Machine by William Bolcom
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1989; USA
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 3 Minutes 42 Secs.

10. Bacchanale by Jacques Ibert
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1956; Rome, Italy
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 3 Minutes 22 Secs.

11. Belkis, Queen of Sheba: War Dance by Ottorino Respighi
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1934; Rome, Italy
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 2 Minutes 44 Secs.

12. Symphony no 7 “Angel of Light”: Come un sogno by Einojuhani Rautavaara
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1994; Finland
Date of Recording: 08/1995
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 3 Minutes 0 Secs.

13. Hekla, Op. 52 by Jón Leifs
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1961; Iceland
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 9 Minutes 18 Secs.

14. Age of Gold, Op. 22: Can-can by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

15. Aladdin, Op. 34: Suite by Carl Nielsen
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1918-1919; Denmark
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 4 Minutes 26 Secs.

16. Ogelala: Weapon Dance by Erwin Schulhoff
Conductor: Leif Segerstam
Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1923
Date of Recording: 01/1997
Venue: Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
Length: 4 Minutes 17 Secs.

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