Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bachianas Brasileiras, No. 5

A customer mentioned the "Cantilena" from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras, No. 5 the other day, and nothing would do but I must find it and hear it. A composition intended for one voice and eight cellos sounds intriguing at the least, does it not? Equally intriguing, when I went looking, was the discovery that a Bachiana is a piece composed somewhat in the style of J.S. Bach--in this case, as the title would imply, with a heavy seasoning of Brazilian tradition. Frankly, I don't have enough classical insight to judge whether Villa-Lobos got much of Bach in there (I was always naively under the impression that the only person who could truly claim to compose in the style of J.S. Bach was Johann Sebastien himself, though I suppose anyone is welcome to the elements he used)--but what Villa-Lobos accomplished unequivocally was a stunning piece of music, which only grows more beautiful with repeated listening. Here is a sampling:

First, an instrumental version, with Antonio Meneses taking the lead on the cello:

And lo! the mandolins get their foot in the door again! Due to the somewhat staccato nature of the instrument, this version shows off the various interwoven parts of the piece with great clarity. Also, when was the last time you saw a mandocello? The group is the Modern Mandolin Quartet.

Still, no matter how fine the musician, no instrument is the human voice. There are many grand versions of the original arrangement in existence, with the full eight cellos, and many a fine soprano. There are also many versions for guitar and voice. This one is original in that the complexities of both guitar and voice are being navigated beautifully by a single musician, Salomé Sandoval.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cream of the Concertos

Today, as you will have noticed, if you needed to Google anything, is Antonio Vivaldi's 332nd birthday. Therefore, music is muchly in order. I am myself quite fond of Vivaldi's work (besides, I just have a fondness for the tidiness of Baroque compositions in general). The exuberance of an orchestra pouring out a Vivaldi presto or allegro movement is a hearty dose of cheer, to say the least, but where Vivaldi outdoes even himself is in the slow movements of his concertos, the exquisitely simple adagios and largos. Would it be terribly cliché if I were to bring up the largo movement from Winter in the Four Seasons as a case in point? There is a wonderful version of that on one John Harrison's website (you have to select "music" in the side tab, and the rest of the navigation is self-explanatory).
While we're at it, the same piece translates splendidly to guitar. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a great recording of the largo alone on acoustic guitar, but here is a wonderfully executed version by a guitarist named Rafael Scarfullery; it isn't the musicianship that is lacking, but the microphone.

Even a slighter change of the instrument can change the flavour of a tune. Here Lakis Laftsis takes the solo on the Concerto in C Minor for Mandolin and Orchestra--on the bouzouki!

Trio Nahual, composed of students from the Accademia Chigiana di Siena (I think that's what the caption said)offer a pleasant passage from Concerto for Two Mandolins and Orchestra, just without the mandolins and orchestra.

But the mandolins finally get a bit of their own back with the Concerto in A Minor (usually a violin piece) The group here is the Orquesta de Pulso y Púa Sotomayor de Manzanares, in Spain.

The largo from this concerto is another fine example of the beauty of Vivaldi's slower passages:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Art, Life, and the Difficulty of Drawing Cows

I've been keeping reasonably busy of late, even if it is mostly with such trivia as working the hall closet slowly away from the Fibber McGee model. Therefore, in the interest of getting something readable up, here's my favourite Chesterton essay. I doubt it is the absolutely deepest thing he ever wrote, but it's one I have returned to time and time again. For one thing, I have a hard time ignoring any topic which the author (I mean any author, not just GKC) is enjoying wholeheartedly--even if the topic includes brown wrapping paper. Here you get a veritable stream-of-consciousness, ranging from the inspiration of pre-Wordsworthian poets, to the solid existence of virtue, to a firework-like explosion of colours and shapes that leave one's head spinning.

And Chesterton confesses cows are hard to draw. This is very comforting. If a man who went to art school insists that he has trouble drawing a cow's hindquarters, it is balm to the wounded pride of those (I wouldn't name any names) who have artistic difficulties with any part of the cow past the ears.

So here is A Piece of Chalk.