Saturday, March 3, 2007

Current Obsessions 03/03/07

  • Fauré: Piano Quartet in C Minor
  • Handel: "He Sent a Thick Darkness" from Israel in Egypt
  • Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
  • Schumann: Kreisleriana

One of the advantages I've already found to creating my list of favorite musical works is rediscovering music I'd been neglecting. When I was constructing the list, I did my best to think through important composers; when I came to Fauré, I knew the Requiem was an obvious choice (beating out those by Mozart & Verdi). I then thought about the C Minor Piano Quartet for the first time in a long time and knew it belonged as well, even though my memories were rather hazy and I couldn't recall a thing about the last movement. I tossed the Rubenstein/Guarneri recording in my car for today's commute and it all came back. It's an odd piece in some ways - much more rhythmic drive than I tend to associate with Fauré, but such intoxicating music. And I don't know how I forgot the last movement; I now can remember listening to it over and over years ago, especially the thrilling coda. There are so many extraordinary harmonies and colors, and yet the music also is very tightly constructed. Somehow it's very French and very German. I can't think of anything quite like it.

The Handel I'm teaching in a class and I have to admit that words fail me in trying to describe this brief little chorus. Not only does it feature a striking series of harmonic dislocations but the ongoing fragmenting of rhythm, phrasing, and register is almost tangible in effect. I can't imagine that Handel ever surpassed himself in responding to and setting an English text - especially the rather odd phrase "even darkness which might be felt." It's too simple to say that the composer took that idea and created a darkness which might be heard. This music communicates isolation and despair as its center is diffused. Israel in Egypt is famous for featuring the chorus so prominently, often in brilliant double-chorus displays; that context makes the intimacy and simplicity of the writing all the more unsettling here as the voices break apart and are set adrift amidst quiet desperation.

I've appreciated for years that the slow movement of the Ravel concerto features one of the most perfectly spun melodies imaginable. However, I always kind of shrugged off the 3rd movement as a pointless exercise in perpetual motion, but it finally got through to me. I've found myself playing it three or four times in a row and still not getting enough. It's pretty much the opposite of the slow movement, but it's just as well crafted in its goofiness. I still don't get the weird harp cadenzas in the 1st movement, but I'm gonna let that slide.

Kreisleriana is pretty much a constant obsession for me, but I don't have time to go into that now.

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