Instant Replay: 050
It's the nifty 50th edition of Instant Replay! Windows down, music up: this start-of-summer playlist takes us from jubilant to introspective and back.
Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi — Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C Major
Next month, as CRB begins another summer of live broadcasts of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops from Tanglewood, I’ll be spending time in my car. A lot of time. And I really don’t mind all the driving, especially if I’ve got the right sounds to listen to on the Pike. Discovering new music and recordings is sometimes on the agenda, as are any number of podcasts to fill the time. But for me, Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony (a.k.a. No. 9) is one of the all-time great road trip pieces, a true Instant Replay. Each of the four movements is propulsive in its own way, and the proto-minimalism of Schubert’s repetitious rhythms is hypnotic, the perfect soundtrack for the constancy of passing mile markers. Oh, and it’s long. Once you hit play, you don’t have to think about the next thing you want to listen to for a good 50 or so minutes, depending on the recording. And my own favorite comes from the Cleveland Orchestra – which absolutely owns the piece – and the era when I heard them at their home of Severance Hall on a regular basis. Christoph von Dohnányi, known well to Boston Symphony listeners of the last 30-odd years, had just begun his tenure as Music Director, galvanizing the ensemble to maintain its unique qualities as one of the world’s great orchestras.
Aldous Harding — The Barrel
Aldous Harding is one of my all-time favorite performers. This time last year I finally got to see the native New Zealander live at the Sinclair in Cambridge, so recently I've been going through her discography and falling in love all over again. While I could easily give a TedTalk on all the reasons why Aldous Harding is a superb performer, songwriter, and musician, here's my elevator pitch instead: Harding is never what you expect. Her ability to play with expectations gives her music a wicked sense of humor — and it also makes some of it pretty creepy.
Choosing just one Aldous song for this playlist felt like Sophie's choice, so I decided to go with the first one I ever heard. "The Barrel" went viral when it came out in 2019 because of its strange and unsettling music video. It's glorious! I highly recommend you experience "The Barrel" the way I did.
P.S. There's been MUCH debate in the Aldous Harding fan groups about what this song is about, as Aldous herself has never revealed the meaning. What do you think?
Reginald Mobley, Baptiste Trotignon — Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Countertenor Reginald Mobley’s rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is a direct hit to the heart. The piece begins his new album "Because," a collection of songs written by Black composers from the 20th century and the spirituals of enslaved Black Americans. The Boston-based countertenor's voice soars on the album alongside wildly inventive piano performances by French Jazz performer and composer Baptiste Trotignon.
Berlin Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez — Anton Webern: Im Sommerwind
I will be the first to admit that Anton Webern’s music is not for everyone — but hear me out. Prior to his studies with Arnold Schoenberg, and at only 20 years old, Webern composed Im Sommerwind, or In the Summer Wind, for orchestra — and promptly buried the score in his backyard (presumably because he considered it an immature work). It was discovered more than 50 years later by his daughter-in-law. At roughly 16 minutes in length, Im Sommerwind is a charming and turbulent work that is highly evocative of the summer season, and rests aesthetically somewhere between Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss, with only echoes of the Webern that we know today.
Arin Aksberg — Virtuality
Certain songs have the uncanny ability of being able to dive-bomb directly into your heart. Arin Aksberg's “Virtuality” is one of them. The first time I listened, I got a bit choked up. His playing, the pure and graceful emotion of the song, drew something out of me that needed expression. This almost unassuming piece was the key.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman — Michael Torke: Bright Blue Music
I first heard the name "Michael Torke" when I was a freshman in college, and we played this stunner of a piece in orchestra. Torke has synesthesia, a phenomenon where one sense triggers another — sound and color, in his case. This piece is the result of that condition, both in the particular key (D Major, which is blue for Torke) and the exuberance of the melody — very much the clear open skies of a hot summer day. It is perfect music for any outdoor adventuring!
Voces8 — Eric Whitacre: All Seems Beautiful To Me
To celebrate the freedom of summer (you know, driving to the beach with the top down, goofing with friends) I gravitate towards light and fun music (think B'52s, The Beach Boys, Madonna). This new album of introspective music by Eric Whitacre is the opposite sound from those, and I'm here for all of it. Home features a number of works Whitacre wrote during the isolation of the early pandemic, plus a couple of his older well-known pieces (like the touching, gentle "Seal Lullaby"). The album includes a stunning 5-minute piece that was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force Band and Choir, who asked him to write something for when we all emerged from the pandemic. The song "All Seems Beautiful To Me" is based on the Walt Whitman poem "Song of the Open Road," and it's hopeful and life-affirming, all balanced by the atmospheric sounds for which the glorious Voces8 is known.
Listen to this month's playlist: