The Survivors: Part Two

Ludwig van Beethoven
Nine Symphonies (Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic, 1963)
Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7 (Joshua Bell, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 (Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic, 1982-83)
Complete Overtures (David Zinman, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich)
Complete String Quartets (Emerson String Quartet)

Beethoven is kind of a problem because his legacy is louder than his music. It’s basically impossible to hear the fifth and ninth symphonies with fresh ears. For me, it’s hard to hear Beethoven without hearing a billion conflicting Beethovens at once, including the pop culture grump, the one who’s an unwitting combatant in the culture war around the canon, and somewhere in there the actual guy who wrote this music. But there are works in there that carve a detour past all of that, most notably the late string quartets. If you dangled me off the edge of a cliff and asked me what’s my favourite single movement from a classical work, I’d almost certainly go with the third movement from Beethoven’s Op. 132: a hymn of thanksgiving so gracious and human that it couldn’t possibly come from a mere icon. 
Measure of gratitude: Immense. Thank you.

Bix Beiderbecke
In A Mist

Fort McMurray was a weirdly good place to learn about jazz. Briefly I played piano in a combo at the local college and I remember our instructor pulling Bix off the shelves, flipping past all the tracks where he plays trumpet, his main instrument, and settling on “In A Mist.” It’s a lovely parlour piano confection: jazz with a hint of Debussy. I miss those opportunities to listen closely to music as a group. That said, I haven’t spent much time with Bix Beiderbecke since high school. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Adrian Belew
Side Four

I should acknowledge that there are a few discs among the Survivors that are destined to survive the next cull as well. My mother will likely make a home for the Beatles, etc. And my autographed copy of this live album by Adrian Belew isn’t going anywhere. I saw Belew live when I was eighteen, possibly my first non-all-ages concert. Clearly, I was the youngest one there. He was playing with a brother/sister rhythm section who were barely older than I was. At the signing table I told Belew it was the best concert I’d ever seen, but somebody distracted him just as I said it and he never responded. I think about that during every solo on Remain in Light. Great live album, though. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim
West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

It is reasonably well known at this point that I was a theatre kid. Aside from Dream Theater I daresay my most shameful childhood enthusiasm was Andrew Lloyd Webber. There are only three musicals among the Survivors, none of which are by him. A great many cast albums were culled. The ones that made it through are truly extraordinary, none more so than West Side Story, a show that is not overrated. The generation of Broadway blockbusters that followed this are frequently simplistic and manipulative. Bernstein’s music, by contrast, is complex and thorny. It’s easy to forget that because of how familiar it is. 
Measure of gratitude: Substantial. Thank you. 

Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk
Henryk & Mikołaj Górecki (with Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, etc.)

It really ought to be filed under ‘G,’ but it is technically a disc by multiple composers: Henryk Górecki and his lesser known son. I have seldom revisited the bulk of this recording, but Górecki senior’s piano concerto has become a real favourite, and I wouldn’t have heard it had I not liberated this disc from my workplace. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

David Bowie
Ziggy Stardust
Aladdin Sane

David Bowie has been one of my primary obsessions of the last few years, rivalled only by the Mountain Goats, Joanna Newsom and my perpetual fascination with Brian Eno. It’s odd to think back on the time when I first heard these CDs, nearly a decade ago at the height of my CD buying, and to think that I merely liked them. That Low didn’t immediately strike me as music I couldn’t live without. That “Starman” was not the sound of a whole generation’s euphoria echoing across the decades, but just a decent tune. It’s reassuring to know that kind of growth is possible. 
Measure of gratitude: Unimaginably large. Thank you. 

Sir Adrian Boult
Brahms/Mendelssohn (with BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

One thing I’ve learned since my early days of classical CD collecting is that the standard for symphonic playing is higher today than in anybody’s idea of a long-past “golden age.” This isn’t one of the CDs I bought. This one came to me by chance. But it’s a scratchy old thing where the playing, insofar as you can hear it, is only okay. Orchestras today play more in tune, more together and with greater focus and intensity, not to mention that they’re recorded in better sound. Give me Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Mendelssohn 4 any day over this.
Measure of gratitude: Negligible. Thank you. 

Johannes Brahms
Symphonies Nos. 1-4 etc. (Wolfgang Sawallisch, London Symphony Orchestra)
Ein Deutsches Requiem (John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, Orchestra Revolutionnaire)

When I bought these discs, Brahms was a firmly third-tier composer to me. Since then he’s become one of my few truly essential canonical composers. The Brahms I love is the bittersweet old man of the late piano pieces: music filled with regret and yearning. Tossed-off trifles that are more profound and sincere than any of his fussier large-scale works. When I learned about Brahms in my music history classes, we learned about him as a composer who was consciously standing in the shadow of Beethoven. It’s easy to hear that version of Brahms in his first symphony, which is naturally what we were assigned for listening homework. But since then I’ve come to think of Brahms as the only composer in the canon whose legacy has been harmed rather than bolstered by this kind of “great man” history. When you stand him up next to Beethoven, he comes up short, because he was a totally different kind of composer. At his best, he wasn’t a composer of huge gestures and epic themes–he was a composer of small, intimate, interior music. The Deutsches Requiem is the one larger work where he’s able to conjure the grace and generosity that I love in those late piano pieces. But the symphonies, aside from the second, still leave me cold. So, parsing my gratitude towards these particular discs is a challenge. Let’s go with this: 
Measure of gratitude: Complicated. Thank you. 

Brooklyn Rider
A Walking Fire

Perhaps the best album I ever stole from work. Brooklyn Rider is an oddly named string quartet that makes albums that sound like rock records. The mics are close, the playing is frequently aggressive and a fair bit of the music is new. This has Bartók on it, but that’s hardly the point. The highlight is Ljova’s piece Culai, inspired by a magnificent old folk fiddler. It has that rare quality in classical music, where I couldn’t imagine it played by another ensemble. (Also I didn’t steal it, I was encouraged to take it. But it feels a bit like theft, because somebody sent it somewhere, not thinking it would end up with me.)
Measure of gratitude: Significant. Thank you.

Clifford Brown and Max Roach
Clifford Brown and Max Roach

There was a moment in my trumpet playing days when I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. I went to music school thinking I’d learn how to play many different kinds of music, only to realize that when you learn music at a university it’s all classical, all the time. I really should have done more research. This realization came less than a semester into my program and I absolutely could have pulled the ripcord in retrospect, but it didn’t seem like an option at the time. So, I collected and avidly listened to jazz, with a sense of profound longing. Today I feel absolutely no attachment to the classical solo rep I learned for the trumpet. But when I hear Clifford Brown, I still wish I could do that. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Dave Brubeck
Time Out

My main music discovery trend in high school was trying to familiarize myself with the standards of the genres I was into, however niche those genres were. I don’t know where my obsession with canons came from, but it goes back all the way. Time Out is perhaps my least favourite of the S-tier jazz albums. Give me Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme or Mingus Ah Um any day over this. The four-disc budget set Quadromania actually has some stuff I remember fondly. I haven’t listened to it in years, but the second I pulled it off the shelf just now the bassline to “Tritonis” started playing in my head. 
Measure of gratitude: Small, but not offensively so. Thank you. 

Anton Bruckner
Symphony No. 9 (Carl Maria Giulini, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra)

Bruckner is a composer I’ve frequently claimed not to like. It’s a claim I’ve had to make fairly often as a Mahler fan, because the two of them seem to come as a package deal for lots of classical music people. I can see why: they’re both Romantic symphonists who like big orchestras and loud climaxes. But Mahler has a gift for melody and a subtle way of using his massive orchestras that I don’t hear in Bruckner. But I ought to note that there’s only one Bruckner symphony that I’ve really put the time and effort into “getting,” his ninth, and I actually do like that one. Maybe my early thirties will be my Bruckner era, the way my early twenties were all about Mahler. That said: I don’t feel like this symphony needs to be any longer than it is, and it wasn’t even finished. 
Measure of gratitude: Moderate. Thank you. 

Kate Bush
50 Words for Snow
Director’s Cut (Collector’s Edition)
Before the Dawn

My CD shelves contain an idiosyncratic selection of works by the greatest living songwriter, but it’s a body of work that shows her in a compelling light. The albums that make the strongest argument for Kate Bush being the greatest living songwriter are probably The Dreaming and Hounds of Love, and they make two subtly different arguments. The Dreaming argues for Kate Bush as a superior, alien presence at the margins of pop music. Hounds of Love argues that she’s the strangest mainstream pop sensation of all time. For reasons I’m honestly not certain of, I only have music from after those two albums on CD. This collection contains all of her major releases since then (the collector’s edition of Director’s Cut comes packaged with The Sensual World and The Red Shoes). Every single one of these albums is uneven, but they’re the kind of uneven that I find interesting. I’ve always liked 50 Words for Snow more than I think most people do. It’s a spare, slow-moving album with a couple of songs towards the end that strain to fill the time. But it’s a big swing, and a completely new direction that came out of nowhere. Kate Bush trained me to expect this. Mostly I’m disappointed, but never by her. 
Measure of gratitude: Gigantic. Thank you.

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