December 26, 2014
Having made clear my discontent with the nominations for the 57th annual GRAMMY awards, I feel more than obliged to recognize that this was actually a rather good year for those who listen to recordings. One explanation for this difference of opinion may be found in the writings of Virgil Thomson recently collected as a single volume by Library of America. In one of his Herald Tribune columns, Thomson suggested that there were three kinds of audience. There is, of course, the “mass public,” there is the “musical audience,” which is more keenly aware of the technical aspects of execution, and there is the “intellectual audience,” that “wants culture with its music, wants information, historical perspectives, enlarged horizons.” My guess is that GRAMMY nominations tend to reflect the preferences of the mass public, while I have never tried to hide my intellectual stance.
Sometimes these two perspectives come into alignment. That was certainly the case with the Naxos recording of Darius Milhaud’s L’Orestie D’Eschyle, the first recording of the composer’s interpretation of Aeschylus’ dramatic trilogy to be released in its entirety. This was a worthy project that could certainly not be faulted for its impressive execution. Perhaps the GRAMMY judges were particularly taken with the episode in “Les Choéphores” in which the murder of Clytemnestra is described, in true Greek chorus fashion, by spoken recitation, which, in true Milhaud fashion, is accompanied by fifteen percussionists and speaking chorus. Whatever the reason, this recording will be up against some very stiff competition in the “Best Opera” category (even if it is not, strictly speaking, an opera). It will probably be a long shot for the final award, but for me it stands as one of the most memorable recordings of 2014.
For the benefit of those who like “top ten” lists, I have no tr
ouble recognizing nine other recordings, all of which did not seem to register strongly enough with the GRAMMY judges:
- On the other hand the current judges seem to have favored David Krakauer for his Dreams & Prayers album. For my part, however, I felt that Oxingale’s release of Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Timeat the beginning of April was a far more significant event. The title refers to Henri Akoka, the Jewish clarinetist held in Stalag VIII-A, the same prisoner-of-war camp in which Messiaen was interned. It was during his imprisonment that Messiaen composed his famous quartet, and he worked closely with Akoka on the clarinet part. On this recording the other quartet performers are violinist Jonathan Crow, cellist Matt Haimovitz, and pianist Geoffrey Burleson; and the “reframing” part of the project includes some killer improvisation work from Krakauer, Since I first listened to this recording shortly after its release, this album has become my first choice when asked to recommend a good recording of Messiaen’s quartet.
By: Stephen Smoliar
Read entire article at: The Examiner