It might be the company I keep, but I rarely see or hear of many friends who still listen to classical music regularly anymore, if going by social media posts is any indicator. Just earlier this year, I shared a couple of Youtube videos of live recordings of pieces I enjoyed – including a lovely rendition of Handel’s Lascia Ch’io Piango aria as sung by New Zealander Hayley Westenra – and not surprisingly, very few seemed to respond to it. Not quite like the ‘Likes’ any one of Peter or Hannah’s pictures would routinely enjoy.

I’ve still continued eMusic’s subscription service since my last post about my love for the classics 4 years ago now, and picking up to a dozen classical albums each month under its service package – most of which I’ll go through, select, and pack them into the car audio for listening. If it weren’t for this service, I don’t think I’d ever discover much lesser known classical composers like Johann Fasch, Jean-Marie Leclair, Charles Villers Stanford or Pietro Locatelli. I’ve generally steered away from the well-known works from the mainstream composers on eMusic on the other hand – there are only so many versions of Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s London Symphonies, or Beethoven’s Piano Concertos I want to acquire!

Interestingly and perhaps reflecting also of young people trends, there are fewer manufacturers of dedicated MP3 players these days, what with many preferring to get their music fix via smartphones. Two of the holdouts still releasing updated models regularly are Sony and Cowon. My last MP3 player was a Cowon C2 which I bought from Amazon last year in March and had it shipped here. That little unit produced lovely audio, a very wide range of customization options, and a battery that seemed to run forever – and whose touchscreen zonked out last month. Arrgh. That was my second Cowon MP3 player over the last 5 years, and the first one also failed though for other reasons.

I wasn’t keen to return to Cowon players any time soon again, even though they are still routinely among audiophile’s favorite choices of personal audio units. I was however interested in trying out an Android-based MP3 player, if nothing else that they routinely come with larger touch-based screens, great customization options, and also running off an operating platform I was familiar with and like a lot – if also on the other hand, at the expense of usually shorter battery runlength and also overall stability.

The Sennheiser Momentum hooked up with the Sony F886.

The Sennheiser Momentum hooked up with the Sony F886.

So; in came the Sony Walkman NWZ-F886, and accompanying it a Sennheiser Momentum On the Go – that was picked up early this month. There weren’t that many choices for Android-based MP3 players, quite unlike the almost bewildering range of headphones out there from dirt cheapo ones under $10 to premium ones that have everything and cost a few thousand moola. And after a fortnight of use:

Customization – hooray!

Svelte form factor. Compact, light, and its case that oozes confidence and density – none of that creaky stuff that you get with cheap plastics. Very premium-looking too.

Pretty good audio – and almost as good as the Cowon players.

Android runs well on it. No lag or stuttering observed in music playback. Haven’t quite stress-loaded it with other apps though (no intention to).

Reasonably high-resolution screen for me to squint at the album covers.

Charges quickly.

On the other hand:

Battery isn’t as cracked up as others have suggested. I’m maybe squeezing about 15+ hours of it with some light usage of the screen and scrolling about albums.

Finger-print magnet.

Somewhat low screen viewing angles.

Dated Android OS at 4.1.1, even with the most recent firmware update.

Uses Sony’s proprietary charging and data cables.

On the overall, I’m pretty happy with it – not that I would have had much other choices if i wasn’t!

Discovering Schubert's Overtures - thanks to eMusic.

Discovering Schubert’s Overtures – thanks to eMusic – and also all of Rossini’s Overtures, part of Christian Benda’s series of recordings with the Prague Sinfonia Orchestra.

 

 

Be it pop or kiddy songs, I’m of the opinion that music makes learning Chinese (or any language I supposed?) pleasurable.

We have been quite surprised (and pleased, of course) that Hannah’s kindy has become a positive influence to her liking for Chinese children songs. Despite all the good advice I got from MIL, relatives and friends, I confess that I didn’t really make a conscious effort to converse with Hannah in Mandarin. The best attempts so far were haphazard phrases and naming of objects. The product? An angmo-sounding Chinese toddler. Well, mommy fails big time. *sigh*

Of late, Hannah would try to sing or hum those Chinese children songs she was taught at school. I still have a vague recollection of those childhood tunes but the lyrics were mostly forgotten. I went onto the Internet in hope to find the lyrics to a particular train song she was trying to sing for the past few nights but alas, I had little success. Arghh!!! I don’t even know the title but my guess is that there should be a train somewhere in it. Here I am trying to water the seeds sown by her teachers but I realise that I am a CMI case. I think I shall call her 老师 to find out la.

I wander whether anyone who reads this blog has a good recommendation for Chinese children songs on CD. I bought a couple of CDs a year ago but somehow the singing made me cringe.

It hasn’t been easy to catch Hannah in the mood for singing. Below is one of the rare video recordings where she tried to sing a Chinese New Year song taught at school. She sang off-key. See if you could make the song out LOL :D

On FRI evening, I received an SMS from Ling:

Am watching the Royal Wedding on Channel 5 now. =)

parryUgh. And I was still in school for an event! I did catch the ceremony the next morning though, courtesy of Youtube HD broadcasts. Quite a spectacle, and it looked even better on a large screen Plasma.

What especially interested me though were the music items chosen for the ceremony. Most I recognized, but two I didn’t: the Bridal Processional – ‘I was Glad’ by the 19th century English composer Hubert Parry, and the Signing of Registers music, ‘Blest pair of Sirens’ by the same composer, written for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. Absolutely marvelous music, and reminiscent of both Elgar and Brahms’ works! I scouted around at my usual online music stores and found these two pieces only as part of a larger album. Bought the album straight away.

It’s the season for the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) Central Judging for Choirs for secondary schools again. Just the other day, I went to support my ex-choir at Singapore of the Arts (SOTA) School where the judging was held. Actually, the support was a nice way of masking the fact that I missed their singing despite all the heartaches and stress I went through while I was their teacher in-charge.

One of their two set pieces, The Snow by Elgar, touched many hearts. There was a time not too long ago that saw youth choirs performing technically challenging pieces which were mostly not easy on the ears. One often ended up appreciating the prowess of the singers and sophistication of the choral arrangement rather than the music itself. Hence, it was a refreshing change when The Snow was sung at the SYF. The other set piece, Essassa by Ko Matsushita, was probably one of the most difficult pieces for a youth choir to master as it was rated a 5 from a difficulty scale of 1-5. This composition is in 5 parts and here’s an audio recording of the choir performing it.

I was happy for the choir when they were given the award they deserved at the end of the day. Here’s an audio recording of The Snow they sang. (The sound quality would be better with good speakers or earphones.) Lyrics of the song below. Enjoy :)

The Snow

O snow, which sinks so light,

Brown earth is hid from sight,

O soul, be thou as white as snow.

 

O snow, which falls so slow,

Dear earth quite warm below;

O heart, so keep thy glow,

Beneath the snow.

 

O snow, in thy soft grave

Sad flowers the winter brave;

O heart, so soothe and save,

As does the snow.

 

The snow must melt, must go,

Fast, fast as water flow.

Not thus, my soul, O sow

Thy gifts to fade like snow.

 

O snow, thou art white no more,

Thy sparkling too, is o’er;

O soul, be as before,

Was bright the snow.

 

Then as the snow all pure,

O heart be, but endure,

Through all the years full sure,

Not as the snow.

 

(C. Alice Elgar)

10. April 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Music

I think many piano learners here would have gone the route of learning Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven sonatas at some point. The three are among the most widely known of ‘classical’-period music composers from the mid 1700s to early 1800s.

There are numerous other composers who lived around their time though, and also wrote marvelous music. It’s a pity that their compositions weren’t recorded as prolifically in the early days of audio recording. But with many of the lesser-known but no less skilled European orchestras and also budget recording labels getting into the act from the 1980s onwards, there’s been many relatively obscure works coming to the fore and finally seeing the light of day outside live performances in theatres.

I’ve been exploring many of these ‘contemporaries’ of Mozart by way of the emusic subscription service I’ve been on for a year now, and it’s been an incredible experience digging out the hundreds of piano concerto and symphonies composed by many others during the early 18th century but all got overshadowed over the years by output from the H., M. B. trio. Among some of my findings include:

Cramer, Johann Baptist (English) – Wrote some absolutely lovely Piano Concertos
Gyrowetz, Adalbert (Bohemian) – Symphonies
Gossec, François Joseph (Belgian) – Symphonies
Herschel, William (English) – Wrote Symphonies but also known for his work in astronomy LOL
Hoffmeister, Franz Anton (German) – Symphonies
Kraus, Joseph Martin (Bohemian) – Symphonies
Krommer, Franz (Moravian) – Clarinet and Oboe Concertos. Gigantic output that I’ve just barely scratched the surface of.
Kozeluch, Leopold (Czech) – Symphonies.
Mysliveček, Josef (Czech) – Symphonies. A close friend of Mozart and who provided some of his early inspiration to.
Pichl, Wenzel (Bohemian) – Symphonies
Pleyel, Ignace Joseph (French) – Symphonies. Famous during his time but whose works are rarely heard today.
Richter, Franz Xaver (German) – Symphonies
Ries, Ferdinand (German) – Piano Concertos and Symphonies. Friend, pupil and performer of Beethoven.
Rosetti, Antonio (Bohemian) – Symphonies
Stamitz, Karl Philipp (German) – Clarinet Concertos and Symphonies
Vanhal, Johann Baptist (Bohemian) – Symphonies
Wesley, Samuel (English) – Symphonies
Wranitzky, Pavel (Moravian) – Symphonies. Highly regarded by H., M. and B – and even their preferred conductor by Haydn and Beethoven for their new works.

Apparently, the brother of the more famous Wesley was himself a composer, and considered during his time as the English equivalent of Mozart.:)

I’ve posted here before about a music service I subscribe to, namely eMusic. The service used to be a huge bargain with thousands of classical music albums on sale at very affordable prices. However, the attractive pricing plans were changed late last year, and while it’s still cheaper than equivalent purchases at Amazon or in brick-mortar CD shops like HMV, it’s no longer the bargain it once was.

bloggoldbergvariations02The net effect of the price changes is that these several months now I’ve become a lot more careful about what music tracks I purchase, since albums now cost typically about USD4.80 in their MP3 versions. That means I should leaning towards acquiring new classical compositions I haven’t heard before. But ironically a good amount of my most recent purchases are still old compositions!

There’s a couple of works I’ve fallen in love of late with revisits, and in the last 2 years have picked up several performances, two of which I’ll mention here. There’s Bach’s six French Suites that he wrote for the clavier but commonly recorded today on the piano. I first heard the work on an old Decca CD recording performed by András Schiff. Most of the several dozen short pieces in the suites were unknown to me (my only exposure to Bach as a piano learner 25 years ago was his Preludes and Fugues), but the Gavotte from the French Suite No. 5 in G has a wonderfully sprightly and melody that I remember from the very old but popular Hooked on Classics albums with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from the early 80s. A Youtube recording of the Gavotte is below.

blog-mendelssohMy most recent acquisition of this composition was just over the weekend was a performance by German-American pianist Wolfgang Rübsam. By far though my favorite performance of the work comes off a recording before a live audience by Simone Dinnerstein, an American-born pianist I’ve blogged about a year ago here.

The other work that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to are Mendelssohn’s two Concertos for Two Pianos. These are far less frequently recorded than the Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin or other late romantic equivalents, but they’re some of the most amazing works demonstrating collaborative keyboard artistry. There are perhaps six performances of these two concertos available for online purchase anywhere; I’ve got four of them already and I still haven’t tire of listening to them! This is music I could set to Repeat on my music player and not get tired of listening to them for hours. My favorite performance of the four sees Swedish pianist Roland Pöntinen and Love Derwinger supported by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta conducted by Lez Makiz, an ensemble who also recorded another one of my favorite performances of Mendelssohn’s twelve string symphonies.

03. September 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment, Music, Wedding

Nearly a year ago I wrote a series of posts on wedding music. Even though our own event was 3 years ago, whenever I listen to a music composition, my subconscious self still goes on appraisal mode to see if it’s good music for weddings. So, here’s an update to my wedding music post from last September with new additions:

Father of the BrideOpening Title – by Alan Silvestri

Father of the BrideAnnie’s Theme – by Alan SIlvestri

blog-fatherbride Father of the Bride is an old comedy from 1991 starring comedian Steve Martin as George Banks, a nervous dad whose daughter Annie is getting married. George is worried about everything: wedding expenditure, the future son-in-law, and losing Annie.

I didn’t think much of the film in previous years (it was light hearted, enjoyable but didn’t leave much of an impression), but now that Hannah’s in the picture, I better rewatch the film at some point… because 25 years from now, I’m going to be in exactly George’s shoes!

Anyway, the film was apparently successful enough that a sequel followed shortly with the cast returning to another adventure, this time with George facing the impending birth of his first grandchild.

It’s hard to listen to the film’s music by American composer Alan Silvestri (who has a very large body of work now) and not immediately associate it with a warm American, romantic or family drama. The music from end to end is optimistic, sunny, rich in melodies – the stuff you’d put onto your CD deck in the car, and play back to calm yourself when someone cuts into your lane.

The two tracks I’ve listed here are the best exemplars of Silvestri’s music for the two films. The first is the opening title music, and is grand, perfect for recessional, and stylistically similar to music you’d hear in Yuletide. The second track, Annie’s Theme, personifies George Bank’s daughter. It’s a lovely piece with a lyrical melody introduced by oboe and supported by other wind instruments. A great possibility for processional.

The links above BTW play back 30 second samples of each piece.

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I’ve blogged about wedding music last year, and in the pair of posts noted that one of my choices for Ling’s Processional was “I’ll Always Go Back to that Church”, better known as “Kip’s Lights”, from The English Patient by Gabriel Yared.

The original motion picture soundtrack on CD has a marvelous recording of this track. For those of us who don’t mind picking up an alternative recording of the same music, Naxos has just released a soundtracks CD of film music performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis – and one of the tracks is an arrangement of the piano solo theme from The English Patient and “Kip’s Lights”. Easy way to pick up two very lovely pieces of music at a go.:)

The MP3 version of the track is available at Amazon here for those of us with US Credit Cards. Alternatively, you can pick up the track for free at eMusic as a trial subscriber, or just USD0.20 in my case as a current subscriber.

Either way, it’s well worth the acquisition.:)

25. April 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Music

blog-luciapopp-01 There comes a point in time listening to the classics that you start being able to distinctly tell by listening who’s the person singing a particular role. Funnily, the two vocal ranges I have difficulty with singer identification are Alto and Tenor. Soprano and Bass is easy – I wonder why LOL.

In any case, there several Sopranos I enjoy listening to: there’s Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle, and Eva Lind. By far though, the singer I most admire is Lucia Popp. Her voice isn’t expansive and at times almost seems a little ‘small’. But there’s an incredible elegance and passion evident in her voice, and of a very distinct timbre.

She’s especially well-known for handling lyric coloratura soprano repertoire. When she sings in operas of the comedic variety, there’s infectious fun in her voice. Of the recordings I have of her, everyone of them is a favorite: her part as the feisty Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro which I’ve blogged about here before, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, and Rosalinde in Johann Strauus II’s comic opera Die Fledermaus.

Called “one of the most gifted, attractive and intelligent singers of her generation”, she sadly passed away from brain cancer in 1993 at the age of 54.

blog-luciapopp-02

Of all the classical music there is out there that’s composed for solo instruments, I’m guessing that the piano got the largest heap. Haydn wrote 62 piano sonatas; Mozart wrote 18 (plus a huge number of other solo piano works), and Beethoven wrote 32. And there’s Chopin’s waltzes, etudes, and polonaises.

Funnily, I didn’t enjoy solo piano music very much. Certainly not when I was learning the piano – I dread those Clementi sonatas and I struggled with the Beethoven ones – and even when I started seriously listening to classical music, I stayed clear of piano works.

My first CDs of sonata music was a five disc set of Mozart’s piano sonatas performed by Hungarian pianist Jenő Jandó in 1996 who recorded a number of other piano music albums for the Naxos Records label. The music was enjoyable, but outside a couple of works that I’d played as a teenager, the music didn’t especially leave me with an impression, as great as Jandó‘s artistry was.

My favorite piano music today, strangely, lies elsewhere. I played Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C as a Grade VIII exam piece, and all those hours of drilling and practice then left an indelible impression! So it’s ironical today that the piano works I listen to most often are Bach’s.

There’s an album of Bach’s music I recently picked up on eMusic, and this one’s an interesting one: The Goldberg Variations, a set of music comprising an aria followed by 30 variations which, interestingly, does not follow the melody line but the bass line instead:

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blog-goldbergvariations-02 The Variations isn’t actually all that unfamiliar even for persons who don’t listen to the Classics. It’s the piece that’s heard in the background in Hannibal Lector’s cell in Silence of the Lambs, and also in The English Patient. In fact, the lovely final credits music of the latter seems a variation of these Variations itself.

The new album of The Goldberg Variations I got is performed by Simone Dinnerstein in her breakout recording. What’s interesting is that Dinnerstein wasn’t a recording artiste but a Brooklyn piano teacher who raised her own $15,000 to make the recording. Her performance shot straight up to #1 on the Billboard classical music charts, and been compared to Glenn Gould’s 1955 album which listeners regarded as the standard to which all Goldberg Variations recordings are compared to.

This Myspace web site has embedded recordings of her two pieces from her albums: including the Aria from the Variations here. The first piece that plays off this web site though is the Gavotte from Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G, recorded at a live Berlin concert – the Gavotte is my favorite piece of piano music, anywhere.:)

Alternatively, here’s a video of Dinnerstein sharing about how she learnt the piano, and about her family. The Aria from the Variations is also heard in the video.:)

Highly recommended.:)