Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The pain of unending longing

Just as Orpheus’ lyre opened the gates of the underworld, music unlocks for mankind an unknown realm—a world with nothing in common with the surrounding outer world of the senses. Here we abandon definite feelings and surrender to an inexpressible longing....
Only a week ago I was quoting E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1813 essay "Beethoven’s Instrumental
Music", in a review of a fine recording of Hoffmann's Symphony. But E.T.A. is at best only a minor composer; it's really in literature that he made his mark. The Beethoven essay is a landmark of music journalism because of its timing; it was an early appreciation of the cosmic significance of the Fifth Symphony. But the master of fantasy Hoffmann paints such a fantastic picture of why instrumental music is so romantic. Here's where he turns on the big guns:
Glowing rays shoot through the deep night of this realm, and we sense giant shadows surging to and fro, closing in on us until they destroy us, but not the pain of unending longing in which every desire that has risen quickly in joyful tones sinks and expires. 
Fifteen years ago Jane Coop rounded up a first group of especially romantic piano pieces, and CBC Records published it in their Musica Viva series. It's been a popular album since then (as was volume 2), and you can still order it from Amazon as a CD-R or on MP3. But on April 29, 2016, Skylark Music is re-releasing this disc, which is excellent news.

The music Coop has chosen comes from the gods of High Romanticism, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Brahms; the special god who perfectly distilled Romanticism, Debussy; and a late master who turned Romanticism up to 11, Rachmaninoff. Is there a more perfect piece to express "the pain of unending longing" than Brahms' A major Intermezzo, op. 118, no. 2? Nope; it always breaks my heart!

And is there a more perfect final quote from E.T.A. Hoffmann to end this review by letting everyone know how touched I am by Coop's playing? No, there isn't.
Romantic taste is rare, romantic talent even rarer, and perhaps for this reason there are so few who are able to sweep the lyre with tones that unveil the wonderful realm of the romantic.

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