Wheels of Cheese #45: Fantasia by Yuja Wang

Increasing site hits 101

Increasing site hits 101

Ok, well, this annoyed me. I can’t blame Yuja Wang completely, but after listening to Olli Mustonen’s Scriabin disc the last thing I really wanted was to listen to another sparkling piano recital, especially one containing more Scriabin. Also, this is the type of compilation I hate – a grab-bag of stuff that is supposed to show how terrific the pianist is, which means you listen to each track thinking about how terrific the pianist is. Very annoying.

A few things I do blame Yuja Wang for though. Firstly, a booklet featuring seven glossy pics of her, consorting with the piano in various ways. Ok, record company, she’s hot! Whoaaarr! Man I’d like to do her! Is that what I’m supposed to think? Job done.

Also, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?! Really. I’m sorry, the rest of the world, but enough. It was silly to begin with, and it’s sillier still for piano. Stop it. I don’t care if the disc is called Fantasia. In fact, that annoys me too. Why is it called Fantasia?

Finally, actually, bollocks to the whole thing. Bits of opus this and opus that. Gr.

Hey, this whole not smoking thing is pretty shit innit?

 

Wheels of Cheese #44: Olli Mustonen plays Scriabin: Etudes, Preludes, Sonata no 10 and Vers la flamme

Scriabin before mysticism

Scriabin before mysticism

These pieces were something of a revelation to me. I, who have tended to struggle with Scriabin due to his overwrought melodies and foggy mysticism. I, who have struggled with his overwrought melodies and foggy mysticism due to their lack of harmonic certainty and their metaphysical inexactitude. And I, who have disdained his lack of harmonic certainty and his metaphysical inexactitude due to my devotion to terpsichorean precision and philosophical precision. Yes, all three of these ‘I’s that form my multifarious self have found him, frankly, heavy going. The music of Scriabin, I’ve always felt, was only useful for providing background music for documentaries about Scriabin.

But in these pieces, composed, for the most part, early in his career avoid the more lunatic elements of his fanatic Blavatskyism. Which is not to say they are not highly emotive and containing their share of theosophical flailing – if it is true that the Emperor Joseph II said of The Marriage of Figaro the there were ‘too many notes’, on could imagine a latter day Joseph saying of these works ‘there are, like, really too many notes’.

Scriabin after mysticism. Note the moustache.

Scriabin after mysticism. Note the moustache.

But there is a coherence to these pieces that drives the listened forward – we are much more firmly rooted in the world of Chopin than we are in the world of men striding about in furs with goat heads on the end of their staffs looking for the great key of life, I’m sorry, The Great Key of Life. Apparently Scraibin’s mum, a concert pianist, gave a performance of Chopin and Liszt five days before the birth of our putative hero, and we can imagine the precocious homunculus, pressing his ear to the inner curve of her womb and jotting down some ideas. But let’s not.

The playing of Olli Mustonen is brilliant, as it needs to be – the left hand definitely needs to know what the right hand is doing when playing Scriabin. He manages to give us a vision of a composer on the brink of atonality, while simultaneously emphasising the lyricism of these liminal works. It is no glib compliment to say he makes it sound easy, which is particularly astonishing as Scriabin, bless him, generally makes it all sound so hard.

 

Wheels of Cheese #43 – London Conchord Ensemble plays Poulenc: Complete Chamber Works

Frankie Poulenc is gonna get you some!

Frankie Poulenc is gonna get you some!

Poulenc! The very name is enough to strike fear into the heart into the heart of any music lover, with his refined melodies, humble spirituality and mild depressions. How many dinner parties has he ruined with the dread hand of his sweet sweet sonatas and their gentle modulations? How many quiet souls has he crushed with his lilting tunes and his perfectly apt harmonies?

None I reckon. Pretty much none.

Poulenc, au contraire, is the chap you put on when you get the woman back to yours and wish to appear refined and intellectual, without getting too interrupted. Chopin is too easy – people who don’t listen to classical music listen to Chopin – and most of your other ‘obscure enough to make you seem interesting’ composers (yr Tippet, yr Gounod, yr Bax) tend to have shouty bits. There’s nothing worse than going the pash and having Arnold Bax leap up an octave and render the whole move Dionysian, believe me.

No, what you want is a nice glass of wine, a little Ceasar salad, and The Complete Chamber Works of Francis Poulenc by the London Conchord Ensemble. Whether you’re talking her through your collection of tastefully arranged architecture magazines while listening to his Sonata for Flute and Piano, discussing which local farmer’s market you favour when buying your Caerphilly while listening to his Sarabande for Solo Guitar, or off-handedly mentioning that your favourite authors tend, in fact, to be women while listening to his Villanelle for Piccolo and Piano, with Frankie-boy you’re always guaranteed that the moves you bust will only ever be augmented, never compromised.

The London Conchord Ensemble does a wonderful job on this disc, and I’d like to thank them personally. And Emma, can I just check we’re still on for Friday? They’re showing that new Julie Delphy/Ethan Hawke film at the Hackney Empire, and there’s a great gastro-pub round the corner I think you’d really like. Text me!