Sunday, May 15, 2011

Smorg's Favorite Tunes: The First Five

I promised my good friend Georg at Washing Without Getting Wet Blog quite a long while ago to make a post about my 10 all time favorite pieces of music. My slow-sluggedness alone, I'm afraid, doesn't account for the delay. I have so many favorite tunes that it is hard to settle on just ten, so I found myself making changes to the list every time I look at it. :oP After many months of dragging, I'm putting my big foot down on the following numbers simply because I'd never get a post started if I don't quit fidgeting with it. So... here are the 10 pieces of music that pop up in my head to stay the most, much to my comfort and pleasure - depending on circumstances, listed in no particular order:
1. 'Gia dagli occhi il velo e tolto' from Mozart's Mitridate (preferably sung by Vesselina Kasarova)
Farnace spends most of the opera betraying his father and brother to get what he wants (his dad's fiancee) until his treachery comes home to roost and lands him in jail. Having time to re-examine his unwieldy behavior he now realizes his rottenness and resolves to reform himself in this long song of atonement. It is an amazingly elegant soul-searching tune especially considering that Mozart was only 14 years old when he came up with it. The aria was custom-composed for the wackily low-voiced alto-castrato Giuseppe Cicognani, which makes singing it quite miserable for most mezzo-sopranos and countertenors performing the role today. The melodic line lives in the dusky depth of the chest register and thrives on sadistic octave-yo-yoing vocal leaps done in legato... If anyone deserves to be treated like that by a composer, I suppose Farnace does! 

2. Mendelssohn's E minor violin concerto (preferably played by Tasmin Little with the BBC Scottish Symph. Orch.)
Well... just because it is popular doesn't mean it is tart! It really took a genius to compose this thing. I've never heard how so many emotions can be put on just one violin string. And when the others are added, of course, the thing just explodes your mind in the cleanest eruption there is. No flash, no bang, no 'shock and awe', but pure acoustical delight that simply doesn't wane with repeated playing. I first encountered this piece via a video of Yehudi Menuhin performing this, I think, for a television program.

3. 'Kyrie' from Mozart's Mass in C minor (especially when sung by Barbara Bonney with JE Gardiner)
I first heard this number on the soundtrack cassette tape of the film Amadeus some time in the '90s while I was golfing around the US West Coast. It stuck in my head for the entire tournament with quite good result. To this day when I hear the tune I can remember much of the last round I played at Merced Country Club. It is always good to remember the 'good old days' when I was too naive to notice much 'not good' stuff that existed regardless of my ignorance. The rendition on the cassette was by Dame Felicity Lott with Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Field. A great performance in its own right! I'm not religious now, but I still enjoy the music no less. Everyone has to confront helplessness every now and then and I can easily substitute crying for godly mercy with the search for the strength within to deal with whatever problem I'm facing. It comes down to the same thing regardless of how one chooses to label it.

4. Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella (preferably by Mirijam Contzen and Valery Rogatchev)
Another very popular violin & piano duet that somehow didn't hit it right off with me on the first few go's, I guess mainly because it is very tempting for the violinist to make it his/her own show (and the pianist tend to willingly accommodate that). When played like a 'duet' as Mirijam Contzen and Valery Rogatchev do, however, this is a deadly infectious harmonic conversation I have a hard time stopping myself from repeatedly eavesdropping upon with the aid of the 'replay' button on my stereo. Listen to it... they (the soloists) actually listen to each other!

5. Verdi's Requiem
Not just one of two sections from it, but the whole thing! Of course, most people will be familiar with the fiery 'Dies irae' section. It has a knack for showing up in television commercials and in intense (and sometimes supernatural-ish) movie scenes, and, if I may say so, doesn't paint a very merciful picture of that notion of god that the piece invokes. I don't remember where I first heard the piece, or even which section first struck my ears. I'm partial toward the soprano-mezzo duo in 'Agnus Dei' and the surreptitious 'Quid sum miser', and, of course, everyone's favorite 'Libera me' -- not for the religious lyric of the thing but for the moodiness Verdi provides. Having this thing playing in my ears makes the brooding cloudy gray days especially enjoyable.


Drew80 said...


Nothing from the soundtrack of "Grease"?

Drew80 said...

And nothing from Schchedrin's "Carmen" score?

Anna said...

Hiya Smorgy!
Thanks for pointing out that aria from Mitridate! I must admit that I've heard it loads of times but never paid much attention to it. I will have to check out VK's version of it one of these days. You are really tempting me to get one of those over-priced iPhone things with a whole lot of functionality that I wouldn't use just so that I can get connected to the internet and watch you-tube videos. Went and checked out 2nd-hand prices on Ebay and decided to wait a couple more years.

It seems that every time I watch Mitridate I find another piece of music that I like. I would have to say it is my favourite opera of all time. Too bad that it would be difficult to assemble a cast for it.

Best regards and wishes from cold rainy Melbourne


Smorg said...

Hiya Drew:
Ha! I'm afraid not indeed.... neither here nor in the last 5 of the list (coming up soon). Though I would admit to occasionally having tunes from West Side Story and A Little Night Music, among other shows, stuck in my head every now and then. ;oD

Hiya Anna:
If only the grown up Mozart could have gone back and edited Mitridate into something more staging-friendly, ay? :o) There really are loads of musical gems in that work. I also love Sifare's horn obbligato aria (Lungi da te) and his duet with Asparsia... and pretty much all of Farnace's venomous arias. :oD

Hey, there are two of his arias on Kasarova's Mozart Arias CD (Venga pur minacci and Gia dagli occhi). It is going for quite cheap on Amazon, if you don't want to have to get the iPhone. ;o) I prefer her live version on the CD set from Salzburg Mozart Week 1997, but only by a small margin over the studio version on the Mozart Arias CD. For a nice gal, Kasarova sure has uncanny affinity for mean roles!

Thanks a bunch for stopping by, Drew and Anna! Hope all is going well your way! :oD

Lankin said...

It is so damn hard to make a ranking with this sort of thing!
You inspired me -- maybe I'll try a list of my own.
I'm so happy you mentioned the "Già dagli occhi" ... Kasarova is great -- as always! -- when she sings it, I like Jaroussky's version too -- but I'm not sure which role the specific situation of the performance with Christie plays in that for me. Bejun Metha's version of the aria is worth hearing -- his voice is close to perfect for the role, which is indeed a bugger to sing.

I think Farnace is one of my favourite characters in opera of all time.
I love Farnace's close to choleric mood swings -- in the "Son reo, l'error confesso," when after the first very devout line he jumps on the "ma reo di me peggiore..." Lovely.

In my concept he is a very angry teenager, or that's the way Mozart wants to show him.
My favourite "villain" <3

Hmmm maybe I should make a compilation of 10 favourite "villains" of all time instead.... hehe

Smorg said...

Hiya Lankin:
Glad you enjoyed this! ;oD I have my friend Georg to thank for thinking about the music I like most. It's hard compiling them into a short list indeed. This is supposed to be a top 10 list, but I only had enough time to write of 5 so far. Will post the other half one of these days.

I love Mozart's Farnace, too! It's a bit of a shame his stuff is so difficult to sing (what a freaky voice that Cicognani must have had!)... I wish old Wolfie had had spare time to touch up Mitridate enough so it could be easier to cast and perform today. :oD Jaroussky is great indeed. I have the Salzburg DVD with Mehta but I dislike the staging so much that it doesn't have a lot of play time on my DVD player. :oP

Can't wait to see your list! Hope you're having fun with it. Thanks a bunch for stopping by! :oD