Written on Dec. 23, 2007, For the Standard Today (December 25 issue)
What better way to spend the Christmas holidays than choosing, downloading and listening to some choice classical music, without burning a hole in your pocket? My daughter Carla, who is a whiz with computers, was able to locate a website from which one can download some of the most exceptional music ever composed.
This is not piracy, nor is it illegal. Some individual or a group of individuals has/have put his/her/their CD collection in a website to share (that is the operative buzzword) it with anyone who wants to. There are no advertisements, so they do not make any profit from it. Anyone with the necessary software and skills – as Carla has – can download any CD in the collection at no cost, other than the P8 blank CD. And since the transfer is from digital to digital, the copy is just as good as a store-bought CD. Except that there are no liner notes to go with it, even if the jacket can also be reproduced..
The website is: http://demfm.blogspot.com/search/label/classical
When last I visited it, the website had already had more than 590,000 visits. There are almost a thousand titles to choose from, about 70% of which are classical, the rest New Age or ambient music. However, the classical collection presumes a musical taste several notches above “Moonlight Sonata” and the “1812 Overture.” My downloads so far:.
AQUITANIA: Christmas Music from Aquitanian Monasteries of the 12th Century. Performed by the Sequentia Ensemble for medieval music, directed by Benjamin Bagby and Barbara Thornton. (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi). For anyone who wants to escape from the crass commercialism and packaged merriment of today’s Christmas, this CD is ideal. Eighteen numbers from the medieval Duchy of Aquitaine (France), the homeland of the troubadours, sung in silken polyphonic harmony, some by a male vocal ensemble, others by the group’s female ensemble; most a capella, a few accompanied by medieval instruments; mostly in Latin….recreate for modern sensibilities the hushed reverence with which medieval Europe used to regard Christmas. (Highly recommended)
BACH TRANSCRIPTIONS by Leopold Stokowski. Performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jose Serebrier.( Naxos ). I had this CD downloaded on the assumption that it contained Stokowski’s most celebrated Bach transcription, that of the Toccata and Fugue in d minor BWV 565. Alas, it does not. Instead it has as its main work the Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor BWV 582. Plus eight shorter Bach pieces, one by Handel, one by Purcell, and two melodies by Stokowski himself. How can anyone complain? (Recommended).
BACH: Christmas Oratorio BWV 248. Performed by the Monteverdi Chorus and the English Baroque Soloists, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. (Archiv Produktion). In my opinion, the ultimate in Christmas music. Composed in 1734, the oratorio is a series of cantatas grouped in six sections to celebrate the six days of Christmas, from Christmas Day to the Feast of the Epiphany. Recorded with superb musical artistry by the soloists and the ensemble on two CDs. (Very highly recommended).
BEETHOVEN: Symphony no 10 in e-flat, fist movement. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Wyn Morris.(IMP Classics) This is the first recording of the master’s last and uncompleted symphony and comes with a lecture on it by Dr. Barry Cooper. This controversial ‘first movement’ was assembled by Dr. Cooper from fragmentary musical sketches attributed to Beethoven but which were not positively authenticated as meant to be parts of a Tenth Symphony.(Of historical interest only.)
BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fanstastique, coupled with Tristia. Performed by the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Pierre Boulez. (Deutsche Grammophon). Smitten by the beauty of an Irish Shakespearean actress, Harriet Smithson, whom he met in a reception in Paris in 1827, the 24-year old Berlioz composed this his only symphony to, incredible as it may sound these days, attract her attention But thank heavens for that because this is one of the most dramatic symphonies ever composed, and one of my favorites. This recording, which includes a lesser known choral work, is a real gem. (Very highly recommended)
HANDEL: Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Performed by Le Concert des Nations, conducted by Jordi Savall. (Astree). First played in 1717 on a barge on the River Thames for the pleasure of King George I, Water Music, in two suites, has become one of the towering masterpieces of the baroque era. The shorter Music for the Royal Fireworks was commissioned by King George II as accompaniment for a fireworks display in London ’s Green Park in 1749 to celebrate the end of the War of Austrian Succession. The two works in one disc, played with such gusto and musical competence (except for an occasional sour note by the trumpets) is a felicitous download better than a bargain. (Highly recommended).
ORFF: Carmina Burana. Performed by soprano Sylvia Greenberg, counter-tenor James Bowman and baritone Stephen Roberts, with the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin und Chor and the Knabenchor des Staats- und Domchors Berlin , conducted by Riccardo Chailly. (Decca). One of my all-time favorites, of which I have at least four recordings. The raw energy and pulsating rhythm never fail to excite. (Highly recommended).
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony no. 5. Performed by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Coupled with SHOSTAKOVICH: Concerto no. 1 for Cello and Orchestra. Performed by cellist Yo Yo Ma, with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. (CBS Masterworks).Another of my favorite symphonies. Shostakovich composed this in 1937, a time of crisis and impending war. Like some of his other symphonies (especially the 6th and the 11th) it is redolent with patriotism and revolutionary fervor. The composer was deservedly awarded the Stalin Prize in the 1940s. A superb recording of both the symphony and the cello concerto. (Highly recommended)
VIVALDI: Stabat Mater RV 621, coupled with four short works by the same composer. Performed by counter-tenor Andres Scholl, with the Ensemble 415 conducted by Chiara Banchini. (Harmonia Mundi). .The voice of Scholl casts a sheer hypnotic spell with its androgynous elegance, to which the ensemble adds an infectious contrapuntal cadence. (Highly recommended)
WAGNER: Orchestral excerpts from ‘Tristan und Isolde’, ‘Tannhauser’, and ‘Die Meistersinger von Nurmberg.’ Performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan. (Deutsche Grammophon). From Karajan’s 1984 recordings. Includes the Overture and Venusberg Music from ‘Tannhauser’: the Prelude to Act 3 of ‘Meistersinger’; and, the Prelude to Act 1 and Liebestod from ‘Tristan,’, than which there is probably no better recording available. (Highly recommended).
Baroque Music for Trumpets. Compositions by Vivaldi, Telemann, Pachelbel, Michael Haydn and Biber. Performed by trumpet soloist Wynston Marsalis, with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Raymond Leppard. (CBS Masterworks) An overwhelming feast of glorious trumpets and timpani from the baroque period, including two concerti for 3 trumpets and strings by Georg Philip Telemann and one concerto for 3 trumpets and strings by Antonio Vivaldi.. Extraordinary. (Highly recommended). .
Danses de la Renaissance. Performed by the Clemencic Consort, conducted by Rene Clemencic. (Harmonia Mundi). A collection of fourteen Renaissance dances, mostly from France : banies, pavanes, gaillardes, rondeaus. With a truer ring of authenticity and a wider variety than the collection below. All very quaint and different, but you probably wouldn’t want to listen to them everyday (Recommended)
Spanish Renaissance Music. Performed by the Ancient Consort Singers conducted by John Alexander, and the Ancient Instrumental Ensemble conducted by Ron Purcell (Tuxedo). Sixteen short compositions: four by Anonymous, the others by people who might as well have been anonymous also. This sounds like a recording of an all-night carousing by village drunks pounding on tin pots, before they were rounded up by the Inquisition and hauled off to be burned at stake for singing with the Devil. (Don’t bother. I threw away my download.).