Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Today's Music of Choice

An important component in my commute (all 10 minutes of it, along city streets) by car everyday to and from the Day Job is the day's music of choice.

I like to pick something in the morning and "work" on it throughout the day if I run errands during my lunch break, or as I drive back home in the evening.

When I pick baroque music, I typically enjoy it performed on historical instruments, but in colder weather (I should say cooler, not colder, like today's 73F) I tend to be more permissive of baroque keyboard compositions played on the piano. Specially when it's gloomy; the piano, with its more contemporary possibilities of a warm, intimate sensibility, creates a nice atmosphere.

Today's music of choice was a trio of Bach's English Suites, Nos. 1, 3 and 6.

When I moved into the new condo in August of last year one of the things I set out to do was decorate it tastefully. I am completely clueless when it comes to interior decoration, but I am aware of what kind of aesthetic I prefer (it tends toward the minimalist). Since I knew I was going to keep a lot of flowing lines and open spaces I figured one of the ways to add a little substance and style would be to re-dedicate myself to purchasing choice recordings of classical music, something I'd set aside with the distractions of everyday life. For one, I would have space to separate out my classical music from everything else (and yes, to someone like me that possibility alone seemed compelling); also, I would have space to add new CDs/DVDs over time without the risk of filling in the allotted CD wall-stand for a long time.

So in August and September, in a couple of joyful bursts of spending, I got my hands on some stuff I'd been interested in for a while. Among these items were several recordings by the brilliant pianist Murray Perahia, whom I first became aware of some years ago through my uncle, who is steeped deep in the Ways of Classical Music (and composes it).

If I was to risk being slightly unhappy by having a few baroque masterpieces performed on the modern piano, Perahia seemed like a safe bet, someone who at least wouldn't add insult to minimal injury by botching the execution. I explain all this because I want to provide a sense of the rather significant expectation I had before listening to the three English suites today. To illustrate further, a part of me had kept putting it off -- the CDs sat unopened on my shelf for six months. Another part of me berated the first for being so fussy, and for censoring a potentially pleasing experience through over-prejudice (some prejudice is necessary for the advancement of one's exploration of art, I think, but too much is fatal).

This morning it was overcast, conditions were finally right, and after ungracefully opening the Perahia Bach from its odious wrapping (and clumsily dropping it on the floor, and so on, all in good cheer) I was treated to a marvelous interpretation.

I was familiar with the Pinnock and Leonhardt renditions on harpsichord (much preferring the Pinnock, though not to slight the Leonhardt), and I have to say that after my brain got over the initial hump of "this isn't right" it goes through whenever I hear baroque on modern instruments, I was completely won over. According to this the Perahia is a recommended recording for these suites. Not surprised. And since it's the most recent one on that list it seems likely to have the highest production value also. I for one could find nothing in the presentation to distract from the elegance and beauty of the music, not quite bold in Perahia's hands but certainly more adventurous than I'd anticipated. (And with a bonus suite by Handel!)

All in all, a wonderful experience. I was glad all over again I treated myself to this six months ago.

You could sample the recording here, but may prefer to watch a complete live performance of Suite No. 3:

Part 1

Part 2

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