The Slush Pile, or classical as descriptor, not lifestyle

Sometimes, I’m too willing to join the classical cognoscenti and consider every recording I come across in the genre as somehow inherently profound. Taste eventually interferes with that assessment, as it should.

I’m a Duran Duran fan, but that doesn’t mean I have to bow down to the achievements of Red Carpet Massacre and Astronaut. Honestly, both those albums sucked wind.

So too with the classical canon, and more so with works in the past century. Just because I like one guy’s etudes doesn’t mean I’ll like his horn concerto. And some works just downright elude me.

Such as the ones featured on these recordings.

Dmitri Shostakovich, 24 Preludes and Fugues (Konstantin Scherbakov)

Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10 (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Yoel Levi)

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I listened to Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. Maybe something as moving and rich as the string quartets? I just know they went in one ear and out the other.

I think at this point I have to accept that the only thing I need out of Shostakovich are his 15 string quartets. I could listen to my Fitzwilliam cycle from end to end, but somehow, I shut down when I try anything else from the composer.

His symphonies are quite renowned, but they don’t move me either, previously stated anti-orchestral bias not withstanding. In the third movement of Symphony No. 10, he quotes his initials — the main motif that drives his Quartet for Strings No. 8 — and it ends up being a flimsy gesture.

Maybe I just need to explore some other of his chamber works.

Györgi Ligeti, Liget Edition 7: Chamber Music

Like Anton Webern, Györgi Ligeti has an incredibly compact sense of time. The longest movement in his Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet lasts no more than 2 minutes. That’s pop-song length, perhaps even punk-song length. As such, it’s very easy to pack a 70-minute disc with 26 tracks worth of music.

I’m not sure if it does any of these pieces on Ligeti Edition 7 any favors.

None of the pieces, which also include a Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano, Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet and a Sonata for Solo Viola, really stood out. I really dug the string quartets featured on Ligeti Edition 1, and a Naxos disc of his Etudes was illuminating. I was hoping for something similar out of Ligeti Edition 7, and it turned out not to be.

What happened was the same problem I encountered when attempting to take in the complete works of Anton Webern at one time — the works bled into each other in that large of a serving. I’m sure I would have a different reaction had I been paying closer attention.

Morton Feldman, Only (San Francisco Contemporary Music Players)

Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel/For Stephan Wolpe/Christian Wolff in Cambridge (SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart)

The title work of Only is a shocking anomaly in Morton Feldman’s oeuvre for the simple inclusion of an actual melody. Aside from an atonal turn of phrase toward the end, the piece is actually hummable. The remaining works on the disc feature Feldman’s usual modus operandi — sparse textures, wordless vocals, unsettling harmonies.

Aside from the title track, nothing on Only really achieves the kind of depth as Rothko Chapel, which the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart perform wonderfully on an album that includes For Stephan Wolpe and Christian Wolff in Cambridge. A choral setting really suites Feldman’s disturbing harmonies, which can get sometimes lost in his thin instrumentation. The CD is out of print, but the album is available online.