London-based French composer and artist Doug Thomas shares his mixtape
LISTEN HERE (opens in Spotify) or via the playlist below
I had a great time in December putting together music for my friend Honor’s wedding in Singapore. We met each other through an immersive theatre company called Punchdrunk, whose shows we have both been to multiple times – on three continents. Their current production “Sleep No More” lured us both to Shanghai last year, and she wanted some of its atmosphere to permeate her wedding, meaning a large dose of 1930s and 40s jazz. But her fiancé (now husband!) is Russian and his family were obviously coming to the wedding, and we thought it would be nice to include something with a Russian flavour as well. So this mix includes not just obvious crowd-pleasers like Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” or Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine”, but also obscurities like “Morning and Evening” by the Leoníd Utësov Jazz Orchestra or the fantastically catchy waltz “Always Together” by Mikhail Mikhailov and the Michael Ginsburg Jazz Orchestra. It’s amazing how seamlessly they fit in. There are also a few deliberate hat-tips to “Sleep No More” in there, such as “Weep No More My Baby” by Al Bowlly and the Ray Noble Orchestra, which is featured on the show’s soundtrack.
Tristan Jakob-Hoff is a composer and arranger whose work is published by Edition Peters. He is also a freelance music engraver and provides professional music services at www.opus101.org.
Composer Paul Burnell has compiled a playlist of “everything that meant something to me with a keyboard connection“. The result is an intriguing and eclectic compilation with “a lot of stuff from the 60s and 70s, including tv themes and a sprinkling of classical, contemporary”
This seemed such a great idea, and it was, indeed, great fun! It was also really hard. I don’t know about others, but my instinct was to start sifting through CDs to pick out my favourite tracks, but really, it would never be possible to do that in an hour of music (and yes, apologies…mine is an hour and nine minutes). So, the intention of my mixtape is to say something about me and the music I play, enjoy and listen to.
I guess that my first love has, and probably always will be, choral music. I was lucky enough to go to a secondary school which was very musical. We had a SATB school choir, often with over 100 members (though I think having a pass to be first in the dinner queue was perhaps more of a draw for some!). My first selection is John Joubert’s O Lorde, the Maker of Al Thing which was one of the first pieces we sang in that choir. Some might say it’s a bit of a baptism of fire, but once sung, I was hooked. This particular recording with the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, directed by Paul Spicer, is special to me as I was present at the pre-recording performance a couple of years ago.
John Rutter’s music has been much maligned over the years, often unfairly. Yes, we might argue it’s a formulaic, but my goodness, it works and it’s popular. I can’t help but feel that an awful lot of the disdain for his music comes purely from jealousy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like it all, and I wouldn’t want to listen to it all the time, but it’s played a big part in my life. His setting of All Things Bright and Beautiful was one of my early introductions to it.
I’ve included Douglas Guest’s For the Fallen as an example of what I might call exquisite choral writing. To me, this short anthem captures everything about what can be achieved with human voices in harmony.
I’m afraid to say, I’ve never had much time for music from the classical period, and I’m only just coming around to baroque, but I have always found enjoyment in early music, whether that be plainsong, or works such as Josquin’s Missa pange lingua.
I couldn’t possibly create this list without including something by Herbert Howells. Howells’ music is perhaps the music which speaks to me most closely and spiritually. I don’t think this is something we can explain, but I’m sure we’ve all come across pieces and composers like that. There is something about the harmony and rhythm of Howells’ writing which tugs at me deep inside. Even in this short extract, the Nunc Dimittis from his Collegium Regale setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, there is so much to explore and enjoy.
Gavin Bryars’ work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet was perhaps my first introduction to what then, we’d have called ‘contemporary music’. There is something quite magical in this work which makes for an almost hypnotic listening experience.
If you thought I was all about so-called ‘classical music’, you’d be wrong. I have always been interested in music for television, and in particular, ‘library music’. Keith Mansfield’s Superstar on the KPM LP Lifeforce is a fabulous example – pure 1970s. Over the years, I have collected hundreds of library LPs and CDs, all sadly being disposed of around the country as broadcasters go digital.
Then there’s pop music too…although my pop music knowledge probably ceases around 1989. Spandau Ballet’s True has always had a hold on my ears, and my only explanation is that it came out at about the exact time I was born. Spooky?!
I’ve always enjoyed musicals (apparently, we’re to call it ‘musical theatre’ now), but no surprise that I’m a fan of the musicals which no one really knows and didn’t catch on. So, I doubt anyone’s heard of The Goodbye Girl!
Of course, the precursor to musicals was operetta, and I couldn’t resist but to include some G&S. No surprises that it’s from Princess Ida which although my favourite, is not one of the popular ones! (Why not?! It’s very topical…)
Then there’s folk music too: here’s an Irish folk-song The Butcher Boy, but there are so many others I could have included. It’s perhaps the folk idiom which influences my choice of orchestral music. Here I’ve included an extract from Stanford’s Symphony No. 6 and Armstrong Gibbs’ Symphony No. 1. These, in my view are two totally underrated composers, and I guess, that’s always been part of me too…I like the things no one else has discovered!
Finally, just like Howells, I couldn’t leave this without including some Vaughan Williams, and it’s not one of the popular pieces, but instead, the first movement from his Symphony No. 6.
David Barton is a piano, flute and voice teacher, composer, mentor and writer based in Lichfield
Guest post by Adrian Ainsworth
In its February 2018 edition, Gramophone’s regular ‘Specialist’s Guide’ feature (where a writer recommends recordings sharing a particular theme, genre or style) focuses on ‘Unashamed accompanists’. This is a subject dear to my heart, and I’ve written before about the importance of the pianist in art song.
So I was pleased to see Tully Potter reference a number of contemporary accompanists in his beautifully appreciative introduction. However, all the actual recordings he chooses are, broadly speaking, ‘historical’ – ranging from Michael Raucheisen (born 1889) to spring chicken Graham Johnson, one of our justly-revered elder statemen of song, represented by a 1992 volume in his monumental survey of Schubert lieder for Hyperion Records.
I understand that Potter is a music archivist, which may explain the leaning towards older performances. As this is a knowledge gap for me, I’m looking forward to tracking his selections down. However, I can’t help but feel there’s a place for a companion piece which could point towards some more recent, excellent recordings – highlighting our current generation of accompanists and, hopefully, encouraging readers to go out and hear them live as well as buy the discs. Here’s my attempt at making this selection.
A bit of housekeeping:
I hope you enjoy the recordings.
‘Chanson Perpetuelle: French Chamber Songs’, with Katherine Broderick.
On this brilliant CD, JB is a superb match for KB’s richness, and in the Debussy I’ve included in the playlist, simply dances around the vocal part – there’s all the push and pull this song about the shore requires. The heft of the ocean and drops of the spray. In the past couple of years, JB has also featured on excellent releases from Benjamin Appl (his debut lieder CD) and Ben Johnson. I’ve also included a glorious track from the latter’s disc of English song, ‘I Heard You Singing’.
‘Rachmaninov: Songs’, with various singers – here Ekaterina Siurina.
Surely one of IB’s finest releases, this set of all Rachmaninov’s songs features young Russian singers – who are, understandably, hugely suited to the material, freshness and enthusiasm bursting out of the speakers. I’ve chosen two IB tracks for my playlist – the astonishing ‘Arion’, with the pianist negotiating a heroic series of sudden changes, twists and turns, plus a spectacular Respighi track from Rosa Feola’s debut CD.
‘Songs by Schubert (Wigmore Hall Live)’, with Ian Bostridge.
One of the most purely exciting accompanists I’ve heard – and seen live. So often, I’ve heard his elemental basslines give the most distinctive, larger-than-life singers the uplift they need to raise the roof. But the necessary restraint is always there, too. The playlist includes this CD’s hell-for-leather version of ‘Auflosung’, as well as the humorous – yet light on its feet – rendition of ‘Fischerweise’ with Matthew Polenzani, also at Wigmore Hall.
‘Percy Grainger: Folk Songs’, with Claire Booth.
Recently, CG has emerged as a strong advocate for the communicative power of English art song, with a recording of Donald Swann’s (non-Flanders) body of work for Hyperion, and this delightful CD with Claire Booth. Clearly a labour of love for both – who have apparently researched and performed Grainger’s music for years – the rapport and affinity for the material are joyously audible.
‘Nachtviolen’, with Christian Gerhaher.
It’s a tribute to GH – Gerhaher’s regular accompanist – that when the baritone received the Wigmore Medal, he remarked that if he could he would split the award in two, so he could give half of it to Huber. They have made many recordings together, but this relatively recent album captures their dynamic perfectly. Resisting any urge to over-sentimentalise, GH provides a gently rhythmic counterpart to the bruised beauty of Gerhaher’s voice.
‘Nights Not Spent Alone: Complete Works for Mezzo-Soprano by Jonathan Dove’, with Kitty Whately.
This pianist is relatively new to me, but the recordings I know find him surrounding huge voices with supreme agility and dexterity. His Schubert album with tenor Ilker Arcayurek is a superb listen but this set of contemporary compositions with Kitty Whately is a revelation, not least in the bravura performance of ‘The Siren’.
‘Neere’, with Veronique Gens.
It still feels all too rare to see women as both singer and accompanist in recital duos. Having heard Gens and Manoff live, it’s easy to project a particularly close dynamic between them, but to me, they do seem to share a special empathy. On this marvellous disc of French song, SM avoids any sense of ‘laissez-faire’, playing with a shining, wilful clarity in support of Gens’s passionate delivery.
‘Portraits’, with Dorothea Roschmann.
A pianist who seems able to play ‘in character’ as effectively as the singers he accompanies. On this stunning recital album, the version of ‘Gretchen’ – where the piano represents the movement of the spinning wheel – sees his constantly alert approach capture the distracted yet intermittently purposeful work of the lovelorn heroine. To show how astonishingly expressive MM is in French song, I’ve included a live performance of a Debussy melodie with Christiane Karg in the playlist.
‘Fleurs’, with Carolyn Sampson.
Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 2016 Young Artist Award (when he was described as a ‘born collaborator’), JM combines ceaselessly versatile musicianship with a flair for programming. This leads him to create recordings with the wide-ranging appeal of ‘albums’ – and so prolific is he that I’ve included three tracks on the playlist. My top pick represents his ongoing partnership with soprano Carolyn Sampson, their first CD (from 2015) introducing her to art song with some brio, marshalling her reliably gorgeous tone to his dazzling array of accompaniment styles. He is also the backbone of song supergroup, the Myrthen Ensemble, whose double CD ‘Songs to the Moon’ is another piece of brilliant curation. Finally, his night-themed record with Ruby Hughes, ‘Nocturnal Variations’, was one of 2016’s finest discs.
‘Schubert: Schwanengesang / Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte’, with James Gilchrist.
Another duo who seem to represent a perfect match. I was lucky enough to experience total immersion when first introduced to AT’s playing, as she jointly helmed a full weekend of Schumann and Mendelssohn that also featured Gilchrist, with a guest appearance from Carolyn Sampson. Sadly, the ‘Robert Schumann: Song Cycles’ CD that followed is not on Spotify. Luckily, their Schubert discs are: this lovely song (the final one Schubert wrote) can be over-emotional, even over-prettified – but AT approaches it with poise and precision, every note a distinct chime.
Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at http://www.adrianspecs.blogspot.co.uk
Adrian is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist
In compiling this mixtape I’ve tried to include tracks that represent both the decades of my life and musical tastes. Unfortunately Bucks Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up didn’t make the final edit although I was obsessed with this song towards the end of my first decade on this planet. My rather rebellious teenage years are best represented by Bowie’s Heroes – like all teenagers I really did think this was written just for me and my friends. My twenties coincided with the rise in ‘Britpop’ and after much deliberation I narrowed my choice down to Oasis’s Wonderwall – but the Directors’ Cut includes other greats from this era including Pulp’s Common People which narrowly lost out to the Gallagher brothers.
In my thirties I was travelling the world as part of my Corporate career, and spent many happy and insane weekends in New York – notionally for work but really to go dancing with my like-minded colleagues. Lady Gaga‘s Telephone best sums up this decade for me, or what I can remember of it.
I’ve always loved some of the great musicals. Whilst the Director’s Cut contains many of my favourite numbers, my selected track is Liza Minelli singing Cabaret – which, along with the Bernstein, will be played at my funeral.
An interest in my Jewish heritage has also led me to include some music with a Jewish theme. John William’s Schindler’s List theme needs little introduction other than to say it is the best soundtrack to a film ever. I’ve also included a classic Klezmer track which is typically haunting and uplifting at the same time, and the beautiful Shalom Aleichem which almost makes me want to light the candles and prepare a Sabbath supper.
My latest interest (or fad) is jazz and I am currently studying jazz piano: which is a totally different experience from classical piano. Thelonious Monk‘s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a great example of what I’ll never be able to do in a thousand years.
Choosing music to represent my classical (in the broadest sense of the word) taste proved near impossible. Wagner’s Liebestod missed the cut despite being the sexiest piece of music ever written (other than Tom Jones‘ Sex Bomb). Instead, I settled on music with a religious theme: Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms no.2, the Hebrew setting to The Lord is my Shepherd, contains the most beautiful countertenor aria to which I expect people to weep copiously when it is played at my funeral (and then party to Cabaret). To conclude my mixtape, the final Aria in Bach’s St Matthew Passion, “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” (Make Yourself Pure, My Heart). I’m sure there must be some way in which this sums up the entire collection but I’ll leave that to the listener to discern……
Here’s the 45 minute version:
And the Director’s Cut:
Rebecca Singerman-Knight is a piano teacher based in Teddington, SW London