I came across a discussion on Google Groups' rec.music.classical about my best-of-the-year list. Several people were complaining that I had given insufficient data about the Tallis Scholars CD at #10. This has now been corrected. Also, one member of the group, not named ACD, attacked the CD itself, saying that it indulged in cheap marketing gimmicks by lumping together various Spanish and Portuguese works under the title Requiem. To me, it seems thoroughly far-fetched to accuse the Tallis Scholars of vulgarity. The dominant element on the cover is not the word Requiem but a detail of El Greco's Burial of Count Orgaz. The titles are listed clearly on the back. The whole presentation is tasteful and compelling. The two-CD set is a reissue of familiar recordings, but bringing together requiem masses of Victoria, Lôbo, and Cardoso makes for a hugely satisfying narrative. Peter Phillips, leader of the Scholars, explains the logic in his notes, saying that Victoria's six-voice Requiem of 1603 directly inspired Portuguese composers of the early seventeenth century: "Both the Cardoso and the Lôbo apparently begin as carbon copies of the Victoria, the music expanding from the plainchant 'requiem aeternam' as it were from a single point with infinite spaciousness. In fact the musical language of these Portuguese writers is not entirely derivative. The Cardoso in particular stakes out its own harmonic territory in that first phrase, making towards an augmented chord which suggests a date of composition well after Victoria's time." Such as 1925. It's thrilling to hear Cardoso's opening side by side with Victoria's; you can sense musical history churning forward, one composer respectfully trumping another. The intelligence of the presentation, together with the power of the music itself, overcame my natural reluctance to put a reissue on the list.
Odds & ends: Jens Laurson of ionarts sent along an MP3 of Chopin's Scherzo in B Minor as performed by Miss Gulf Coast. The audio file can be heard at the Standing Room. It's an astounding document. Also, note that the Golijov Ayre is ranking fairly high on Sasha Frère-Jønes's own best-of list. Did DG make enough of an effort to get this disc into the hands of non-classical critics? Anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Alex Balk, a man of upstanding morals who has no particular axe to grind except when foolish chickens stretch their necks, analyzes Mickey Kaus's amazingly pre-adult commentary on Brokeback Mountain. Finally, read this massively intelligent post by Alex Wellsung. It's a response to Greg Sandow's online book. I don't agree with much of it (yawn on the pop-classical wargames), but I sign off on the following: "During the past 3-4 decades the U.S. has witnessed: the full maturation of an instant gratification mass media based on ever more efficient technology to deliver it; the emergence of new corporate structures in the form of multinational media conglomerates able to saturate the market more effectively; a wave of anti-intellectualism from the right combined with a wave of antagonism towards the western tradition from the left [my it.]; a rather sudden retreat of the classical tradition into its avant garde and academic wings; and the drastic lowering of the median age to which mainstream culture directs itself. Against these sweeping changes, is it really more plausible to think classical music somehow just got exponentially more boring?"
Douglas Wolk no less intelligently responds to Alex's neocon swipes at pop: "If a rock musician is monomaniacally devoted to craft, does that mean he or she doesn't count, somehow? Is the idea that all popular music ought to be totally spontaneous, proceeding from 'talent' that doesn't take any effort to hone, and not from, say, artists working incredibly hard to make something that's meaningful and powerful, even if it comes off as effortless? (Do you think U2 just kind of show up at the recording studio every couple of years, grab some instruments, flick on their innate star quality for a couple of hours, and then go home to count their money?).... People's aesthetics come from all sorts of places, but bad faith is not generally one of them — especially among people who actively seek out music in performance. Tu quoque at best. One thing I often find odd in conversations like Sandow and Baker's is discussions of how the 'classical tradition' (equated with, inevitably, all of its institutions) can, or should, be saved — the tone is generally one of trying to preserve the Library of Alexandria from Visigoths, or woodworm, or something. Baker, very smartly, suggests considering it a 'tradition in flux.' But painting people who admire music outside of that tradition and those institutions as Visigoths and woodworm might have something to do with their antagonism, or (more likely, and more to the point) their indifference [my it]." We go round and round.
Obviously, my book-cutting sabbatical is going splendidly.