Quarterly Review Deputy Editor
Here are ten musical items in search of a desert island – hopefully, an island with WiFi! In no particular order…
Les Préludes, Franz Liszt
Music from this stirring and bombastic symphonic poem was reportedly chosen by Hitler for his anticipated triumphal entry into Moscow. See/listen to the performance conducted by Valery Gergiev at an outdoor concert given in Vienna in 2011. In the video there are several shots of the Vienna Opera House which the Führer frequented as a callow youth and swirling cloud sequences reminiscent of the opening of Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious film Triumph of the Will.
Parsifal, Richard Wagner
A film by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg of Richard Wagner’s transcendent opera. But we await with impatience a recording of the Met’s production broadcast recently by Radio 3 and conducted by Daniel Gatti, with Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal – éblouissant.
Oedipus Rex, Stravinsky
With a text by Jean Cocteau based on Sophocles’ drama and translated into Latin by Jean Daniélou. This performance was conducted by Seiji Ozawa in 1993 at the Saito Kinen Festival, Matsumoto, Japan, with the Saito Kinen Orchestra. It features Jessye Norman as Jocasta and Ian Langridge as Oedipus. Something of an acquired taste perhaps, given that the libretto is in Latin and the narration is in Japanese! Visually and aurally, this is a stunningly effective mélange of kabuki and classical opera. In the opening sequence, Oedipus is seen dangling from a rope like a fish on a hook. The narrator observes that even before his birth the Gods had set a trap for him.
The Dream of Gerontius, Edward Elgar
In 1958, Sir John Barbirolli conducted a performance of Part 1 for Pope Pius X11 at Castel Gandolfo. The Pope reportedly told him, “My son, that is a sublime masterpiece”. He was right.
CD, EMI classics with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, with Richard Lewis (tenor) as Gerontius, Dame Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano) as The Angel, and Kim Borg (bass) as The Angel of the Agony. CZS 5 73579 2
Symphony in C, George Bizet
This is a scintillating piece of music and an extraordinary achievement, given that Bizet was only 17 (a student at the Paris Conservatoire) when he composed it. The work was never performed during his lifetime.
Moscow TV orchestra conducted by Pavel Sorokin
Island of Lost Souls, Blondie
With lyrics by Chris Stein and Deborah Harry and a characteristically compelling vocal performance by Debbie. A goodly sound, as the late unlamented Jimmy Savile used to say.
Verse 1 –
On the boulevard of broken dreams
My will power at the lowest ebb
Oh what can I do?
Can ya help me put my truck in gear?
Can ya take me far away from here?
Save my soul from sin?
All Together Now, The Farm
From the album Spartacus (1991). This is a brilliant production sound. The album title indicates the group’s somewhat passé left-wing politics. Ditto the song’s poignant anti-war lyric. Verse one and the chorus reference the so-called Christmas truce in 1914 when German and British soldiers on the Western front exchanged presents in “no man’s land”. Verse four is presumably a critical comment about the Falklands War (a just war if ever there was one, in this writer’s judgement).
Verse 1 –
Remember boy that your forefathers died
Lost in millions for a country’s pride
But they never mention the trenches of Belgium
When they stopped fighting and they were one
All together now
All together now
All together now
In no man’s land, together
Verse 4 –
The same old story again
All those tears shed in vain
Nothing learned and nothing gained
Only hope remains
I have personal reasons for choosing this particular item. My maternal grandfather Horace Simmons fought in the Great War. He was gassed and he lost four of his brothers, one of whom was underage. He never spoke about his wartime experiences.
Marietta’s Lute Song, Erich Wolfgang Korngold
From his opera Die tote Stadt. Erich Korngold was the second son of the Viennese music critic Julius Korngold. Fellow music critic Michael White recalls how after a seemingly successful piano recital, Erich’s father complained that he had played too slowly but his mother complained that he had played too fast! Such was the weight of expectations placed upon this child prodigy so much admired by Mahler and who subsequently composed film scores for Hollywood.
The evergreen Elizabeth Schwarzkopf performs Glück, das mir verblieb at –
Ace of Spades, Motorhead
I only ever met Motörhead’s inimitable lead singer Lemmy once. He was throwing up into a rubbish bin outside a pub. This track should be savoured at several decibels beyond the threshold of human endurance. No sleep ‘til Hammersmith, to quote the title of their first live album.
Nacht und Träume, Franz Schubert
An exquisitely plangent Lied. The memorable last two lines of the song translate as
Return, holy night!
Fair dreams, return!
One of the finest recent performances was by Waltraud Meier (soprano). For some reason this is no longer available on the web. This version by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) and Gerald Moore (piano) is one of many other recordings.