Bring on the gimmicks!

09 Jan

I don’t intend to make a habit of gimmick posts, but for whatever reason, as I was surveying my music collection recently, I asked myself: if I had to pick five of my albums, and only five albums, to last me through the rest of my earthly existence, which five would I pick?

In the interest of a full disclaimer: I wish I knew more and understood more about music. I can’t claim any particular expertise, other than that of an enthusiastic listener. Unfortunately, this means that I can’t explain in any satisfying way why you should like these albums; I do ask your pardon for this failure on my part.

As to my five: I’m not sure I have a final answer yet; some on this list have a firmer grip on their spot than others. But, for the sake of it, here’s the five I came up with:

1. Handel: Messiah
Taverner Choir & Players, Andrew Parrott
Confession: when I was a student at Bob Jones, the University choirs combined for a performance of Messiah. My incredibly profound evaluation: “That whole thing could have been done in fifteen minutes without all the repetition.” Since that time, I have repented.

At this point, I’m actually not sure that a person can be thoroughly Christian and not love Messiah.

I’m partial to this recording, primarily because I tend to like period performance recordings with smaller choirs.

2. Grechaninov: Passion Week
Phoenix Bach Choir, Kansas City Chorale, Charles Bruffy
I admit that some bias may well have crept into this selection: I had opportunity to attend a few performances and practices of the Phoenix Bach Choir (now The Phoenix Chorale); they are awe-inspiring. For those who read this blog who live in the Phoenix, do your soul a favor and attend one of their concerts. If you visit their website, you’ll also see that they do free, open rehearsals occasionally.

Did I mention that they are free? You have no excuses whatsoever.

This recording was Grammy-winning, if I recall correctly. The full CD booklet is available from Chandos’s website. I would love to link to a full recording of this on lala, but it is unavailable there. If you download albums anywhere, get a copy of this one; it is very, very rich.

3. J. S. Bach: Cello-Suiten
Mstislav Rostropovich
This selection was very difficult; I could quite easily fill this entire list with Bach, and be justified in doing so. However, I wanted at least some variety.

For me, the choice was between Bach’s cello suites and his sonatas and partitas for solo violin. I would hate especially to give up the Chaconne, but the cello suites were my gateway into Bach, and for that reason hold a particularly special place in my affections.

4. Psalms for the Soul
Choir of St. John’s, Elora; Noel Edison
This is a relatively newer addition to my collection, so its position here is perhaps a bit shaky. However, I find the simple Psalm-singing on this album to be very contemplative.

5. Arvo Pärt: A Tribute
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Theatre of Voices, The Pro Arte Singers, Paul Hillier
If memory serves, I was introduced to the music of composer Arvo Pärt through the blogging of dissidens; Thank you, dissidens. This album doesn’t have all of my favorite Pärt pieces, although I do love the Berliner Messe and “Which was the son of…” at great deal. It lacks his “The Beattitudes” (track 11 here), which may be my very favorite of his choral works.

What think ye? And, would anyone else like to offer their five “desert island” albums?


Posted by on January 9, 2010 in Personal, Random links


9 responses to “Bring on the gimmicks!

  1. Ryan Martin

    January 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Very nice selections. This is difficult. I would probably first appeal to the authorities to allow me ten. But, given five:

    1. Best Loved Hymns, Stephen Cleobury. I love this recording.
    2. Bach: Complete Cantatas, vol 1, Ton Koopman My favorite cantata conductor is Suzuki, but this disc, conducted by Suzuki’s own mentor, simply has many of the cantatas I love (okay, it’s three discs). :)
    3. Bach: Mass in B Minor, Suzuki I love Suzuki, and the Mass in B Minor.
    4. Handel: Messiah, by Sir J. E. Gardiner Sublime. I need Gardiner with me somehow.
    5. Beethoven: Symphonies 5 & 7, Kleiber You have to have Beethoven’s 5th and 7th.

    • Michael Riley

      January 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm

      I admit, I did expect you to choose The Complete Works of Bach as one entry; that would seem to violate the spirit of the exercise :)

      So the fact that the Beethoven disc has nos. 5 and 7 on it trumps the recordings of Vänskä (in which 5 and 7 are on different discs)?

      The B minor Mass was another that should have made my list; again, on that, I do like the Andrew Parrott recording, although I certainly get the appeal of the bigger choir.

      • Ryan Martin

        January 11, 2010 at 9:37 pm

        I enjoy Vanska very much, but Kleiber is simply fantastic. Vanska is simpler. Kleiber is majesterial.

      • Ryan Martin

        January 11, 2010 at 9:39 pm

        Oh, and the set I own of Bach is the haenssler edition, which is evidently going for much more than I paid for it.

  2. Norm Weiss

    January 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    If the assignment is to pick only five albums, the job is simple.

    Not pleasant, but simple.

    Bach Cantatas – John Eliot Gardiner
    Bach Solo Sonatas for violin – Nathan Milstein
    Bach Well-Tempered Klavier – András Schiff
    Bach Cello Suites – Mstislav Rostropovich
    Beethoven Late Quartets – Guarneri Quartet

    The first choice has to be J.S. Bach, not out of reflex or habit or stupid loyalty but because of sheer heft. No one had the gravitas, scope or inventiveness of Bach. No one even came close. If one must whittle all the music he loves down to such a pittance, Bach is the only rational, defensible choice. When Bach was not praying he was dancing, and when he was not dancing he was praying. Occasionally he did both.

    The cornerstone of all his life’s work is the cantatas. I will take any album at random, but preferably directed by JEG.

    The next three choices are solo works which have the—great, in my opinion—benefit of being not only great compositions but great compositions executed by masters performing on solo instruments: one artist playing what Bach wrote but executing it with the focus of a single mind and unconstrained artistry.

    Man is never nobler.

    Finally, the special virtues of chamber music. What better than the string quartet and who better than the Guarneri? Few things squeeze my heart like the late quartets.

  3. Scott Aniol

    January 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    OK, here are some quickies off the top of my head (oh, and as punishment for waiting so long, Michael has insisted that I cannot chose anything already chosen!):

    Simply Baroque 2 – Yo Yo Ma
    Voices of Angels – N. Harnoncourt/Leonhardt
    Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium – Chamber Choir of Europe, Matt/Halubek/Lauridsen
    The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace – Jenkins/Merryweather
    Bach – Magnificat – The Choir of Kings College Cambridge/Cleobury

  4. trulydisciples

    January 18, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    …….so I felt smart until I read your post and the encore of comments. I now feel like the dunce at the back of the class. I have missed the feeling of not knowing what anyone is talking about…but I didn’t miss it that much. Therefore, I have a question for you gentlemen: Where does a penniless dunce acquire audio of J.S. Bach, et al? Please answer so I can remove the large cone hat post haste.

    • Michael Riley

      January 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      Good question, Justin. You could probably notice that the selections from Ryan and from me are also links to the recordings that we’ve cited; the catch, of course, is that you said “penniless.”

      The best resource for penniless dunces, then, is probably The catch there is that you can listen to each album only once for free, but there is so much music there, that should last you a while.

      If you are not utterly penniless, I would recommend as a good way to build up a music collection. If you’re interested in that at all, let me know; I’ll send you an invite to the service.

      • trulydisciples

        January 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm

        Relatively penniless, not utterly so, the Lord is good. I am interested in, send the invite. I wondered about your lala comment in the post…I just thought you ran totally out of adjectives or something.

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