This collection has been nominated for Best Engineered Album, Classical (yes, the academy kept their engineering awards in the recent category clean-out). So, technically, we should be looking into Richard King, the engineer on this one. Considering this one isn't on Spotify, I'm not sure if I'll be finding the right mixes of the songs that appeared on the album itself. We'll do our best though, eh? There's lots and lots of pieces that go into making an album like this, so I'll include some brief info on each.
Some background, first, on the engineer we're technically looking at here. Richard King has been working in the industry for quite some time. He spent 15 years working for Sony in New York. He's taught at McGill University in Sound Recording Area in the Music Research Department (side note - there's a department for that?? I may need to do some research and find a new job...), and also continues freelance work for Sony Masterworks on the side. His credits are extensive, and venture highly into film scoring as well.
And there is what he looks like, hard at work, slaving over a hot board. Seriously, there's so many toys on the board. It's gorgeous.
Now, the composer being used here is Alexander Glazunov. A Russian, his work is considered to be a part of the Russian Romantic period (don't worry, I didn't know that existed either). He was alive from 1865 through 1936. He was acclaimed for being a child prodigy of piano, and for having an incredible memory. Supposedly, yes, that is him on the cover of the album
Finally, we need to include the Russian National Orchestra. They premiered in Moscow in 1990, and have recorded over 75 full albums, from tributes to entire plays and ballets. They won the Grammy in 2004 for Peter and the Big Bad Wolf. The work we are looking at today was conducted by Jose Serebrier.
I believe we are ready to begin with our first piece, "Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 82," which features Rachel Barton Pine as the violinist, written in 1904 in Russia. It's most definitely a strings-heavy piece, with that soloist being featured almost the entire time. It moves quickly and doesn't give us much musical relief throughout. Even in the more somber moments, we're not relaxed or lulled, we're intent. For 13 minutes.
"Chant du menestrel for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 71" written in 1900 and performed by Wenn-Sinn Yang, is much shorter and much more somber. The flutes provide this nice complement that lift it up a bit, yet it remains a piece of tears. The cello is a beautiful instrument, which is something I honestly hadn't realized very much until hearing this.
We are finally given a piano piece with "Concerto for Piano no 2 in B major, Op. 100" written in 1917 in the USSR and performed by Alexander Romanovsky. This is really, though, not a piano piece in the classic sense. It is covered by a piano, but that instrument leads the rest in this gorgeous building of different emotions. While everything's kind of everywhere, there's an intensity that you just feel within while listening.
I had to do a double take, because I've never seen this instrument featured, but the next track, written in 1934 in the USSR, and performed by Marc Chisson, is indeed "Concerto for Alto Saxophone in E flat major, Op. 109." This is not a thought-of symphonic instrument in the least bit, and if I wasn't sitting here watching a girl play, I would have thought something even closer to being a clarinet. Really, and nice use of the instrument, even if there is a little something lacking and typical in the background orchestral arrangement.
"Concerto for Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 92" featuring Alexander Romanovsky again, written 1910-1911 in Russia, is next. I have to say, this one's got just a little too much cartoon-quality to it, and for the first time I really wish I could find the actual engineered version that's been nominated for the Grammy. The sound is horrible here, and I think it's because of the recording itself. The music, though, is not as lovely as we've been getting, and not as good as to make it enjoyable.
We get our first of only of these in "Reverie for Horn and Piano, Op. 24" featuring Alexey Serov on French Horn. This was written in Russia in 1890. I think this is pretty and unique, and nothing I would expect to be hearing on a normal night at the symphony (which would be a very non-normal night to being with though). Here's a video following the sheet music though, that I think it just an interesting way to listen to something in general.
Finally, we have "Meditation for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 32," which Rachel Barton Pine comes back on to finish us out. It most definitely lives up to the name, remaining very solemn and steady throughout. Again, I presented with a less-than-fantastic recording, but hearing the piano and violin accompany one another still creates a sweet dance between the two.
- "Chant du menestrel for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 71" - YouTube
- "Concerto for Piano no 2 in B major, Op. 100" - YouTube
- "Reverie for Horn and Piano, Op. 24" - YouTube
I get the romantic connotation of the era completely now, as there was clearly more passion behind this music than you would have expected. The pieces are more modern than the normal classical ones we're used to hearing, and they provide emotion and movement unlike most symphonic tracks that have withstood the test of time. There is certainly a place here, and it seems to me that Richard King signed himself on to a fantastic project here.