Sunday, December 07, 2008

RHODIUM

The world's rarest and most precious metal is, quite delightfully, named after the Greek for 'rose'. Some (often overlooked) records I admire - from all musical genres - will comprise this series, which I'd like to introduce with, in my mind, one of the great albums.

Kronos Quartet : Black Angels (1990)

when you have a group of virtuoso musicians with such a positively combined intent as exhibited on
Black Angels, the results are predictably incendiary; see, with me, the problem with classical music isn't the compositions or the style, it's the now culturally entombed structure within which it occupies and from whence new performers are produced, that conspires to betray an artistically greater super-objective

not so with Black Angels, which compiles some staggeringly morbid brooding music from a variety of composers and eras, Renaissance to contemporary - and though, at least for me, it's not something to necessarily listen through in sequence, those selected are in perfect congruence within a collection; meanwhile, the production and performances by Kronos Quartet are suitably transcendent (despite the mutterings and pedantry of a few classical traditionalists)

the opening title piece written by George Crumb simply blows away the entire careers of most so-called experimental musicians with its genuinely challenging complex layers of metaphor and meaningful allusion, full of subtlety and nuance; then this dark journey reverts to a much beloved musical period of mine, the 16th century, in the majestic form of Thomas Tallis' Spem In Alium; next up is Istvan Marta's piece Doom. A Sigh which is terrifying and disturbing and one that I have come back to for inspiration on many an occasion; after Charles Ives' They Are There!, the album ends with perhaps the better known
Quartet No. 8 by Shostakovich, an incredibly unsettling 20 minute musical tombstone dedicated to victims of Stalin (as described by the great Russian composer himself)

9 comments:

SYpHA_69 said...

I got this album a few months ago and really enjoyed it... I think it's the only Kronos Quartet album I have though. Kind of daunted by their discography... the same thing that made me hesitant to get into, say, The Residents, Nurse With Wound, or Current 93 for so many years. It never fails to aamze me how prolific so many bands are.

John McAndrew said...

Great album; Crumb's Black Angels pretty much blew me away the first time I heard it too. It's pretty impossible to not be affected by it in some way, either by its composition or by its sheer force (even though it's performed on electric instruments it's still an uncommonly loud recording for a classical CD).

I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of your album reviews. If you're planning to write one on Magma you might like to know that they've recently reissued all their studio albums in a box set along with some extra goodies to celebrate their 40 year anniversary. It's a fantastic, albeit pricey way to catch up on their recordings if you don't have them all already.

LJP said...

I've seen the Kronos Quartet live once, which was alright. Is Black Angels a recent release?

Anyways I dug out an old album by Magma -- some good jazz-fusion stuff amid some annoying prog-rock passages. Pretty much a mixed bag...

Brian Conniffe said...

to sypha: i agree with wb that "black angels" is the kronos quartet's masterpiece, other releases by them that i would highly recommend are "caravan", "nuevo" and "early music". there is something to delight in and by dazzeled by on all these collections.

SYpHA_69 said...

Brian Conniffe, thanks for the recommendations. I'll have to keep that in mind next time I go CD shopping.

Magma is another band I've been meaning to look into, but keep putting off.

John McAndrew said...

Try their Live album to start with, it's fairly common as other labels have released it cheaper and also it's an excellent introduction to their music. In fact, it might be all you need - the studio version of Köhntarkösz (which WB has recommended before) pales in comparison to the powerhouse version on this.

The Shivering Manatee said...

I think my favourite KQ is actually their versions of the Piazzolla tango stuff, which is surprisingly melancholy, and beautiful.Some of their earlier compilations were my first introduction to stoner-minimalist Terry Riley, magnificent Russian miserebalist Alfred Schnittke, Crumb, and a host of other "avant" stuff. There's a badly recorded bootleg out there of them playing backing for Tom Waits, wish they'd do a studio one...Po Tolo

Walter Peck said...

I think the Tom Waits song you are thinking of is 'Diamond in Your Mind', which was recorded live with the Kronos Quartet. I'm sure there was an official download version released for charity last year.

I remember hearing it on the radio at the time.

The Shivering Manatee said...

I've got a whole gig ;)