One day in February several years ago, William D. Drake – a distant cousin of famous folk musician Nick Drake
– released two very different albums at once. There was Yew's Paw
, a collection of strange and lovely piano music, such as the bouncy, joyful Pipistrelle
, the sometimes-misty, sometimes-urgent At the End of the Harbour Wall
. (Not to mention the aptly-named Short & Sweet Like A Donkey's Gallop
, which is 17 satisfying seconds long.) Then there was Briny Hooves
, a set of rock/folk/pop songs which are all confounding and fantastic. Wolves
is an angry elegy that's nonetheless incredibly catchy; equally catchy is Serendipity Doodah
. Ugly Fortress
is a softer, Beatlesy sort of tune, The Fountains Smoke
is a lovely folk duet, and Requiem for a Snail
is exactly what it claims to be. Perhaps its two most affecting moments are Sweet Peace
, a gently dark number that grows and grows, and Seahorse
, which is very reminiscent of Robert Wyatt's (also wonderful) Rock Bottom
. Both albums are worth a listen, and both can be streamed freely from Bandcamp—Yew's Paw
, Briny Hooves
, and Drake's more recent album The Rising of the Lights
Why I Hate the Goldberg Variations
, by Jeremy Denk, whose new (lovely) recording of the Goldberg Variations is now streaming on NPR
. Also by Denk: Hannibal Lecter's Guide to the Goldberg Variations
, which explores the famous cannibal killer through the lens of Bach. This is Your Brain on the Goldberg Variations
, which gets in-depth on just how the Variations vary.
Hilary Hahn performs Jennifer Higdon's remarkable Violin Concerto, for which Higdon won the Pulitzer Prize: 1726
, the first movement, is challenging and prickly; Chacconi
, the second, is calmer, slow and colorful; Fly Forward
, the brief and exciting finale, is worth listening to even if you're not a fan of contemporary classical music. Here, Hahn talks about having Higdon as a teacher at the age of thirteen
, and Higdon talks about writing for Hahn's individual style; after the concerto's world premiere, they recorded themselves talking to each other on what looks like a computer cam
, which is both fun as heck and a fascinating look at the relationship between composer and performer.
Giovanni Sollima is a contemporary composer and cellist whose music is at once fiercely modern and lushly romantic. Witness Daydream
: the first half is a rich, warm trio, and the second half
is a virtuosic cello solo that is, for lack of better words, punk as fuck
. His longer composition Violoncelles, Vibrez!
is a lush, pulsating piece that builds to an incredible climax. My favorite work of his, L. B. Files, is a four
that rapidly shifts styles and colors and textures – simply glorious all around.
The best classical performance you've never heard: the remarkable violinist Amandine Beyer plays the Diverse Bizzarrie Sopra La Vecchia Sarabanda Ò Pur Ciaccona
, by 17th-century composer Nicola Matteis. Here
she discusses trying to recreate Matteis's original violin technique, to understand why the Baroque composer, whose work pre-dates Johann Sebastian Bach, wrote his pieces the way he did. Previously, Beyer and her ensemble Gli Incogniti breathed life
into one of classical music's most overplayed masterpieces, Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons
"In a way I wish it did not require such a formidable technique, because I do not really enjoy sweating over this music." This is virtuoso pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin speaking of Charles-Valentin Alkan
, the Romantic pianist said to have made even Liszt nervous, and whose exhilarating works fell into obscurity due to their rigorous technical demands. For a warm-up, here's Alkan's major etude "Allegro barbaro"
, as performed by Jack Gibbons. A machine recording of his piece Le Chemin de Fer
in which you can see the keys being pressed. Recordings of Youtube exist of people attempting his near-impossible Scherzo focoso
(and, for comparison, a mechanical rendition of the same
). And for encore, here is Hamelin again playing Les Quatre Ages
, frequently considered Alkan's most mature work, a sonata depicting the four ages of man.