A classical music blog by music critic Tim Mangan
Most amusing and effective.
classical music, music videos
scherzo, Shostakovich, symphony
June 20, 2017
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Gotta say, I kinds love it.
Most effective, indeed. Roll over Jimmy Page. I would pay to hear more interpretations of the canon like this. 🙂
It is a very impressive achievement technically, but I don’t think it adds anything new to the content and power of the original – when it is performed well of course.
Even better, string quartet 8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8NJGezMicI. Move over, Michael Schenker.
One must assume that MarK is also the sort who would *never* own recordings of piano transcriptions of Mahler or Bruckner symphonies or Brahms string quartets because, you know, they ‘add nothing new.’ One would respond that alternative instrumentation can in itself shed fresh light on beloved classics (which, as most concert goers can attest, become *stale* after constant repetition). Enjoy Shosty 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3sakWWUin8
If one changes never to rarely, one’s assumption would be closer to the truth.
Of course any change in instrumentation produces change in the musical result, but such change does not necessarily enhance the piece and may even reduce its quality significantly. For example, out of these three Shostakovich arrangements, the one of the string quartet episode loses the least in terms of its impact (most likely, simply because of the minimal number of instruments that are being replaced), though symphonic movements are certainly more impressive due to the required greater technical virtuosity, the finale of the Fifth being probably somewhat more accomplished and successful of the two. Besides all the huge cariety of colors and timbres, flexibility of tempos, dynamic range, individual expressiveness, what is lost in these renditions – particularly symphonic – is the humanity of the music that is reduced here to a very mechanical kind of interpretation. That may be why his cover of Saint-Saens’ Dance Bacchanale that is also on YouTube seems more interesting to me because that music is not supposed to sound human at all but is meant to depict something that is closer to the exact opposite of anything humane.
Even within classical realm, some instrumentational changes work much better than others. We know that Bach is almost indestructible, but music of the last two centuries is much more fragile in that respect. When the violin part of Franck’s Sonata is played by a fine cellist, it can sound at least as good if not better than the original. When it is played by a bassist, it doesn’t really add anything to a cello version but it does lose some of the qualities that are possible on a cello or a violin. When it is played by a flutist, it certainly sounds very different, but it loses so much of the expressive range which is absolutely the essence of the piece that it does not make any musical sense.
Cariety? Don’t ask! Please read: variety.
Would you say that the two-piano version of “The Rite of Spring” is successful, MarK? To my ears it very much is, but I think I imagine the sound of the orchestra when I hear it on two pianos.
Of course you do. This question is hard for me to answer because Le Sacre is among my top ten all-time favorite orchestral pieces, so my judgement of its versions is even more subjective than usual. A number of years ago I heard it performed by two pianists, but they were not first rate and so it did not sound satisfactory to me. However, I can imagine that if played by a couple of great musicians I might find it interesting enough to enjoy it for what it is. Obviously, it can never be an adequate substitute for, or be equal to, a really good orchestral performance of the piece.
I like the two-piano version in it’s ability to re-create and/or mimic many of the orchestral versions effects. If that were the only version or if I’d never had heard the orchestral version, would I like it more or less? I’m not 100% sure, but probably less since some of my favorite moments involve the contrasting timbres inherent in the orchestral version (timpani vs. horns vs. trumpets vs. strings in Part I #5, the jumble at the finale of Part I, the alto flute vs. the English horn vs. the pizzicato strings in the penultimate section of Part II). Those are just hard to recreate on pianos, even with the best pianists.
Along similar lines, what do both of you think of the jazz trio version by The Bad Plus? It’s impressive in it’s own way (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4esVHviM-M0), and despite sticking surprisingly close to the original, they manage to add just enough jazz sensibility to make it interesting. That said, a big part of me wishes they would have found more places to do some jazz improvisation rather than just the splashy part at the end.
An ambitious undertaking, but for me it falls short of success in almost all of the episodes. Hard to tell how this would be for someone who has never heard the original, but for those of us who know and love the piece, comparisons are inevitable and they are frustrating. Most of the notes are given to the pianist and he certainly works hard but it doesn’t sound colorful enough for me. The bass seems underutilized: it would have been nice to hear bowed passages once in a while. The drum set on the other hand is often superfluous; it does add some power to the arrangement but in too many instances it sounds simplistic and kind of cheap. Dynamic range is inadequate. The last 30″ or so are cute: it is great to see the guys suddenly free of their respectful obligation to the original. But the fun is very brief and ends much too soon.
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