Classical and contemporary music reviews

Contemporary: TERRY RILEY | Music for The Gift (Organ of Corti 1) Classical: VAN IMMERSEEL, BETHS & BYLSMA | Beethoven Piano Trios (Sony Vivarte) Classical: SWISS-ITALIAN RADIO CHORUS & ORCHESTRA | Cherubini - Requiem (Naxos)
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The idea of minimalist composer Riley working with cool jazz trumpeter Chet Baker on the soundtrack for a Paris happening sounds like fiction - but it's all true, and this is the evidence. "Music for The Gift" was recorded at Radio France in 1963, with Riley manipulating two tape decks to vary the speed, bouncing tracks from one machine to another to create a kind of pre-digital sampling effect. The music of Baker and his quartet is progressively distressed until it begins to assume the character of both an Indian raga and the deep trance one might well hear at a club today. "Bird of Paradise" (1965) is even more incredible: what could be snatches of Jr Walker's "Shotgun" are cut up to become a curious forerunner of the hardest of hip-hop. Then it gets really weird. "Mescalin Mix", inspired by John Cage and drugs, and "Concert for Two Pianos and Five Tape Recorders", complete the album, whose sleeve folds out to form a print by the artist Bruce Connor. Amazing as it all is, an album such as this has to com

The idea of minimalist composer Riley working with cool jazz trumpeter Chet Baker on the soundtrack for a Paris happening sounds like fiction - but it's all true, and this is the evidence. "Music for The Gift" was recorded at Radio France in 1963, with Riley manipulating two tape decks to vary the speed, bouncing tracks from one machine to another to create a kind of pre-digital sampling effect. The music of Baker and his quartet is progressively distressed until it begins to assume the character of both an Indian raga and the deep trance one might well hear at a club today. "Bird of Paradise" (1965) is even more incredible: what could be snatches of Jr Walker's "Shotgun" are cut up to become a curious forerunner of the hardest of hip-hop. Then it gets really weird. "Mescalin Mix", inspired by John Cage and drugs, and "Concert for Two Pianos and Five Tape Recorders", complete the album, whose sleeve folds out to form a print by the artist Bruce Connor. Amazing as it all is, an album such as this has to come with a cautionary disclaimer: it's not easy listening. You're unlikely to play it as ear-candy - or even play it very much at all, once the shock effect has subsided. But this is the pre-history of a present we have yet to come to terms with. The distributor is Harmonia Mundi. PJ

VAN IMMERSEEL, BETHS & BYLSMA | Beethoven Piano Trios (Sony Vivarte)

Although a number of listeners prefer their Beethoven symphonies on period instruments, few would make the same choice for chamber works. Certain characteristics of the instruments are more obvious in this medium - especially the difficulty of sounding expressive without appearing to try very hard. Here, a sacrifice of agility is apparent: attempts to infuse excitement sound wanton, and rapid runs risk gracelessness. But if these limitations can be overlooked, there is much to enjoy, even if the fortepiano at the beginning of the 'Archduke' Trio's slow movement sounds a little as if played from the bottom of a fish tank. Christopher Wood

SWISS-ITALIAN RADIO CHORUS & ORCHESTRA | Cherubini - Requiem (Naxos)

Cherubini's supporters counter the indifference with which he is regarded by pointing out that Beethoven claimed to prefer the requiem on this disc to Mozart's. Few would agree, but Cherubini's two requiems are certainly among his most lasting memorials. The earlier one is coupled here with his Marche funÿbre, which kicks off dramatically with blows on the gong and timpani. The choir's diction sometimes gets a little swamped by the cathedral acoustic, but otherwise there are fine performances all round, poised and tranquil in the requiem's Introitus, building to a furious Dies irae, and subsiding to a serene conclusion. CW

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