Wind (Dead Oceans)
Explorers Club could not exist without the Beach Boysí resonant
catalog. Sidestepping the gently experimental era of Pet
Sounds and its brief aftermath, the Explorers Club revel
in the earlier Beach Boys Today and the later Carl
& the Passions: So Tough. The latter in particular
found Brianís two younger brothers stepping to the fore, having
learned under his leadership. Maligned at the time, the album
even contained a few songs that didnít have the familiar Beach
Boys sound, especially when new members Ricky Fataar and Blondie
Chaplin took the spotlight with their own songs.
In the í90s, the High Llamas celebrated the Beach Boysí work
from theí70s, though they used it as a starting point. Explorers
Club have built themselves a much smaller yard. Their sound
is indeed glorious, as thoughtful arrangements underscore
layered voices. The songs ape Wilsonian motifs, in the way
that Neil Innes did with the Beatles for his Rutles songs.
They roll by dreamily, sounding so familiar that they donít
come into clear focus as their own compositions. Additionally,
the lyrics adhere to simplistic boy-girl issues that are decidedly
dated in a way that the music isnít. But perhaps the band
make their objectives clear right on the cover, with its homage
to the Beach Boysí All Summer Long, complete with an
LP coverís telltale ringwear. Explorers Club are planting
this album in the past, though there is plenty about it that
deserves to be blooming right now.
Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor (CSO-Resound)
Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, conductor
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor (LSO Live)
Itís long been an economic truth that orchestras are too costly
for the major labels to record. Classical CD sales have tanked
low enough to drag down many a brick-and-mortar retailer,
and new formats and technology have cast their shadows.
And itís taken the classical world longer than the rest to
figure out how to use new technologies. Orchestras are more
and more capturing their own performances and offering those
recordings online and in their concert halls, and the more
significant such releases are showing up as old-fashioned,
jewel-cased CDs with cover art and liner notes.
Two recent ones feature Mahlerís Sixth Symphony. The
Chicago Symphony and the London Symphony both have their own
CD labels, and both of these new recordings are drawn from
live performances last fallóin the London Symphonyís case,
as part of a complete Mahler symphonies cycle conducted by
Valery Gergiev to great acclaim.
Bernard Haitink has three earlier recordings of this symphony
in the catalogue (with three different orchestras). While
none compares to the sonic brilliance of the CSO version,
this one presents itself as the lengthiest. In fact, at 91
minutes, itís one of the lengthiest of them all, suggesting
that Haitink, like Bernstein before him, is putting the brakes
on the brio of his earlier interpretations.
But he has a brilliant orchestra with which to explore this
more subdued approach. Certainly itís not stinting in emotional
intensity, at least not in a cumulative sense. Buildups are
slow and not given to untoward outburst.
Adhering to the composerís initial wish, Haitink places the
symphonyís Scherzo in the second-movement slot, which gives
it the function of offering wry commentary on the relentless
seriousness of the opening movement. The ensuing Andante,
with a four-note rising-and-falling motif at its heart, is
a stretch of relative calm before the Finale comes crashing
in: tuneful, bold, but with more gloomy clouding its triumph.
The CSOís brass section is rightly celebrated, and shows itself
in this recording not only as a terrific source of virtuoso
color but also as risk-takers, going after those notes with
what almost seems like recklessnessówhich, in the context
of Haitinkís careful control, contrasts excitingly.
Gergiev is a more of a china-shop bull. His single-CD sixth
(it runs 78 minutes) cries out at overwrought moments where
Haitinkís throbs throughout. Again, the orchestral forces
are accomplished enough to devote the needed attention to
interpretive matters, although some passages for the high
strings falter. Under Gergievís urging, the opening movement
takes off at a run, prompting some critical drubbings from
the easily offended. But the turbulence of the opening is
effective in an episodic manner: you donít have to ride to
the journeyís end to get some thrills.
Following Mahlerís second thoughts, the Andante is placed
second, a more usual custom that binds the martial scherzo
to the finale. And that finale shows Gergiev at his best,
with the thunder and lightning propelling this nearly half-hour-long
movement to a finish rendered all the more depressively exhilarating
by the turbulent journey.
The worst of classical-music criticism comes when pieces and
performances are thrown into hierarchical rankings. Thatís
a too-easy approach to organizing oneís own thoughts on this
most subjective of arts. Over time Iíll find a Mahler Sixth
recording to which Iíll return most often, but for now Iím
fascinated by the contrasts between these two, both of which
reflect the intelligent thoughts of justifiably renowned interpreters.
Haitinkís cover art is a painting in shades of deep blue painting
titled Fate and Freud, to one side of which lurks an
anguished human face. Gergievís cover is a deep red illuminated
by vivid sparksóeach an appropriate metaphor to the flavor
of the recording within.