Beethoven Symphony No.5: Music Appreciation Records (Thomas Scherman/Norman del Mar)
The iPod of the mind, like the sense of smell, is a powerful vehicle! Much as a whiff of Brut aftershave sends me back to the hallways of Jarvis Collegiate, the thought of the Music Appreciation Orchestra, back-up band for Thomas Scherman’s analysis of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, sends me back to the third-floor sloped-ceilinged bedroom of my childhood. I am sure that many older members of the Tafelmusik family share this nostalgia with me, since the disc (brown label on side 1, the narrated analysis; blue label on side 2, the performance of the whole work with Norman del Mar conducting the London Symphony) was an offering of the Book of the Month Club which introduced our young parents to Hemingway, Harper Lee, and the accessible analysis of classical music.
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, last movement (Gustav Leonhardt, director)
In the early 70s, the old portable record player which had been the best present ever in childhood was upgraded with the first cheque I earned working as a summer student in the office of the Provincial Auditor. My purchases for the new Sony turntable included LPs of James Taylor and Nicolaus Harnoncourt. A new piano and music history major at UofT, I hadn’t yet been introduced to period performance by Timothy McGee and Peggie Sampson, and the recording of the Brandenburg Concertos by Concentus Musicus was a complete revelation. Five years later Gustav Leonhardt’s groundbreaking performances of these pieces replaced the earlier version in my heart, and I must have listened to the Fourth Brandenburg a thousand times. The last movement of this piece is still my favourite piece of music. Whenever I hear its G-major life-affirming exuberance bursting out of the contrapuntal virtuosity I think how unbelievably lucky I’ve been to get to play baroque music with Jeanne and all of my amazing Tafelmusik colleagues, and to share the bassline of this piece with Christina Mahler and Charlotte Nediger, whose talents suit this music to perfection.
Monterverdi Vespers of 1610: Duo Seraphim (The King’s Consort, directed by Robert King, with Charles Daniels and Peter Harvey)
The recordings of Thomas Binkley and the Early Music Quartet filled my apartment with glorious tracks of music by Machaut, Dufay, Wolkenstein, and Senfl during my early days with the Toronto Consort. In late 1979, trying to attract the attention of my new Consort colleague [now husband], David Fallis, I played him the latest Nigel Rogers recording of Duo Seraphim from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers. This later became a beloved part of the Consort’s repertoire, most thrillingly with Charles Daniels as a guest. Charles’s wild and ecstatic singing in the Gloria in that piece remains one of the most thrilling and hair-raising musical experiences of my life! But Duo Seraphim is still the sentimental favourite.
Bach Passacaglia & Fugue in C Minor (Ton Koopman)
The Sony turntable gave way to the Sony CD player and the exciting new “Walkman” that we were all given by Sony in celebration of a German award that Tafelmusik had won for one of its recordings. As we began to tour more and more, the Walkman became a boon companion, and one of my favourite tracks was a performance of the great C-minor Passacaglia and Fugue for organ by Bach, played by Ton Koopman. I would have loved to have attended the two-hour recital which Bach gave on the newly-built organ of the Frauenkirche in Dresden in November 1736. He had just been appointed court composer to the Royal Chapel and wanted to show his appreciation — I’ll bet he pulled out all the stops! There’s no full-body experience quite like hearing a huge baroque organ played as loudly as possible. Bach was described as a wildly virtuosic player, and Ton Koopman comes closest to what I imagine Bach might have been like as an improvisor and performer.
Song of the Day: Gracias a la Vida by the Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra expresses in words the feeling I get listening to the last movement of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto. I especially love it when she thanks Life for her ears, and for the alphabet, and for “laughter and longing — with them I distinguish happiness and pain, the two materials from which my songs are formed.” That sums up what goes straight to my heart in the music of Purcell, Bach, and Mozart — the ability to express pain and joy within a few bars of music. Now I have a real iPod as well as my mental one, and on it is my favourite version of Gracias a la Vida, sung by the amazing Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa.