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Some Forthcoming Classical Box Sets, October 2015

It’s that time again. The classical record labels are starting to release big box sets, and great prices. There’s a lot coming out this year; here are some that stand out for me.

Gould boxGlenn Gould Remastered: The Complete Columbia Album Collection (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is an update of the Complete Original Jacket Collection released in 2007. With new remastering (which makes me ask why they didn’t remaster the 2007 releases), and a larger box with a hardcover book, this is an essential set. I have the older set, but I’ll be buying this one. $200 is not much to pay for all of Glenn Gould’s recordings. If you only want his Bach, then The Complete Bach Collection is still available for less than $100 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), but I don’t think the recordings were remastered when that box was released.

StravinskyIgor Stravinsky – The Complete Columbia Album Collection (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) contains 57 discs of the recordings Stravinsky made for Columbia. It includes the mono recordings from the 1940s and 1950s, as well as the later stereo recordings. At $220, it’s still a decent price. If you’re a real Stravinsky fan, you may also want DG’s Stravinsky Complete Edition (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which, at $192 for 30 discs, seems a bit steep in comparison.

ArgerichDG has also released Martha Argerich’s Complete Recordings On Deutsche Grammophon (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), a 48-disc set at $150. I’m not a fan, and you may already have bought some smaller DG sets of her works released in recent years, so I don’t know if this has anyhting unique compared to the others.

HorowitzVladimir Horowitz in Recital – The Complete Columbia and RCA Live Recordings 1965-1983 is a 49-disc set from Sony (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). At $180, it’s a decent price for recordings that have been hard to find. It contains 25 recitals recorded at 14 different concert halls, between 1966-68 and 1975-83.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy any more box sets for a while, but I think I will give myself a pass on the Gould, since he’s one of my favorite pianists. Also, there’s a rumor that there’s a forthcoming 114-disc set of Alfred Brendel’s recordings for the Universal labels (Decca and Philips). I haven’t seen an official announcement, but that’s one box set I’d buy. I’d also buy a complete DG recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. But no more box sets…

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Glenn Gould’s Complete Recordings Are on Apple Music, But How Do You Listen to Them?

I was surprised, and pleased, to see that the new box set of Glenn Gould’s complete recordings is not only available by download, as a massive digital box set for $200, but also on Apple Music.

Glenn gould complete

I’ve written about the problems using Apple Music to listen to classical music, and this box set highlights one of the most serious problems listening to classical music, which is often available in box sets, containing from a half-dozen to 100 CDs (this one has 81 discs).

This set includes 960 tracks, and, while you can see in the iTunes Store screenshot above that individual works are organized using iTunes’ Grouping tag (you can see the disclosure triangle next to Goldberg Variations, which is the name of the grouping for the 32 tracks that follow), there’s no such organization on Apple Music.

Glenn gould apple music

There is no use of the Grouping tag, so all you have is, as the iTunes Status bar shows, 960 “songs” and 2.4 days of music. You could listen to it all in order – and you might want to do that – but that’s certainly not the ideal way to discover Gould’s recordings.

The iTunes Store uses the Grouping tag which is an excellent way to approach such a large set. However, it’s not the best way. If you buy the set, you’ll also have disc numbers, which allow you to separate each album as it was issued, but that will take a bit of work. With Apple Music, you have neither work nor disc separations.

However, this set displays in yet a third way if you add it to your My Music library in iTunes (but not on an iOS device). When you view it in your iTunes library, you can see each disc clearly marked:

Gould itunes

This is much better than trying to play it from the New section of Apple Music. But if you want to play it on an iOS device, you’ll see this:

Gould iosIsn’t it tempting to just tap the Shuffle button?

It’s great that a set like this is available digitally, both for download (it’s a lot easier than ripping 81 CDs), and for streaming. However, both Apple and other streaming services need to think of a better way to offer these sets for streaming.

Of course, if you do want to buy the set – and I’d recommend it to any classical music listener; Gould’s output is among the best on record, especially his Bach – but it on CD. It’s only $200 for the set, which includes a fancy book (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). (It’s out next week in the UK, and in October in the US.)

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What does Apple have in store for Windows users?

It’s that time again. Apple has sent out invitations to its September 9 new product event, and tech journalists are reading the tea leaves, checking the colors and tagline of the invitation for clues as to what’s coming. Apple is messing with us this time, suggesting we ask Siri for some hints, but Siri is just being a tease.

We know that we’ll see a new iPhone, most likely called the 6s and the 6s Plus (or the 6 Plus s?). There may be new colors, and there may or may not be a 4-inch model of the iPhone. (Personally, I hope so.) iOS 9 will be released at the same time as the new iPhone. A new Apple TV is rumored to be announced, and to ship in October. And perhaps we’ll see other hardware, or updates to existing Apple software.

But one detail piqued my interest: Apple will be streaming this event to Windows 10 users.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

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Hey, grown-ups: put down the colouring pens! | spiked

The adult colouring-book industry is a spin-off of the marketisation of wellbeing and mindfulness. In an era when therapy culture dominates the Western imagination, the transformation of the childish hobby of colouring-in into a worthy adult pursuit has been made possible by its association with some mental-health benefits. In a world where ‘mindfulness’ is successfully marketed as a panacea for the existential problems of humanity, it isn’t surprising that colouring books are sold as a remedy for stress.

I find this whole fad interesting. These coloring books seem to have sprung up from nowhere to become best-sellers, one hitting more than a half-million sales. As the sub-head to the article says:

Adult colouring-books speak to the infantilisation of the West.

Apparently these books are marketed as therapy:

The reason adult colouring-books have become bestsellers is that they resonate with the zeitgeist, which communicates the idea that we live in a uniquely stressed-out, anxious world. The popularisation of the idea of wellbeing is itself culturally significant. The perception that wellbeing is something that needs to be achieved through therapy promotes the impression that it is not the norm.

And this statement resonates with something I’ve been noticing a lot recently:

At a time when Western culture distracts adults from taking themselves and their responsibilities seriously, the invitation to grown-ups to return to the sandpit reinforces the trend for infantilising everyday life.

Look at the most popular movies these days: comic book superheroes and Star Wars (well, that one isn’t out yet, but the fervor around it astonishes me).

Source: Hey, grown-ups: put down the colouring pens! | spiked

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CD Review András Schiff Plays Schubert on an 1820 Fortepiano

Schiff schubertFrom time to time, I get a bit tired of listening to music. I have a huge music collection, and, every now and then, I get music overload; I simply don’t want to listen to much music, except as background, as a soundtrack to my working days and leisure hours.

But when that happens, one album, one recording invariably snaps me out of that lethargic state. In this case, András Schiff’s recent recording of Schubert piano works on ECM did the trick (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store). I love Schubert; I think that, if there were a zombie apocalypse and I could only save the works of one composer, I would choose Schubert. His lieder, his piano sonatas, his string quartets, and especially his astounding string quintet are all works that connect deeply with me.

This new recording by András Schiff awakened me from my musical stupor. I bought it more than a month ago, and hadn’t had the time to sit down and listen to it correctly, but last night, I did just that, and I was amazed. Amazed by the quality of Mr Schiff’s playing – no surprise there, of course, given his long career playing the works of Schubert and other composers – but also of the delicate sound of the fortepiano he plays on this two-disc set of Schubert’s works.

Schiff was long averse to the idea of original instruments, but in the liner notes of this set, entitled Confessions of a Convert, he explains that “it’s evident that my initial views were wrong and prejudiced.” This is not the first time that Schiff has played on an original instrument. On a recent recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, also on ECM (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store), he played the Diabelli on two pianos, a piano made by Franz Brodmann in Vienna in 1820 and a 1921 Bechstein grand.

On this latest Schubert recording, he plays but a selection of piano works on the same fortepiano as the Beethoven, which Schiff has owned since 2010, and which is on loan to the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn. Over nearly two and a half hours, this program includes the six Moments Musicaux, the four D 935 Impromptus, and two sonatas, the D 894 and the majestic D 960, Schubert’s last.

This is one of those rare recordings that captures a perfect confluence of elements: great music, an excellent performer, a delicious sounding instrument, and a near-perfect sound. You may hesitate about a period instrument such as this, and if you’re convinced that only the modern piano, with its m’as-tu vu sound and excessive resonance is the only way to listen to this music, then move along, there’s nothing to see here. If however, you understand that one can really appreciate music like this on the type of instrument for which it was composed, then you should give this recording a listen. Schiff plays this instrument with such joy and delight that it’s hard to stop listening to it.

Schiff presents a recital, a selection of works organized in an order that highlights the music and the instrument. This instrument is muted, it lacks the harsh sonorities of the modern piano, but that hushed sound also gives it a certain strength. You can hear this in the trills of the fourth D 935 Impromptu, where nearly every note is part of a run across the keyboard, yet the piano renders each of these notes clearly and richly. The intimate sound of the recording makes the listener feel that he or she is in front of the piano, right in front of the keyboard, listening closely as the pianist plays just for them. It’s almost disconcerting to hear a piano recorded like this, but the luscious sound of this fortepiano lends itself to such close miking.

Of course, the main attraction of this set is the D 960 sonata, Schubert’s long 21st piano sonata, here just over 39 minutes. Schiff’s playing is nuanced and subtle, but he doesn’t hesitate to use the full volume of his fortepiano in the louder passages of this work. The piano resonates well when the lower register is played, notably in the final movement of the D 960, but it sings in the more lyrical opening movement.

Two and a half hours of Schubert on this nearly 200-year old piano is a rare treat, but one can hope for more. Perhaps Mr Schiff has recorded the other four Impromptus, and a couple more sonatas for another ECM release. If not, I hope he’ll record more music on this beautiful piano in the future.

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Kirkville

Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn