Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Review---Classical CD sampling

image of Mozart from Wikipedia

Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Marie Pierre Langlamet (harp) and Sabine Meyer (clarinet)

Mozart (Flute Concerto 1, Concerto for Flute & Harp, and Clarinet Concerto
EMI Classics

Narciso Yepes
Guitarra Espanola Vol. 2
Deusche Grammophon

Great Moments from La Traviata
Cheryl Studer, Luciano Pavarotti
Deusche Grammophon

Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Handel Messiah
Sony BMG

Valery Gergiev & Kirov Orchestra
The Nutcracker

Although classical music contributes wonderfully to a person's CD collection, health and well-being, these CDs can be expensive. Also it takes time to explore various composers and compositions before each listener finds his or her musical medicine or favorites. Therefore, I recommend a trip to a local library where an array of famous and not-so-famous works can be explored for free. Libraries in larger cities offer a wider variety, but even in a small town, you can find a few gems.

I have been perusing the shelves of local libraries in my area and I would like to share some findings with you. Some of you reading this blog are already experienced in healing yourself and others with classical music, but some of you, might not have ventured in this direction so I will give my impressions of a number of recordings in this article.

Let's start with a recording of three of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's concertos (Mozart). This recording features Swiss flutist Emmanuel Pahud performing Flute Concerto No. 1 and Concerto for Flute and Harp along with French harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet. German (?) clarinetist Sabine Meyer performs Clarinet Concerto in A, KV 622 (a favorite of mine), and Claudio ABBADO conducts, with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

We already know that Mozart's music has proved to be healing in a variety of circumstances and that it is dog-friendly (see and Don Campbell's series regarding the "Mozart Effect". Harp and flute bring clarity, not to mention some lofty emotions. The soloists on this recording perform this music exceptionally well and certainly their passion for this material comes through.

Sabine Meyer performs the Clarinet Concerto on its original instrument, a basset-clarinet. The early music instrument which had disappeared since Mozart's era, has been reconstructed with a gorgeous expanded low range. Julian Haylock explains in the liner notes, "The concerto was originally composed, according to Stadler's (friend and patron of Mozart-ed.), specific instructions, for the basset-clarinet, an instrument which had an extended lower range of four semitones down to a written C (sounding A) and a mellower sound than the usual instrument."

Sabine Meyer is one of a few modern clarinetists to perform this instrument so her recording of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A contributes an extra healing effect. Plus hearing the piece performed closer to its origins adds charm.

I find this recording relaxing, good for morning wake up music and also relaxing before bedtime. I also enjoy writing, researching and doing other work that takes concentration with this music in the background. I recommend this recording to students as it is wonderful for homework, writing papers and studying for exams. In fact, the Clarinet Concerto helped me greatly when I returned to college in 2007. Of course, I was listening to a different recording of the concerto.

Next on the library list, Spanish guitarist and composer Narciso Yepes' recordings for Spanish guitar has been produced as a series. Volume 2 features the work of Albeniz, Granados, Tarrega, Falla, Turina, Bacarisse and Yepes. This single instrument recording flows at a nice, slow even pace with a few passionate outbursts here and there. But Spanish guitar or Spanish classical guitar should never be confused with Flamenco guitar, even if a distinct Spanish character comes through.

Volume 2 and the remainder of the series delves into the works of a variety of Spanish composers, who I had not heard of until recent years. The Spanish character, textures, colors, rhythms and vibrant melodies, enchant the mind. This music provides fodder for daydreaming, but also contributes to a healthy work environment. I have enjoyed listening to these CDs before bedtime. I would imagine this single instrument recordings (with the exception of a few dissonant pieces I heard on one of the CDs), would be dog-friendly. However, you might wish to refer to Joshua Leeds' work in regard to dog-friendly music.

I recently saw a local production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata and fell in love with its music, especially Violetta's arias. So while I was at the library, I picked up a more recent recording (1991) of La Traviata featuring Cheryl Studer (Violetta), Luciano Pavarotti (Alfredo), Juan Pons (Giorgio) and Wendy White (Flora) and conducted by James Levine with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

This recording features fabulous vocals, all the drama you could want (who needs TV?), and a storyline that features a courtesan with a heart of gold. Why this beautiful music did not heal Violetta from her disease, who knows. Certainly the best application for this CD is to sit down and listen to it. Listening to this recording is not the same as sitting through a listen of the entire opera with the libretto in hand, since it only features excerpts from the opera. However, after listening to these excerpts no doubt listeners will want to hear the entire opera if not see a production of it. And its wonderful to hear the late Pavarotti's vocals creating a bittersweet moment for many.

Just in time for the holidays, the next two CDs, featuring Handel's Messiah and Tchaikovsky's score for the Nutcracker ballet also can take people away from their television sets. Best to cuddle up to the stereo with these two recordings.

Nicolaus Harnoncourt's Handel Messiah featuring soloists, Christine Schafer, Anna Larsson, Michael Schade and Gerald Finley along with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, offers some compelling material performed in an equally compelling manner.

Friderick Handel hails from the Baroque era and was a contemporary of Bach. He composed both secular and spiritual music since he was a freelance musician. Messiah (not The Messiah), was collaboration with writer Charles Jennens (composed the libretto from Biblical passages, both new and old testaments and his own text). Since Biblical passages were not permitted by church officials to be presented in plays (considered blasphemy), the work was presented as an oratorio and eventually was called a "sacred oratorio". The premier of the work was in Dublin in 1742 and has expanded and transformed considerably since that time.

Handel's Messiah is told in three sections, the first prophesying the coming of the savior, the second featuring the persecution of Christ and his brutal death, and the third section reflecting on the resurrection and redemption. Since Handel's Messiah features stories, it is best to sit and listen to this recording, instead of playing it in the background. The English annunciation is not so great on this recording (it is sung in an ornamented baroque style), so you might wish to read the libretto while listening to it.

However, I saw that this recording was highly recommended on a classical music site ( and the production itself, vocals, baroque orchestra sound fabulous. And this recording features the complete oratorio, on two discs. The Hallelujah chorus that ends Act II is absolutely splendid. I find the entire performance heart provoking and soulful.

Although I am not a fan of The Nutcracker ballet itself, the musical score offers a real banquet. The instrumental arrangements, dance rhythms, and sublime musical passages create many pleasurable listening moments. While I am not a Tchaikovsky expert by a long shot, I have been told that he combined elements of the Romantic era with the Classical era. He adored Mozart and played homage to the Austrian composer. And like Mozart, Tchaikovsky could and did create some enchanting and playful music.

Although The Nutcracker has been overproduced in recent decades to the point of numbness, this delightful music should not be overlooked. Nor should any great classical music have ever been used to sell products or boost people's egos, which sadly has been the case for a lot of this great music. Give Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker score a chance to lift your spirits. It might even prove helpful for those who suffer from holiday depression (Tchaikovsky himself was said to suffer from depression).

For more information about these recordings, check the labels' websites, Wikipedia or Also check out various sound healer and music therapy sites.