Tuesday, May 12, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 736: Mozart

Today I shared a walk home with a colleague. I like my musical interludes, but you should always make room for some human interaction when the opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, we’ll all turn into a bunch of headphone zombies stumbling past one another, eyes half-focused in the middle distance.

Don’t get me wrong, headphones have their place. For example, I wish I’d had them on when some crazy lady ladled abuse on Sheila and I outside of Island Blueprint for no reason. I ignored her. To me she was just a mild annoyance, but any engagement from me would have been the highlight of her week.

So instead, although I had no headphones I acted like I did. Today I had headphones, but acted like I didn’t. You gotta read the situation, people.

In any event, my album only had one two and a half minute song left, so I worked that in as I walked up the drive and waited for the elevator.

Disc 736 is…. Coronation Mass, Vesperae solennes
Artist: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Year of Release: Recorded in 1972 and 1980, but the music is from 1779 (Coronation Mass) and 1780 (Vesperae solennes).

What’s up with the Cover?  Behold the Crown of Generic Non-Descriptness! If this is actually the crown of some country, I feel badly for the king. I generally like my crowns to have some pointy bits at the top. The whole balloon shaped thing that’s been in for the last few centuries just doesn’t work.

How I Came To Know It: I bought Mozart’s Piano Concertos #23 and 24 (reviewed back at Disc 499). I liked that album and wanted more Mozart, but I know next to nothing about classical composers, so I asked my friend Kelly (who knows considerably more) what to try next. He suggested the “Coronation Mass.”

How It Stacks Up:  I have only two Mozart albums, although together they represent four of his complete works. Of the two albums, I prefer the other one.

Ratings: 3 stars

It could be that I wasn’t feeling the classical vibe this week, but this Mozart album did not impress me like the last one I reviewed.

For music to survive 250 years is quite a feat, so I give Mozart his due. Not unlike my earlier Mozart review, I was once again struck by the intricate and thoughtful constructions of his pieces. I was just not picking up what Wolfgang was putting down.

It could have been that this music is much more focused on choral arrangements, with the orchestra supporting the singers, and my other collection let the instruments stand on their own. Classical music appeals to me when the various note progressions seize my frontal lobes and twirl me along whatever merry (or morose) path they choose. The choral elements here made me feel grounded, like I was stuck on a hard bench somewhere being forced to listen out of a sense of duty.

This would be fitting for the “Coronation Mass” in C major. According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong) it was a common piece of music for the coronation of monarchs – notably a couple of Holy Roman Emperors. I imagine these events in the 18th century were long drawn out affairs; kids in silly outfits and tight shoes fidgeting in the pews and old people passing out and being propped up by their daughter-in-laws. I expect there was lots of standing, sitting, kneeling and maybe walking around the altar seven times or what-not. Yeesh.

I’m being a bit unkind to the “Coronation Mass” which is only 26 minutes long (a pop single by the standards of the day) and moves along in places at a pretty good clip. It just never grabbed my attention.

The second big piece on the album is “Vesperae solennes de confessore” which was apparently performed for specific religious ceremonies. For my thoughts on how exciting this would be, you can see my comments above for the “Coronation Mass” – same audience, same venue, and likely the same fidgeting/snoring involved.

It isn’t just the singing that had me off here, because I love the choral elements to “Carmina Burana,” it is just that the whole thing just feels a bit…staid. The funny thing is that it really isn’t staid at all. Mozart was the pop star of his day and these songs have plenty of dynamics in them. The music is inspiring in many places.

However, in other places it feels like the vocal elements are designed to showcase the singers’ skill rather than serve the song. It was a bit like listening to a reality singing show finale between two divas trying to outdo each other with vocal acrobatics.

The album ends with a  couple of excerpts from other pieces: 15 minutes of “Litaniae Lauretanae” and a mere 2:30 of “Exsultate jubilate.”  

“Litaniae Lauretanae” definitely suffers from the vocal gymnastics. I think I’m supposed to like that part, which made me feel a little guilty when I didn’t. “Exsultate jubilate” is mostly a very talented singer finding different ways to enunciate the hell out of the word “hallelujah” “rain in Spain” style. It was a catchy tune and she could really sing, but after a while it was like listening to later Shania Twain albums – too many “ooh oohs” and not enough storyline to carry the song.

Mozart is a brilliant composer and I feel a little bad about being so flippant in my review (also a little naughty). Given how influential this music is to everything that came after I thought it would grab hold of me emotionally. Instead, it felt like one of those cultural events that you go to out of a weird obligation. You think it’ll be good for your development as a person, but half-way through you are mostly wishing you’d brought a pillow.

Best tracks: Exsultate jubilate was pretty good but this one is destined for the “sell/giveaway” pile. Sorry Wolfgang – I need the space.

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