Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Ten Best Christmas Songs of Alltime

…heh heh heh…

 

10. Linda Draper – Merry Christmas

The New York acoustic rock siren is typically pensive and hardly festive here: play this one early Xmas morning, hungover. Merry Xmas, not.

 

9.  The Pretenders – 2000 Miles

A reader suggestion, thanks for this! The link is a nice live version on youtube.  

 

8. The Reducers – Nothing for Christmas

Bet these Connecticut mod punks never realized how prescient this snide holiday tune would turn out to be when they originally released it as a vinyl single in 1988. Still available on the excellent Reducers Redux compilation from 1991.

 

7. Stiff Little Fingers – White Christmas

The alltime best version – maybe the only good version – of the bestselling song of alltime, classic funny irreverent punk rock, 1978 style.

 

6. Ninth House – You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Back when they were an artsy, Joy Divisionesque band, the New York rockers used to have a great time with this one no matter what the time of year. Never officially released, although there are several excellent bootleg versions kicking around, particularly from Arlene Grocery circa 2000.

 

5.  Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Spot-on. Words cannot describe. The youtube link above is a priceless live version.

 

4.  The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

Shane MacGowan and the late Kirsty MacColl play dysfunctional drunken couple, trading insults and invective in perfect holiday style. This link’s a live version too.

 

3. Amy Allison – Drinking Thru Xmas

If this song isn’t universal, you find one that is. “Twelve shots of liquor lined up on the bar/You’ve got all my money and the keys to the car.” It’s vintage Amy. Nice to see the song up on her myspace again.

 

2. Florence Dore – Christmas

Although first recorded by the Posies in the mid-90s, Dore wrote it, and it’s her version from her lone 2002 cd Perfect City that really provides the chills. Xmas may not be suicide season, but this one makes it seem like it is.

 

 

1. Olivier Messiaen – The Birth of Our Lord

As we’ve noted here before, this piece isn’t titled The Birth of Christ. The great composer always put his Catholicism front and center…but maybe he was working for the other team? Nothing but brooding and hellfire in this macabre multi-part suite. The link above is a youtube clip from one of its quieter sections.

Advertisements

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Music, snark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gail Archer Plays Messiaen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC 5/29/08

A riveting, marathon performance. In the console for the better part of two hours with only a brief ten-minute intermission, Barnard College Music Department chair Gail Archer played all eighteen parts of Olivier Messiaen’s complete Livre du Saint Sacrement (Book of the Holy Sacrament) with extraordinary grace and fluidity. Like the composer, Archer is somewhat idiosyncratic, a performer seemingly not particularly fond of and therefore not particularly suited to much of the traditional organ repertoire. In Messiaen, she’s found her holy grail: her performance last night was the last in her own series of Messiaen recitals this year, and without question one of the highlights of the many concerts going on around town this year in honor of the Messiaen centenary. A lesser talent would have fixated on the suite’s many jarring dissonances and the strangeness of its tempos. Instead, Archer treated the audience to a limousine ride through a minefield: fireworks were going off everywhere, but she glided along with an agility that seemed effortless. She even set her tempo to the church’s natural reverb. Much of the piece is fugal, a constant call-and-response between the left and right hand, a device that would quickly get old if not for Messiaen’s extraordinarily imaginative, eerie, often outright macabre melodicism. Archer played at precisely the pace where, when one note would start to fade away, the next would take its place. Whether this was deliberate or strictly intuitive, it was a stroke of genius.

The suite itself is an amazing composition. A work from late in the composer’s life, it features all of Messiaen’s signature characteristics: liturgical themes (Messiaen was a devout Catholic), otherworldly tonalities, unusual time signatures and in this case a defiant resolve to avoid the use of either major or minor chords throughout practically the entire piece. And, of course, birdsong. But here, they are birds of prey, talons outstretched, primed to do battle in the cause of righteousness.

Archer segued seamlessly from one part to the next, making it difficult to tell which was which, although this interpretation made the work admirably whole. For the most part, Messiaen is at his most minimalist here, only rarely utilizing the icy, atmospheric sheets of noise that characterize most of his other great organ works such as the Birth of Our Lord and the legendary Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (Dawn of the Eternal Church). When these did occur, Archer literally pulled out the stops, emphasizing all the drama in the Resurrection, or Jesus’ posthumous appearance to Mary Magdalene, or the exhalted, triumphant prayer that concludes the suite. Otherwise, she calmly let Messiaen’s quieter yet often nightmarish passages speak for themselves. What was left of the crowd at the end of the performance (at St. Pat’s, it’s always hard to tell who’s just passing through, and who’s actually here for the concert) rewarded her with three standing ovations. Which also spoke for itself.

If this concert is any indication, Archer’s new cd of Messiaen works should be very much worth seeking out.

May 30, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: John Scott Plays Messiaen at St. Thomas Church, NYC 12/20/07

This review isn’t meant to be flippant: John Scott is a great artist, and he put on a masterful performance. Yet, it’s a wonder that at some point the church fathers didn’t convene and pose the obvious question: could it be possible that Messiaen was rooting for the other team? Note that the piece Scott played tonight is titled La Nativite du Seigneur (The Birth of the Lord, as opposed to The Birth of Christ). Could it be another Lord, one somewhat darker, that Messiaen was alluding to? This macabre, nine-part suite sounds nothing remotely like the typical Christmastime fare heard in churches across this city, and Scott was brave to play it. It would make a great soundtrack to a horror film. But not a Chucky movie – it would work best with something from Messiaen’s era, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre, perhaps. Satanists burn churches when what they should really be doing is sitting in the front row, rapt, as The Birth of the Lord roars from the pipes of the organ.

To add yet another element of the macabre, sirens wailed down Fifth Avenue during the two opening segments. As robustly constructed and insulated from outside noise as the edifice is, it was impossible not to hear them. If anyone had the presence of mind to record the performance, it could be astounding, a sort of accidental, highbrow counterpart to Simon and Garfunkel’s version of Silent Night, inevitably rooted in the here and now.

Scott is one of the world’s premier organists, an artist with an almost telepathic intuition for what he plays. La Natitive du Seigneur is not particularly melodic and quite difficult, yet there is substantial wit in this work and Scott treated the standing-room-only crowd to all of it. Olivier Messiaen was a strange bird, obsessed with the sounds of the avian world, and the greater part of his oeuvre is naturalistic to the point of being fussy and contrived. His organ works, especially the immortal L’Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (The Dawn of the Eternal Church) are anything but. Scott zeroed in on several themes that recur throughout the suite, including a fast upper-register flourish that he tossed off with unabashed glee, and brought out every bit of drama in an ominous, low-register pedal figure followed by a tritone (the so-called “devil’s chord”). The piece has two false endings, and Scott’s crescendos up to them were inexorably good. The final part of the suite ends almost as a mocking parody of the conclusion to Bach’s famous Toccata in D, this time a series of three rather than five chords, the last being a sustained major sixth that rattled the walls, ending the piece on a disquetingly unresolved note and earning Scott two standing ovations.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Timothy R. Allen at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 10/21/07

There’s been a lot of mudslinging lately aimed at certain music blogs who flog the same horse – usually a pretty dead one – over and over again. At the risk of falling into that category, let it be said here once more that the weekly, Sunday 5:15 PM organ concert series here is one of New York’s best-kept secrets. If we had our way, it would be much less of one.

This evening’s recitalist was British native Timothy R. Allen, an organist with a conscience. While working in Londonderry, Ireland, he reached out with an olive branch to his Catholic counterpart, Donal Doherty at the Derry Cathedral. The result was the interfaith Two Cathedrals Festival promoting peace and intercommunity relations, a major accomplishment. Allen’s dedication to social issues is matched by his skill at the console, as tonight’s diverse program demonstrated. He opened with British composer Percy Whitlock’s Fantasie Choral No. 2, in difficult F sharp minor. In contrast to Allen, Whitlock’s politics didn’t extend to his music: he may have been something of a recalcitrant Tory wingnut, but there’s a warmth and a joy in much of his work. Although this particular piece begins in a minor key, it quickly switches to the major, with a soulful, catchy, recurrent theme, essentially a spiritual without words.

Allen then shifted gears dramatically with Messiaen’s Dyptich: An Essay on Life on Earth and Eternal Happiness. The first section is an almost shockingly grotesque fugue, almost a parody, its call-and-response neither major nor minor, twisted, tormented, deliberately and arduously unmelodic. Obviously Messiaen was looking forward to his heavenly reward, which in the second part is predictably calm and ambient, mostly sheets of sound played in the upper registers on the organ’s flutes. Troubled as it is, the first part is exponentially more interesting than what follows.

Allen closed with Alexandre Guilmant’s First Sonata in D Minor, a typical French Romantic piece, quite long for its sonata form. He effectively emphasized the considerable contrast between the boisterous intro and outro sandwiching the quiet, meditative pastorale in between. Yet another superb concert in this sonically rich yet pretty much undiscovered space. Does organ music scare people off? Do agnostics and atheists stay away because they assume a religious undercurrent (a vastly erroneous assumption!)? Or is this series like a favorite restaurant, one that’s nice to see having enough of a clientele to stay in business but not to the extent that reservations are required?

October 22, 2007 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments