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05 février 2021

Musical treasures | ...ask again!

von Francisco Sassetti

The Philharmonie team presents its musical treasures.

Francisco Sassetti Senior Manager Artistic Planning

«When first asked by my colleagues to write about my favourite CD, I thought it would be an easy and straightforward task. After all, I grew up in a house full of recordings and it was through them that I had my first contact with music. Live concerts and learning an instrument came after and only much later somehow matched, for me, the sheer variety of music and musicians, old and new, that records offered. They were just there, many hundreds, and to press play was all it took to enter the magical world of music.

I kept this CD collector spirit and am the proud, though somewhat overwhelmed, owner of a few thousand records. They are part of what home is to me and there they are, in all their majesty, looking down from the shelves at anyone that happens to be in the living room. Choosing one to write about could only be easy, right?

I told myself that perhaps I should pick an album that was important in my teens (Nirvana unplugged, anyone?), but obviously that would be way too far from anything I could call a favourite nowadays. Perhaps Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue coupled with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (DG, Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Lenny himself conducting and on the piano) – the perfect mix of classical magnificence and jazzy rhythms. It was indeed an important record when growing up, as it somehow included, two-in-one, the musical genres that are closer to home.

So, instead of a favourite CD, I decided to explore the CD shelves with a refreshed look and to pick those few albums that, for reasons that are not always obvious, I keep going back to. Those that I know by heart, even if they haven’t been out of the case for several months.

Let’s talk about Jazz for a moment. At some point, at university, I wrote an essay on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (impulse!), so it has to count as a favourite, and many years ago we had a dog called Monk, an homage to the great Thelonious, whose any recording qualifies… but if I need to mention only one, it would be Thelonious Monk Piano Solo, recorded in Paris on 07 June 1954 (BMG, Original Vogue Masters). I could also mention the likes of Lennie Tristano or Tete Montoliu, Egberto Gismonti or Paul Bley (Play Blue is a masterpiece, isn’t it?). It goes without saying that Keith Jarrett must figure on the list. We all know The Köln Concert of course, but have you listened to Facing You? Or to the intimacy of The Melody at Night With You (both on ECM)? A quick word also on Brad Mehldau, whose music is a constant in the house. The beginning of Songs – The Art of the Trio, Vol. 3 (Warner) is unbeatable, but if I had to choose one album it would be Elegiac Cycle – piano solo at its most inventive and lyrical. Much closer to home, there would be Motion by the Bernardo Sassetti Trio (Clean Feed), and representing every jazz pianist past and future, the incomparable Bill Evans, because You Must Believe In Spring (Warner).

Pianists are important for me (as you must have noticed). Having learned the piano and having two professional pianist uncles, this was bound to be, I guess. But there is much more, of course, and I will just mention two other musicians that I keep going back to: saxophonist Charles Lloyd (The Water is Wide on ECM, with none other than Brad Mehldau, John Abercrombie, Larry Grenadier and the amazing Billy Higgins is timeless) and Anouar Brahem (The Astounding Eyes of Rita, also on the Munich-based label), whose oud opens a world of infinite possibilities.

The list could go on with other genres – among a dozen others, Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left (Island) is a firm favourite and Simon and Garfunkel’s The Concert in Central Park (Geffen) an essential item in any family road trip. I could also mention Otis Redding or The Beatles, but who wouldn’t?

Being from Portugal, Brazilian music is part of our DNA and would deserve an entire text devoted to it. There is of course João Gilberto (João, Voz e Violão on Verve), the trinity of Chico, Caetano and Gil (everything from any of them, really, but Caetano e Chico – Juntos e ao Vivo on Universal is one of the best albums ever, despite the terrible sound), but also younger ones such as Marcelo Camelo, Maria Gadú or Rodrigo Amarante.

Let’s jump up in the shelves to the Classical music section. Where to start? Well, pianists again: Clara Haskil always – her Mozart piano concertos, in the first album dedicated to her on the Great Pianists of the 20th century series, the extraordinary joint venture between Steinway and all the big labels, is a record for eternity (probably impossible to find nowadays, but the individual recordings feature in other editions here and there). I got mine by a less than orthodox method, but that is a story for another time.

Her friend Dinu Lipatti’s much acclaimed Besançon recital (EMI) deserves an entire book to itself (André Tubeuf wrote it, it’s on Actes Sud). For Chopin Nocturnes I would choose Claudio Arrau (Philips), with Maria João Pires a close second, but would take her instead for Schubert’s last piano sonata (DG). My go to Beethoven Piano Concertos were recorded by Alfred Brendel with the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Simon Rattle (Philips). For Haydn Sonatas, also Brendel (Philips) or Glenn Gould (Sony). For Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the jury is still out.

What else? If I want to listen to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, no need to choose, just take the 100th anniversary box that includes the versions by Pierre Monteux, Antal Dorati, Riccardo Chailly, Pierre Boulez, Valery Gergiev and Esa-Pekka Salonen (Decca). If that is not enough, you can also find Stravinsky conducting it himself (Sony).

Choosing only one recording of Mahler’s symphonies is denying oneself of a multitude of pleasures, which I would not dare to do. For Richard Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder, there is of course the extraordinary Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with George Szell conducting the RSO Berlin (EMI), but impossible not mention the world premiere of the work, on 22 May 1950, with Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler (Testament). For Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 a recent revelation: Evgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic (Warner) – if you haven’t heard it, run to your record shop now!

And there is so much more out there! But let me finish with a very short word on opera. My neighbours must know Mozart’s Da Ponte trilogy very well by now, with Erich Kleiber’s version of Le nozze di Figaro (Decca Legends, with Siepi, Gueden, Della Casa, Danco, Corena… excusez du peu!), or Joseph Krips’ Don Giovanni (same label and almost the same cast) amongst the most used CD’s I have. Wagner is a world in itself, and between historical recordings in Bayreuth and more recent ones I will save you the details.

Quickly going through what I just wrote, I can only think of all the ones I did not mention. So, my favourite CD? Ask me again next week.»