Monday, April 27, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Danse Macabre [Camille Saint-Saens]

Dear Mister Conductor: May we please play this amazing song for our next concert? It has everything you could possibly want, like a creepy backstory, a breathtaking violin solo part, and some neat percussion! I mean, there's plenty for you to work with here! We'd have a ball!
-Monica (2nd Flute/Piccolo)

Ahem. As you may have gathered, I suddenly find myself a huge fan of this piece of music. So much that I thought it would be worth writing a post about. As you gathered from the title, the piece in question today is Danse Macabre, a tone poem by Camille Saint-Saens. A tone poem is a piece of music, or a symphony that is supposed to tell a story or evoke a scene. Other examples would be the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz (which I learned all about while eavesdropping on the music appreciation class at school), or Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, by Claude Debussy. The latter is more about establishing the mood of a scene than telling a story, but in my book it still counts. ;)
SO! Danse Macabre is based on old French superstition. They say that every Halloween at midnight, Death (or the Devil, according to some tellings) comes to the graveyard with his violin and plays, forcing the skeletons to dance for him. At dawn the cock crows, and he stops playing and the skeletons must return to their graves to wait all year for another night of hard partying.
The symphony begins with a harp, playing the note D twelve consecutive times, to represent the coming of Midnight.
After that, there's a little quiet part, and then out of nowhere the violin soloist plays dissonant, eerie doublestops that if you're not expecting, can be a bit of a jump moment. The solo violinist 'plays' Death, and it's actually pretty cool. The violin soloist has to tune his E string down a half step to Eb, in part for the tritone chords at the beginning. It sounds wicked awesome.
Anyway, so next, the main theme is carried by the flute (yay!). Except that the flute doesn't seem to play any character (like the violin, or later the oboe) or serve any symbolic purpose (like the harp or xylophone), it's just there.
The whole piece has a terrifically eerie feel to it. I get shivers down my spine listening to it! Enjoy...

Next Up!: Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity by Gustav Holst

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Los Miserables [2011]

Yeah. Me and my Dad are becoming weirdos who own a billion different Les Mis recordings. Actually, we already are weirdos, but we've all got our things we like. Some people like Star Wars, other people like Lord of the Rings, and we at Spilled Ink like Les Miserables.
Anyway, my Dad got this CD for Christmas from Mom, and it's in Spanish!
So! This is from 2011 (as you might have seen in the title, granted) and it ha the same orchestrations as the 25th anniversary concert. The conducting is a little fast, and there are songs that were previously somewhere around Moderato that are now done at a brisk Allegretto. I could go here or there on the tempos and orchestrations. I don't mind the faster tempos, and in most of the songs, the orchestrations are really beautiful! The only song who's instrumentals I didn't really like were Javert's Suicide. It doesn't sound as dramatic or intense to me. But you know, it's a matter of taste I guess. :)
 Standout songs for me would be Estrellas (Stars), Sale el Sol (One Day More) and Solo Para Mi (On My Own). The Prologue sounded really cool, the rhythm was uber emphasized, and the chorus members were really good.
I really dig the guy who played Jean Valjean in this recording. He was a terrific actor, and he hits the last note in Quien Soy Yo (Who Am I) very well. It sounds so excellent. I also like his version of Bring Him Home, or Salvalo. Either this song is growing on me, or he just did a really amazing job of it. All in all, this guy is really good! A little hammy in the Prologue, but that is to be expected I suppose. XD Maybe he was trying to come off as gruff and hardened or something.
Something I really like about this album is that the entire cast is really good, both singing and acting-wise. Usually there is at least one singer in a Cast Album that you don't like, but that's not the case here. Normally, I don't feel too partial to Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, but the version on this CD is majorly sad. Which means it was done right. XD Cosette has a very sweet voice, I liked her. Though um, she sounded a bit like (pardon my overactive imagination) a cartoon mouse! All through A Heart Full of Love, all I could see in my mind's eye was Marius holding a little girl mouse in a dress on his hand. XD
 Eponine was one of my favorites, I like her voice, and the attitude she lends to the character. She's very fiery, and in Solo Para Mi there are a few lines that sound a bit more sarcastic than in other languages. Fantine's actress did a good job with Sone Una Vida, the I Dreamed a Dream equivalent. Enjolras made me laugh at times because he was just so into it (adorably so in Sale El Sol), and his version of the Final Battle is very rousing. :)
Oh yeah, and how could I forget Javert? Well, he's really good. He was um, super hammy in Javert's Suicide though. Yikes. But even with that, his voice and acting (for the most part) was totally spot on!
So! I don't speak very good Spanish (despite the fact that I live in California and have Mexican Heritage :P), but I know that they were speaking Castilian Spanish, that is, European Spanish. The biggest difference between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish, to my ears at least, is that some of the words with 's' sounds are a little erm, lisped. Well, not lisped in the sense that everyone in Spain has a speech impediment, it's just the way the accents over there work. So 'Cielo' (heaven) becomes 'Thielo', and so forth. It just struck me as funny because I'm used to Latin American Spanish. XD
Anyway, one of the coolest things on this album is Sale El Sol. The cast is so good in that one, the orchestra is rocking, and the title is so righteous. Literally, Sale El Sol literally translates to 'The Sun Rises' or 'The Rising of the Sun'. But it's also an expression similar to 'You live to see another day'. SO awesome.

The Verdict: A+
For a terrific cast and neato instrumentals. :)
Favorite Song: Sale El Sol
Runners Up: Estrellas, Solo Para Mi, Quien Soy Yo

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Defense of 'The Passion of the Christ'

It's Holy Week. Something that Catholics are encouraged to do during Holy Week is to meditate on Christ's sacrifice on the Cross.

Sometimes, it's hard to imagine what He did for us. Christ's death is softened by distance, and even if we know in our minds that it was horrifically painful in both a physical and spiritual sense, maybe we don't really understand it in our hearts. There are various ways to remedy this. For me, it's The Stations of the Cross. Taking Christ's journey up to to Golgotha, step by step, is kind of a powerful thing for me. When I was little, it used to make me cry. I'd like to think that I have more self-control now, but nothing really brings to home the gravity of Jesus' sacrifice like praying the Stations of the Cross.

Okay, but now, you're probably wondering about the title. Yes, I was leading up to something with that. Something my Dad likes to do to help understand Good Friday is to watch The Passion of the Christ. It's not the only thing he does to understand Good Friday, but it certainly does make you think about it.

This movie has received criticism from the mainstream media for being too 'Gory'.

Let's reflect on the absurdity of that statement. Hollywood makes thousands of movies. And a whole lot of them are a whole lot gorier than The Passion of the Christ.

What about Alien? How come that movie isn't criticized for the Chest-Burster scene? Howabout Saving Private Ryan? This movie has the most harrowing war sequence ever put to film. Does it get dumped on because of this? Of course not. The point of the gore isn't to excite those with sick and twisted interests. It's to serve as a reminder of what those poor men went through and why they did it.

Same goes for The Passion of the Christ. Nobody sits through that movie thinking to themselves “Gee, I can't wait until the next scene where Our Lord gets tortured and humiliated!”

You watch that movie because you want to understand what Our Lord went through to save us from our sins.

The Passion of the Christ is a very intense movie. Far too intense for a lot of people. No problem here! Nowhere in Catholic doctrine does it say that you have to watch a movie to be a good Christian. It helps some of us put into perspective what went on that day, and that's all. It's not a typical Hollywood orgy of gore, and it's not required that you watch it. I'm not even sure if I will view it all the way through. But what I do see of it, I will remember, and will never forget that incredible act of love performed for a world that didn't even deserve it.