Musical Fireworks for Guy Fawkes Night

With it being Guy Fawkes Night tonight, Arcana has decided to put on a quick fireworks display – in the form of two pieces from two of the 20th century’s standout composers.

The first is from Claude Debussy’s second book of Préludes for the piano, published in 1913. His firework display is set for the evening of 14 July, Bastille Day, but the depiction of the mini explosives is brilliantly done – as is the interpolation of snippets of the Marseillaise:

The second depiction of fireworks is through the orchestra, by Igor Stravinsky. His work predates Debussy’s by five years, and is for orchestra – described as ‘a short orchestral fantasy’. It was apparently a wedding present to his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov:

In Appreciation – Libor Pešek

by Ben Hogwood

Today we learned of the sad news that conductor Libor Pešek has died at the age of 89.

A tribute to him has been posted on social media by his management company IMG, while the artist page they held for him contains details on his conducting career.

Libor Pešek made some particularly fine recordings with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra when Virgin Classics was in the ascendancy in the 1990s. They include a cycle of the symphonies of Dvořák but also a rather wonderful disc introducing us to the music of Vítězslav Novák, and in particular his Slovak Suite. The recording became extremely popular with Classic FM listeners, and has led to something of a revival for the composer.

The playlist enclosed here is almost exclusively of Czech music, including works by Suk and Smetana, but we also include a nod to some extremely fine recordings of British music the conductor made, notably Britten’s Young Person’s Guide.

Any listener to classical music from the 1980s onwards will surely have encountered Libor Pešek’s art, and we can appreciate it here:

Playlist – Mark Peters

It gives us great pleasure to welcome Mark Peters (above) for the latest Arcana playlist guest turn.

Mark has recently released a new album, Red Sunset Dreams, through the rather wonderful Sonic Cathedral label, complementing his previous release Innerland. Where that album painted pictures of the windswept countryside in the north of England, the new opus reports from across the Atlantic with a set of weather-beaten, dusty portraits.

Peters – whose interview with Arcana will be published soon – has given us a snapshot of his listening habits while the album was being made. They show a form of ‘ambient country’ along the lines of his own blissful achievement.

Among the many highlights are slow burning tracks from Cowboy Junkies (a smoky, harmonica-infused Powderfinger), a layered treat of vocals and slide guitars from Nancy Sinatra, in sorrowful mode with When It’s Over, and a rich set of strings setting the scene for Lee Hazlewood to sing Your Sweet Love.

Other high points include the beautiful Optimistic from Skeeter Davis and the airy Dreaming My Dreams, showcasing the sonorous voice of Waylon Jennings. Dolly Parton also appears, In The Good Old Days, while you should definitely take time for gems from Ry Cooder, Gene Clark, Floyd Cramer and a breezy final song from Michael Nesmith, Two Different Roads.

Our grateful thanks to Mark for his selection. Give yourself an hour, turn off all distractions, kick back and enjoy:

Playlist – Late Elgar

by Ben Hogwood

If you’re reading this in the UK you will have noticed the sharpness in the air, an unmistakeable sign that summer is giving way to autumn.

At this time of year my musical thoughts often turn to late Elgar (above), and four works in particular that unwittingly depict the changing of the seasons with a striking clarity. Those four pieces are, in order of publication, the Violin Sonata in E minor Op.82, the String Quartet in E minor Op.83, the Piano Quintet in A minor Op.84 and the Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85.

Each piece – in a minor key – was written at Brinkwells (above), a thatched cottage in Sussex where Elgar had spent the previous summer with wife Alice and daughter Carice. The Violin Sonata was completed in summer 1918:

Immediately after the composer began the String Quartet, finished just before Christmas 1918:

Spring 1919 saw the completion of the Piano Quintet…

…before the Cello Concerto, one of his crowning glories, was completed in time for an October 1919 premiere:

They are the last four major compositions completed by Elgar – and you can listen to complete recordings of each one on this Spotify playlist:

Playlist – Daniel Patrick Cohen

Daniel Patrick Cohen. Picture credit Alexandra Făgărășan

Arcana is delighted to hand our playlist baton over to Daniel Patrick Cohen, whose fascinating new album We Deliver is on our own playlist for review shortly.

Cohen, a Londoner living in Romania, has a particular love for film music and hip hop, and wrote a substantial score for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden, as part of the British Film Institute’s Rescue The Hitchcock 9 enterprise, where composers were invited to score the director’s silent films.

With We Deliver, Cohen writes a love letter to hip hop in the form of a 32-track album featuring 67 musicians, described as a lo-fi work entirely made up of throwaway-type tracks that a hip hop producer might have written.

His playlist, then, contains 15 such ‘throwaway’ tracks, including inspired examples from the likes of Daft Punk, J Dilla, Radiohead, Björk and even Mozart alongside five of his own compositions blended in to reveal the loose connections. He elaborated for us:

“The idea is that these tracks were moments of magic which I imagine captured the mood on a day so perfectly that they resisted being developed and expanded. I think it’s worth elaborating that there’s nothing “lazy” about them; on the contrary, one could spend a lifetime waiting for these moments!”