After a couple of false starts on this I decided to go with a list of less well-known pieces, with a couple of exceptions, rather than all my top favourites – many of which are very mainstream. Hopefully this will mean that most of you won’t know most of the pieces; and discovering new music is always fun!
So here goes: All the works below have some sort of special meaning for me, and I hope you will forgive me for including a couple of recordings that I’m playing on 🙂 The end result overall seems to be rather melancholic in mood: Maybe that’s just a reflection of my musical tastes, or a reaction to lockdown….
I do hope you enjoy listening!
- Eagles: Journey of the Sorcerer
Any musical quest should start with a journey! I remember the day that I discovered that the iconic signature tune for the radio series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was not by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, as I had imagined, but actually an instrumental track by the Eagles. Talk about surprised!
- Sir Michael Tippett: String Quartet no.2 – last movement
I came to the Tippett quartets as a student and have loved them ever since, and I was lucky enough, with my Quartet, to perform three of them at various times in the presence of the composer. In no.2 I love the way the complex harmonies and counterpoint can suddenly distil into something very magical at points such as the very end of the piece.
- Wojciech Kilar: Requiem Father Kolbe
I was introduced to this piece, by Polish film music composer Wojciech Kilar, by my son Chris following a conversation about one of our favourite films, “The Truman Show”, in which a short excerpt from the end of this piece is used in one of the most moving scenes of the film. Father Kolbe was a Polish Catholic priest who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz.
- Howard Goodall: Belief, from Eternal Light – A Requiem
I was briefly at the same school as Howard Goodall in the 70s, and performed in his very first musical, written when he was a sixth-former at the school. I met him again a few years ago at a school reunion concert, where some of the students danced to this beautiful and evocative track. I find it haunting and very moving.
- Olivier Messiaen: Joie du sang des étoiles (Joy of the Blood of the Stars), from Turangalîla-Symphonie
Perhaps it’s time to lighten the mood! I first heard this massive and amazing work as a teenager whilst studying 20th century symphonies at school. I had never heard anything like it. It remained an ambition of mine to play in a performance, but I was able to go one step further a few years ago and actually conduct the whole piece in Cambridge!
- Anthony Gilbert: Quartet no.3 Super Hoqueto ‘David’
Who would think of writing a string quartet based on a medieval hocket by Machaut, and asking the quartet players to try to sound like a French village hurdy-gurdy band? Well that’s what Tony Gilbert does very successfully in this fast and furious single movement work. The Machaut is initially broken up and almost hidden, but finally appears in full in the closing section of the work. Forgive me using my own Bingham Quartet recording for this one, but having worked with Tony on the CD I know it’s how he wants the piece to sound!
- No Man: Things Change
My second personal contribution to the recordings on this list is here because, as a violinist, I don’t often get the opportunity to “shred”! However as occasional violinist for the art-rock duo “No Man” (Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson) I sometimes get the chance to play this song, which features a two minute, anything goes, let your hair down solo at the end. This version, recorded live in Leamington Spa in 2012, was particularly enjoyable for the moment at the climax when Steven Wilson joins the fray on guitar.
- Knut Nystedt: Immortal Bach
This unaccompanied choral piece blew me away when I first heard it. Nystedt takes part of a Bach Chorale – Komm, süsser Tod (Come, sweet Death) – which is heard at the opening, and then breaks it apart by having five SATB groups sing it at differing speeds. At the end of each stanza the choirs hold the final notes until all groups are on the same chord. This creates the amazing and utterly mesmerising effect of the piece disintegrating and then coming together again in slow motion. I was so taken with this piece that I recorded an instrumental version on my first solo CD.
- Yes: Awaken
Taken from the album “Going for the One”, which was recorded by the band in Montreux, Switzerland in 1976 and marked the return of keyboard player Rick Wakeman. For “Awaken” he used the church organ in Vevey, as town a few miles from Montreux. This is probably my favourite prog rock track of all time.
- Peter Gabriel: Signal To Noise
I decided to end this playlist with a track which has become my go to piece during lockdown. “You know the way that things go, When what you fight for starts to fall”: Gabriel manages to reflect loss and destructive change in the sparse lyrics, and the use of strings and the soulful, wordless vocals of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, combine to make a memorable and powerful piece.