1. Sufjan Stevens, “I Walked” Sufjan Stevens is back! And that means it’s time to usher in a new decade of whispered vocals, biblical allusion and vaguely homoerotic metaphor! This song — a preview from his upcoming album, ***The Age of Adz*** — is a perfect mix of old and new. Sufjan’s voice is just as fragile and anguished as ever, but instead of his questionable oboe-playing, it is now backed by all sorts of synthesized business.2. George Frideric Handel, “Ombra mai f” from Serse The late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s voice is probably the most loving thing I’ve ever heard. According to critic Alex Ross, in the September 26, 2006 issue of The New Yorker: “Deployed in the right way, this sound could bring down a government.” In her rendition, this aria is Chicken Soup for Every Soul. When I felt like fleeing and/or dying in the minutes before my recital, I curled up into a ball on the floor of the green room behind Harper Hall and listened to this music on repeat.
3. George and Ira Gershwin, “The Man I Love” There’s something especially poignant about Israeli pop-star Ivri Lider’s recording of this standard from the “Great American Songbook.” I love the contrast between his vulnerable voice and the smooth, sultry assurance of the First Lady of Song, i.e. Ella Fitzgerald. Listen to both of them!
4. Edward Elgar, “Violin Concerto in B Minor, op. 61” Some people say that violinist Hilary Hahn plays like a robot, but I disagree. This 2003 recording of the longest and hardest concerto in the standard violin repertoire is an incredible hour of music. In my opinion, no one else in the world can play the violin this perfectly.
5. Beirut, “Scenic World” I mainly study and play music by dead people, so I discovered Beirut a few years after the rest of the world did. But now that I’ve caught up, I can’t stop listening to this song, from the ***Lon Gisland EP***. “I try to imagine a careless life — A scenic world, where all the sunsets are all — Breathtaking.”
6. Johannes Brahms, arr. Jascha Heifetz, “Contemplation” This past summer, I studied with a wonderful violinist named Sherry Kloss. Ms. Kloss told me that one particular bar in this transcription of a Brahms song needs — needs! — to sound “like heartbreak.” When I listen to her recording, I’m 100% convinced.
7. Josquin de Prez, “Ave Maria… virgo serena” When I took MUHI 201 last fall, I struggled to keep up with Julie McQuinn’s 8:30am enthusiasm for ancient music. But this piece from the late 15th-century really got to me. I love thinking about how people have been speaking and singing these words — with every fiber of their being — for over 500 years: “O Mater Dei, Memento mei. Amen.”
8. Gustav Mahler, “Symphony No. 9 in D Major” Listening to Bruno Walter’s recording of this symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic is a powerful experience. Given the historical circumstances, this document is loaded with all kinds of meaning. I’m glad the microphones were there when this legendary performance occurred — on January 16, 1938 — mere weeks before the Nazis annexed Austria.
9. Franz Schubert, “Impromptu in G-flat Major, D899, No. 3” Alfred Brendel’s last recording of this piece, played as an encore at his farewell recital, seems to stop time for five minutes. To me, it is representative of what can happen with a lifetime of work and love, both for one’s fellows and one’s art.
10. Maurice Ravel, “Daphnis and Chloe” This ballet would make Lady Gaga blush. Ravel does raunchy better than anyone, and nowhere is “Daphnis” on more impressive display than in the Boston Symphony’s 1955 recording, conducted by Charles Munch. If you get bored with the recording, you should watch the YouTube video, because the maestro’s double chin and flabby jowls really add something to some of those orchestral outbursts.