I've been working on this for a while; a little bit of fun. I don’t think I can cope with the eight-disc limit of “Desert Island Discs”, though, so I am insinuating myself into the far classier (& more flexible!) format of "Private Passions" instead. .
I’ll start with rock music and related areas:
Jazz/Folk: Spiro “Lightbox”. Just lately I cannot seem to get enough of this. Magical and mad, jazzy serialist versions of traditional tunes on traditional acoustic instruments - dancingly light yet rich music.
Jazz/Folk/Rock: Rodrigo y Gabriela “Rodrigo y Gabriela”. This is astonishingly high octane wow! stuff – hard to classify, though. Marvellous, rocky, acoustic Spanish guitar duets (+ a smoking arrangement of “Stairway to Heaven”); gutsy, grabbing music, totally energising and dynamic.
World/Blues: Ali Farka Touré “Red & Green”. Simply a classic. The late great AFT could do amazing things with that old steel-string guitar of his.
Rock: Channel Light Vessel “Automatic”. This is one of those “Soundtrack of my life” albums – especially it conjures a winter college field trip to Paris; sketching in the biting cold wind along the Seine, drinking cheap Sauvignon Blanc with friends in a scruffy spit-and-sawdust bar in Montmartre, and of course the miles and miles of rainy motorways in the Pas de Calais, seen from the window of the coach.
Rock: The Icicle Works “The Icicle Works". Just superb; rocking, poetic, dramatic. The crême de la crême of the eighties Liverpool scene.
Rock: Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon”. Another classic album, full of wonderful tracks that still hit the spot years after composition. “Wish you were here” comes a very close second, but is somehow, for my money, too personal; too visibly about the band themselves and their feelings for Syd Barrett, and hence in a way tangential to the listener. Whereas “Dark Side of the Moon” is rock truth for all of us.
Rock: Hawkwind “Quark, Strangeness and Charm”. There’s really nothing like the driving insanity, stunning rhythms and general bonkers wonder of this great, great album. Every track is terrific. And it has a song based on a Roger Zelazny novel. And jokes about Einstein. Visceral and yet intellectual, this is the album where Hawkwind got the balance between metal, sci-fi, pomp, psychodelia and straight-forward guitar-and-drum-driven rock absolutely right. My first ever rock concert was a Hawkwind gig; Maidstone Art College, 1979…
Rock (single): U2 “All I want is you”. Richly lifting lyrical guitar riffs, soaring and shifting; a lovely piece of complex simplicity, and great, honest, evocative lyrics.
Rock (single): Dexy’s Midnight Runners “Come on, Eileen”. A bit of a frivolous addition, but any time I hear this it makes me smile. This was the soundtrack to my sixteenth summer. Need I say more?
On to classical music.
I wish, incidentally, that the two classes of music (“classical” and popular/vernacular/rock) weren’t shut apart like ferocious beasts that would devour one another if they every made contact; it is rather like the Humanities/Sciences ne’er-the-twain-shall-meet thing, only worse, despite being on a smaller scale and within just the one art.
Chamber: The three Brahms Violin Sonatas. The G major sonata especially is a piece of music I could not live without. Oh, and I’ll have the Josef Suk and Julius Katchen recording, thanks.
Chamber: Schubert String Quartet in D minor “Death and the Maiden”. Another piece of music I simply couldn’t bear never to hear again. The first variation in the second movement is heartbreakingly beautiful. Brilliant simplicity; in fact damned close to perfection.
Piano: Janacek “On an Overgrown Path”. This makes me cry. Solo piano music, and it makes me cry.
Orchestral: Stravinsky “The Rite of Spring”. Preferably in a recording coupled with “The Firebird”. The “Rite” is stunning music, as passionate as life itself, and gives me a rush like a drug with its sheer wizardry and dazzledom. A world without Stravinsky would be a bitter, dull, tingle-less place.
Orchestral: Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. This is an incredibly tough one, actually; would I rather have the Barber, or the Walton, or the Stravinsky? Or the Sibelius? Or Elgar? Or Beethoven? Or should I ask for the Walton Violin and Viola concertos? On balance I’ll plump for the Barber, because I adore it, and because if I can have Joshua Bell’s recording then I’ll get the Walton and Bloch’s “Baal Shem” as well…
Orchestral + soloists: Mahler “Das Lied von der Erde”. Another very, very tough choice. Can I have a boxed set of all the Mahler Symphonies, plus a selection of the Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs, please? If not, with tears in my eyes I will let the rest go, though 2, 3, 6 and 9 will have to be torn from my clutching hands; but I’ll hang on to the “Song of the Earth” even if you hit me. The Klemperer recording, please.
Choral: Vaughan Williams “A Sea Symphony”. Choosing one big choral work is hard, too; if I have this, I lose the “German Requiem”, all the other requiems including the “War Requiem”, the “Glagolithic Mass” (this hurts), Beethoven’s Ninth, and “Messiah”, and “The Dream of Gerontius”…
Honestly, this process is like chopping my fingers off one by one.
Choral: Rachmaninov “Vespers”. Okay, it will have to be two big choral works, because this is indispensible. Different kind of choral, though; unaccompanied liturgical singing, in Russian, with harmonies to make your hair stand on end. You can’t praise god any finer than this.
Opera: Janacek “The Cunning Little Vixen”. (I won’t even try to write the original Czech name – it’s full of x’s and z’s even before you get to the diacritical marks). One of the greatest, saddest, most beautiful and humane of twentieth century operas. I had to have an opera, and it is hard to choose, but since I can’t download my memories of great performances I’ve been at, my brain not being a computer, I’ll go for one of my all-time favourite recordings. The last scene of this is another of those things that makes me cry my eyes out. “From the House of the Dead”, also by Janacek, comes a very close second, but I think that final scene, and the love scene between the vixen and the fox, swing it for me. Also this is a fairy tale where the main character dies, and that is unusual; and it is probably the quietest, most realistic death in the whole of opera. She gets shot, she dies; two bars at most. I’ll have the Mackerras recording, please.