April 1 Classical Reviews Roundup

Fillip Cornershop
Satiediously, vol. 2
(Unheard Universe)
Following up on last year's initial Satie volume, Cornershop now delivers a unique reading of Satie's notorious "Vexations," the one-page piece which Satie said should be performed with repeats until it totaled 840 times through the printed text (or perhaps not; debate has raged since its 1949 publication). Cornershop brings the piece in at a monumental 48 hours (more traditional performances of the 840-times length range from 18 to 28 hours). 

As I was wondering how Cornershop could achieve such a performance without the aid of caffeine, which in turn would mitigate against his chosen slow tempo, I noticed a splice after the 168th time through and then, in turn, after the 336th. Shortly after the latter, and concurrent with my wife's threat of divorce, I had to stop listening, but a little math revealed to me that 1 through 168 and 169 through 336 were precisely the same length, so it appears that we may have a use of studio recording technology whose scandalousness could rival that of Schwarzkopf's high C in Tristan und Isolde, as well as literal confirmation of my wife's statement "this is getting a little repetitious, don't you think?" Potential controversy aside, this release is an obviously desirable artifact for Satie completists and insomniacs, a Goldberg Variations for the 21st century.

Zenph Reperformance: Helfgott Plays Rachmaninoff
(Sundry Classical)
David Helfgott is the Australian pianist whose recording of Rachmaninoff's famously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 became a best-seller on the coattails of the 1995 movie Shine, about Helfgott's struggle to play despite schizoaffective disorder. Unfortunately it turned out to be the most incompetently played Rach 3 ever released by a major label. Now the Zenph company, which uses computer programs to re-record famous piano performances marred by inferior sound (jazz pianist Art Tatum's earliest recordings on 78 RPM records, for instance) and, occasionally, the pianist's compulsive sing-along duet (Glenn Gould's 1955 rendition of Bach's Goldberg Variations), has applied its technological wizardry to fixing up Helfgott's mistake-ridden reading. After all, we've got Rachmaninoff's score right there to show which notes Helfgott meant to play. Alas, even after all the correct notes were substituted for the original clinkers, the pianist's interpretation is too willful -- with tempos pulled about and fearful caution disguised as rubato -- to change the album's ranking at the bottom of the list of Rach 3s. Next on Zenph's schedule: a Victor Borge recital with the pianist's banter removed.
Moscow Conservatory Orchestra/Igor Butinsky
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1
This is an "authentic performance" recording that recreates the conditions of the premiere of Rachmaninoff's First Symphony on March 28, 1897. Going for maximum authenticity, conductor Igor Butinsky prepared for the recording session by drinking vodka until he could neither control the orchestra, deliver entrance cues, or in fact even care about whether the piece came off well. Several unauthorized cuts were included, making this an even more historically interesting recording. Rachmaninoff completists will find this a must-have, unless their therapists are able to help them overcome such irrational desires.
Simon Rattlesnake/Greater Brattleboro Philharmonic Orchestra
Bruckner: Symphony No. 10
The self-doubting Austrian symphonic master Anton Bruckner spent so much time revising and rewriting his earlier symphonies that he never had time to finish his Ninth Symphony. Nor, for that matter, did he have time to start his Tenth Symphony. A terrible loss for music lovers. Fortunately, English Bruckner scholar Sir Barrington Snufflethwait has filled that gap for us with his speculative recreation of what Bruckner might have written had he not run out of time. Snufflethwait's dedication to Bruckner scholarship has been so thorough that his life is very nearly a mirror of Bruckner's own: both so riven by fear of sin as to have been lifelong virgins; both organists; both late bloomers (Bruckner was so driven to overcome his self-perceived inadequacies as a composer that he studied with the pedagogue Simon Sechter until he was 40; Snufflethwait studied Sechter's book Die Grundsätze der musikalischen Komposition until he was 40). After copying out, by hand on manuscript paper, all of Bruckner's compositions, including the revisions, in chronological order, Snufflethwait was able to channel Bruckner's probable thoughts on a Tenth Symphony into this new monument to musical scholarship, surpassing even Colin Matthews's addition of Pluto to Holst's The Planets. For further authenticity, he hired veteran Bruckner interpreter Simon Rattlesnake to conduct it after locking him in a room for a week and playing Sergiu Celibidache's EMI recording of Bruckner's Eighth (subtitle: "The Glacial") the entire time, including while Rattlesnake slept. If you're a fan of brass climaxes and oozing molasses, this is a must-have. - Steve Holtje


Mr. Holtje, a composer himself, likes to play Bach's 3-Part Invention No. 7 on piano at one-quarter tempo while holding the pedal down for the entire piece, preferably in the center of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In a pinch, the acoustics of any large bathroom will suffice. He is hoping to interest Godfrey Reggio in making a film to accompany this interpretation.