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No. 174 November 2018

Or: a tourist chasing CDs

he holiday ended not so long ago - even the students, who enjoy the longest vacation period, returned from their trips. Many of us came back with souvenirs, which could be called non-material - a tan, some new skills, acquaintances, love, time and a new member of the family. But I think everyone comes back with some purchases. I usually come back – which is probably no surprise - with some discs.

However, I do not visit record stores, it is a waste of time. I am looking for CDs in churches, monasteries and museums that I visit, or in which I have the opportunity to listen to the music. I look for those that have been recorded in the place where I am. So we're talking only about classical music. I would like to recommend a few of them.

I. Czech Republic | Prague

Prague is a city that reminds me of Krakow - only bigger. Czechoslovakia, unlike Poland, even in times of deep real socialism, cooperated with foreign publishers. Supraphon, Opus, Panton, etc. - releases with these logos were sold behind the Iron Curtain, and Japanese labels - for example Denon – did a lot of work in cooperation with Czech musicians and orchestras.

That is why Prague is full of music. At every step, one finds references to Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, and if not to them than to Mozart, another genius beloved in Prague. This musical wealth is also quite well represented by record labels. In the oldest opera house of the Czech capital, Stavovski Divadlo, the place where Mozart conducted the premiere of Don Giovanni, and Miloš Forman filmed the Amadeus, there is a large store, that offers not only souvenirs but also CDs, including those recorded in this place. The choice is really big.

Antonín Dvořák, Radoslav Kvapil On Antonín Dvořák Bösendorfer Piano, AMAT France 207004, CD (2004)

However, I chose discs bought elsewhere, both related to the Czech music giants, the aforementioned Dvořák and Smetana; I bought them in museums devoted to them. The museums in question look as if they haven't changed since the 1970s. There are not many souvenirs in them, even fewer people. But the place dedicated to Dvořák is very pleasant to visit. This is a villa surrounded by a park, where we find an exceptional item - the Bösendorfer piano, which belonged to the composer and which he used while composing his works (Museum of Antonín Dvořák, Ke Karlovu 20).

And using this particular instrument, although set up in a different place, Radoslav Kvapil recorded albums belonging to the Piano Works series. The 1st International Chopin Competition on Historical Instruments has just ended and it is already clear that it will be sort of a breakthrough – for years performances using historical string and wind instruments have been popular and appreciated, but the Romantics have been still played on grand pianos, that those composers had nothing to do with. Listen to this CD and you will understand how a small instrument changes the expression of music.

Smetana, Orchestral Works, cond. by Vladimír Válek, perf. by Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Supraphon SU 3916-2, 3 x CD (2007)

The second album, Smetana Orchestral Works, released by Supraphon, comes from the composer's museum. Although it is located in the very center, next to the Charles Bridge, it is very difficult to find it, because it doesn't stand out in any way, and the entrance is right next to the restaurant, with several tables set up in front of it effectively masking everything behind them. The museum itself is tiny but worth seeing; an upside are extremely nice ladies who are taking care of the collections. There is a selection of composer's albums in the shop, and more. The material was recorded in Smetana Hall and the Czech Radio Studio (Bedrich Smetana Museum, Novotneho lavka 201/1).

II, Deutschland | Berlin

I have been visiting Berlin for years. This time it was different than before. Thomas Herbst, who has already got used to the fact that we call him Tomek, the owner of the Karlrecords, with whom we met at dinner, told us that the German society is divided like never before and that people are extremely tense. Divisions, as might be expected, run along the attitude towards refugees and immigrants in general.

The main entrance to Berliner Philharmonie. Photo: Manfred Brückels

Anyway, it's another city of music. This year I decided to visit a small shop in the Berliner Philharmonie, the seat of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. I only forgot that during holiday it is closed ... But I could admire the building of an unusual shape, that also has been deeply dividing Berliners for years. The Philharmonie building looks a lot like a large tent. Let me add that, among others, Herbert von Karajan, then conductor of the Philharmonics, worked on this building's acoustics.

On the same axis, but on the opposite side of the Brandenburg Gate, there is the Berliner Dom (Oberpfarr- und Domkirche zu Berlin), or the Berlin Cathedral. This huge building dominates the area. It was erected between 1894 and 1905 in the style of a late Italian renaissance. Its acoustics is simply remarkable. We listened there to a short concert for organ and trumpet and I can tell you that it was the smoothest and warmest sound of the trumpet I've ever heard (Am Lustgarten, Berlin).

Alte Meister!, perf. By Andreas Sieling • Saurer-Orgel Berliner Dom, Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 946 1740-6, SACD/CD (2012)

In the underground store, where you get - obviously - at the end of the tour, you'll find a rich selection of recordings made in this place. What's more, the people working there knew a lot about the music they sold. I would like to point your attention to two albums. The first was released by a company known for its excellent sound - MDG, meaning Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm.

The album titled Alte Meister contains works by Bach, Buxtechude, etc. played on the powerful Berliner Dom organ. This is a SACD release, with stereo and multi-channel layers. The latter - note - not only in the classical 5.1 system, but also almost forgotten 2 + 2 + 2 system, with four front speakers - two classic ones and two placed high, reflecting the aspect of stage's height.

Johannes Eccard, Fröhlich will ich singen. Sacred and secular song, Carus 83.449, CD (2011)

The second disc is a classic Compact Disc, and thus a stereo recording. Released by the Carus-Verlag, specializing in music publishing, including CDs. The CD contains the works of Johannes Eccard, which is less known German composer who for some time worked in Konigsberg, and ultimately became the electors Kapellmeister and cathedral cantor in Berlin. The album Fröhlich will ich singen is really well-recorded and musically interesting.

J. S. Bach, Kantaten 11, 35, 43, perf. by Bach-Chor a.d. Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche, Note&Ton

And finally a special place for Poles - Kurfürstendamm street, or Ku'damm. It's where the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche (Memorial Church of Kaiser Wilhelm) is located, also known as the Gedächtniskirche (church of Remembrance). Its silhouette can not be mistaken for anything else. Only a fragment of the main nave and the ruined tower remained after the old church - the services take place in the modern part built next to it. And it was there that Bach Choir recorded a CD with three cantatas of its patron. The Compact Disc was released by Note & Ton.

III. France | Paris

The capital of France is a city where we can find everything that turns us on. But it's not so easy when it comes to music releases related to churches. However, if you go to the Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel), in its small shop you will find a very pleasant, though already old, recording Ludovicus Rex: Extraits Des Offices de l'Adoration de Saint Louis, recorded in this small chapel.

Ludovicus Rex: Extraits des Offices de l'Adoration de Saint Louis, perf. by Choeur Grégorien de Paris, Disques Pierre Verany, PV 711061 CD (2011)

It is a unique place - Sainte-Chapelle is located on the island of Cité in the center of the former royal headquarters and is treated, of course, preserving the scale, as Wawel in our Krakow. It was founded by the French King Louis IX and built in the first half of the thirteenth century. The disc in question contains Gregorian chants, performed by Choeur Gregorien De Paris in this place. It's a beautiful, though relatively small interior, so the reverb is not long, but thanks to it the whole sounds clear and pure.

IV. Italia | Rome/Milano

Italy, in terms of the availability of recordings made in churches and concert halls, resembles Poland – you can hardly find any. In many places in Rome and Milan, where I asked about such recordings, they just shook their heads in surprise that someone was asking for CDs. I knew that in many of these places they had local choirs and orchestras, and even that they made some recordings there.

Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli | Motets, perf. by Sistine Chapel Choir, cond. by Massimo Palombella, Deutsche Grammophon 479 6131, CD (2016)

Rome was “saved” by a shop where I found a pre-released CD with Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcellia; Motets, recorded in the Sistine Chapel for Deutsche Grammophon. The store is located on Via della Conciliazione, that is, on the avenue leading to St. Peter's Square, on the right side. One can find there many other recordings related to the Vatican and the Church in general. And this album is brilliant, it offers a very natural, spatial sound.

In turn, Milan offers - in fact - only one place: Teatro La Scala. The most famous opera theater in the world is a few minutes away from Piazza Duel Domo, or Cathedral Square. We pass through a fantastic, roofed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a few streets, with tall buildings covered with a glass roof.

We leave it and enter an inconspicuous square with a monument of Leonardo da Vinci and turn at a 45º angle to the left. We will find ourselves in front of an inconspicuous, really neat building, and only when we raise our eyes will we see the powerful structures of the two annexes, parts of the changes introduced in 2000-2004. La Scala's inauguration took place on August 3rd 1778, and it was the opera of Mozart's antagonist, Salieri.

A luxury release of La Traviatta from 1956. Photo: Dinamomilano Studio

A place where we can buy something is an opera shop, open all year. We will not notice it immediately, because on the left side of the main entrance is the La Scala museum and it attracts attention. Let's go towards it, and on the right we will notice the entrance that interests us. Inside the shop you will find a lot of literature and albums, but also a lot of music. It's just that almost everything there is special, prepared - I think - for tourists, so called "essentials" consisting of a CD and DVD and a short book. I have not found the classic, best editions of operas recorded there.

I found something though, that really touched my soul: the special, limited vinyl edition of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviatta from 1956 with Maria Callas. A beautiful, big box in red velor, with embossed letters made a huge impression on me. As big as the price - 250 euro. The box was made by Dinamomilano Studio.

V. Poland | Warsaw

Poland has the same problem as Italy - museums and church shops (churches that also play the role of museums) do not actually offer any recordings made in a given place. However, in order not to leave this space place, I would encourage you to visit the National Museum in Warsaw.

Il Canto D’Orfeo, perf. by Il Trionfo del Tempo, Et’Cetera | Klara KTC 4030, CD (2009)

In 2016, a temporary exhibition Brescia, Renaissance in the north of Italy: Moretto - Savoldo - Moroni. Rafael - Titian – Lotto took place there. One could also listen to music from this period when visiting the exhibition. In the museum's shop I found some interesting recordings, but I chose a unique one: Il Canto D'Orfeo by Il Trionfo del Tempo, released by Et'Cetera label. The album comes from 2009, but it is phenomenal in terms of naturalness of the sound (National Museum in Warsaw, Aleje Jerozolimskie 3).

VI. At home

I hope that at least I encouraged you to search for interesting places and releases - sometimes all you have to do is to look around to find something interesting. Listening to music, taking into consideration the interior where recording took place - its appearance, acoustics - often even attending a similar concert, is a much deeper and more real experience than a normal listening session. And this can not be bought for any money.

Wojciech Pacuła

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