29 nov music classical gifts

Classical music fans. They can be some of the toughest special someones to buy for — especially when they seem to already have everything they’d ever want on the subject. But Pasatiempo has your back. What follows is our suggestions for 10 quirky gift ideas — from off-the-beaten-path CDs to books even an aficionado could love — for the classical music nut on your to-do list. Or perhaps your own stocking could use a little more stuffing this year? We won’t tell a soul.

Waterproof MP3 players

Know someone who’d enjoy some Bach with their backstroke? Want to add some Madama to your butterfly? Try a Syryn MP3 Player, which has 8 gigabytes of storage and several earbud options to choose from. (underwateraudio.com, $59.95) The Tayogo 8GB Waterproof MP3 Player with FM works a little differently. There are no earbuds – the sound is conveyed via bone conduction pads that fit just in front of your ears, so you can hear external noises as well as your music. (tayogo.com, $89.99)

The Christmas Story & Other Works

Considered to be one of the greatest Renaissance composers, Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) infused Lutheran church texts with an Italianate exuberance and dramatic sense he learned during four years in Venice. The centerpiece of this excellent new disc by the Yale Schola Cantorum is his “History of Christ’s Birth,” in which the narrative text of the Evangelist in an austere accompanied recitative style alternates with richly scored passages for the soloists and chorus featuring recorders, trumpets, trombones, bassoon, and organ. (Hyperion Records, $16.99)

L’enfance du Christ

Hector Berlioz wasn’t conventionally religious, and his account of the birth of Christ isn’t conventional Berlioz. He focuses on the human elements of the story in music of great tenderness and intimacy, far removed from his gargantuan operas and symphonic dramas. The composer called the piece “my little sanctity” and took his inspiration from “the manner of the old illuminated missals,” harking back to French Renaissance chorus music. Two excellent options are Charles Dutoit’s recording with the Montreal Symphony Chorus and Orchestra and Santa Fe favorite Susan Graham as one of the soloists, and the account led by Sir Andrew Davis, a renowned Berliozian, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. (Dutoit: Decca, $10.57; Davis: Chandos, $19.99)

Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera by Philip Gossett

Philip Gossett (1941-1917) wasn’t just one of the world’s leading scholars in the area of 19th-century Italian opera performance, he was also an active practitioner, working with companies around the world, including the Santa Fe Opera, as they decided how (or whether) to incorporate the best current research into their productions. Starting from a comprehensive understanding of how opera composition and production actually happened in theaters 200 years ago, Gossett provided meaningful options for singers and conductors, rather than a doctrinaire approach. Fear not: There are plenty of entertaining and amusing anecdotes about famous and infamous personalities along the way in Gossett’s 2006 book. (University of Chicago Press, $22.50)


There’s nothing more joyous than Emmanuel Chabrier’s (1841-1894) delectable operetta L’Étoile (The Star), and this just-released video (available on DVD or Blu-ray) of a Dutch production will have you asking why you haven’t heard of the piece (and maybe the composer) before. Director and costume designer Laurent Pelly is in top comic form here and has a field day with a story that verges on surrealism. As a birthday gift to himself, the despotic King Ouf wants to execute a lowly peddler, until he finds out that it will result in his own death as well, leading to frantic efforts to keep the peddler alive. Locals who remember the divine lunacy of Pelly’s La belle Hélène, Cendrillon, or Platée at Santa Fe Opera will be reminded of those triumphs; others will discover the work of a directorial wizard who almost always hits the mark. (Naxos, $28.25)

Unfaithfully Yours

Writer-director Preston Sturges (The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels) was the grand master of screwball comedy, and Unfaithfully Yours (1948) is one of his very best. Rex Harrison plays Sir Alfred De Carter, an internationally renowned conductor who believes his wife is unfaithful. During one of his concerts, he imagines three different ways to avenge himself, each inspired by the music he’s conducting — the overture to Rossini’s Semiramide, the prelude to Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and Tchaikovsky’s tone poem Francesca da Rimini. Fortunately, he scrambles the details of each plot together, and all is resolved happily. Film critic Pauline Kael said of it, “There are so many great lines and situations in this movie that people have been stealing from it for years.” (Criterion Collection, $29.95)

Musical wine glasses

Wine in attractive stemware and music can make any gathering a success. Now you can have both with one purchase. This set of eight wine glasses is calibrated to play every note in the A-major scale. You fill each glass to one of eight indicated lines, moisten your finger, run it around the rim of the glass, and you’re making music. It’s like being a handbell ringer, but with booze instead of brass or bronze! And while this is described as a “major-scale” set of glasses, you can also play sadder songs in a minor key by starting on F-sharp instead of A. (uncommongoods.com, $245) If you’re a fan of John Cage or John Adams, you can go minimalist with a two-glass set at just $68.

The Hoffnung Music Festival Concert

For that favorite somebody who likes the musical parody of P.D.Q. Bach and British tongue-in-cheek humor, this CD could be nirvana. Gerard Hoffnung (1925-1959) was a witty BBC radio host who dragooned many A-list names from British classical music into performing wicked musical parodies at sold-out concerts in Royal Albert Hall during the late 1950s. This CD includes Sir Malcolm Arnold’s “Grand Grand Overture,” which per the composer’s notes has “superb pomp and circumstances peculiar to itself, namely concertante parts for three vacuum cleaners, one electric floor polisher, and a rip-snorter of a ripieno for three rifle-players.” French horn whiz Dennis Brain performs a movement from a Leopold Mozart horn concerto on a piece of garden hose, and a tuba quartet flits nimbly through Chopin’s Mazurka No. 47. The pièce de résistance is the Piano Concerto Populare, in which strains of concertos by Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff appear alongside Rhapsody in Blue and “Pop Goes the Weasel.” (Hallmark, $9.07)

Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time

This is both the funniest book ever written on classical music and a serious exploration of why new music can take so long to be understood and accepted. Composer Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995) collected these disparaging reviews of great masterpieces by composers from Beethoven and Schumann through Schoenberg and Varèse. Sample: “Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, like the first pancake, is a flop.” The book’s best feature is the “invecticon,” a kind of reverse directory organized by specific insult. “Hideous” directs you to reviews of 15 different composers; “Hideously Writhing Dragons,” on the other hand, to just one — Beethoven. (W.W. Norton & Company, $21.95) ◀

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