Alto: male or female?

I have spent much of the afternoon typing in the performers into the indexes of the Gardiner Bach cantatas in my iTunes library. It’s as much as anything because I wanted to know in any given work whether the alto part is being sung by a man or a woman. It seems to me to make a significant difference – and I am bemused by Gardiner’s choices, which I’m guessing were determined by whoever seemed to him to be the best singer at that place and time. I’d really like to read anything he might have said about his choices, if they have been published anywhere.

Xmas Day

Alone as usual. I spent the morning with John Eliot Gardiner and his reading of the Xmas Oratorio. It’s from 1987 – and I’m hoping that the 2000 revision will be on the complete cantatas set I’ve ordered from Amazon. He’s brilliant. I may never again listen to the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt performances (with boy sopranos) or the Suzuki. I felt very comfortable with the latter, and could have it on for hours. But Gardiner gets your attention – which is a good thing.

But now I’m (easy-) listening to James Taylor. It took me two years to discover that he put out a new album of original songs thirteen years after the previous one. It don’t think it’s quite as good as October Road (2002). In my opinion, that’s his best.

On a couple of tracks, James uses a backup female singer or two. The accuracy of their work makes me think of comparisons. Chris Smither and Rusty Belle, who subtly ruins his last album (Still on the Levee, 2014). And, more importantly, RT – Richard Thompson, who sinned unforgivably by banging the band, and married his backup singer (Norma Waterson told her daughter Liza not to – but she got up the duff with a roadie instead)  – which meant that she became the lead singer on a number of songs. Which – if you worship RT, as so many people do – means committing sacrilege. For some ten years now, I’ve been meaning to establish which are the best performances of the best RT songs, and as a result to be able to commit Linda’s lead singing to the trash, where it belongs.

Background Music 2

If I find that I’ve a song in my head that I’d rather not be there, I replace it with one of two standby tunes, chosen because they are long and complicated and I still like them many years after making this decision. The first fallback is by Brahms:  it’s the big theme from the fourth movement of the first symphony. The other is the main subject of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, the one wrongly called ‘Pathetique’. That tune is in 5/4, so it demands a little attention to get it going, which is one of the points in its favour.

Background Music

I’ve been fascinated for some time now to have learnt that I can discover my current mood from the song going around in my head. It’s rather like interpreting a dream to see what it reveals about your take on your daily life. If I find I’m thinking Ticket to Ride, it means that I feel that I’m in control of the current situation. If it’s Rock of Ages, I’m feeling ‘God help me!’ (Not literally.) If Lullaby of Birdland, that’s my theme song for ‘Everything is normal’. If I’m lonely, it’s You’ve Got a Friend. There’s another Beatles song that I’ve forgotten atm. I’ll come back to this when I’m in that mood …