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The Haul: Morrissey's Beethoven Was Deaf and Mstislav Rostropovich's Dvořák Concerto

I was hoping to finish my lengthy write-up on this particular place before posting this entry, but I’ll leave it a bit cryptic for now: Got Books was a complete crapshoot of a $1 record (and book and VHS) sale and I’ve gotten much, much better albums in the past. Lots of them. This trip, on the other hand, was slim pickings. As it turns out, this was the last time I made it up to the Got Books warehouse, since they shut it down in October and now sell records on a sliding scale at one of their other, non-charity locations. Waiting in line at 9am to spend $3 per LP just isn’t as enticing.

80. Morrissey – Beethoven Was Deaf CD – EMI, 1993 – $1

Morrissey's Beethoven Was Deaf

Beethoven Was Deaf is heavy on the then-recent Your Arsenal, which is my second-favorite Morrissey solo album behind 1994’s Vauxhall & I. No “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” but I’ll survive. I’m actually somewhat amazed that Morrissey wasn’t churning live albums out after every major solo record, since the next official live album was 2005’s Live at Earls Court. That album, like the concert DVD Who Put the “M” in Manchester, features a few Smiths songs as well as a wider range of his solo material. Most would view that change as a benefit for Earls Court and a detriment for Beethoven, but I disagree. I’ve seen the Manchester DVD and wasn’t entirely thrilled with the inclusion of the Smiths songs—as much as I love “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” watching some kid play the keyboard part as the band filters off the stage seemed like karaoke to me.

There are a few other examples of this self-covering behavior—Frank Black introducing Pixies songs to his solo set lists, Stephen Malkmus performing a show of all Pavement songs, Craig Wedren reviving Shudder to Think songs for his solo performances (and then reviving the group)—and in each instance, I wonder what it says about the solo material they’re eschewing. These artists are certainly entitled to perform their own songs and I’m sure the majority of fans would be thrilled to hear them, but there’s a commendable integrity to burying the past and starting anew. People still yell for Shiner songs at Life and Times shows, but Allen Epley’s stuck to his guns and it’s hard to fault his decision, even if hearing “The Situationist” in a live setting again would be awesome.

81. Mstislav Rostropovich – Dvořák: Concerto in B Minor LP – Seraphim, 1964 – $1

Mstislav Rostropovich performs Dvorak's Concerto in B Minor

Contemporary composers excluded, I have a completely scattershot approach to buying classical music. It’s not terribly far off from my jazz shopping habits—both started largely with dollar LPs like this one, prompting interest in specific eras and artists—but whereas I’m beginning to feel comfortable shopping for jazz, I’ve developed absolutely no expertise in non-contemporary classical. My purchases are primarily based on a rough idea of a composer and a preference for minimal instrumentation, leading me to solo piano performances of Erik Satie and J-S Bach, the latter courtesy of Glenn Gould. This particular album combines that approach with a more personal frame of reference—I played cello from fourth to eighth grade and can appreciate the instrument, even if my abilities are astonishingly limited. What I don’t know, however, are whether I’ll like this specific concerto or if this LP is the performance to have.

I checked Wikipedia for a few things before listening to the album. First, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was considered one of the greatest cellists of the past century and, upon his death in 2007, was discussed as possibly the greatest cellist of all time. Well, that sounds promising. Dvořák’s entry provides some interesting background for “Concerto in B Minor”:

Dvořák wrote it in 1894-1895 for his friend, the cellist Hanuš Wihan. Wihan and others had asked for a cello concerto for some time, but Dvořák always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but completely insufficient for a solo concerto… Dvořák attended at least two performances of Victor Herbert's cello concerto and was inspired to fulfill Wihan’s request for a cello concerto. Dvořák’s concerto received its premiere in London on March 16, 1896, with the English cellist Leo Stern. The work was well received. Brahms said of the work: "Had I known that one could write a cello concerto like this, I would have written one long ago!"

Whenever I read notes like that about jazz or classical LPs, I wish modern music had such copious, amusing liner notes, but unfortunately most indie rock LPs would be too similar to the Appleseed Cast’s self-congratulatory notes for the Low Level Owl albums. I’d find it hard to imagine that self-penned notes would come off well in any genre, excepting the light-hearted, self-effacing odds-and-ends notes like in Silkworm’s Even a Blind Chicken Finds a Kernel of Corn Now and Then (Archives, 1990-1994).

As for Dvořák’s Concerto in B Minor, side A of this LP suffered from a distracting level of surface noise, preventing a close listen, but side B was in better shape, excepting a few occasional pops. There’s a nice range to the concerto, going between blustery, orchestral drama and solemn, near solo cello performance from Rostropovich, although I tend to prefer the latter. I will readily admit I have no idea how this concerto stacks up against other comparable cello concertos, but I’ll likely do some reading on other prominent pieces(which became significantly more popular following WWII) and check out some of the classics. Maybe after 10-15 of them, I’ll actually have something worthwhile to say, but until then it’ll continue my awkward learning curve.

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On Dec 16, 03:08 PM dm said,