Book choices The French Connection: Caroline Potter Henri Dutilleux £34.99; Caroline Potter Erik Satie A Parisian Composer and His World; ed. Peter O’Hagan and Edward Campbell Pierre Boulez Studies (£69.45).
Though it does not cover the composer’s later years, Caroline Potter’s survey of the music of Henry Dutilleux is the standard English language account of his life and works. Though an older book, I mention in now because it was out of print until Routledge recently reissued it for £34.99. I never travel anywhere without my copy.
If you’d rather read about a different French composer, you could buy a more recent book by Caroline Potter: Erik Satie: A Parisian Composer and His World. It has just been awarded Sunday Times Classical Music Book of the Year. And, completing the French theme, is Pierre Boulez Studies, edited by Peter O’Hagan and Edward Campbell. Not for the casual reader, it offers serious academic perspectives on the composer from leading practitioners in the field, including the named editors, Robert Piencikowski, Pascal Decroupet, Werner Strinz and Jonathan Goldmann.
Wireless Earphones Apple AirPods £159.99; Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones £289.95
It seems that the whole world is going wireless at the moment. My choice for Apple users was going to be their new Airpods. With a minimalist design, fancy charging power case and deep integration into the Apple ecosystem, they make the perfect present for the Apple gadget lover. The problem is, it is not entirely certain they will be available before Christmas. You could, instead go for Apple’s Beats Solo3 headphones, which use similar technology to integrate with Apple devices, but which classical music lover would want to be seen with a brand of headphones that is associated with a bass heavy sound and a rather flimsy build?
There are, of course, much better audiophile options to chose from. If you want a really good spacious classical sound, go for open-backed. The only disadvantage with them, however, is that they don’t stop sound from your environment intruding on your listening experience. I prefer a compromise, something like Bose’s QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones, which are closed back whilst still providing decent sound. They also include class-leading noise cancellation, making them perfect when you are out and about.
Bargain Utility: Pocket Moleskine Music Notebook £9.27
Never be caught off-guard when musical inspiration arrives. This handy music pad will fit discreetly in your jacket pocket so you can composer anytime, anywhere…
CD pick: Deo, works for choir and organ by Jonathan Harvey £14.57.
Deo on Signum Classics is an exquisite collection of works by Jonathan Harvey performed by the choir of St. John’s College Cambridge conducted by Andrew Nethsingha. You can find out more in my original review, here. My favourite CD of the year.
I recommended several collections of contemporary music Christmas settings last year. Those still stand.
In addition to these, however, you may consider the recent O Emmanuel by J.J. Wright, which contains imaginative reworkings of familiar Christmas music. It may be a little on the saccharine side for some, but I enjoyed it a lot.
Alternatively you could try Noël Nouvelet which contains a nice mixture of new and old, including pieces by Bob Chilcott, John Rutter, Judith Weir, Naji Hakim and John Gardner.
Money no object pick: Surface Studio $2,999
The ultimate Christmas present for the technologically-minded composer. I raved last year about the Microsoft Surface running the Staffpad notation program. This year Microsoft has once again stolen a march on Apple with the release of its Surface Studio. It essentially performs the same trick as the smaller Surface, in that it can be operated as a normal computer, where it can run legacy programs such as Sibelius, and as a tablet, where is can use touch and stylus programs like Staffpad. The difference, however, is that the screen provides a gigantic area on which to work. There is also an innovative new input method, the Surface Dial, which can sit on the screen or near it, giving you an additional way of scrolling though menus etc. It really is a compelling device that comes, nevertheless, with two drawbacks: it has a hefty price-tag and, sadly, will not be available till early 2017. If someone wants to put a Studio preorder in my stocking, however, I would be quite happy to wait…
Strictly for fun: Classical Top Trumps £3.99
Classical composers ranked by ‘precocity’, ’staying power’, ’scandal quotient’, ‘output’ and ‘enduring love’ in this twist on the classic children’s game. A great distraction for Christmas Day.