Music

A Crop Of Recordings VI: Symphonic Works by Strauss, Prokofiev, Mahler and Sibelius

Gustav Mahler.

There is nothing more cozy and comfortable in the symphonic canon than the harmless narcissism of Strauss’s “domestic” symphony, originally titled “My home. A symphonic portrait of myself and my family.” Just how tasteful it all is has been a subject of debate ever since 1903, of course. As Peter Ustinov famously said of the composer: “I knew I wouldn’t like his wallpaper.” As it turned out, he didn’t.

Alan Gilbert Conducts the New York Philharmonic at Davies Hall, San Francisco

Alan Gilbert conducts New York Philharmonic. Photo © Chris Lee.

Davies Hall , San Francisco The New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert, conductor May 6, 2016 Beethoven—Egmont Overture, Opus 84 Beethoven—Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92 ***** Sibelius——-Symphony No. 7 in C major, Opus 105 Sibelius——-Finlandia, Opus 26 “My…
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A Crop Of Recordings V: French Rarities by Emmanuel, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Bizet, Magnard, Duparc and Berlioz

Maurice Emmanuel in the 1930s. Photo from Bibliothèque Musicale Mahler, fonds Maurice Emmanuel

Every so often a release comes along which serves to remind listeners that a particular national repertory is not always so well known to us as we think. Not all beloved works cross the pond. This has a lot to do with immediacy and easily recognizable, iconic tunes.

Edwin Outwater Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Weber, Saint-Saëns, Busoni and Hindemith

Edwin Outwater. Photo © edwinoutwater.com.

Davies Hall, San Francisco January 29, 2016 The San Francisco Symphony Edwin Outwater, Conductor Stephen Hough, Piano Weber — Oberon Overture (1826) Saint-Saëns — Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Opus 103, Egyptian, (1896) Busoni — Music from Turandot Suite, Opus 41 (1905)…
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A Crop of Recordings IV: Enescu, Suk, Poulenc, Martinů, Tchaikovsky

George Enescu and violin. From romaniapozitiva.ro

As collectors know, exploring outside the basic repertory is often both frustrating and rewarding.  The search for significant neglected music, one learns early, is not so easy as it appears. Many worthy pieces one falls in love with turn out to be partial works of genius, with uninspired moments we choose to forgive, defects of length and proportion, or performing requirements condemning them to obscurity.

The San Francisco Symphony: Herbert Blomstedt, conductor; Maria João Pires, piano, in Beethoven and Bruckner

Pianist Maria João Pires

It was a surrealistic night. Every so often a trip to the symphony is like that. It had oddities—both nice and annoying.

First-off, I thought, ninety seems to be the new seventy. And seventy surely is the new fifty. As Herbert Blomstedt came onstage, he didn’t look eighty-nine, that’s for certain! Just slightly snowier than last time. Tall, eager, ambassadorial as ever—Blomstedt led the evening without baton and the symphony from memory—an incredible feat with this edition.

Ian Hobson, piano: Preludes – Etudes – Variations at Merkin Concert Hall, February 22, 2016: Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff

Pianist Ian Hobson

Mr. Hobson’s program, consisting of a very early work by Chopin, which he wrote as a conservatory student at age 17 and performed soon after his graduation two years later, the fifty-year-old Debussy’s peak as a writer for the piano, and Rachmaninoff’s final work written in Russia: in 1917, when he was forty-four, and his world was crumbling around him, as the Revolution continued its course and he realized that he would have to leave his native country, where he had friends, money, and property, and face an uncertain future as an exile, most likely supporting his family with concert tours in the United States, which he hated. All these works have their harmonic, coloristic, and emotional extremities, at points going as far as to reflect the Paganinian tradition of the demented, or diabolical virtuoso. Hobson responded to this with full sympathy in all, as well as prodigious energy.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Pinchas Zukerman, conductor and violinist, at Davies Hall

Sir Edward conducts an acoustic recording session.

I missed hearing the Royal Philharmonic last February in London. But while there, I found myself often reminded of the problems British orchestras and audiences face. Festival Hall, which once sounded like a pretty good hi-fi system, disposed of its Helmholtz “resonators” in a recent renovation and in so doing lost half its reverberation time, however artificial. It now sounds like NBC’s late unlamented Studio 8H.

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