Music

A Crop Of Recordings V: French Rarities by Emmanuel, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Bizet, Magnard, Duparc and Berlioz

Albéric Magnard. Reproduction from La Revue musicale, Nov. 1st, 1920, Bibliothèque nationale de France

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.

François-Xavier Roth with the BSO in January, with solo turns from Elizabeth Rowe (flute), Jessica Zhou (harp), and Renée Fleming (soprano)

Conductor François-Xavier Roth. Photo Marco Borggreve.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra started the new year well with two programs under the direction of guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, who hails now from Cologne and is very active in Europe, much sought after. Conducting without baton, vigorous and engaged, Roth holds the players’ attention and gets what he wants. Orchestra and audience alike feel caught up in an unusually tense and purposeful address to the music at hand.

Recordings III: Ives, Copland, and Ginastera

Charles Ives

What does the music of Charles Ives sound like with an Australian orchestra and a British conductor? Different, one is tempted to to say, but not really. We’ve become used to our Ives done New York style, with Broadway snap and brass. No one gets that wrong. But Ives was a New Englander, and the disruptive elements in his music have perhaps been overstressed. He always explained that bits of band marches and Americana in the Second Symphony were present to remind him of his youth, not shock Horatio parker, his music teacher. And the famous razzy “non-chord” at the end was meant to evoke dance bands sending everyone home with a screech–not annoy the professor!

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