Music

Remembering Ormandy – In Case You Were There, Too

Even before this 10-CD commemorative set was issued, I noticed a wash of nostalgia for Eugene Ormandy among baby boomers. He was inescapable for that generation, the progenitor of hundreds of LPs, only a sampling of which are contained here. Ormandy became Leopold Stokowski’s associate conductor at the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936 and succeeded him two years later, beginning an unparalleled run of 44 years as music director before retiring in 1980, a reign no one will ever duplicate, or would want to. During that time Ormandy led the orchestra between 100 and 180 times a year. That, too, is a staggering statistic given that modern music directors, in their eagerness to spread themselves globally, are essentially long-term guests who drop in to visit their home orchestras for as little as a quarter of the regular season.

Prokofiev’s Music for Eisenstein with Valery Gergiev and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater at Fisher Hall, 11/17/2008

Valery Gergiev Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Avery Fisher Hall Monday, November 17, 2008 at 8:00 Sergey Prokofiev, Film Music Sergey Prokofiev Ivan the Terrible Alexander Nevsky The film score, Ivan the Terrible, is where I…
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Gustavo Dudamel leads the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra at the Proms

Wunderkindfest. Unless you are a stubborn opinionator, performances can confuse you at times. I was flummoxed last night at the Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and his Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, in a concert I was expecting to enjoy, though not to the utmost. The Berlioz Symphonie fantastique wore out its welcome many years ago, and only a brilliant performance can redeem it for me. That Dudamel did not deliver. Sparkling as he is in the bright media limelight, the skyrocketing young Venezuelan has to have the goods, too. In this case, his reading was flat, disjointed, and plodding, with a drawn-out Scene aux champs that lasted long enough for Madame Defarge to knit a quilt. The guillotine movement that followed was coarse and blatty, which is how the whole reading went, either in slow mo with exaggerated emphases or sped up recklessly. Dudamel’s inability to sustain tension in soft passages, one of the most blatant failings in a bad conductor, shocked me.

London Symphony Orchestra, The Barbican, Sir Colin Davis conductor, Nikolaj Znaider violin: Jan Sibelius, Les Océanides, Violin Concerto, Symphony No 4

Ugliness, thy name is Barbican. No other great orchestra has been miserably consigned to a concrete mausoleum of art except the London Symphony.  I went to hear them last night in an all-Sibelius program under Sir Colin Davis. One approaches the Barbican by trudging through an underpass with four lanes of traffic two feet from your elbow and banks of jaundice-colored sodium vapour lamps overhead.  The building itself looks like something airlifted intact from East Berlin. The architectural style is a spawn of Brutalism, a masochistic favourite with the British in the post-war era,  but without being quite as punitive.

In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.

Eastman Studies in Music from The University of Rochester Press and Boydell & Brewer publish their 50th volume and then some

In February the University of Rochester Press published the 50th volume in its acclaimed series. The book is entitled Eastman Studies in Music: Music Theory and Mathematics: Chords, Collections, and Transformations(edited by Jack Douthett, Martha M. Hyde, and Charles J. Smith). “When we began, I didn’t dare dream that this could happen,” says Ralph Locke (pictured right in front of the URP offices), a professor at the Eastman School of Music for more than 30 years and series editor since 1994. “We started producing two books a year, and now we are up to seven and growing, which means we can publish books on a range of topics and reach a wider spectrum of the reading public.”

G. F. Handel, Messiah, Sir Colin Davis, LSO

Two of the best recordings of Messiah are among the most recent. They could not be more different; one is is an eclectic text performed by larger forces using modern instruments, Sir Colin Davis’ most recent version, a live performance recorded at the Barbican in December 2006, the other a performance of the Dublin version of 1742 by a small consort using historical performance practices; but they are unquestionably among the finest performances of Handel’s masterpiece ever, and only a listener who has a seated prejudice against one mode of performance or the other could have any reason to choose between them. One must have both. And don’t forget Malcolm Sargent’s classic 1945 performance with the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society, available in a superb transfer on Dutton Records, for something completely different!

G.F. Handel, Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742) The Dunedin Consort and Players

Two of the best recordings of Messiah are among the most recent. They could not be more different; one is a performance of the Dublin version of 1742 by a small consort using historical performance practices and the other is an eclectic text performed by larger forces using modern instruments, Sir Colin Davis’ most recent version, a live performance recorded at the Barbican in December 2006; but they are unquestionably among the finest performances of Handel’s masterpiece ever, and only a listener who has a seated prejudice against one mode of performance or the other could have any reason to choose between them. One must have both. And don’t forget Malcolm Sargent’s classic 1946 performance with the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Huddersfield Choral Society, available in a superb transfer on Dutton Records, for something completely different!

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