Music

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!

Alfred Brendel, Deborah Voigt, James Levine, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra: Mozart, Webern, Berg, Strauss, Salome

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra James Levine, Music Director and Conductor Deborah Voigt, Soprano Alfred Brendel, Piano Webern, Six Pieces for Orchestra Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 Berg, Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6 R. Strauss,…
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Hector Berlioz, L’enfance du Christ, Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Colin has a long history with L’enfance du Christ. He made his first recording of it in 1960 at the age of 34. It was well-received in its time and is still respected today, but the current performance, part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s brilliantly successful series of live concert recordings made in the renovated and sonically improved Barbican Hall, is an absolute triumph.

Richard Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen: Siegfried, Royal Opera House Covent Garden under Antonio Pappano with John Tomlinson as Wotan

When, in my review of his recent performance to Haydn’s Creation, I was reflecting on Sir Colin Davis’ career, I mentioned the Ring Cycle he conducted at Covent Garden in 1976. I thought that Siegfried was the most successful of the performances, because Sir Colin seemed to have fallen in love with its spectacular score. In no other work are the beauties of Wagner’s composition so constantly and so openly present. As I sat raptly in my seat, the orchestra and all the wonderful qualities Sir Colin could reveal in it were without a doubt the focus of my attention. And so it is for most of us in most performances, past or present, whether it is Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Solti, Böhm (whose splendid Bayreuth performances, available on Philips, should be better remembered), Boulez, or Levine. The orchestra functions as storyteller—a surpassingly eloquent one, with all the resources of Wagner’s musical imagination.

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