There is fascination here—on many levels. "Within these grooves", I am tempted to say, though one's gratitude this time is for the cleaning crew. Pristine has already given us some remarkable technical restorations of the Furtwangler discography. Encountering now these listenable and vivid performances by Sir Edward Elgar, recorded into acoustic horns at the near infancy of the art, is to know the best sort of alliance between digital wizardry and artistic judgment.
The best, and sometimes the worst, in recorded music.
Earlier in this backward glance, I tried to revive a feeling of what it might have been like to have a phonograph in one's life. Looking over it, a reader may sense that the 78rpm record was a fragile blessing at best, while perhaps understanding why even today a child would appreciate it. We left off in the early 1960s, where, one might suppose, the advent of the stereo LP solved everything! By then, I had decent quality electronics, and even the admiration of screech resistant female ears.
This isn't to say I was always so terribly thrilled with the outcomes, myself. The great curse of the phonograph, of course, was its tracking ability, surface noise and distortion. It was one thing to chisel a groove, another for your needle to follow it. Recordings were quite dynamically limited in those days, but even so, the Empire 108 cartridge simply would not track, even at 3 grams pressure, the first tutti in Klemperer's Philharmonia Schumann Fourth. It wasn't until 1963 and the Empire 880, that a cartridge could be expected to follow every groove. I was fairly happy with the bass performance of my Lafayette speakers, though. That year Charles Munch's famous recording of the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony on RCA was very much a sonic standard, and I was happy to note I could hear the 32cycle organ pedal tones in the slow movement.
David Fray's recent appearances in San Francisco, performing Beethoven's Second Concerto, revealed him to be a refined, supple colorist. It was less immediately clear how bold or romantic, or indeed "Gouldian" Mr. Fray would turn out to be in music more fully under his own direction. These two new excellent CDs begin to answer this question, and to suggest, moreover, the birth of a fine conductor.
In a recent interview the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, remarked that Igor Stravinsky pulled off the greatest camouflage in the history of music. He was referring to the composer’s lifelong stand that music expresses no emotions, indeed, expresses nothing except sound. Behind this mask, Salonen said, lies a man of deep feeling whose music is often as moving as any ever written. I began to think about Stravinsky and his camouflage, which has always baffled me. How could such glittering creations, each commanding your attention, whether as a shout across the primordial steppes or a murmur like the tick-tock of a mantel clock in the Princesse de Polignac’s salon, be about nothing?
Gil Rose is best known for his leadership of two high-profile Boston organizations, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), one of the major supporters of contemporary music in America, and Opera Boston, which specializes in musically outstanding performances of operatic masterpieces which have been neglected by the mainstream houses. I know I'll be eternally grateful to him and Opera Boston for my first opportunity to see Weber's Die Freischütz, universally regarded as a seminal work in the history of opera and a great one, but rarely performed today. Just last year there were Shostakovich's The Nose, and Rossini's Tancredi, and now Opera Boston's first commission of a new opera, Zhou Long's Madame White Snake.