Tag Archive: Beethoven

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.

Boston and Berlin at Carnegie in 2015

Carnegie Hall, 1906

The fall 2015 orchestral season at Carnegie Hall was dominated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s traditional three-concert visit, this time in October, and a five-concert traversal of Beethoven’s symphonies by the Berlin Philharmonic under their outgoing principle conductor/artistic director, Simon Rattle. Both had their joys and peculiarities, but only Berlin confronted us with any actual disappointments.

Krzysztof Urbański Debuts with Emanuel Ax and the San Francisco Symphony in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony

Krzysztof Urbański conducts. Photo by Maria Maślanka

This was an old-fashioned program — the kind audiences like. Two grand and tuneful symphonic works. A venerated pianist. The debut of a young matinee idol conductor. And last but not least, total absence of any threatening nouvelle cuisine for the ear. So how did it go, this debut?

Marek Janowski Leads the San Francisco Symphony in Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” Preludes and the Beethoven Fourth and Eighth Symphonies

Marek Janowski. Photo © CAMI.

Marek Janowski always brings a convincing German something to our orchestra. Polish born, Janowski was raised in Germany and reigns at the Berlin Radio Symphony–indeed is known throughout Europe for his Wagner, Bruckner, Schumann and Beethoven. He’s even managed to elicit convincing Bruckner from the Suisse Romande in Geneva–that alone surely worth some nation’s Legion of Honor–and every so often does the rounds instructively with us. This time Pfitzner was the centerpiece.

A Crop of Recordings II: Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Schmitt, Magnard, and Beethoven

Conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883 Vevey - 1969 Geneva)

About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.

Richard Goode Plays Beethoven’s Last Three Sonatas and Bagatelles, Op. 119 at Jordan Hall, Boston

Richard Goode

This was a great recital—almost. Richard Goode played the last three Beethoven piano Sonatas and a set of late Bagatelles, and was quite convincing, even revelatory, with all the material except the final Sonata, the forbidding Opus 111. This last came off well, it felt meant—and all those difficult notes were well articulated—but the full emotional daring of the piece was not quite there.

The great Composers? Part V: Schickele Mixed Up

Reverence for the Great Composer

It has been observed that there are only two kinds of music, good and bad. Duke Ellington said that if it sounds good it probably is good. Peter Schickele, the well-known avatar of P. D. Q. Bach (1807-1742), dedicated his weekly radio programme, Schickele Mix, to the principle that all musics are created equal, so you might think that he doesn’t believe in the good and the bad. Each episode is a light-hearted, although somewhat heavy-humored, presentation of diverse musical excerpts loosely connected by a musical, historical or literary thread.

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