Music

Recordings

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!

Recordings

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!
Recordings

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.
Music

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.

Music

Frans Brüggen, Viviane Hagner, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in an All-Mendelssohn Concert at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 10/18/07

One doesn’t often encounter all-Mendelssohn programs. If I were to find one in the Tanglewood season, I’d suspect it was a somewhat excessive gesture towards the more conservative members of the audience. On the other hand, from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Frans Brüggen, who has maintained a long-term relationship with the orchestra over the years, it meant a fresh look at three important works by a towering figure in nineteenth century music. Our view of Mendelssohn is still colored by the popular conception of him as a genial, highly privileged composer of tuneful works, who sadly died at the young age of thirty-eight. In truth, he was, both as a composer and a conductor, an extremely influential leader in the highly theoretical and factionalized world of Romantic music, the central figure in the more conservative, “classizing” group based in Leipzig.
Music

Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Thierry Fischer, Conductor play a Haydn Mass and Beethoven’s Fifth at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1974, has enjoyed a world reputation for some time now for the work they have achieved over the years under Sir Charles Mackerras, who still conducts the orchestra on occasion. And they are anything if not versatile, playing a repertory spanning the Baroque and the contemporary. Saturday evening they were in their Classical mode, playing Haydn and Beethoven with a slightly relaxed compliment of original instruments (i.e. cellos on pins and metal flute alongside gut strings, natural horn and trumpet, etc.) under the direction of the brilliant Swiss conductor, Thierry Fischer. The evening was a splendid success, full of imaginative insights and intense music-making. The orchestra and singers seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience, a special distinction for Mr. Fischer, who conducts without a baton, using vigorous, occasionally extravagant gestures, which never failed to bring the musicians together in committed playing and tight ensemble.
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