The Great French Organ Tradition With Paul Jacobs on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at 7:30pm in Paul Hall

Elgar

Recordings

A Crop of Recordings XXVIII: Elgar, Holst, Tchaikovsky, Debussy…and Karl Weigl

The feature I applaud most in this fine new release from BIS is its pairing of Great Britain’s two most internationally popular orchestral showpieces under one baton. You would think it natural to record them together, but a quick look at Amazon reveals only Sir Adrian Boult’s recordings available that way, and these were originally sold separately, supplemented with other music. You can also find Herbert von Karajan’s The Planets accompanied by Pierre Monteux’s Enigma Variations, both performances many decades old. Even these new Andrew Litton versions were actually laid down in studio four years apart (the Elgar in 2013, Holst in 2017) but were clearly intended for this release by BIS, and both were miked in Bergen’s Grieg Hall.
Recordings

A Crop of Recordings XXII: Atterberg, Frommel, Walton, Elgar, and Roussel

Amusingly, this parses out to us a bit like Sir Edward Elgar gone Hollywood in the more outgoing moments. The music gleams from below as it strides forth on buttered strings and brass. The slow movement has a mesmeric, rocking, floaty quality which seems never to end and then does…”unfinished.” For a finale, Atterberg necessarily cannot evoke what Schubert did not write, so we encounter a rather haltingly fugal enterprise at first which gathers steam until we are going full tilt in the triumphant manner of Richard Strauss meets Copland. Yes, I know. What on earth does that sound like? Well, the final march is treated in the Shostakovich/Tubin/Copland manner, but the propulsive tune itself is essentially the nervous last movement fugal subject from Strauss’s Symphonia Domestica. You will have to listen to it to know! And the bumptious bells-and-whistles ending is worth the price of admission.
Music

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Pinchas Zukerman, conductor and violinist, at Davies Hall

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.
Recordings

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

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.
Music

Charles Dutoit conducts The San Francisco Symphony in Stravinsky, Elgar, and Mussorgsky/Ravel, with Gautier Capuçon, Cello

It's hard to recall a time when Stravinsky's music carried with it the suggestion of impossible modernism. But it did—once. The appearance of Petrouchka on TV in 1960 made the viewer feel quite daring, I remember. It was "dissonant.” And the Rite of Spring, with all those purpose-led insect lives and braying jurassic fossils was just plain intimidating. Little did we know then that dinosaurs were merely large chickens and Stravinsky himself, if not exactly a pussycat, then about as threatening as a Russian wolfhound on Stupid Pet Tricks.
Music

The Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle at Carnegie Hall: Debussy, Dvořák, Schoenberg, Elgar, Bruckner, Wolf, and Mahler

A U.S. tour by one of the great European orchestras is a a costly endeavor—for everyone concerned—and, even if it is a biennial occurrence, it should be nothing less than an important event, especially in New York. I find it a severe disappointment when an orchestra offers routine programming on tour, no matter how well it shows off their glories. These are missed opportunities. The Berlin Philharmonic and their Director, Sir Simon Rattle, therefore deserve our thanks for sticking with the “curated” programming which made their last visit to Carnegie Hall such a memorable esperience. Back then, they combined a cycle of Brahms symphonies with works by Arnold Schoenberg. This year they have taken a step forward and a step back, narrowing their range, to explore the origins of the modern in music in the 1890s. On the way, they have also managed to include some of Sir Simon's signature repertoire in Elgar's "Enigma" Variations and Mahler's Second Symphony, both among the works with which he made his reputation early in his career.
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