Delving into the music of Alberic Magnard is to reach deep into the heart of French culture. Magnard was a subtle, aristocratic composer, trading in understatement. If you enjoy the delicate chromaticism of Gabriel Fauré, or Albert Roussel’s early works, such as his First Symphony, Poème de la forêt, you will love Magnard. If you are looking for the more obvious charms of Berlioz, Dukas, Franck or Saint-Saëns, you may be disappointed. Magnard is like Franck, but turned inward and away from Franck’s saccharine religiosity. Despite all the forte moments one could want, this is music best heard with the lights low and a log in the fireplace.
Even the most independent of us can't hear everything one might like to. In New York, choices must be made, usually based on what one thinks is most important, and often enough what is important has nothing to do with music. Family obligations kept me away from Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, although he was in his prime repertory for his final US appearances with the orchestra, and sheer surfeit diluted my enthusiasm for Gergiev. He is not the only friend of Vladimir Putin's to be accused of spending too much time on the golf course, and it shows in his wayward performances. What I did manage to hear brought discovery in conductors of exceptional ability I hadn't heard before and some new music, as well as measures of excitement, admiration, and boredom.
This is a groundbreaking recording—and a wonderful one! I first became aware of Elektra on an old Fritz Reiner/Inge Borkh LP of excerpts. The unusual violence of Strauss’s harmonies appealed to my teenage ears. Not long after, Georg Solti taped the complete opera, though without, I felt, the same crushing power from the podium as Reiner. But the sound of the orchestral score remained with me, and I always hoped someone would put together a suite. It’s taken 54 years in my case—but here it is!
Anyone who has heard Manfred Honeck conduct his own Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall or in their exemplary recordings on the Exton and Reference Recordings labels will know what a treasure he is for the world of music. This week he will conduct the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto with Inon Barnatan and Mahler's First Symphony. He has made something of a speciality of this composer, a fellow Austrian. His recorded cycle with Pittsburgh now includes Symphonies No. 1, 3, and 5. Maestro Honeck also has special insight into the work of Anton Bruckner, another fellow Austrian. He has so far recorded Bruckner's Fourth Symphony and looks forward to recording the Ninth. In this interview you will learn something about the care and intelligence he puts into preparing his performances and his particular feeling for these great composers.
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.