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May 2015 - Posts

It's almost Impossible For Me To Choose Favorites In Classical Music
  If you ask me "who is my favorite composer , my favorite conductor ,  pianist , violinist , opera singer , orchestra " ,  sorry , I just can't  choose 

from so many great ones , living and dead .  But this is a characteristic of mine ;  I'm hard pressed to tell you my favorite  book ,  magazine ,

newspaper , film , television program ,  food, drink ,  website , or what have you .  

   I've been listening to , reading about ,  studying  and performing classical music for nearly 5o years now, since I was  only about 13 years old . .

I've experienced so many  great composers , works ,  musicians , recordings  and live performances  it's virtually immpossible  to name my 

favorites . Of course , I like some composers , some works and some  musicians more than others , and dislike some ,  but it's like choosing  

the favorite among your children .  

   Of course , I love the great established masterpieces of the repertoire by  Bach ,Mozart, Beethoven ,  Wagner,  and other famous composers ,

but there's so much wonderful music  which is off the beaten path  by composers who are not household names .  Ever heard of  such

composers as Karol Szymanowski , Carl Nielsen ,  Hans Pfitzner,  Arnold Bax ,  Albert Roussel ,  Sergei Taneyev ,  Alberic Magnard ,

Jon Leifs ,  Wilhelm Stenhammar , Nikolai Myaskovsky , Charles Koechlin ,  George Whitefield Chadwick ,  Havergal Brian ,

Roberto Gerhard ,  Rued Langgaard ,  etc ? Probably not unless you're a real lover of classical music  with a lot of listening experience ,

but all of these wrote some terrific music that is well worth hearing . And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to  obscure

but interesting composers .  They come from countries as diverse as Denmark , America , England , Russia , Poland , Sweden and even  

Iceland  in the case of Jon Leifs .  And it's so easy to  get recordings of their music now , even though your chances of hearing their music live

are not  very great .  

    It's similar with recordings .  You can get the music of Beethoven , Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky ,Debussy , Ravel  et  performed

by a galaxy of different conductors , orchestras , solists and singers  ranging  from the early 20 th century to  musicians of the present day .

   Take the  nine symphonies of Beethoven alone ; among the most important cornerstones of the classical canon .

The first complete recording of Beethoven's iconic fifth symphony was made by the Berlin Philharmonic  conducted by the once  

world famous Hungarian conductor Artur Nickisch  around  1914 , under the most primitive recording conditions . An acoustical

recording  made before electronic recordings .  It's a fascinating document .  Nickisch , one of the first superstar conductors , iived from

1855 to 1922 .  He was born less than  30 years after the death of Beethoven  in 1827 !   Since then ,  who knows how many  

conductors , famous and not so famous , have recorded the Beethoven symphonies, many in integral sets of all nine .  

Such legendary names as Toscanini , Bernstein , Stokowski ,  Karajan ,  Bruno Walter, Solti ,  Mengelberg ,  Klemperer , Carlos Kleiber ,

to name only a handful .  The young Venuzuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel , born in 1981 , is one of the more recent ones .

    How do you choose a favorite when you've heard so many recordings of just one famous symphony ? It's not easy .

You will like some more than others , but for me it's virtually impossible . Many conductors have recorded these symphonies

on two or more occaisions .  The legendary Austrian maestro Herbert von Karajan  left no fewer than FOUR sets of all nine Beethoven 

symphonies ,  beginning  in the 1950s  with London's Philharmonia orchestra , not to be confused with the London Philharmonic ,  and   then

with the Berlin Philharmonic , which he led  for over 30 years .  The last set was in Digital sound  in the 1980s . He lived from  1908 to 1989 .

    If you're looking for recordings of the Beethoven symphonies , it's a daunting task if you're a beginner .   

   As there is no one right way to  perform a musical work, especially an immortal masterpiece , there are different approaches  , and fans and

critics debate  the virtues of different recordings endlessly .  Which is the best ?  Who has made THE definitive recordign of any of the  nine

Beethoven symphonies .  Well, there is no such thign as a "definitive " performance of any  masterpiece . Different conductors  have

changed their  approach to interpretation over the years .  

    Do you want a classic recording by  such greats as Toscanini and Furtwangler  made  between the  1930s  and 50s  in  dated  ,

less than high fidelity sound ,  or a more recent digital one  recorded with amazing  clarity and presence by  eminent living  maestros

such as   Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly , Bernard haitink and others .  You can also  hear  recordings  on  period instruments , with gut 

strings, simpler woodwind instruments , valveless horns and trumpets and old  fashioned tympany  made with  leather  rather than plastic .

    One thing is certain ;   comparisons  between different conductors and orchestras are fascinating .  On one extreme, you have  the

fast and furious recordings of   the legendary Arturo Toscanini  , so full of nervous energy , and on the other extreme , the   slow, majestic,

weighty  and deliberate  recordings  of  the legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer .  Which is right ? You decide , but   no one

has a monopoly on the right way  to conduct the Beethoven symphonies .  As Beethoven has been dead for  narly 200 years , we will  

bever know  which  ones he woudl or would not have liked .  But the arguments will never cease among different  listeners .

    But we should be greatful for  the existence of so many different  interpretations .  

Possibly you will have your favorites .  But I just can't decide .  I'd rather just enjoy the music than worry about my favorites .


Posted: May 04 2015, 10:12 PM by the horn | with no comments
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