Newly on board. What I’d like to do on this blog is exchange views on great music, great performances, recordings that ought to be reissued, recordings that have been but that are undervalued … and performers/recordings that you would like to see given more airtime

40 thoughts on “Newly on board. What I’d like to do on this blog is exchange views on great music, great performances, recordings that ought to be reissued, recordings that have been but that are undervalued … and performers/recordings that you would like to see given more airtime

    1. Now come on old chap, there are limits! ūüėČ But of course, seriously, Bax and Glazzers are exactly the sortd of composers who need to be discussed. For me Bax 3 and Glazunov 8 in particular press as many buttons as most people need. But what about the Moeran Symphony? Some think of it as a masterpiece (especially in Leslie Heward’s or Tod Handley’s recordings), whereas others are troubled by what they hear as too many Sibelian influences. Is Moeran up your strasse or not?

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      1. I’m going set things in motion properly here (with thanks to those who have made contact via Twitter and Facebook). I’ve been giving talks to students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the subject: comparative interpretation. Last week it was Rach 3 (Rachmaninov, Horowitz [4 versions], Cliburn, Volodos, Bolet, Cherkassky, Argerich, etc). Next week it’s Chopin Mazurkas, with Horowitz, Rosenthal and Friedman occupying the front seats. It struck me that in the case of Friedman ‘alternate takes’ are almost as radically unalike as they are in jazz (ie, Ellington or Kenton). Arbiter have issued a version of the Ab Polonaise (1933) that’s so different to the one we already know (1929), you could as well be listening to a different pianist. Oh, were we to have access to Warner’s shellac archive – what treasures we’d uncover!

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      2. Charles Day

        I enjoy the Moeran – played the Heward only this week off a new transfer from LP, but it not up to the standard of Arnold Bax who is also not up to the standard of the real greats. I am always reminded, at moments like this, of Strauss’s description of himself as a first rate second string composer – I mean Richard, of course.

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      3. I discovered Bax via the slow, wistful final section of his third symphony–i made a copy to play in the car and it must have had 100 plays in the last twenty years. In the earlier days Radio 3 was not keen on playing single movements or sections but things have changed now,and I am wondering if my favourite bite-sized extract has been played on the morning shows? I used it as background for an obituary / tribute film.

        I’d be interested to hear your opinion of this part of an otherwise rather forbidding work.

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      4. BAX AND BROADCASTING BITE-SIZE TASTERS OF UNFAMILIAR WORKS
        Believe it or not I hear parallels between Bax 3 and Gor√©cki 3. I don’t know if the final section of the Bax has been played on Radio 3 Breakfast but if it were to appear I’ve a feeling they’d make a bit of a killing. On a related topic how do my visitors here feel about using radio to showcase excerpts from unusual symphonies, much as one might extract a speech from a little-known but significant play, or a poem from an unfamiliar cycle? Not quite the same as the ‘popular movements’ syndrome (something entirely different) but a great way to sample rarely heard works of some musical merit. For example, the finales from Dvor√°k 3 and Smetana’s Festive Symphony, or Schoenberg’s orchestral version of Brahms’s First Piano Quartet. Why not nominate some works and favoured movements?

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  1. Giancarlo Gemin

    Verdi’s Macbeth with Fischer-Dieskau and Souliotis. Many people dislike Fischer-Dieskau in the Italian opera repertoire but I think this recording (on Decca and hard to find) is superb. Fischer-Dieskau is no Gobbi or Milnes but he’s a great singing actor. The recording is conducted with great power and bags of atmosphere by Lamberto Gardelli. It also boasts Ghiaurov and Pavarotti. Souliotis had a gigantic voice and, for me, simply top of the list for Lady Macbeth (with huge respect to Cossotto and Verrett). Come on Decca – re-issue please

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      1. Rob Cowan

        also Giancarlo … a good friend of mine (who isn’t into blogs and would rather remain anonymous) reminds me of D F-D’s wonderful Sony recording of the Schoeck Notturno with the Juilliards. Have you heard is DG LP of Strauss’s Enoch Arden with Jorg Demus? I picked up a mint copy in Prague for the equivalent of 50p!

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  2. Agree with Rob about Glazunov, of course, but need to spend more time with Bax. Moeran is interesting: it’s always seemed fresh to me and it’s stock should have risen considerably after the televised Proms performance a few years ago. It deserves to receive more concert outings, and I would say the same applies to, say, Stenhammar 2 and the remarkable Taneyev Symphony in C minor.

    As for who deserves more air time: my suggestion of the day would be Kalliwoda – most of the symphonies have now been recorded and there’s a wonderful CD of string quartets. I remember Martin Handley being quite taken with that CD when I advocated it on Breakfast last December. But has any Kalliwoda been played on Radio 3 since?

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    1. Andrew, when I featured the Talich Quartet as my ‘Artists of the Week’a couple of months back I included a terrific Kalliwoda Quartet then (as I recall, it was the Second), beautifully played.
      I’m playing Taneyev 2 on Sunday 2nd November, with Fedoseyev conducting.

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      1. Yes, of course – my mistake. Perhaps we’ll hear one of the symphonies one day!
        Regarding the Stenhammar: I used to play the Stig Westerberg recoding in my office with headphones on and my colleague next door asked me one day what I was singing! It’s that kind of piece.

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  3. We can always argue over who is second rate but we all know who is first rate don’t we ? Then there are the cases for special pleading, usually on nationalist grounds, Elgar or Vaughan Williams, say …

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    1. Rob Cowan

      Stuart, you say ‘but we all know who is first rate don‚Äôt we?’ … though you’d be surprised how many people won’t concede the point, preferring instead to take a relativistic stance. I always like toying with an order of rank, an idle (and none-too-serious) pastime it’s true, but interesting to note whether your priorities change. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are fairly constant front runners … but what about fourth place: Wagner? Schubert? Verdi? Stravinsky? Bart√≥k? Isn’t easy!

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  4. Sue Black

    I’m worried this will be too musically recondite for me. After 50+ years of listening to hours of music a day I haven’t yet got to the end of the well known great works. I think some of them can’t be destroyed by bad performances (Beet 9th) or madly different arrangements. I would like performances with words to be discussed and compared with reference to the text. Often in discussions it’s ignored. Too often when introducing music we’re told about the performers and the musical structure but left in the dark about the words. Sometimes the words bear different interpretations ( the schone Mullerin) and it’s exciting when attention is drawn to that. I shall follow this blog with great interest. Thanks for starting it..

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    1. I agree with this about the importance of the texts. A perfect test is Der Leiermann, the last song of Winterreise, the way stresses fall, the sense of musical line, the pathos in the voice (and, vitally, the differences between voices, often so personal), voice range, control of tone and dynamic, etc. Fifty different recordings are fifty different worlds, whether in or out of context with the cycle as a whole.

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    1. Jed – really great to have you here. I’d love to read postings from you … try Chopin Mazurkas for starters. I’m talking about them next week (to students that is, not on radio!)

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  5. I have great difficulty deciding which interpretations are good and which less good (or even which I like and I don’t like). The main thing that I do notice is speed – many versions of things are too fast or too slow. But when someone says that a performance is something like “refined” or “greatly inward”, I usually can’t tell what they mean. I listen dutifully to “Building a library” every week, and apart from speed they all sound much the same to me. Perhaps I just never hear hear really bad performances, or have cloth ears. I do like mono 78 performances though; they always sound jollier.

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    1. This is interesting Trevor. You’re comment about 78 performances sounding ‘jolly’ made me smile: might that be something to do with nostalgia and the tight ‘wireless’- style sound? (Though I have no idea how old you are). Of course when compiling a Building a Library slot relative tempos are of the essence, and so is chosen language. Words like ‘refined’ ‘sophisticated’ ‘aristocratic’ ‘inward’ etc are somewhat nebulous; it’s an easy trap to fall into (one that I’ve not always successfully avoided myself). My rule of thumb, generally speaking, is that if the excepts don’t work without comment, then they’re the wrong excerpts

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      1. BertieRussell

        Yes but surely some descriptions are more appropriate than others. For instance take the overture to the opera Lohengrin, or the ‘Daybreak’ section from Ravel’s Daphnes and Chloe. I would attribute terms like enchantment, rapture or ecstasy to them. Whereas I think those terms would be less fitting for the wonderful flow of melodies of the ‘Pastoral’ symphony. I enjoyed Stephen Johnson’s commentary in ‘Discovering Music’.

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    1. Agreed Bertie – but specific descriptions will strike a chord with some and not with others, just as with reviews some musicians read them and wonder whether the critic in question has actually been to the same concert! Words can both guide and deceive in equal measure.

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  6. Charles Day

    The reality is that it is always difficult to assess relative merits when dealing with composers fairly close together in reputation – Bartok and Stravinsky for instance or Haydn and Mozart. What we can say with certainty is that Beethoven is a greater composer than Hummel – but if it is just the ‘obviousness’ of that comparison that makes the judgement easy, is there possibly a hidden truth about the relative merits in more subtle cases that we are unable (at least up till now) to ascertain? Discuss.

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    1. Rob Cowan

      ‘A hidden truth’ Charles. Tough one, that. Do you mean a truth regarding some relative merit that various individuals aren’t up to realising, but that is true none the less?
      ‘Up till now’ … interesting. How is ‘now’ different to ‘before’? Do we have techniques at our disposal that could settle these issues once and for all? You’re trespassing on territory where critical fisticuffs are fairly common. Discuss indeed!

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      1. Charles Day

        If we can claim in an empirical way that Hummel is a lesser composer than Beethoven, then the extension of the logic surely is – and this has nothing, of course, to do with taste, that there is a yet unestablished truth regarding the respective merits of, say, Bartok and Stravinsky – and it may well be the case that with such fine and complex observations to make, it never will be established. The ‘up till now’ simply refers to the passage of time sometimes required to accurately appreciate the true worth of any artist. I must hasten to add that these musings have nothing to do with the enjoyment of the music that one loves and so I do hope nobody is going to state how unimportant these thoughts are.

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      2. BertieRussell

        Aldous Huxley thought that greatness could only be apprehended intuitively, by some sort of ‘inward certainty’. His thoughts have been collected in a interesting book: Temporaries and Eternals: The Music Criticism of Aldous Huxley.

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  7. Sue Black

    Dear Rob, Please could you use your influence to get a CD of the 1959 recording of excerpts from G√∂tterd√§mmerung — Furtw√§ngler and Flagstad with the Vienna Phil.
    It has proved itself the perfect introduction to the work and in fact the whole Ring to those who didn’t know it. Our vinyl copy has vanished. Many thanks.

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  8. Rob Cowan

    Hi Sue. Thanks for that. EMI/Warners have in fact reissued that recording, alongside all Furtw√§ngler’s other VPO Wagner recordings – 2 CDs worth as I recall. Go onto Amazon: I’m sure you’ll locate a copy. Or Google ‘Furtw√§ngler Flagstad Vienna Philharmonic Wagner’. That should do the trick.

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  9. Rob Cowan

    Charles. Thanks for that. I suppose ‘rank shuffling’ (to coin a term) tends to involve the less-than-great, usually launched by music boffins who have this or that composer enthusiasm to promote. And why not. Important? More ‘useful’ I would have thought.

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  10. Charles Day

    It is just another take on all art – whilst I find a lot of people sniff at this sort of thing when it is being discussed, when it isn’t – they indulge it!

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  11. Bendor Grosvenor

    Ah, delighted to see you have a blog (and indeed are on Twitter). Now, straight in with a question you doubtless aren’t able to answer: why can’t we have you back on the Breakfast show (and preferably every week, instead of that rotation business)?! Your breakfast shows were absolutely the best, and your choice of music was always so perfectly pitched for the time of day. Of course, I listen in the later slot, but I tend not to have as much time to do so. Anyway, look forward to seeing how the blog develops.

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    1. How very generous of you Bendor … thanks so much. I loved Breakfast while I was on it but Essential Classics allows me new opportunities. Aside from chatting to the likes of Stephen Fry, Cerys Matthews and Andrew Motion (and working in conjunction with the lovely Sarah Walker), there’s the chance to play longer works (as there is on Sunday Morning) in relatively rare recordings, some rare repertoire too, ie Miaskovsky 15 last Sunday (under Kondrashin – really quite remarkable). If I had me way I’d drive everyone mad and be on all day!

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      1. trevorharley

        And presumably you don’t have to get up so early. Although not really relevant to this blog, why has the guest spot changed from 10.30 to 10? It used to break up the programme nicely. Now all the fun (with the brainteaser) is squeezed into the first half.

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      2. Time-wise I think the consensus was that the interview works better for most people, they can catch it more easily. Don’t kid yourself that I get up much later than I used to Trevor; I’m in by 7, chill out with a book before I go over my notes (I don’t use a script, just ‘bullet points’)

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    1. Alas Peter the best you can do is chase it up with the magazine. Having edited two mags myself (‘CD Review’ and ‘Classics’) all I can say is that is that lack of space is a dreadful problem, with too many worthwhile releases falling through the net. Ditto I would imagine with Radio 3’s CD Review.

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  12. trevorharley

    I want to do know what presenters do when the music is playing. Do you sit and listen dutifully? Or put your feet up, have a coffee, a couple of fags, do the Times crossword, and rush back to the microphone as the piece is finishing?

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    1. Speaking for myself Trevor, yes I do listen, hence the fact that I quite often come off the back of a piece with an appreciative comment (or not, according to what we’ve been hearing). Also, on Essential Classics not everything is planned. Quite often the last half hour is left open so I can take the opportunity to throw in a real goody on the spur of the moment (or at least on the spurt of the hour). Then there are the ‘challenges’, emails, tweets, texts. I don’t have the facility to answer them in the studio but they need to be read. Coffee, sometimes; tea, more often (hardly any milk, no sugar), but no crosswords and definitely no fags – though that wouldn’t have been the case 40 years ago! ūüôā

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