Have your say … your open forum to write about …

… any aspects of recordings, repertoire, artists, reissues, critical responses or broadcasting, especially Cowan’s Classics on classicfm.com  Make yourselves known and we can enter into dialogue. Hope to hear from you.

28 thoughts on “Have your say … your open forum to write about …

  1. BertieRussell

    On Utube there’s an utterly engrossing performance (on video) of the Titan Symphony, with Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Do you think it rates high compared to other recordings ? Recently I also heard the long duet between father and daughter, from Simon Boccanegra, played by Chernov and Te Kanawa respectively. What a treat! I believe fewer people would sneer at opera if such standards of singing were encountered more often. I would welcome all responses from connoisseurs, as I am still a novice when it comes to knowledge of great performances.

    Thank you!


  2. Thanks Bertie. First, Kubelík, who for me is utterly peerless in Mahler 1. I saw him with his Munich band performing the Symphony at the RFH (the ‘Jupiter’ was on the same programme) and I will never forget it. No-one brings the ‘Klezmer’ episodes to life like his does and his easeful, loose-limbed way with the music never precludes genuine excitement. For me he’s also the best in the far more elusive Seventh Symphony – brings out the music’s verdant stream of consciousness. As to the Verdi, I agree about that Boccanegra and about the importance of high singing standards in opera. Nothing more off-putting than a distracting wobble or faulty intonation. I think of the Toscanini Otello with Ramon Vinay in the title role – a two-hour opera (surely the greatest ever written) that passes in what seems like five minutes – and the old Wagner broadcasts with Melchior and Flagstad. Anyone who hasn’t yet heard the Götterdämerung ‘Love Duet’ with Traubel and Melchior with Toscanini conducting simply hasn’t heard the music. Such drama, dynamism, lightning inflections and full-throated passion …. there’s been nothing like it since …. even the Nilsson/Windgassen/Solti set sounds like a bunch of slouches by comparison, for all Decca’s vastly superior sound. But I realise I am going back a bit here and there are plenty of more recent opera recordings that are uncommonly fine. The Price/Corelli/Karajan Carmen is a personal favourite.
    Best. Rob


    1. BertieRussell

      I am infinitely grateful for the suggestions! I’m particularly piqued by the Otello.

      Concerning the Kubelik Titan, I equally adore every section of the symphony: from the tentative, exploratory first notes of the opening, to the sweeping melody, 3-4 minutes into the 4th movement. Manos Hadjidakis, arguably Greece’s greatest composer (whose symphonic work ‘Giocondas Smile’ I urge you to listen to) was particularly fond of Mahler’s work. He used to invite his friends over to his apartment (in the early 50’s) and introduce them to the symphonies of Mahler. If they failed to be moved, they fell in his estimation, and courted estrangement. He also reworked a theme from the 2nd movement of Mahler’s 7th, into a tango.

      Thank you again,

      All the best, Bertie


  3. Hi Rob. In an age where previously unknown composers have gained much attention I’ve often wondered why George Lloyd’s symphonies haven’t received modern recordings. Perhaps not the very greatest of music, they’re very well crafted and melodic. Of course there are recordings of the composer conducting them which are very good but I do feel a full time professional conductor is required to bring out their full potential.

    I’ve often wondered, in the circumstances that I win the Euromillions, (£133,000,000 on Friday!!), I’d live to sponsor a set of recordings. Ideally, Die Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon would certainly raise their profile but I’d settle for for other interpreters!

    What do you think, Rob?


  4. Well I have a Lyrita set somewhere here Rob featuring I think three symphonies and I must listen to them again. Incidentally, I used to see Lloyd from the top of a No.113 bus standing outside Baker Street station, presumably prior to a meeting. He always looked as if he’d walked straight out of Last of the Summer Wine! And what about Bantock? And of course Bax and Arnold? Plenty of groundwork to be done with promoting rarely-heard British orchestral works. More ideas please! Best. Rob


  5. BertieRussell

    A theme I’d like to introduce(and would greatly appreciate your blog’s contributors views on), is about books/publications where the commentary enriches or sometimes even partially eclipses the work of art. Some examples I’d include would be Aldous Huxley’s ‘Texts and Pretexts’, Clive James’s essays on Philip Larkin and of course R. Hughes’s art criticism. In this blog’s opinion has anyone achieved something comparable for classical music ?


  6. I can think of many great examples of writing on art and literature. Not just the critical works of Kundera, Calvino, Borges etc, and books by Meyer Shapiro, Focillon, Marin, Gombrich, Clark, and so on, but also things like Walter Benjamin on Baudelaire, or Roger Fry on Cezanne. The list seems almost endless! But I struggle to recall any book on music that engaged me very much. Is it partly because books on classical music are either written for the layman, and consequently don’t include any technical terms or analysis/musical examples and fail to get inside the music, or they are written for those who read and understand music, in which case they can become over reliant on analysis and turn out rather ‘dry’. Or maybe there are brilliant books on music out there that I’ve missed? (suggestions welcomed!)


    1. Many thanks for that Graham. Well I’d say Deryck Cooke’s ‘The Language of Music’ manages to nab the layman without dryness and so does Richard Tarsukin’s History of Western Music (not to mention, more specifically, his writings on Russian music). People like Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard also skirt around music (the latter regarding Don Juan in ‘Either/Or’). People claim that writing or even talking about music is difficult which is in a sense correct though talking about the images and feelings that music inspires, where a sort of muse provides the writer with dictation, isn’t actually difficult at all, or shouldn’t be – if it’s genuine.


      1. I’d forgotten about the Deryck Cooke (although it’s sitting on a shelf nearby!). And to add to your interesting list Rob there’s also Kundera on Jancek, and probably many more examples. And it’s curious that these are writers, rather than musicians, who are saying revealing things on music. But maybe that’s because they are writers? It makes me think of one of George Steiner’s books, ‘The Poetry of Thought’, where he talks about thought/ideas being inseparable from literary style, and that was a bit of a revelation to me when I read it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Steiner! Ah yes Graham. Now there’s a mind, and while the style can be dense – the perfect example of where reading the words is better than listening to them (so you can properly savour what is being said) – there are so many rich ‘ingredients’ there. I remember many, many years ago reading ‘Language and Silence’ and subsequent to that inheriting the modest library of my uncle (the cartoonist and editor Philip Zec). He also had a copy and when I thumbed through its pages I found to my amazement that we’d both circled, in pencil, exactly the same passage. I was chuffed beyond belief! (though sadly I can’t now recall exactly what that passage was)
        Best Rob


      3. What a incredible coincidence that was for you and your uncle to both be fascinated by the same passage in the Steiner. And that was probably the first book of his I discovered, and I’ve read several others since although, as you say, they are always pretty dense, illuminating, and require a lot of concentration!!


  7. allanevans565053587

    In the realm of Art, Ernst Gombrich’s commentary opens one’s eyes to see inside works from all ages and grasp their context. HIs mother Leonie had been Leschetizky’s assistant and introduced Serkin to her sonata partner Adolf Busch in her Vienna home. What a base for Grombrich’s perception!


  8. allanevans565053587

    In the realm of Art, Ernst Gombrich’s commentary opens one’s eyes to see inside works from all ages and grasp their context. HIs mother Leonie had been Leschetizky’s assistant and introduced Serkin to her sonata partner Adolf Busch in her Vienna home. What a base for Gombrich’s perception!


  9. Interesting Alan. And of course there are the writings of such great composers as Mahler and (sometimes) Wagner whose musings cross the bridge from both directions, ie literary and musical.


  10. BertieRussell

    I’d like to record my impressions of listening to Bernstein’s rendition of Brahms’s 2nd Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, and invite contributions/comments. After listening to this rendition several times over the past year, I believe that Brahms had few peers as a composer. The themes are masterfully, nay peerlessly interwoven. I would parallel the symphony’s effect on the ear, with that of the effect a beautiful natural landscape has on the eye. It’s seeming unstrained effortlessness, makes it difficult for one to associate it’s origin with the struggle of the compositional process. Like the 2nd movement of Schubert’s Unfinished symphony it brings these lines to my mind

    Oh, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
    That breathes upon a bank of violets

    Musical innovation and melodic facility may have been more salient qualities of other famous composers. But in compositional skills Brahms seems to have few rivals.


    1. Couldn’t agree more Bertie and thank you for writing, and for the pertinent quote. It’s funny isn’t it how ‘motifs’ of different sorts run throughout various composers’ careers? In the case of Brahms I’d cite the number Two as significant, with various works carrying that number greeted by autumnal twilight – the Second Symphony, for sure (and Bernstein in Vienna certainly takes a genial stroll in appreciation of autumn), the Second Serenade (LB’s glorious NYPO recording has just been reissued in the Sony box), the Second String Quartet and String Sextet (intimate music that fits the current season like a glove) and the Second Violin Sonata, a mellow summer work written in Switzerland. For what it’s worth I can offer personal recommendations for all of these, Bruno Walter with the NYPO at Carnegie Hall in 1951 for the Symphony (Pristine PASC124), Bernstein (Sony), Toscanini (Sony/RCA) or Abbado (DG) for the Serenade, Heifetz & co for the Sextet (RCA) – or the Marlboro Festival group (Sony) – the Busch (Warners), Amadeus (DG) or Budapest (Sony, import) Quartets in the Quartet and Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin in the Violin Sonata (Warners). Other recommendations – or even objections to mine! – would be welcomed.
      Best, Rob.


      1. BertieRussell

        Always a true privilege hearing from you Rob. As to the worth of your recommendations: to me spiritual goods are invaluable, their freshness is perpetually renewed for us. Recently I listened to Manfred Honeck’s excellent rendition of Dvorak’s 8th, where I also felt the opening theme of the symphony as a earthy exhalation. I could say the same of the slow movement of Beethoven’s 4th, conducted by Bruno Walter with the Columbia Symphony orchestra. As so often, Shakespeare hit the nail on the head with his metaphor. An aside: have you read any of Seamus Heaney’s literary criticism ? I think some of it (on Yeats, Larkin, Dylan Thomas) truly wonderful.
        Be well !


  11. Thanks so much Bertie. Seamus Heaney – who I had the privilege of joining on a story judging panel years ago – was indeed an awesome critic/commentator, as well as a great poet. If you get a chance do try Cynthia Ozick: her literary criticism is on the same exalted level as Heaney’s. Her volume ‘Letters of Intent’ contains riches galore. Manfred Honeck’s new Pittsburgh Eroica is up there with his versions of 5 and 7. With best wishes, Rob.


  12. BertieRussell

    I would like to record my impressions about a piece that has always moved me deeply, the 3rd movement of the 2nd symphony by Sibelius. The beginning of the movement reminds me of these lines by Yeats

    Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
    That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice

    while the climax, where the brass blare out the theme, are (for me) evoked here

    And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
    Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
    Riddled with light.

    Another poetic association that often occurs to me, is that between the opening of the 2nd movement of Samuel Barber’s violin concerto, and these wonderful lines from Wallace Stevens’s ‘Sunday Morning’:

    She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
    Before they fly, test the reality
    Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;

    The mistiness evoked by the uncertain, exploratory stirring in the strings, and the sweet questioning by the oboe solo.

    I wonder has this tradition of depicting nature through orchestral sound continued to flourish ? What would be notable instances after 1950 ? If not, how has this creative need been satisfied ?

    I thank you in advance for your contributions.


  13. Lovely thoughts Bertie – and quotes. After 1950? For starters, Cantus arcticus by Ruatavaara, The Canyon by Glass, Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness, Geysir by Jón Leifs, all very unalike ….


  14. Bertie Russell

    The Belgian writer/philosopher Michaux once defined music as the: “Art of perpetual betrothal”. I found the apopthegm in one of George Steiner’s latest books. Having only vaguely deciphered it’s meaning, it seemed a remarkably fitting description to me. As I interpreted it, our consciousness is perpetually wedded to each moment when we listen to music. It would be marvelous if someone could throw more light on this quotation, and perhaps it’s context. Thank you all in advance !!


    1. Hi Bertie – first up, could you tell me about the Steiner book you’re referring to? A marvellous apopthegm as you say. For me it expresses a permanent betrothal between the musician/composer and us, the appreciative listeners.
      Best. Rob


  15. BertieRussell

    It can be found on page 192, of Steiner’s The Poetry of Thought. By now, I have become so attached to my own, far-fetched gloss of Michaux’s definition, that it’s difficult to entertain another even far likelier one ! I would also like to use this post, to enthusiastically recommend Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, to whoever has (recently) neglected to revisit it.


  16. Thank you Bertie. I should have recalled Michaux’s notion, as I read The Poetry of Thought about five years ago. I like your gloss on it, a very valid one surely. And thanks for the Woolf prompt. Best Rob


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