Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 - Year in Review

AS we do at this time every year, let me take a moment to reflect on this past year, the year to come and share my collage YouTube playlist for the year 2017.

2017 Highlights

This was a "stay the course" year for us, with 31 new podcasts (including a few "quarterly podcasts" offered on Tuesdays. We introduced a new series on the Tuesday Blog (Cover 2 Cover) and completed the first set of 122 Listener Guides on our Project 366.

We maintained our bi-weekly presence on TalkClassical but failed to do much on OperaLively this year. No time!

Watch for 2018

As we continue at our monthly pace on Project 366, our Tuesday sjares and Friday Blogs will continue to "feed" our ongoing set of Listener Guides in the "Tine Capsule" series.

I hope to post a few times this year on OperaLively, but don't expect our frequency there (and everywhere else) to change much for the first half of 2018.

Don't be surprised if I start slowing things down a bit in the latter half of 2018 - and certainly in 2019. We have some important projects at home in the next year or two, and my musical activities may have to take a back seat. I hope to have all that behind me by 2020. Stay tuned!

Lastly, thanks to all my readers and followers on my many platforms - including Twitter. I always look forward to hearing from all of you.

Happy New Year 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Beethoven Live!

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

For my final Tuesday Blog for 2017, as promised, here are some year-end fireworks from Mr. Beethoven: two symphonies that were created almost 210 years ago, on the fateful evening of 22 December 1808 - his Symphonies no. 5 and 6, performed in front of a captive audience and captured for posterity.

The first performance is from a radio broadcast of 23 May 1954, the last year of Furtwangler's life with the Berlin Philharmonic. The Pastorale is very slow, ruminative, moving to a different and more bucolic pace with a lingering, sweet quality, almost as though Furtwangler were losing himself in Beethoven's countryside for the last time.

In 1950 Victor de Sabata was temporarily detained at Ellis Island along with several other Europeans under the newly passed McCarran Act (the reason was his work in Italy during Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime). In March 1950 and March 1951 de Sabata conducted the New York Philharmonic in a series of concerts in Carnegie Hall, many of which were preserved from radio transcriptions to form some of the most valuable items in his recorded legacy. From these concets, we are featuring his stirring rendition of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Both performances are enhanced by the energy provided by the audience - don't you think?

Happy listening!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) 

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 ('Pastoral')
Berliner Philharmoniker
Wilhelm Furtwangler, conducting
(Live, 23 May 1954)

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67
New York Philharmonic
Victor de Sabata, conducting
(Live, 19 March, 1950)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Der fliegende Holländer (Wagner)

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

I haven't been posting muchrecently - more like once or twice a quarter... Time is simply not on my side, but as I have a few days off work for the Holidays, I thought I'd finally get around to sharing this performance I downloaded a few years ago off the now defunct web site Public Domain Classic.

Let me (shamelessly) borrow from Paul Campion's fine notes for the NAXOS re-issue of this classic Met performance:

The tempestuous opening bars of the overture to Der fliegende Holländer throw us immediately into the passionate story of love, anguish and self-sacrifice that is to be played out in this, the first opera of Wagner’s musical maturity. Der fliegende Holländer was first performed on 2nd January 1843 at the Königliches Sächsisches Hoftheater in Dresden.

His initial conception was to present Der fliegende Holländer in one unbroken act, but shortly before the opening he reworked this into three separate acts, in which form it was customarily produced during the nineteenth century. (More recently, many directors and conductors have returned to Wagner’s first ideas and given the opera without any break; both are now regularly produced).

Among Wagner’s stage works, Der fliegende Holländer is the first great bridge between the Romantic operas of Weber, of whom he was an avid admirer, and his own Music Dramas, notably Tristan und Isolde and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Tellingly, it reveals his developing use of the leitmotif, which would be so significant in the creation of those later works. The most potent leitmotif, which returns repeatedly during the overture, is that of the Dutchman himself, who is fated to sail the seas until redeemed by the love of a faithful woman. Senta will herself make that sacrifice, and she relates the Dutchman’s haunting tale in her great second act ballad; at the climax of the third act she throws herself into the sea, finally to be seen embracing the Dutchman as his ship sinks beneath the merciless waves.


The 1950 production, at a later performance of which this recording was made, opened on the second night of Rudolf Bing’s first season as the Met’s general manager and was the occasion of two notable house débuts, those of Hotter and Nilsson, and two rôle débuts there, those of Varnay and Svanholm.

Hans Hotter was the supreme Wagnerian bass-baritone of his generation, and also sang rôles by MozartMussorgsky and Verdi. Born in Offenbach am Main in 1909, he studied in Munich, giving his first concert there in 1929. After his 1930 operatic début in Troppau, he sang in Prague, Hamburg and, most famously, Munich, where he remained for 35 years. Hotter appeared in two Strauss premières, Friedenstag in 1938, and Capriccio in 1942, the year he also first sang in Salzburg. In 1947 he was at Covent Garden with the Wiener Staatsoper, returning for eighteen seasons singing rôles including Wotan and Hans Sachs; Hotter appeared at the Met from 1950 to 1954 and first sang at Bayreuth in 1952. Long accomplished also as a lieder singer, he has more recently participated in performances of Lulu and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with continuing success.

Astrid Varnay was born in Stockholm in 1918; at an early age she moved with her parents to the United States, where she later studied singing. Varnay sang at Brooklyn Academy in 1937, but her sensational first Metropolitan performance, as Sieglinde (Naxos 8.110058-60), was in 1941; she appeared there during nineteen seasons, principally in Wagnerian rôles, including six performances as Senta. Varnay later sang in Chicago, San Francisco and South America and appeared in sixteen consecutive Bayreuth seasons, where she was Senta in 1955-6 and 1959. Varnay first sang at Covent Garden in 1948 and thereafter in many European cities, including Florence, Paris, Vienna and Milan; considered the most dramatically intense Isolde and Brünnhilde of her generation, she was a fine Lady Macbeth, Elektra, Marschallin and, later, Klytemnestra. In retirement Varnay moved to Munich, where she still lives.

Born in Västerås, Sweden in 1904, Set Svanholm originally trained as an organist and made his baritone début at the age of 25; his début as a tenor was in 1936, as Radames in Aïda, but he excelled in Wagner, particularly as Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund and Tristan. Appearances in London, Salzburg, Berlin, Vienna, Bayreuth and La Scala preceded Svanholm’s 1946 début at the Met, where he sang for ten seasons; he appeared at Covent Garden from 1948 until 1957, displaying his robust, focused tenor to superb effect. In 1956 Svanholm was appointed director of the Royal Opera in Stockholm; he died in Sweden in 1964.

Sven Nilsson, too, was born in Sweden, in 1898; he studied in Stockholm, making his operatic début in 1930. As member of the Dresden Staatsoper (1930-1944), he sang at Covent Garden in 1936 and in the première of Strauss’s Daphne in 1938; he also appeared in Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan and Drottningholm. In 1946 Nilsson returned to Stockholm, singing there until his death in 1970. Nilsson assumed principally Wagnerian rôles, notably Daland, which he performed during his only Met season, Pogner and Gurnemanz; and also Sarastro, Osmin and Ochs.

Fritz Reiner, born in Budapest in 1888, studied under Bartók. He was Dresden Staatsoper’s musical director from 1914 to 1922, subsequently taking charge of the Cincinnati Symphony. From 1931 Reiner taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and was Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1938 to 1948, scheduling performances at Covent Garden, La Scala, Vienna and South America into his energetic career. He later conducted at the Met and in Chicago, remembered for his wide musical interests, but principally for interpretations of the Romantics, Wagner, Strauss and twentieth century composers. Reiner died in New York in 1963.

The recording is very good, though it does show the technical limitations of recording live performances in those days.

Happy listening!

Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), WWV 63
Romantische Oper in three acts, with German libretto by the composer

Der Holländer: Hans Hotter
Senta: Astrid Varnay
Erik: Set Svanholm
Daland: Sven Nilsson
Mary: Hertha Glaz
Der Steuermann Dalands: Thomas Hayward

New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Fritz Reiner, conducting
Live performance, 30 December 1950

(Downloaded from Public Domain Classic, 2014)

Synopsis and Libretto -
Details -

Rudolf Serkin plays Beethoven

No. 267 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Today's podcast and our upcoming Boxing Day Tuesday Blog will feature three  major works by Beethoven he conducted at a monumental concert held on this day, almost 210 years ago. According to what we know of that evening's program, the last piece before intermission was the public premiere of his Piano Concerto no. 4.

The actual premiere took place almost 18 months earlier, at a private concert of the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The Coriolan Overture and the Fourth Symphony were premiered in that same concert.Beethoven dedicated the concerto to his friend, student, and patron, the Archduke Rudolph.

A review in the May 1809 edition of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung states that "[this concerto] is the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever". However, after its first performance, the piece was neglected until 1836, when it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn. Today, the work is widely performed and recorded, and is considered to be one of the central works of the piano concerto literature.

What is unique about this concerto is that, unlike other ones by Beethoven, the introduction is given to the soloist, not the orchestra. Also, its rondo finale is most joyous.

Today's soloist, Rudolf Serkin, is what we call in Frech "une valeur sûre", a trusted hand at the wheel when it comes to the great classical and romantic keyboard repertoire.

To open the podcast, I chose a recording by Serkin of the Hammerklavier sonata (more exactly the Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier). Hammerklavier literally means "hammer-keyboard", and is still today the German name for the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern pianoforte.

The sonata's name comes from Beethoven's later practice of using German rather than Italian words for musical terminology, thus the sonata is his "Grand sonata for the fortepiano". "Hammerklavier" was part of the title to specify that the work was not to be played on the harpsichord, an instrument that was still very much in evidence in the early 1800s.

The work also makes extensive use of the una corda (or soft) pedal, with Beethoven giving for his time unusually detailed instructions when to use it. On a grand piano this pedal shifts the whole action including the keyboard slightly to the right, so that hammers which normally strike all three of the strings for a note strike only two of them.

The Hammerklavier stands out for its length (performances typically take about 45 to 50 minutes). While orchestral works such as symphonies and concerti had often contained movements of 15 or even 20 minutes for many years, few single movements in solo literature had a span such as the Hammerklavier's Adagio sostenuto. Its technical challenges and length make it one of the most demanding solo works in the classical piano repertoire.

I think you will love this music too!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Project 366 - Bach Gets my GOAT

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

Baseball fans will argue until they are blue in the face about everything and anything. Was this player “Safe” or “Our”? Was that ball “Fair” or “Foul”? Who was the better pitcher: Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver? 

Everybody has their GOAT - “Greatest of All Time”. Honus Wagner? Ty Cobb? Babe Ruth? Is that before or after the Colour Barrier was broken? Was that before or after games were played at night? Do “Steroid era” players get considered?

To me, the GOAT was Willie Mays. He could do everything – he could hit, he could run, he could play the field… Everybody remembers that catch at the Polo Grounds during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. I wasn’t born yet, but I saw the footage. Nobody will ever remember Vic Wertz – the guy who thought he hit it out of Mays’ reach – but he’s viewed today as a goat of a different kind…

Baseball fans aren’t the only ones to debate things, as we humanoids are an argumentative bunch! The GOAT argument is something that transcends baseball and gets into every human endeavor, and the parameters that make somebody ”great” are always open to interpretation. 

Although it may not be a fair question to ask, who is – in your mind – the GOAT among Classical Music luminaries – composers, performers…

Not easy…

The reason why it isn’t easy is because the playing field isn’t level. Going back to baseball for a minute, the game has evolved a lot over 100-plus years, athletes are bigger and stronger, the parameters of play have changed – whether the pitcher’s mound was at this or that height, whether seasons had this many or that many games, whether or not teams travelled from coast to coast. I mean, it’s hard to come up with ways of compensating for these factors when players played under different conditions.

I will readily admit that my heart has swung over the years, and I have to cop out and grant the title to two composers, one of which is featured with some time capsules n today's installment.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and organist. The most important member of the Bach family, his genius combined outstanding performing musicianship with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced. While it was in the former capacity, as a keyboard virtuoso, that in his lifetime he acquired an almost legendary fame, it is the latter virtues and accomplishments as a composer that by the end of the 18th century earned him a unique historical position.

His musical language was distinctive and extraordinarily varied, drawing together and surmounting the techniques, the styles and the general achievements of his own and earlier generations and leading on to new perspectives which later ages have received and understood in a great variety of ways.

The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV; lit. Bach-Works-Catalogue) is a catalogue of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach first published in 1950, edited by Wolfgang Schmieder. 1126 compositions were assigned a BWV number in the 20th century. More compositions were added to the catalogue in the 21st century. The Anhang (Anh.; Annex) of the BWV lists over 200 lost, doubtful and spurious compositions. I have selected time capsules that exemplify specific portions of the catalogue.

  • 1-524  - Vocal Works (Cantatas, motets, masses and other sung works, both secular and sacred.)

Listener Guide #134 and 135  - Mass in B Minor. It has been suggested that Bach intended the completed Mass in B minor for performance at the dedication of the new Hofkirche in Dresden, which was begun in 1738 and was nearing completion by the late 1740s. However, the building was not completed until 1751, and Bach's death in July, 1750 prevented his Mass from being submitted for use at the dedication; the first documented complete performance took place in 1859. (Once Upon the Internet #45 - March 8, 2016)
L/G 134 - (Kyrie & Gloria)
L/G 135 - (Credo, Sanctur, Agnus Dei)
  • 525-771  ·             Organ Works
Listener Guide #136  - J.S. Bach "en España". Organist Michael Reckling, who frequented the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation of Marbella was impressed with the location’s acoustics, and he took upon himself to engage Monsignor Rodrigo Bocanegra (at that time pastor of the Church) in 1970 to support this initiative. The ambitious project would yield the first large tracker organ and one of the most important instruments built in Spain in the 20th Century: the Organo Del Sol Mayor. The fine construction was carried out between 1971 and 1975 by the master organ builders Gabriel Blancafort and Joan Capella from Collbató, at their workshop near Barcelona. (Once Upon the Internet #35 - March 17, 2015)

(Also, Listener Guide #8)

  • 772-994 - Keyboard Works

Listener Guide #137 and 138  - Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (Book I). Composed about 20 years apart, the two sets of 24 preludes and Fugues that constitute the two books of Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier didn’t start off as one huge collection of 48 works – in fact, the set of “24 Preludes and Fugues” composed in 1742 were not issued as a “sequel” to the original WTC of 1722. Musicologists have, however, come to combine the two sets, as they are both in the same mould – exploiting the concept that many more composers (from Chopin to moist recently François Dompierre) have followed, that of creating a set of works written in every major and minor key.Featured today is the fist book of 24 preludes and fugues. I propose you consider the first 12 as L/G 137, and the last 12 as L/G 138.(Once Upon the Internet #18 - October 13, 2013)

  • 995-1040  - Chamber  and  Solo Instrumental Works (includes duos, trios and works for solo lutem violin, cello and flute)
Listener Guide #139  - Three Bach Cello Suites Bach's cello suites stand out because of the paradox they represent; they are simple yet complex, they achieve the effect of implied three- to four-voice contrapuntal and polyphonic music in a single musical line. As formulaic compositions, they follow the usual Baroque musical suite make-up, each movement based around a baroque dance type. The cello suites are structured in six movements each: prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets or two bourrées or two gavottes, and a final gigue. (Once Upon the Internet #51 - October 18, 2016)

(Also, Listener Guide #96 and 114)

  • 1041-1071 - Concertos and Orchestral Suites

Listener Guide #140  - J.S. Bach Violin Concertos. Bach’s violin concertos are quite few – there are the three recognized concertos (BWV 1041, 1042 and 1043), a “triple concerto” (for violin, flute and harpsichord), and a host of reconstructed or fragmentary works. Our montage dips into both the “straight up” and the “reconstructed” concertos. (ITYWLTMT Montage #125 - October 4, 2013)

Listener Guide #141  - Edwin Fischer (1886 -1960) Edwin Fischer was the first pianist to make a complete recording of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier which he commenced in 1933. Perhaps the best adumbration of Fischer’s musical outlook is his recording of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue recorded in 1931. Also featured are all the . The listener guide features his recording of three of concertos for keyboard with his Chamber Orchestra. (ITYWLTMT Montage #266 - December 8, 2017)

Listener Guide #142 and 143  - Brandenburg Perspectives. A showcase of six of Bach’s greatest orchestral works with some filler as a segue into perspective, about how certain interpretations and choices by the artists involved (or even by the composer himself) provide an at times curious insight on the term “flavour of the day”. (ITYWLTMT Montages Nos. 83 and 84 - December 2012)

L/G # 142 (Concertos 4 -6)

L/G 143 (Concertos 1-3) 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Orchestre Symphonique De Montréal, Holst, Charles Dutoit ‎– The Planets

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

For my last two Tuesday Blogs for 2017, I programmed some Christmas presents for you, works that should please everybody, casual and vested CM lovers alike.

Written between 1914-1916 by British composer Gustav Holst, this week’s featured work ‘The Planets’ is a suite of seven short tone poems, each representing one the known planets of the Solar System seen from Earth at the time, and their corresponding astrological character.

According to Kenric Taylor’s “Gustav Holst website” Holst seemed to consider The Planets a progression of life. 

  • "Mars" perhaps serves as a rocky and tormenting beginning. In fact, some have called this movement the most devastating piece of music ever written!
  • "Venus" seems to provide an answer to "Mars," its title as "the bringer of peace," helps aid that claim.
  • "Mercury" can be thought of as the messenger between our world and the other worlds.
  • Perhaps "Jupiter" represents the "prime" of life, even with the overplayed central melody, which was later arranged to the words of "I vow to thee, my country."
  • Through "Saturn" it can be said that old age is not always peaceful and happy. The movement may display the ongoing struggle for life against the odd supernatural forces.
  • "Saturn" is followed by "Uranus, the Magician," a quirky scherzo displaying a robust musical climax before…
  • … the tranquility of the female choir in "Neptune" enchants the audience.

(More insight on the astrological meaning of each planet can be found here )

The piece displays that Holst was in touch with his musical contemporaries. There are obvious ideas borrowed from Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Debussy (the quality of "Neptune" resembles earlier Debussy piano music.)

Holst never wrote another piece like The Planets again. He hated its popularity. When people would ask for his autograph, he gave them a typed sheet of paper that stated that he didn't give out autographs. The public seemed to demand of him more music like The Planets, and his later music seemed to disappoint them. In fact, after writing the piece, he swore off his belief in astrology, though until the end of his life he cast his friends horoscopes. How ironic that the piece that made his name famous throughout the world brought him the least joy in the end.

For your listening pleasure, I chose the 1987 Decca release by Charles Dutoit and l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal from my vinyl collection. Some of the movements were already available on YouTube, I simply added the missing movements to complete the playlist.

Dutoit has a real affection for The Planets and his performance is vital, insightful, and recorded in resplendent digital sound The Montreal Symphony has a particularly powerful trombone section, which adds just that extra drop of energy to "Mars,"Jupiter," and "Saturn." A fine disc.
--David Hurwitz

Gustav HOLST (1874–1934)
The Planets, op. 32
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
Choeur des Femmes de l'OSM [”Neptune”] (Iwan Edwards, chorus master)
Charles Dutoit, conducting
London Records ‎– 417 553-1 LH
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album (DDA)
Recording location: L'église de Saint-Eustache, Qc , June 1986.

YouTube Playlist -

Internet Archive URL -

Friday, December 8, 2017

Edwin Fischer (1886 -1960)

No. 266 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


This week’s podcast features a pianist I find has been much overlooked in recent years. Edwin Fischer (1886 –1960) was a Swiss classical pianist and conductor who is regarded as one of the great interpreters of J.S. Bach and Mozart of his generation, if not of the twentieth century.

Precocious, Edwin Fischer entered the Basle Conservatory at age ten where he studied with the composer Hans Huber. When Fischer was eighteen he moved to Berlin to study at the Stern Conservatory with Liszt pupil Martin Krause (who would later teach Claudio Arrau).

After a period of teaching at the Stern Conservatory, Fischer gave recitals and at this time appeared with such eminent conductors as Willem Mengelberg, Arthur Nikisch, and Bruno Walter. He toured in Europe and Britain, but gave only a limited number of concerts.

In 1931 Fischer succeeded Artur Schnabel as director of the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, a post he held for four years. During World War II Fischer returned to his native Switzerland from where he gave master-classes for a number of later prominent pianists (such as Alfred Brendel, Helena Sá e Costa, Mario Feninger, Paul Badura-Skoda and Daniel Barenboim). He continued to tour until 1954 when he stopped performing in public as he was suffering from a paralysis of his hands.

Fischer’s repertoire was dominated by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert. He also played Chopin and Schumann, but had a wide knowledge of the piano repertoire. Describing Fischer’s pianistic personality is not easy. He was a genuinely honest and kind person whose humanity shone through his music in performances that contained a beautiful, seamless legato, and a pellucid tone quality that is unique to Fischer. He found all things spiritual extremely important to his life as a musician, always searching for the true inner spirit of the music he was interpreting.

Edwin Fischer was the first pianist to make a complete recording of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier which he commenced in 1933. Perhaps the best adumbration of Fischer’s musical outlook is his recording of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue recorded in 1931. The Fantasy sounds more like an improvisation with Fischer not fearing to double notes and use extremes of dynamic, his pianissimo being almost hypnotic as it draws the listener in. He makes this Fantasy into an improvisational poem, at times creating moments of aching beauty. He brings the same qualities to Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Ich ruf’zu dir.

In 1930 Fischer formed his own chamber orchestra of Berlin musicians, which he conducted from the keyboard. In 1950 Fischer gave a series of concerts in London and other European cities to commemorate the bicentenary of Bach’s death. In these concerts he played all the concertos for keyboard. Today’s podcast features his recording of three of these concerti with his Chamber Orchestra.

I think you will love this music too.