Friday, August 31, 2018

More Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

No. 289 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


To close off the month of August, we revisit works by Richard Strauss in this the last of our beaten path montages.

When we mention Strauss’ name, three main genres come immediately to mind: his operas, his many lieder and, finally, his tone poems. Today’s montage features two of these, including probably his moist famous.

Although it has a later opus number than his more famous Don Juan, Macbeth was his first tone poem, "a completely new path" for him compositionally. Originally composed between 1886 and 1888, the piece was revised more thoroughly than any of Strauss's other works; these revisions show how much the composer was struggling at this point in his career to balance narrative content with musical form.

Also sprach Zarathustra, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel of the same name. The initial fanfare – titled "Sunrise" in the composer's program notes – became well-known after its use in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Elvis Presley used the opening fanfare as the opening piece in his concerts between 1971 and his death in 1977, and as the introduction to several of his live albums. Eumir Deodato's funk-influenced arrangement of the opening fanfare reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 U.S. popular music sales charts in 1973.

The two conductors featured in today’s montage, Rudolf Kempe and Eugene Ormandy, have long been associated with Strauss’ music. Kempe’s recordings of Richard Strauss’s music, which demand true conductorial virtuosity, probably stand as his greatest monument. These recordings with the Dresden Staatskapelle were only intermittently available outside of Europe in the LP days, but in the 1990's EMI issued them on 9 CD's.

The Burleske's original title was Scherzo in D minor, and it was written for Hans von Bülow. However, von Bülow considered it a "complicated piece of nonsense" and refused to learn it. In 1889, Strauss became acquainted with Eugen d'Albert, who liked the work, although he suggested some cuts and changes to the piano part. Strauss rededicated the revised work to d'Albert, who premiered it under its new title Burleske, at a convention of the General German Music Associationat Eisenach on 21 June 1890, in the same concert as the premiere of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration.

Eugene Ormandy recorded Zarathustra a whole bunch of times for at least three labels: CBS, RCA, and EMI (his last time, an early digital recording, closes today’s montage). The Burleske performance that completes the trio of Strauss works, also under Ormandy, features Rudolf Serkin as piano soloist.

I think you will love this music too 

Friday, August 24, 2018

More Mozart 2-3-4

No. 288 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This week’s Blog and Podcast doesn’t stray far off the beaten path, reprising a 2-3-4 sequence of Mozart concerti we first used earlier this year.

As we did back then two of the works on the montage are violin concertos part of the set of five « numbered » concertri composed by Amadeus between 1773 and 1776, when he occupied one of the concertmaster chairs on the Archbishop’s orchestra in Salzburg. This week’s works occupy the « 2 » and « 4 » spots on the sequence, with solo performances by Cho-Liang Lin and Anne-Sophie Mutter.

The « 3 » spot is occupied by one of Mozart’s four « student » concerti. It is believed these works were composition exercises where Mozart reused movements from sonatas by well-known keynboard virtuoisi of the day. In the case of the K. 40 concerto, the movements are (in order) by Leontzi Honauer, Johann Gottfried Eckard and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

As filler, I programmed one last piece for violin and orchestra: the Adagio in E, K. 261, was composed in 1776 probably as an alternate movement for the original slow movement of his Violin Concerto No. 5 in A. It is believed that Mozart wrote it specifically for the violinist Antonio Brunetti, who complained that the original slow movement was "too artificial."

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Carl Nielsen, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein ‎– Symphony No. 5

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

This week’s Tuesday Blog, an edition of our continuing Vinyl’s Revenge series, considers the beaten path through Nielsen’s symphonies (engaged in this series a few weeks ago with the Inextinguishable). Today’s choice is its companion Fifth symphony – companion insofar as it is common on CDs to offer these two symphonies together as a “package deal”…

This week’s conductor is an interesting character. In a New York Times article I stumbled onto in researching this disc , Alex Ross writes about Jacha Horenstein that he is “ a conductor of marginal renown who has generated tremendous cult interest in the [years] since his death. He lacked the long-term association with a big-name orchestra and record label that has elevated lesser musicians. But in the last few years his studio and live performances, with orchestras superior and inferior, in sound good and terrible [provides] an adequate record of one of the most vital, idiosyncratic interpreters of the 20th century.”

Horenstein was born of Jewish parents in Kiev in 1898 and moved to Vienna with his family while in his teens. He studied violin with Adolf Busch, theory with Joseph Marx and composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin. He made his conducting debut in 1923 with the encouragement of Wilhelm Furtwangler, whom he idolized. His ascent was swift: engagements with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra from 1925 to 1928, the Dusseldorf Opera from 1929 to 1933. In 1933 Horenstein fled Nazi Germany for Paris, and his career fell into a disarray from which it never quite recovered. For more than a decade, he wandered from orchestra to orchestra, country to country, visiting the Soviet Union, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and Mexico. In the early 40's he tried to establish himself in the United States, conducting several concerts with the New York Philharmonic, but made little headway. Big-name orchestras did not warm to his painstaking interpretive demands and often failed to invite him back.

Among other things, Horenstein was the greatest Mahler conductor of his generation, perhaps of any generation. Performances of Mahler, and of Bruckner, have grown increasingly monumental and monotone in recent years; it is deeply satisfying to go back to Horenstein's flexible, full-voiced, superbly balanced readings. But he was much more than a Bruckner and Mahler specialist. His interests ran from Baroque repertory to a fascinating mix of 20th-century composers, with BusoniBergJanacek, Nielsen, and Prokofiev.

Today’s vinyl share was the first version of the Fifth that I ever heard. I've heard other fine performances but it remains the best: dark, powerful, weighty, full of depth, this interpretation underscores Horenstein's uncanny understanding of Nielsen, a composer he knew personally. The pacing is superb; from the quiet opening to the final cadence, when the last notes of the melody fly off into space on their own momentum. It's also the only drum solo - ferocious side drumming of Alfred Dukes - in the versions I have heard that is powerful enough that it might disrupt the orchestra. Saga Drom is nice filler.

Happy Listening!

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No.5, op. 50 (Original Version)
Saga-Drøm, op. 39
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Jascha Horenstein, conducting
Label: Nonesuch ‎– H-71236
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Released: 1969

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Friday, August 17, 2018

More from the Mighty Five

No. 287 of the ongoing  ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at


This week’s Friday Podcast, another installment in our Beaten Path series, revisits the St-Petersburg  entourage of Mily Balakirev’s protégés, with major works by Cesar Cui and Alexander Borodin.

Cesarius-Benjaminus Cui was born in Vilnius, Vilna Governorate, Russian Empire (now Vilnius, Lithuania), to a Roman Catholic family, the youngest of five children. His French father, Antoine had entered Russia as a member of Napoleon's army in 1812, settled in Vilnius upon their defeat, and married a local woman. The young César grew up learning French, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian.
Cui enjoyed a long double career, one in music, as writer, critic and composer, and the other as a leading authority on military fortification, with the final rank of Lieutenant General. As a composer he turned his early attention to opera. Cui’s posthumous reputation as a composer has depended largely on compositions on a much smaller scale than his operas or ambitious works, songs, including an 1890 setting of twenty poems by Richepin and short pieces for violin and piano.

Today’s Cui selection, his Suite generally numbered fourth, with the explanatory subtitle “A Argenteau”, orchestrated in 1887, is based on pieces from a piano suite of the same date, both a tribute to the Countess Mercy Argenteau. The first movement of the fourth orchestral suite celebrates a great cedar-tree on the estate of the Countess at Argenteau, followed by a Spanish-style Serenade, with a plucked string accompaniment. A fanfare leads into a battle for toy soldiers, leading to a scene of solemnity at the Chapel. The last movement celebrates a well known landmark on the Argenteau estate there, the rock of the movement title.

Like Cui, Borodin also had a “day job”, that of doctor and chemist. As a chemist, he is best known for his work in organic synthesis, including being among the first chemists to demonstrate nucleophilic substitution, as well as being the co-discoverer of the aldol reaction.  As a composer, Borodin is best known for his symphonies, his two string quartets, the tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia and his opera Prince Igor. His music is noted for its strong lyricism and rich harmonies. Along with some influences from Western composers, as a member of The Five his music exudes also an undeniably Russian flavor. His passionate music and unusual harmonies proved to have a lasting influence on the younger French composers Debussy and Ravel.

Borodin met Balakirev in 1862 and its while under Balakirev's tutelage that he began his Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major; first performed in 1869, with Balakirev conducting. Borodin's fame outside the Russian Empire was made possible during his lifetime by Franz Liszt, who arranged a performance of the Symphony No. 1 in Germany in 1880, and by the Comtesse de Mercy-Argenteau in Belgium and France.

Balakirev’s symphonic poem Russia completes today’s montage. Originally his ‘Second Overture on Russian Themes’, it was revised and published as Musical Picture, ‘1000 years’ in 1869, and further slight revisions were made and a superfluous programme was concocted for it in the 1880s. The three folksongs employed by Balakirev had all been collected by himself on an expedition up the River Volga in 1860, and are furnished with an authentic ambience very seldom matched and never surpassed by other Russian composers.

I think you will love this music too.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tchaikovsky / Igor Markevitch, London Symphony Orchestra ‎– Manfred

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

Today's Cover 2 Cover post continues along the beaten path of the many Tchaikovsky shares we've made here and on our Friday Blog and Podcast throughout 2018.

According to the Gramophone review of his mid-1960's recordings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies,

[Igor Markevitch's] passionate Russian temperament on the podium and the LSO in one of its heydays (the 1960s) are good enough reasons for investigating this set. Another is the chance to hear Tchaikovsky's brass with minimum inhibition, and reproduced with the sort of clarity, immediacy and range that suggest more modern origins; trombones in particular, have a full and true presence. [...]

In sum, there are very few stereo versions of these famous three to match Mravinsky for range of expression, and none that I have heard to match his microscopic attention to, and control of detail. If Markevitch's set is less of a gramophone classic, it is half the price, almost as vital and powerfully communicative, has brass that doesn't wobble, and is marginally more naturally recorded.
Tchaikovsky's Manfred is a symphony in four scenes after Byron's Manfred: A Dramatic Poem (1817), composed and orchestrated between May and September 1885. The symphony was performed for the first time on 11/23 March 1886 in Moscow, at the eleventh symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society (dedicated to the memory of Nikolay Rubinstein), conducted by Max Erdmannsdörfer.

There are four movements, each of which is prefaced in the score with its own programme:

  • I. Lento lugubre. Manfred wanders in the Alps. Wearied by the fatal questions of existence, tormented by hopeless longings and the memory of past crimes, he suffers terrible spiritual yearnings. He has delved into the occult sciences and commands the mighty powers of darkness, but neither they nor anything in this world can give him the forgetfulness to which alone he vainly aspires. The memory of the lost Astarte, once passionately loved by him, gnaws at his heart, and there is neither limit nor end to Manfred's despair.
  • II. Vivace con spirito. The Alpine Fairy appears to Manfred beneath the rainbow of a waterfall.
  • III. Andante con moto. Pastorale. A picture of the simple, free and peaceful life of the mountain folk.
  • IV. Allegro con fuoco. The subterranean palace of Arimanes. An infernal orgy. Appearance of Manfred in the midst of a bacchanal. Evocation and appearance of the spirit of Astarte, who pardons him. Death of Manfred.

Today's Manfred is a recording contemporaneous to that six symphony set, and gets full marks in conveying the many moods sought by the composer. 

Happy Listening!

Pyotr Il′yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Manfred, op. 58 [TH 28]
Symphony After Byron In B Minor

London Symphony Orchestra
Igor Markevitch, conducting

Studio Recording, 1964
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