Friday, November 27, 2020

In Memoriam: Mario Bernardi (1930 - 2013)

This montage from our Podcast Vault revisits a post from November 8, 2013. It can be found in our archives at


As we close out the month of November (already!), we have one last Friday Podcast Vault selection that feeds our ongoing “In November we remember” series, with this revisit of our homage to the late great Canadian conductor Mario Bernardi.

Mario Bernardi was a national figure who played a seminal role in the life of classical music in Canada. He was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont. in 1930, not a hotbed of classical music in the early years of the Great Depression. He displayed talent at the piano and he moved to Italy when he was six years old with his mother to foster a musical career. He would study at the Venice Conservatory. After graduating in 1945, his family returned to Canada where he finished his studies at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He then was a concert pianist.

In 1957 he conducted the Canadian Opera Company, and in 1963 was coach and assistant conductor at the Sadler's Wells Opera Company (now the English National Opera). 

Bernardi was hired by the late Hamilton Southam to move to Ottawa in 1968 to build the 45-member orchestra for the new National Arts Centre. Virtually from scratch, Mario Bernardi built an orchestra that was considered the finest of its kind in the world, and began a tradition of excellence that continues today with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

One of the rules in establishing the ensemble was that NACO was not allowed to poach players away from other orchestras. Even with that limitation, they were able to find players in Canada, in the U.S. and Europe, and even one from South Africa. He left the orchestra in the early 1980’s, but returned regularly as a guest conductor and became the NACO's conductor laureate in 1997.

After his tenure in Ottawa, he led the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra from 1984 until 1992. From 1983 until 2006 he was the principal conductor of the CBC Radio Orchestra, based out of Vancouver. 

The montage features Bernardi with all three ensembles, on a large swath of compositions from the standard and the Canadian repertoire.

As we are approaching the Holidays, I thought that for a filler I would share a 1964 complete performance of Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel sung in English by the Sadler’s Wells Opera, with Mario Bernardi conducting.

Album details -

YouTube link - 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 (Weingartner) (1935)


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

To conclude our #Beethoven2020 series on the Tuesday Blog, we consider Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Consecration of the House overture, which were both premiered at the same concert, on 7 May 1824.

The recording I selected today is a historic recording featuring Felix Weingartner, a contemporary to Mahler and Toscanini in one of the earliest available recordings of this seminal work . Weingartner was respected as much for his musical scholarship as his conducting. In 1906, he proposed a monograph on the performance of Beethoven symphonies that in some respects became the progenitor of new editorial research on the composer leading to the radical quests of period instrument performance in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Weingartner’s mastery of instrumental balance is expertly demonstrated in the brief processional march following the opening ceremonies of the overture The Consecration of the House. Weaving through emphatic chordal interjections, the chattering bassoon commentary that is so often garbled or lost within the texture altogether, here very audibly urges the rest of the orchestra on towards the main Allegro. The conductor transforms a passage of potential idiosyncrasy into something both apposite and wickedly jaunty. Composed to introduce a revised version of The Ruins of Athens incidental music for the opening of the Josephstadt Theater in 1822, not long before work began in earnest on the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony, it is dressed by Weingartner in suitably festive colours with much élan.

Weingartner's 1935 Vienna recording of the Choral Symphony is without doubt one of the highlights of the recorded canon. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is showing all the signs both of its long heritage and also of becoming a well-disciplined modern orchestra in the new era of full orchestral recordings that began just ten years earlier with the first use of the microphone in the electrical recording method. The Vienna State Opera Choir is of course superb, as is the almost ideal quartet of soloists heard here.

Sonically this is without doubt a mid-1930s recording. Worse than that, the final movement was recorded separately and sounded completely different in its tonal balance to the rest of the recording. Audio emgineers post-processed the masters, both to resurrect the overall sound quality, counteracting the multiple discrepancies introduced by 1930's recording methods, and also to bring the finale closer in tone to the rest of the recording.

Happy Listening!

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Die Weihe des Hauses Overture, Op. 124
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 7th October 1938 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
Matrices: CAX 8354-1, 8355-1 and 8356-1
First issued on Columbia LX 811 and 812

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral”:
Luise Helletsgruber, Soprano
Rosette Anday, Contralto
Georg Maikl, Tenor
Richard Mayr, Bass
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 2nd - 4th February 1935 in the Mittlerer Konzerthaussaal, Vienna
Matrices: CHAX 61-3A, 62-3A, 63-3A, 64-3A, 65-1A, 66-2A, 67-2A,
68-2A, 69-2, 70-2A, 71-4A, 72-3A, 73-2, 74-1, 75-2, 76-2A
First issued on Columbia LX 413 through 420
Conductor Felix Weingartner
Label: Naxos Historical
Catalogue No: 8.110863

See Naxos Page -

Friday, November 20, 2020

In Memoriam - Lynn Harrell (1944-2020)

No. 347 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Our second of two new montages this month, in our “In November we remember” series, showcases performances by cellist Lynn Harrell, who passed away on April 27.

According to his obituary in the Washington Poet, Mr. Harrell was convinced that the cello had more direct appeal to an audience than any other instrument, and compared it to the human voice. “The cello covers all vocal ranges — soprano, alto, tenor and bass,” he told the New York Times in 1982. “Besides that, there is the visual appeal.”

Lynn Morris Harrell was born in 1944 to a musical family. His mother, Marjorie Fulton Harrell, was a violinist, and his father, Mack Harrell, was a baritone who sang for many years with the Metropolitan Opera. Later, the family moved to Dallas, where his father taught at Southern Methodist University and his mother gave private lessons. Most summers were spent in Colorado, where Mack Harrell was one of the founders and then the second director of the Aspen Music Festival and School. He started on piano at 8 and was an unenthusiastic student. But when his parents presented an evening of chamber music at the family home, he became fascinated by the cello and became a pupil of Lev Aronson, principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony. The fiercely exacting George Szell hired him for the Cleveland Orchestra’s cello section while Mr. Harrell was still a teenager and made him principal cellist at 20. He went on play solo recitals, chamber music concerts and solo appearances with orchestra.

His complete discography spans more than two dozen other recordings, and his repertoire spanned from Bach to a new concerto by composer Augusta Read Thomas. The three works I chose for today’s podcast are emblematic of his broad repertoire; he recorded both of Victor Herbert’s cello concerti, and his performance of the Schumann cello concerto is a go-to reference. To complete the programme, I opted for a quaint duo for cello and violin by Zoltan Kodaly.

I think you will love this music too.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Britten: War Requiem

This montage from our Podcast Vault revisits a post from November 14, 2014. It can be found in our archives at


This week’s throwback montage concludes our week-long “War and Peace” series with a complete performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem; a work that was also featured (in part) in our World War II montage yesterday.

Britten was an avowed pacifist, and even registered as a conscientious objector in his homeland when he returned from a prolonged self-exile in 1942. Still, including his Ballad of Heroes we featured in our Remembrance Day montage, he left a number of works dedicated to the theme of war, but mostly on the human cost of war, and the War Requiem us his most enduring and brilliant example – as I noted in the original musing from 2014.

Our bonus track is a work from the early days of World War II, during the period Britten and his longtime companion Peter Pears found refuge (from homophobic persecution and the war in Britain) in North America. This Canadian Carnival (in French, Kermesse Canadienne) is a work that is intended as a playful concert overture, with tinges of French-Canadian folklore and I’d argue sounds a lot like Copland’s Salon Mexico.

I think you will (still) love this music too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Igor Stravinsky, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein ‎– Symphony In Three Movements • Symphony In C


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

We usually take time in November to remember great artists we have lost, and it is in that context that we remember the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of Leonard Bernstein.

Further, this is also “Remembrance Week” (tomorrow being Remembrance Day) and the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is in that context that I am sharing a pair of works by Igor Stravinsky that were composed during the 1939-45 timeframe.

Stravinsky wrote a symphony at the very beginning of his career—it’s his op. 1—but he quickly became famous as the composer ballet scores, and he spent the next few years composing for the theater and the opera house. When, in 1920, he finally returned to writing music for an orchestra on the concert stage, he composed the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, which omits strings entirely and is no symphony in the conventional sense of the word. Throughout the ’20s, Stravinsky began to put his personal stamp on the traditional forms of orchestral music—these scores are the earliest of his so-called neoclassical period.

Stravinsky began the Symphony in C in Paris in the autumn of 1938 and completed the score on August 19, 1940, in Beverly Hills, California. Stravinsky admitted that he had scores of Haydn’s and Beethoven’s symphonies at his side when he began his own. Stravinsky’s understanding of symphonic style is very much his own. As he told a Boston interviewer:

My new symphony is going to be classical in spirit, more concise in its form than Beethoven […] Instead of all the chords gravitating toward one final tonic chord, all notes gravitate toward a single note. Thus this symphony will be neither a symphony in C major nor a symphony in C minor but simply a symphony in C.
The Symphony in Three Movements is considered as Stravinsky's first major composition after emigrating to the United States. It uses material written by Stravinsky for aborted film projects. Stravinsky, who rarely acknowledged extramusical inspirations for his music, referred to the composition as his 'war symphony'. He claimed the symphony as a direct response to events of the Second World War in both Europe and Asia. The first movement was inspired by a documentary on Japanese scorched earth tactics in China. The third movement deals with footage of German soldiers goosestepping and the Allied forces' mounting success.

Bernstein recorded extensively from the mid-1940s until just a few months before his death. His typical pattern of recording at that time was to record major works in the studio immediately after they were presented in the orchestra's subscription concerts. He recorded primarily for Columbia Masterworks Records, especially when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic between 1958 and 1971; his later recordings (starting with Bizet's Carmen in 1972) were mostly made for Deutsche Grammophon. Unlike his studio recordings for Columbia Masterworks, most of his later DGG recordings were taken from live concerts (or edited together from several concerts with additional sessions to correct errors). Today’s 1985 recording of the two Stravinsky symphonies follows that pattern, featuring the Israel Philharmonic.

Happy Listening!

Igor STRAVINSKY (1880 - 1971)

Symphony In C (1940)
Symphony In Three Movements (1945)

Orchestra – Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor – Leonard Bernstein
(Live recordings)

Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 415 128-1
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo (ADD)
Released: 1985


Friday, November 6, 2020

Christopher Hogwood (1941-2014)

No. 346 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

All through November on our daily podcasts, we are showcasing titles from our In Memoriam series, many of which discussed the contemporaneous loss of a composer or an artist. We have two new podcasts lined up for our Friday series, one (later this month) will showcase an artist we lost earlier this year, but today’s is a long-overdue tribute to a conductor we lost six years ago, Christopher Hogwood.

Quoting from Hogwood’s obituary, at its height in the 1980s, the early music revival was regarded by many as virtually synonymous with the Academy of Ancient Music and Christopher Hogwood. Established in 1973 with instruments of the baroque period, under Hogwood's direction the AAM examined aspects of historical performance practice with scholarly rigour, paving the way for the achievements of other contemporaries such as Roger Norrington, John Eliot Gardiner and Trevor Pinnock. The AAM was at this time one of the most frequently recorded period ensembles, soon moving from the baroque era into the classical, to record the complete symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven, the complete Mozart piano concertos (with Robert Levin) and a wide range of other music.

Hogwood's philosophy with the orchestra, and indeed in all his projects, was to attempt to understand and recreate the composer's intentions, in terms of both notation and performance. To this end he would return to the original sources, correct publishing errors and evaluate textual alterations in subsequent editions. Much of the repertoire the orchestra performed was given in editions prepared by Hogwood himself.

By the 1980s Hogwood achieved superstar status in the classical sphere, dubbed "the Karajan of early music" on coming third in the 1983 Billboard chart, behind Plácido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa but ahead of any other conductor.

The three works I retained for this homage podcast are from the baroque – two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s less heard orchestral suites (numbers 1 and 4) and a work with vocal soloists, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.

I think you will love this music too.