Sunday, December 30, 2012

Solti : Dvorak's New World

I have heard this performance recently and have added this to the higher echelons of this symphony's readings. Now the readings are ranked in this category: Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic; Istvan Kertesz/London Symphony; Georg Solti/ Chicago; Carlo Maria Giulini/Chicago; Rudolf Kempe/Royal Philharmonic; Herbert von Karajan/Vienna Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta/Los Angeles Philharmonic; Karel Ancerl/Czech Philharmonic. This is intense drama bringing out the emotional power of Dvorak's composition with Czech and German thoughts interspersed with Negro and Red Indian melodies. Magnificent! The best reading is by Leonard Bernstein and New York. 2. Istvan Kertesz and London. 3. Georg Solti and Chicago. 4. Carlo Maria Giulini and Chicago. 5. Zubin Mehta and Los Angeles.6. Rudolf Kempe and Royal Philharmonic. 7. Karel Ancerl and Czech Philharmonic. 8. Herbert Von Karajan and Vienna. 9. Arturo Toscanini and NBC. 10. Rafael Kubelik and Berlin.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sibelius Fifth

When Sibelius turned fifty, the Finnish government commissioned a symphony to commemorate his birthday. That day, 8th December 1915, was declared as a national holiday. Sibelius went on to revise the symphony four years later and that version stands today. After the path breaking and dark A Minor Fourth symphony, Sibelius faced a point of tumult in his life. Despite the sonata form deformation in the first movement which incorporates a deceptive second movement within itself in the shape of a scherzo, the symphony still stands as a successful statement till date. The journey of Sibelius from the abyss of the A Minor to the sunshine of the E Flat Major reminds us that rather than trundling along the path of the Fourth Symphony where he pushed the key sense to the borders of atonality, Sibelius wanted to focus on how the musical thoughts developed in his mind; he wanted that to dictate the format of the symphony. Unlike the psychological Fourth, the E Flat Major Fifth does not meander into the fathomless recesses of the soul. In fact, the Fifth has more links with his impressionistic tone poem, the sea spun `Oceanides' which was written in 1914. The symphony begins with the cold spring sunshine. Sibelius called the swinging trumpet call of the first movement, `the Swan theme'. The horns open the symphony with a motif of two superimposed fourths with the woodwinds answering in parallel thirds. The whole symphony is characterised by this kind of tension between these types of themes that move forward in a step like motion like a cosmic rhythm which is pulsating in the background. The first movement climax is one of the greatest in Sibelius' oeuvre. Swans gave Sibelius the inspiration for the grand main theme for this E Flat Major Symphony. Sibelius had noted in his diary that he got the idea for the theme when he saw sixteen swans gliding in a pond and he was struck by their beauty. The Second Movement he described in his diary as an earth song of misery with fortissimo and mutes. The movement opens like a single sea bird singing its forlorn song in G Major. It is like a theme with variations. The pizzicato of the strings with the parallel thirds of the flutes are pitted against each other. The key modulates later to E Flat Major. The recapitulation is almost like a reverie. In the final movement, the Olympus swan theme comes out through the trombones. The strings rise as if they want to reach the sky. Sibelius builds up a symphonic tension here, the like of which is rarely heard as the symphony ends with the fortissimo blows. Gennady Rozhdestvensky has given a magnificent definitive reading of this symphony with the Moscow Radio followed by Erik Tuxen/Danish State Radio and Lorin Maazel/Wiener.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

C Major Piano Concerto of Ferruccio Busoni

Busoni was an Italian composer who lived a short life of 58 years from 1866 to 1924. He died of a kidney ailment. He is well known for his piano transcriptions of Bach's harpsichord and clavichord works. He has written many works for solo pianoforte and orchestra. His famous works are Doktor Faustus, Nocturne Symphonique , Piano Concerto (attached here), Piano Konzertstuck, Violin Concerto and Turandot Suite. This C Major Piano Concerto is unique for being the longest piano concerto ever written.The concerto also involves a pipe organ and choir. The famous British pianist, John Ogdon, was an ardent fan and champion of this concerto.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Zubin Mehta - His Journey

Zubin Mehta was born on 29th April, 1936 in Bombay. His father, Mehli Mehta, has been a distinguished violinist himself who founded the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. Though Zubin took up medicine for his career, he gave it up later when he found that physiology was not his cup of tea. Zubin conducted the Bombay Symphony for a charity concert when he was just sixteen. Zubin Mehta was sent to Vienna where he studied conducting under an able conductor Hans Swarowsky. Claudio Abbado and Daniel Barenboim were his classmates. Zubin Mehta went on to do well and won the International Conducting Competition in Liverpool, bagging the assistant conductor post at the Royal Philharmonic in 1958. He was awarded the highest prize in the esteemed Koussevitzky Competition at Tanglewood in 1960. Charles Munch was impressed and recommended him to the Musical Directorship for Montreal in 1961. He held that tenure for a year before moving on to Los Angeles in 1962. Georg Solti decided to move on to London. Mehta was with Los Angeles till 1978 and had successful guest stints with Vienna and Israel. He was made Director for Life with Israel. Zubin was heading New York from 1978 to 1991.This was the longest tenure for any conductor with this orchestra. He took up the conducting post at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino from then on to 1998. The next eight years, he spent with the Bavarian State Opera and the Munich Philharmonic. Since 2006, he conducts regularly with Palau de les Arts at Valencia along with Lorin Maazel. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 1966 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001. Karl Bohm also awarded him with the Artur Nikisch's prestigious Vienna Philharmonic Ring of Honour.

Organ Symphony of Charles Camille Saint Saens

Saint Saens wrote in his memoirs that he would never be able to achieve again what he poured out in this symphony. He gave his everything to this symphony. It is one of his famous works. It was his final hand at the symphony. It turned out spectacular. The themes stir your soul. They are majestic. Each movement is a gem. In the finale, the pipe organ has the biggest say. Saint Saens completed this symphony in 1886. He dedicated it to Franz Liszt. Liszt was the first to integrate the pipe organ into his symphonic poems with his `Hunnenschlacht'. Liszt began his symphonic poem also with the Gregorian Dies Irae sequence. The harmonic structure of Saint Saens' Organ Symphony is unique as he prefers semi-tonal relationships. He supplements the conventional orchestral supports with the bass clarinet and the contrabassoon. There is an extensive and detailed percussion section too with four hands on the piano and the pipe organ. The symphony has a structural pattern of two plus two movements. The Allegro and Adagio on one side and the Scherzo and the Finale on the other as they are played without a break in two self-contained entities. The structure is held in unison by the Gregorian Dies Irae which transforms many times during the course of the work before the radiant conclusion in C Major. The symphony's tonal home is C Minor. The definitive reading of this symphony is done by the Berlin Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta followed by this attached interpretation by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.