Many composers have thought that they were the best interpreters of their own works. Many conductors and critics have not quite agreed. Whoever has the better argument, there is one thing to be said for the composer as interpreter: we are hearing the music more or less as he or she intended it to sound. We'll sample such composer/conductors as Darius Milhaud and composer/pianists as Erno Dohnanyi.
Classics of the Phonograph with John Frayne
Thanksgiving can mean many things in music. Handel expressed thanks for the end of a war in his Royal Fireworks Music, Haydn gave thanks for bountiful harvests in his oratorio The Seasons, and Charles Ives got nostalgic through old hymn tunes in his "Thanksgiving" section of his New England Holiday Symphony. We'll stay in a Thanksgiving mood with some great composers.
In 1979, the conductor Leonard Slatkin began a 17-year tenure as music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. During those year, Slatkin and that orchestra issued a series of recordings that raised the St. Louis ensemble to the ranks of one of the 10 best orchestras in the United States. Due to the decline in classical recording, that feat may not be duplicated in a very long time. We'll sample some of their recordings.
The era of the 1930s was a heyday for the recording of piano music, both in solo pieces as well as piano concertos. The roster of great pianists was full of legendary names: Artur Schnabel in Beethoven, Arthur Rubinstein in Chopin, and both the composer Rachmaninoff in his own concertos but also his young Russian colleague Vladimir Horowitz as a rival in Rachmaninoff's music. We'll sample some of these historic recordings.
The last 20 years or so have shown a retreat of major labels from the recording of classical music. But in that time, Klaus Heymann, the founder of Naxos records, has become a major player in that field by following a daring marketing strategy. He priced his CDs low, used Eastern European orchestras at low fees, and recorded much esoteric repertory for the first time. We'll sample some characteristic issues by that label.
In the 1950s, the reputation of Arturo Toscanini as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century was widely accepted. But since then, the pendulum has swung, as pendulums will, and serious reservations have been raised about many aspects of Toscanini's legacy, especially his recorded performances. We'll review some of the pro and con critiques, and offer some samples of his performances.
The period of the 1930s was the first full decade in which violin virtuosos could leave in permanent form their interpretations of the great violin concertos in the improved sound of electrical microphone recording. And record they did, whether they were older established performers like Jascha Heifetz and Josef Szigeti or younger rising stars such as Yehudi Menuhin. We'll sample some of these recordings.
Two conductors who recorded much of the standard repertory in early days of the LP were Igor Markevich and Hermann Scherchen. Markevich recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon label, and Scherchen became famous recording for Westminster. Once their records were widely available, but few of their performances have been transferred to CDs. We'll look at their recording careers.
... On recordings, and in the flesh, in the 1950s! The cold war between the Soviet Union and the West got a little warmer in the mid 1950s, and some of the leading Soviet musicians were allowed to come West and give concerts.
One of the orchestras which benefited from the introduction of digital recording and the compact disc was the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit. Through a series of impressively sounding recordings on the London label, this orchestra and its conductor carved out a memorable niche, especially in the French orchestral repertory. We'll sample some of their recordings.