This is a Verdi centennial year, and our program will be devoted to great Verdi conductors. Unlike Wagner conductors, who tend to be at home on concert podium as well as orchestra pit, Verdi conductors spend much more time exclusively in the opera house. Arturo Toscanini is an obvious choice for "greatest," but many names occur as follow-ups, and not all of them are Italian!
Classics of the Phonograph with John Frayne
Summer is the time for orchestras and other music makers to move outside into the fresh air, and into the country, if possible. Major symphony orchestras have tried to establishing a traditional summer home, such as the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, and the CSO at Ravinia. We'll sample some of the memorable performers at summer festivals.
Richard Wagner, born 200 years ago, was in his own time associated with loudness. His orchestras were larger, the voices of his singers tended to be of heroic dimensions. He was frequently accused of abusing the human ear. But he was also a master of the quiet moment, and his preludes, particularly before his final acts, can be striking examples of low-key, meditative music. So we will try Wagner without ear plugs!
By the year of his death in 1965, Albert Schweitzer was one of the most famous men in the world. His general fame has dimmed, but among his many accomplishments was his fame as a scholar of the organ music of J.S. Bach, and his performances of Bach's organ music. Schweitzer left many recordings of Bach's music and we will sample some of those records.
The Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch is one of the most popular violin concertos in the repertory, but his second and third works in that form are hardly ever performed at concerts. The Italian virtuoso Salvatore Accardo has recorded them all, as well as other Bruch works for violin and orchestra. We'll sample some of these lesser known works.
The composer Tchaikovsky, in his symphonies, wrote highly dramatic music. In some other works, he tried to express in music the stories of famous plays, especially those of Shakespeare. Tchaikovsky's version of "Romeo and Juliet" is often played, but his "Hamlet" and "The Tempest" are less often heard. We will explore off-the-beaten path Tchaikovsky.
The violin and keyboard concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach offer an interesting series of choices. The same concerto may exist in both violin and keyboard versions. Also, one has the choice of performances on modern instruments or on period instruments. We'll find some intriguing paths through these labyrinths.
A classic recording is one which is used as a standard for all recordings of that composition that come after it. Cellists playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto have come and gone over the decades, but their performances are still compared to one made in April 1938 in Prague by Pablo Casals. This recording has never been out of print, and it is hard to imagine it ever being so. You can hear it on the program.
During the 1930s and 1940s, not all conductors active in the U.S. were interested in American music, but Serge Koussevitzky and Leopold Stokowski were. Koussevitzky, with the Boston Symphony, was a strong advocate of the music of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, and Stokowski, with many ensembles, was a tireless champion of a large array of American composers. I'll play some of their best known recordings.
The great Hungarian cellist Janos Starker died this past April. Starker was famous for the technical perfection as well as the emotional power of his cello performances. He recorded for the budget label Period in the 1950s, and later went on to record for highly prestigious labels. His musical legacy on discs is extensive. We'll sample some of his esteemed recordings.