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.
Classics of the Phonograph with John Frayne
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.
The title of my show is a bit apocalyptic, but in 1996 or so, the major classical labels canceled or curtailed the contracts of many major classical artists, especially conductors. Yes, classical recording has continued but on a much reduced scale, even as the sale of CDs continues to drop. We'll sample some of the canceled conductors.
Morton Gould was an enormously gifted musician and successful composer. Yet his works seem to fall in that gray area between light and serious classical music. Conductors of symphonic bands love his music, but those who program classical orchestral concerts tend to avoid Gould's music. We'll sample the range of Gould's compositions.
At the famous Paris Conservatory, there is a long tradition of "concours" or competitions at the end of the year for instrumental students. Many famous composers have been commissioned by the Conservatory to write pieces that would test the technical virtuosity as well as the emotional expressiveness of students. Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy and Paul Dukas have been among the composers who have written such pieces, and we will heard a selection of them.
Dimitri Mitropoulos was an extraordinarily gifted musician. Although he was an enormous success as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony in the 1930s, his tenure as conductor of the New York Philharmonic ended in failure in the 1950s. Elsewhere, at the same time, he was regarded as a highly esteemed maestro. We will hear some of his extensive legacy of recordings.
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!