Classic Mornings

Authentically Authentic All Around


What do you get when you cross early music enthusiasts with early music technology enthusiasts? The simple answer is: a new recording featuring the ensemble known as The English Concert. Sorry there’s no pun or punchline. But there is a somewhat amusing story connected with the recording.

The English Concert has been known for unearthing and playing works of the 17th and 18th centuries with authentic instruments and performance practices from back then. Well, a CD label has just unearthed a recording made by the ensemble of such music. But it was made 36 years ago, with a recording technique that’s now considered something from an earlier era – quadraphonic stereo. The company explains that the imperfections of playback equipment of the time kept many session tapes in boxes – until now.

The way it’s described, multichannel CD capability has become a sort of technological equivalent of an early music ensemble of our time with the aim of bringing us the quadraphonic recordings with their authentic qualities of surround sound – or something like that. Anyway, Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert recorded a collection of sinfonias by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach back in 1979. They’re being heard for the first time in this new re-mastering (Pentatone 5186 210).

Though it all sounds like a noble accomplishment, we’re not broadcasting in multi-channel stereo. So it’s like playing those quadraphonic stereo LPs back  in the 1970s in 2 channel stereo and wondering what they might sound like in quad. Oh well. Maybe just the suggestion of technological advancement creates a bit of excitement for some. It is a recording from the history of The English Concert. In fact, the ensemble founded and conducted by Trevor Pinnock had only been together for several years at the time of the recording. That makes it worth hearing, even if only in 2 channel stereo.

The history of the Orchestra of Italian Switzerland suggests changes in technology over the years. It’s known in Italian as Orchestra della Svizzera italiana (OSI) and is based in Lugano, Switzerland. The orchestra is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1935 as the Orchestra of Swiss Italian Radio. In the late 1960s, it became the Orchestra of Swiss Italian Radio and Television. It’s been called the Orchestra of Italian Switzerland since 1991.

Over the past year or so, we’ve acquired a couple of recordings with the OSI performing music of 19th century French composer Charles Gounod. A new CD features the orchestra conducted by Howard Griffiths in music by the Haydn & Mozart contemporary: Franz Anton Hoffmeister (CPO 777895). There are 2 symphonies from the early years of the 19th century and the overture to a heroic/comic opera titled: The King’s Son from Ithaca (Der Königssohn aus Ithaka) – with characters from Homer’s Odyssey – not upstate New York.

Sir Charles Mackerras was born in Schenectady, New York – just a few hours away from Ithaca. His parents were Australian, living in Schenectady. By age 3, Charles was living in Sydney, Australia. As a child, he studied the violin. And the story is told that he began to study the flute until he read in the newspaper that there was a shortage of oboists. So he switched to the oboe.

Early in his career, Charles Mackerras was principal oboe of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  Years later as a conductor, he discovered that music by Handel, such as the Water Music, was not played as Handel intended.  According to Alan Blyth of The Guardian, the 25 year-old Mackerras made a recording of Handel’s work that included 24 oboists. In order to get that many oboists to commit to the recording, it had to be made in the middle of the night.

Mackerras led opera companies and orchestras around the world. The BBC made a documentary about him in 1966 called Allegro vivace – which is an Italian term used to designate a music tempo. It means fast and lively. The Telegraph suggested that it was an appropriate way to describe Mackerras, though they went on to say that his detractors dubbed him “Chuck ‘em up Charlie” for his willingness to conduct anything anywhere. We heard him conducting the Prague Chamber Orchestra in Mozart’s little 32nd Symphony from a sizable number of his recordings in the Friends of WILL Library, which we are grateful that “Charlie” made. Sir Charles Mackerras would have been 90 years old on November 17th. He died 5 years ago, months before his 85th birthday.

The Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel turned 50 on November 9th.  Besides our having a Classic Morning that day, Terfel added “O What a Beautiful” one on the Classic Morning Prelude from his recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs (Deutsche Grammophon 449163). A 50th birthday concert was presented back on October 21st at the Royal Albert Hall in London. There was quite a cast on hand to celebrate with Terfel. Among the highlights: he and Sting performed Sting’s Roxanne as a duet.

Join us for all the celebrations and the stories, the new recordings and the old favorites on Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon.  Tune in just 10 minutes earlier and enjoy the Classic Morning Prelude as well on FM 90.9 and online at