Fanfare For The Record

February 25, 2016
 

Just by looking at it, you can’t tell me you don’t associate the name with another name. For years, every time I saw or heard it, the slightly different one came to mind faster than a speeding bullet, you might say.

Last week, I read that the American conductor Louis Lane had died on February 16th at age 92. Sure enough, when I did a web search for Louis Lane, that other name came up, not Louis Lane. Even at that immensely popular online general information source, there’s a note at the top of the page that reads: “not to be confused with Lois Lane” (and in case you’re not familiar with that name, she’s the famous newspaper reporter in the Superman comics).

Louis Lane, the Texas-born conductor, spent years with the Cleveland Orchestra under its legendary music director George Szell, who sort of attained a musical Superman status over the years. Lane’s career was launched in that town that boasts being the birthplace of Superman – of his co-creator, anyway: writer Jerry Siegel.

Lane worked as a conductor with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at one point and is credited with helping to revive the orchestra during difficult times. He also was a conductor with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In fact, one of the very early digital recordings of classical music featured Lane with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in music of Aaron Copland.

Digital was out to dazzle on that recording. There even was a warning that damage could result to speakers and other components if it was played back at excessively high levels. I hesitated to play it on the equipment of the radio station where I was working at the time. We had the 33⅓ LP version, as CD players were just on the horizon. At first, I had the volume turned up ever so softly, just to be extra careful. Eventually, I got a bit bolder. Before long, I cranked it up – though at a safe level. I played the opening selection over and over – not on the air, but while “auditioning” it. It was Copland’s Fanfare For the Common Man – quite an opener on the all-Copland disc, which included the suite from the ballet Appalachian Spring and the Four Dance Episodes from the ballet Rodeo with the famous finale: Hoedown (Telarc 80078).

I let listeners enjoy the Fanfare and Hoedown on the Classic Morning Prelude this past Monday morning as a tribute to the conductor. Though I still think of that other name when I hear about Louis Lane, I’ll always remember him from that Copland recording.

In our time, we tend to associate in one way or another a number of Beethoven’s musical contemporaries with the famous pianist/composer himself. But one of those musicians chose to keep his distance from Beethoven back then. Daniel Steibelt “made it a condition that Beethoven not be invited when his own company was desired.” That’s according to another Beethoven contemporary: Ferdinand Ries, quoted by Richard Wigmore in the notes that accompany a new recording.

Daniel Steibelt was a Berlin-born pianist and composer. He once was invited to a gathering at which Beethoven was present. Steibelt played a prepared improvisation on the tune Beethoven used in the finale of his clarinet trio. Beethoven responded with a spontaneous improvisation on a tune from a quintet that Steibelt and others had just played. He humiliated Steibelt. The new recording introduces us not only to the story of the piano “duel,” but to three of Steibelt’s piano concertos (Hyperion 68104). Howard Shelley performs and conducts the Ulster Orchestra. Just as Shelley did with Johann Hummel’s concertos, he shines a little light on this lesser known Beethoven contemporary.

Somehow, we had been kept in the dark about a performer of our own time: bassoonist Sergio Azzolini. It’s not surprising. There are lots of performers out there. What we acquire in recordings is a small sampling of what’s available. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time before we have the chance to hear more of them. In this particular case, you might say “bassooner or later.”

The new recording is actually Volume 4 of bassoon concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. It features Azzolini and the ensemble L’Onda Armonica (The Harmonic Wave). Azzolini notes that outside of the works Vivaldi wrote for his own instrument – the violin – he wrote more concertos for the bassoon and for the cello than any other instruments. He adds that both of those instruments are close in range to the human voice. Vivaldi wrote 39 concertos for the bassoon. Azzolini links the dates of some of the concertos with Vivaldi’s operas and sacred works and suggests that Vivaldi was exploring the singing quality of the bassoon. Azzolini has been known for “singing” the slow movements of Vivaldi’s concertos. Though he’s gotten a good bit of attention for his playing, the recording came our way with little fanfare.

Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun provided a little flashback fanfare in anticipation of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s centennial celebration on February 11th. He reminded readers that people lined up for four blocks to buy tickets to the orchestra’s very first concert in 1916. The ticket prices ranged from 5 cents to $1. The audience consisted of "bricklayers, plasterers, clerks, taxi chauffeurs, police [and] department store employees, augmented by persons of wealth." And they "filled every available inch of space” in Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House, “standing many rows deep at the back … and overflowing into the aisles of the balcony."  The concert was conducted by Gustav Strube, who was a professor at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. It included Beethoven’s 8th Symphony, arias by Mozart and Delibes and orchestral music by Saint-Saëns and Wagner.

On the Classic Morning Prelude that morning, I played a performance of the Rákóczy March, as used by Hector Berlioz in his opera The Damnation of Faust. The recording featured the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra led by its one time music director David Zinman. The orchestra celebrated its 100th anniversary that evening with a program led by current music director Marin Alson and featuring violinist Joshua Bell in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and a suite from Bernstein’s West Side Story. From what I was able to see online, there were no tickets in the historic price range of 5 cents to $1. But there was a full-house on hand and Rossini’s William Tell Overture to announce the arrival of the orchestra’s second century.

Classic Mornings arrive each weekday morning at 9 a.m. with the preceding fanfare of the Classic Morning Prelude at 8:50 a.m. Join us on FM 90.9 and online at will.illinois.edu!


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