Audio: Chabrier: ‘Fete polonaise’

Paul Paray conducts the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Niels Gade: Symphony No. 8 (1871)

Christopher Hogwood conducts the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

0:00 – I. Allegro molto e con fuoco
8:32 – II. Allegro moderato
13:34 – III. Andantino
20:50 – IV. Finale. Allegro non troppo e marcato

To hear other works in my Neglected Symphonies series, click here.


Video: The complete 1989 New Year’s concert with Carlos Kleiber

Someone had the good sense to post this whole thing online.

Review: ‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes

noisePerhaps the biggest news is that here’s a new novel by a celebrated author that takes classical music, or at least a major figure in classical music, as its subject.

Furthermore, that major author doesn’t embarrass himself once by misusing musical terms or by getting anything technically or atmospherically wrong, large or small, about the subject that so many in film and literature so regularly mess up.

Julian Barnes, the author of such remarkable books as “Flaubert’s Parrot,” “A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters” and “Arthur and George,” may not quite hit it out of the park with “The Noise of Time” as he did with those other books, but it is a solid outing, crisply told, memorable even.

“The Noise of Time” is about Shostakovich. The story is narrated by Shostakovich, sort of. The reader is put inside the composer’s head; we are aware of what he’s thinking. At the same time, those thoughts are relayed in the third person, so there’s also the feeling of the all-knowing author/narrator.

There is very little dialogue. Just the composer thinking about what is happening and what has happened to him in the course of his life. The thoughts are arranged more or less in chronological form, so that when you finish the book, you feel you’ve read a kind of biography.

Except, since this is fiction, we know quite a bit more about Shostakovich (this fictional one) than we could ever know about any real human being. Still, Barnes has based his tale on ostensibly non-fictional source material. In an author’s note at the end, Barnes names two main sources, Elizabeth Wilson’s “Shostakovich: A Life Remembered” and Solomon Volkov’s ever-controversial “Testimony: The Memoirs of Shostakovich,” the cause of the so-called “Shostakovich Wars,” which you can Google and read about for days.

Barnes says he treated the latter source as a biographer might treat a private diary, that is, as a source not entirely reliable and unbiased. Which I thought was a neat way of going about it, and which others, no doubt, will think is like having your cake and eating it too.

Shostakovich led a depressing life, as told here and elsewhere, a double life too. In “The Noise of Time” we are rather trapped inside that life, and at times I did find it wearing. Barnes tells much of the story in short bursts of one or two paragraphs (which are then separated from the next burst by an extra line space on the page). The composer’s thoughts jump around in this way, and circle around. And each of the bursts tends to resolve in some concrete, depressing conclusion. After a while, the reader gets it.

Richard Taruskin, in The New York Times, had deep objections to this book, and, as an academic, he has every right. (His objections are based mainly on the use of “Testimony” as a source.) But take “Testimony” as more or less true (and plenty of reliable witnesses do), and “The Noise of Time” seems to me an entirely plausible fiction, a possibly accurate portrayal of how the composer felt and thought. You can’t say it’s not.

Bohuslav Martinu: Symphony No. 4 (1945)

BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jirí Bělohlávek.

To hear other works in my Neglected Symphonies series, click here.


Video: Horowitz, Gould and Barenboim play Mozart’s Sonata No. 13 in B-flat, K. 333

Sir Neville Marriner, 1924-2016

The great British conductor Sir Neville Marriner has died at the age of 92.

The founder of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Marriner is one of the most prolific recording artists in the history of classical music.

Because of that ubiquity, he is perhaps a little underrated. Though few will ever say it, Marriner and the Academy made a huge contribution to the Baroque revival, probably as significant in the early years as that of the period practice pioneers.

He will of course be long remembered as one of the musicians responsible for the popularization of Mozart. He presided over the “Amadeus” soundtrack album, one of classical music’s all-time bestsellers.

A student of Pierre Monteux, he was a relatively understated presence on the podium. The results were never less than handsome and distinguished, but were also often inspired and even fiery.

I saw him in live performance several times, always with great satisfaction.

He continued to conduct until quite recently. I heard him conduct at Disney Concert Hall last year.

I met him, briefly, just once. I saw him sitting in the audience at another concert at Disney Hall and approached him to tell him I had enjoyed his concert at Segerstrom Concert Hall a night or two before. He was a most friendly fellow, without airs, who seemed to actually delight that someone had recognized him.

The Academy’s obituary says he died peacefully on the night of Oct. 2.

Video: The Altius Duo plays Scarlatti

Sonata L. 23.

Video: Horowitz plays Scarlatti

Sonata L. 23.

Review: Yefim Bronfman at Soka

The Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo remains the best place to hear a piano recital in Orange County. The room seems just right, both visually and acoustically, to render the grandeur and intimacy of the solo piano repertoire. Soka also has two of the better pianos in the area, Steinways from Hamburg and New York. Looking down on the concert platform, a listener becomes fairly absorbed in the musical proceedings.

And luckily, Soka keeps on bringing major pianists to perform here. Though there are only two on this year’s chamber series, they are Murray Perahia and, opening the classical season at the venue Tuesday night, Yefim Bronfman. The Soviet/Israeli/American pianist, one of the busiest on the international circuit, brought out a sizable crowd (though Soka is rarely full) that welcomed him warmly and attended to the music avidly.

The program was an odd one, though, and ultimately less than satisfying. It seemed to this listener not very carefully chosen. The first half was anchored by Schumann’s lengthy “Humoreske,” Op. 20, one of the composer’s most scattered works, jumping from mood to mood almost in a stream of consciousness style and without so much as the slightest effort to focus the narrative. This was preceded by the concert opener, Bartok’s Suite, Op. 14, an acerbic and abstract (nothing wrong with that) and motoric work that nevertheless ends anticlimactically.

The second half of the program included Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque,” an early and transitional work, not entirely characteristic of the composer or very tightly constructed, and was capped by Prokofiev’s gnarled and fierce Sonata No. 7.

One could probably listen to Bronfman play (anything) for hours without taking offense. His playing is invariably musical and well motivated. His tone and phrasing are warm and singing. His technique is right up there near the top. But he is not the most personable or personal interpreter.

“I’m not interested in expressing myself,” the pianist said in an interview a few years ago. “I like to be able to get inside the composer’s mind as much as I can in every way possible. I don’t like eccentricity — it’s not interesting.”

That’s all well and good, but both the Schumann and Debussy demand personal expression and a certain eccentricity from the performer, the feeling that he or she has digested the material fully and is experiencing it, in all its eccentricity, in the moment. There were many beautiful things in Bronfman’s interpretations of these pieces, particularly in slower, sparer, more songful passages, where his touch took care with colorings. But too often his approach was hasty, and texturally clouded, and just, well, impersonal.

He actually stumbled a little in the opening of the Bartok, the rhythms not cleanly articulated (it sounded like he wasn’t quite warmed up). He managed after that, but it was an easygoing reading of rather severe work.

Until the Prokofiev arrived, Bronfman was in an understated mood. Shortly after the Prokofiev began, we heard our first fortissimo of the evening. The pianist, famous for his brawn, appeared most at home in this war sonata, and the piece proceeded headlong and vigorously. The famous “Precipitato” finale was taken at a medium tempo, not rushed, which allowed it to build steadily and overwhelmingly. Audience reaction confirmed that this was the most compelling reading of the recital.

Next for Bronfman: A drive up the freeway and appearances with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on their season-opening subscription concerts. Soka’s chamber series continues with the Emerson Quartet (Oct. 15) and includes (later) such interesting fare as the premiere of a new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (performed by the Calidore String Quartet), and the performance by Matt Haimovitz of all six Bach cello suites over two nights coupled with new Bach-inspired pieces by the likes of Philip Glass, Du Yun and Vijay Iyer. What’s more, the ticket prices on this series are most reasonable.