Undisputed Champs: Otmar Suitner conducts Suppe Overtures

MI0000966862Commenter Tristan reminded me of a proposal I had made many moons ago about a series dedicated to those recordings that stand so far above the competition as to render the very notion of a competition moot (the inspiration for his comment being, if memory serves, the Bernstein/Chicago Shostakovich 7. We’ll definitely be covering that one at some point). I like the idea a lot in that I brought it up two years ago, and I thank Tristan for whipping me into enough of a frenzy to do something about it. With that in mind, let’s begin with a name that anyone who’s spent any length of time reading this blog will know is near and dear to me: Otmar Suitner. Continue reading

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Something cool you might have missed: Henry Purcell, Queen Mary, and Droogs

Stanley Kubrick had pretty good taste in music. His use of the opening sequence of Also Sprach Zarathustra is about as legendary as music in film gets, but it wasn’t just the ultra-famous Strauss bit that he employed to great effect. In fact, an equally effective use of the other Strauss’ By the Beautiful Blue Danube waltz can be found in the same movie. Composers as diverse as Ligeti, Bach, Khachaturian, and Liszt can be heard in Kubrick’s films, and his sense of the moment and the mechanism of classical music to help achieve that moment is one of my favorite things about his films. Continue reading

The Shostakovich Chamber Symphony op. 110a: the greatest cover song ever (even including the Clapton Unplugged “Layla!”)

I had the great pleasure of conducting the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony on my Master’s Conducting Recital (followed by Plink, Plank, Plunk by Leroy Anderson, just to give you an indication of my inability to take anything seriously). I knew enough about the whole DSCH motive and his relationship with Stalin and the Volkov-ish idea that the string quartets said everything that the symphonies couldn’t and all that shit, but I never really appreciated just how God damn cool a piece it is. Continue reading

Lorin Maazel’s musical legacy summed up in one performance

Lorin Maazel died today at the age of 84. He had been conducting since the age of 9 and conducted pretty much every single one of the best orchestras on the planet at one point or another. I will always have a soft spot for him because it was under his musical leadership that the groundwork for what would become my favorite orchestra of all, the last decade plus of the Pittsburgh Symphony, was laid.

My personal opinion of Maazel’s conducting isn’t entirely favorable, but like Leonard Bernstein before him he took risks that could at worst be called insane and at best be called insane but in a good way. The above performance highlights much of his strengths and weaknesses: the sense of drama, the beautifully rounded and rich sound, the bizarre and sudden shifts in tempo. I find his output uneven; sketchy Mahler and Bruckner, top-shelf Strauss, extremely underrated Sibelius. His recordings from the 1960’s were probably his best contribution to the medium, though those ’90’s Strauss discs with the Bavarian Radio Symphony are awesome, and in one of them he has neon blue hands on the cover (neon blue hands!).

Ultimately Maazel stands out as one of the few American conductors to reach the absolute apex in Europe, and maybe the only one besides Lenny depending on how stringent your criteria are. His legacy will most certainly live on in an extensive discography and a collection of photographs and videos in which he makes faces that I associate with the 1%. May he rest in peace.