alan little’s weblog

what was i thinking?

30th April 2007 permanent link

A random email, from somebody who thought I was somebody else, led me to have a look back through my music blogging archive. There among other things I noticed a top ten list from three years ago of my then-favourite classical recordings.

We all grow up, hopefully, and sometimes our tastes change and mature with time. But I’ve listened to quite a bit more classical music in the last three years than I had before, and quite a few of the things on that list now jump out at me as signs that when you’re just starting to get interested in something, your ideas and opinions might not be quite as well informed as you think they are. (Under-experienced yoga teachers also take note)

Beethoven: Symphony no.3 "Eroica"Furtwängler/Vienna Philharmonic 1944 recording I haven’t been listening to Beethoven symphonies much lately. If I did, these would still be the ones I would listen to.
Beethoven: Symphony no.7Carlos Kleiber / Vienna Philharmonic (their recording of no. 5 on the same CD is more famous but I prefer the 7th)
Beethoven: complete string quartetsHungarian Quartet 1950s mono recordings The Hungarian Quartet mono recordings would still be a decent choice for a complete set, supposing they were still available, which I believe they’re not. I’m sure there are also plenty of very good performances by modern ensembles available in state of the art recorded sound, but I havt listene to them (and, to be honest, don’t feel any great need to).
As always with sets of recordings, you can find better version of the individual pieces. That fantastic Smetana Quartet Rasumovsky 3, for example, but it’s only available on a very obscure German label and absurdly difficult to get hold of. As are their 1960s recordings of the late quartets, which overenthusiastic people can get hold of by importing them from Japan. This is just absurd. There are people who want these things, and there’s just no need any more to get into all the costs of burning hundreds of funny little plastic disks and shipping them around the place. Just put the damn things on a server somewhere already, and charge enough to cover the bandwidth costs plus a reasonable profit margin. Free money. what could be simpler?
A slightly unfashionable choice: The Italian Quartet. Lots of people find their style too smooth and pretty for Beethoven, but I personally find their opus 132 Heiliger Dankgesang (Pinnacle Of Western Culture?) astounding. On a par with that Smetana Quartet Rasumovsky 3, even.
Beethoven: String Quartet no.9, Rasumovsky 3Smetana Quartet 1960s recording
Mozart piano concertosAlfred Brendel /  Neville Marriner / Academy of Saint Martin in the FieldsThese are quite good as a cheap starter set of some of the best known concertos. There are better recordings of individual pieces – Martha Argerich’s wild Number 20, for example
Mozart Requiem Mass. Neville Marriner / Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields That was a typo in the first place, I meant Hogwood / Academy of Ancient Music
Schubert String QuintetStern / Katim / Schneider / Casals / Tortellier Another one I haven’t listened to for quite a while, but if I did, this is still a very fine performance of a very fine piece of music. Also good: the Hungrarian Quartet
Brahms Violin Concerto Kremer / Bernstein /  Vienna Philharmonic There are other Brahms Violin Concerto recordings I would prefer now, Oistrakh/Klemperer for example. But these days when I want to listen to a Big Romantic Concerto it’s generally the Dvorak Cello Concerto, for which Fournier/Celibidache (1948) is definitive.
Shostakovich String Quartets.Original Borodin Quartet recordings Yep.
There’s a BBC live recording of number eight from an early 1960s Edinburgh Festival that’s even better than the slightly later studio recording. The orginal Borodin Quartet only recorded the first thirteen; number fifteen is also wonderful and the Mark II Borodin Quartet, in which Mikhail Kopelman replaced Rostislav Dubinsky as first violin, did that stunningly too.
Bach Cello Suites Since we might as well have ten, I have the feeling there must be a recording of the Bach cello suites out there somewhere that I would really, really love but I haven’t found it yet. I’ve listened to Casals, Fournier and Tortellier and they haven’t blown me away What was I thinking? Not blown away by Casals?
Clearly I can’t have been listening properly. Pau is Da Man. I also again and again find myself pleasantly surprised by an obscure recording by Yehuda Hanani (pupil of Casals, apparently) for which I have to thank emusic.
Pieter Wispelwey – seemingly regarded by quite a few people as Greatest Cellist Of His Generation, etc. – somehow doesn’t do a whole lot for me in this or in quite a few other things.
Elgar cello concertodu Pré / Barbirolli)
Haydn Seven Last WordsBorodin Quartet
Smetana String Quartet  no. 1. Juilliard Quartet Having so many CDs that if you listened to one a day, you’d listen to each one about once every couple of years, has its disadvantages. On the other hand, you can be pleased when you dig out something that you used to like a lot but haven’t listened to for a while, and find that you still like it a lot.
Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition Fritz Reiner / Chicago Symphony Orchestra Not a profound utterance from the depths of somebody's soul, but who ever said everything has to be? Great Fun. If you’re used to Ravel’s famous orchestral version, [Alan now recommends Toscanini, not that there’s anything noticeably wrong with Reiner] then Mussorgsky’s original for solo piano takes a little bit of getting used to. Richter was the undisputed master of it; Pletnev is good too, especially if you want a modern recording with decent sound instead of Richter’s accompaniment by the collective coughing of Bulgaria’s Stalinist nomenklatura in his most famous live recording.

Speaking of Greatest Cellists Of Their Generation: rest in peace Mstislav Rostropovich.

Recommended recordings too many to even think about listing, so I’ll just pick a personal favourite: the premiere of Britten’s Cello Symphony, recorded live in Moscow in 1960.

brian micklethwait · stephen pollard · alex ross · on an overgrown path

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