Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" (CD review)

Sir John Barbirolli, BBC Symphony Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

It is seldom that I remember just where or how I first learned about a particular recording. Most of the time, it's something a studio has sent me for review. But when something like Sir John Barbirolli's 1967 EMI recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony found its way into my collection some forty-odd years ago, it's a different story: I recall exactly the way I learned about this one. It was a 1973 book I still own called 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers by announcer, commentator, and author Martin Bookspan (b. 1926). In the publication, Bookspan comments on various pieces of classical music and makes recommendations for specific recordings. For the Beethoven Third, he wrote, "...my own favorites among the many 'Eroica' recordings are the performances conducted by Barbirolli, Bernstein, and Schmidt-Isserstedt. Barbirolli's, in fact, is the finest 'Eroica' performance I have ever heard, on or off records; it is noble, visionary and truly heroic, with playing and recorded sound to match. The performance has lost none of its power and impact with the passage of time. If anything, its stature has grown as far as I'm concerned."

High praise, indeed, from a man who knew music well, and the recording has remained high in my own regard all these many years. So it is with open arms and welcome ears that I find it remastered yet again, this time by the estimable team of engineers at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

Anyway, Beethoven originally wrote his Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" in 1804 in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom the composer greatly admired. However, just before Beethoven premiered the piece in 1805, he learned that Bonaparte had declared himself "Emperor," corrupting the ideals of the French Revolution, so he removed the man's name from the manuscript, inscribing it, instead, "to celebrate the memory of a great man." More important, the Third marked a turning point in Beethoven's artistic output, with its daring length, range, and emotional commitment, marking something of a new beginning in the development of symphonic structure and prompting endless discussions among critics about what it all meant.

Sir John Barbirolli
What it meant to Sir John, apparently, was something a bit kinder and gentler than it has meant to some other conductors. Barbirolli approached the work with a greater affection than many other conductors, offering up music of urgency and emotion, to be sure, but of resplendent love, stately nuances, and sublime caresses as well. It's not the kind of performance that sets the blood to boil, but it is a performance that is hard for one not to find appealing.

Take, for instance, those opening strokes that introduce us to Beethoven's vision of the emperor. With many conductors, the notes sound sharp and concise; with Barbirolli, they sound mellower, more resigned. It's as though the conductor wants us to know at the outset that this is going to be a more benign, more humane interpretation than you've probably heard before. The second-movement funeral march is more leisurely than most, too. Rather than bring out the stateliness of the music, Barbirolli chooses to bring out the beauty. By the time of the Scherzo, though, the conductor has picked up more steam and seems to want us to pay closer attention to details. Then we get a reasonably driving Finale, still not taken at a hectic pace but with a reassuringly triumphant conclusion.

So, Barbirolli's account of the symphony is more lyrical, more musical, more sensitive than we usually hear. Add to this a wonderfully alert response from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and you get possibly the most poetic account of the music you're likely to find. This was among the final recordings Barbirolli made, and it has an appropriately autumnal glow about it, with Sir John lingering over individual phrases as was his wont in later life. If the whole thing hasn't the tautness one cares for, well, that was his way. The performance is still well worth hearing.

Producer Ronald Kinloch Anderson and engineer Neville Boyling recorded the music for EMI in No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London in May 1967. In the years since EMI released it, the recording has appeared in several different forms and formats from LP and tape to CD. As of this writing, one can obtain it from Dutton Laboratories, who remastered it in 1997, and from HDTT, who transferred it from a four-track tape in 2017.

First, let me say that the Dutton remastering is quite good, and, in fact, for overall clarity it actually surpasses the newer HDTT product. That said, there is an argument for the smoother, warmer sound from HDTT. Namely, it rather flatters Barbirolli's overall design. Both versions provide plenty of dynamic range and a fairly quiet background. In the end, it may be one's choice of price or playback format that determines which edition to buy. They're both quite good, as I say.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

Classical Music News of the Week, July 22, 2017

ICE Performs Summer Events in NYC Presented by Lincoln Center

From July 28, 2017 - August 14, 2017, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will perform in five summer events presented by Lincoln Center's "Out of Doors" and "Mostly Mozart" Festivals.

On Friday, July 28 at 7pm, ICE will perform Heart of Tones: A Tribute to Pauline Oliveros, a free Lincoln Center "Out of Doors" concert honoring the memory and legacy of long-time ICE mentor Pauline Oliveros.

Part of Lincoln Center's "Mostly Mozart Festival," ICE performs another free concert, "Schubertiade Remix," at the David Rubenstein Atrium on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 7:30pm. In the festive spirit of Schubert's famous musical soirées, artists from New York's eclectic music scene will present an evening of radical contemporary responses to Schubert's songs.

In two highly anticipated "Mostly Mozart" performances on Saturday, August 12 at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 13 at 5pm, ICE performs Netia Jones's "enthralling" (The Daily Telegraph) theatrical production of Hans Zender's adaptation of Schubert's Winterreise, The Dark Mirror: Zender's Winterreise, at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. ICE will be joined by tenor Ian Bostridge -- one of today's foremost interpreters of Winterreise -- and conductor Baldur Brönnimann in his "Mostly Mozart" Festival debut to bring Schubert's poignant song cycle about lost love to life through the contemporary orchestrations and Jones' stunning monochrome imagery.

ICE's final "Mostly Mozart" concert of the summer is How Forests Think, a contemporary interpretation of the temple of nature in which Schubert and his fellow Romantics worshipped, on Monday, August 14, 2017 at 7:30pm at Merkin Concert Hall.

For complete information, visit https://iceorg.org/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Szymon Laks, a Pole Apart: The Remarkable Music of Auschwitz Survivor Szymon Laks
Born into an assimilated Jewish family in 1901, Laks left his native Warsaw and settled in Paris in the early 1920s. He soon established himself as a versatile pianist and violinist and, by the the end of the decade, a published composer. When he was deported to Auschwitz Birkenau in the summer of 1942, these musical gifts, a fluency in six languages and an intuitive resourcefulness served him well. Shortly after his arrival, a chance game of bridge introduced Laks to a barracks Kapo who arranged his transfer to the violin section of the camp orchestra. This led to work as a copyist and arranger, and finally to the position of conductor. His extraordinary story and his survival is recounted in his memoir Music of Another World, published shortly after the war.

Laks's view of music as powerless to effect change and irrelevant to the quality of prisoners' lives, capsizes assumptions that credit music with an intrinsic goodness or redemptive power, and this is something that many continue to find troubling. Laks did little to promote his music after the war and his survival left him depressed and reclusive; he stopped composing in the late 1960s and devoted himself entirely to translating and literary work. He died in Paris in 1986.

Laks's music has had to wait over three decades for the beginnings of a revival. It  is an extraordinary irony that as a survivor his works were marginalized, whereas those of his murdered colleagues are regularly performed on memorial programs. Laks's music is witty, elegant, beautifully crafted and full of rhythmic energy, and this is clearly evidenced by the ARC Ensemble's third recording in its series devoted to composers who were forced into exile by National Socialism. But Laks's music tells us very little of the composer's wartime experience, or the pressure that ultimately drove him from composition.

For more information, visit https://www.gramophone.co.uk/blog/gramophone-guest-blog/szymon-laks

-- Simon Wynberg, Artistic Director, ARC Ensemble

Tuomas Hiltunen Named General Director of Fort Worth Opera
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) today announced Tuomas Hiltunen as its new General Director. Joe Illick, currently the company's Music Director, has been named as Artistic Director. Hiltunen joins the Fort Worth Opera from the international Barenboim-Said Foundation where he most recently served as Director of Administration and Management. In this position, Hiltunen was instrumental in significantly growing the Foundation's endowment, advancing its brand, and developing and executing its business plans and strategies.

Born and educated in Finland, Hiltunen began his formal theater training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Columbia University. In the following years, he became a lecturer at Barnard College and joined Columbia University as the Director of the Finnish Studies Program where he taught Finnish language and culture courses. As a performer, Hiltunen has worked extensively in theater, opera, concerts, television, and film in Finland, England, and the United States. He has performed at the Metropolitan Opera with James Levine, Carnegie Hall with Hannu Lintu, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with Neeme Järvi, and the New York Philharmonic with Joshua Gersen. He also appeared in the 2009 film Confessions of a Shopaholic starring Isla Fisher.

"I am honored to be part of the Fort Worth community and Fort Worth Opera. I would like to thank the association for giving me a chance to lead this fine organization in its mission toward excellence," said Hiltunen. "I am looking forward to sharing thrilling experiences of music and theater with the broader Fort Worth community, and to bringing in new and expanded audiences to share our passion for this ever-changing art form."

--Ryan Lathan, FW Opera

Call for Scores - Piano/Violin Works, Chamber Orchestra, and Choral Works
1. Piano, violin, and violin/piano duo works:San Francisco US, Prague CZ.
PARMA is now accepting score submissions for a new compilation of works for solo piano, two pianos, solo violin, and violin/piano duo. Sessions will be held in San Francisco US and Prague CZ with pianist Karolina Rojahn, violinist Vít Mužík, and pianist Lukáš Klánský. There is also the possibility of live performance of recorded works pending performer approval.

The compilation will include up to 60 minutes of music, we encourage submissions of pieces between 5-12 minutes in duration. Deadline for submissions is August 7, 2017. Please inquire regarding possibility of remote recording/rehearsal/performance via ISDN line.

2. Chamber orchestra: Chicago US, Zagreb HR.
PARMA is now accepting score submissions for a new compilation of works for chamber orchestra. Sessions in Chicago US will feature the Chicago Arts Orchestra under the baton of Javier Mendoza and sessions in Zagreb HR will feature the Croatian Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Miran Vaupotic. The album will include up to 50-60 minutes of music. Deadline for submissions is August 7, 2017.

3. Choral works – Philadelphia US, Prague CZ
PARMA is now accepting score submissions for a new compilation of choral works. Sessions in Philadelphia US will feature The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally, and sessions in Prague CZ will feature the Prague Mixed Choir, conducted by Jirí Petrdlík. The album will include up to 50-60 minutes of music. Deadline for submissions is August 7, 2017.

Click here to submit your score: submissions@parmarecordings.com

Click here to learn more about PARMA Recordings: http://www.parmarecordings.com/index.html

--PARMA Recordings

Arsht Center Debut with Miami Wagner Institute
For the first time in 30 years, the Miami Music Festival brings to life Wagner's Die Walküre, the composer's grand musical drama from the Ring Cycle. The Grammy Award-winning soprano Christine Brewer joins bass-baritone Alan Held – hailed as "one of opera's finest singing actors" with the Institute's extraordinary young professional artists, the 100 musicians of the MMF Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Michael Rossi in a staged performance at the Adrienne Arsht Knight Concert Hall.

Featuring:
Michael Rossi - Artistic Director Conductor
David Toulson - Director
Christine Brewer -Brünnhilde
Alan Held - Wotan

--Miami Music Festival

Today's Musical Anniversary
Three hundred years ago by the calendar, George Frideric Handel's inimitable "Water Music" was heard by hundreds of Londoners for the first time. Join the "ace baroque instrumentalists" (Opera News) of American Bach Soloists at our 2017 FESTIVAL & ACADEMY to celebrate the 300th anniversary of that legendary performance for King George I during an evening on the River Thames.

The 2017 Festival features Concerts that extol the Masterful Achievements of London's most Celebrated Baroque Composers. Annual performances of Bach's towering Mass in B Minor and a special program titled "Bach & Sons" complete the lineup of performances.

St. Mark's Lutheran Church • 1111 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, CA
Friday, August 4, 2017 - 8:00 P.M.
Saturday, August 5, 2017 - 8 P.M.

For tickets and further festival information, visit http://americanbach.org/sfbachfestival/Programs.html

--American Bach Soloists

Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin Comes to PBS's "Great Performances"
Anna Netrebko reprises one of her most acclaimed roles as Tatiana, the naïve heroine of Tchaikovsky's opera, adapted from Pushkin's classic verse novel. Peter Mattei stars as the title character, who rejects Tatiana's love until it's too late.

Eugene Onegin airs on "Great Performances at the Met" Sunday, August 13 at 12 p.m. on PBS.

For more information, visit www.pbs.org/gperf

--Harry Forbes, WNET

The Wallis Extends Hershey Felder's "Our Great Tchaikovsky"
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts announced today the extension of the Los Angeles premiere engagement of actor and pianist Hershey Felder's "Our Great Tchaikovsky," which now runs through the closing matinee performance on Sunday, August 13 at 2pm. Directed by Felder collaborator Trevor Hay, Hershey Felder's "Our Great Tchaikovsky" is a time-bending tale of music, politics and one of the world's most beloved composers.

Single tickets are now available for $35-$100 at TheWallis.org/Felder. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Ticket prices subject to change.

--Sarah Jarvis, The Wallis

Composer/Librettist Fellowships Awarded for Two-Year Opera Training
AOP (American Opera Projects) and Composers & the Voice Artistic Director Steven Osgood have selected six composers and three librettists to receive fellowships for its upcoming ninth season of Composers & the Voice. The 2017-2019 season will train, and present new works from, composers Matthew Browne, Scott Ordway, Frances Pollock, Pamela Stein Lynde, Liliya Ugay, and Amber Vistein and librettists Laura Barati, Kim Davies, and Sokunthary Svay. The primary focus of Composers & the Voice is to give emerging composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage.

"The philosophy of Composers & the Voice since its beginning has been that by immersing composers and librettists in hands-on work with skilled singers and music directors, we empower them to create groundbreaking works that are true to each of their artistic languages," says Osgood. "Composers rarely have the opportunity to work with opera singers during their training, and C&V was designed to address this void. I could not be prouder of the commissions and premieres that have flowed from the alumni of C&V."

--Matt Gray, American Opera Projects

Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (CD review)

Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner Classics 7243 5 56972 2 6.

Controversy continues to swirl around Mahler's final, uncompleted Tenth Symphony, largely because of musical scholars trying to guess what the composer might have done with it had he lived long enough to finish it. Mahler did most of the score for his Tenth during the summer of 1910, leaving a complete skeleton of the piece before he died in 1911. He himself spoke of it as "a work fully prepared in the sketch." But a sketch is not a fully realized composition, and he would have probably done a good deal of revision before its premiere.

Whatever, Deryck Cooke prepared the performing edition of Mahler's draft used by Sir Simon Rattle on this disc, an edition Cooke did in collaboration with Berthold Goldschmidt, Colin Matthews, and David Matthews. EMI recorded the production live in 1999, and Warner Classics are now distributing it.

Under Maestro Rattle, the Tenth appears more a direct kin or continuation of the Ninth than ever. It begins in the same slow, eloquent, mystic way of the Ninth, then bursts into quintessential Mahler strife, its energy spent dying off into a long, pensive close. The second and fourth movements are typically bizarre Mahler Scherzos, sounding vaguely familiar yet distant. The brief, middle movement is reminiscent of the Fourth Symphony, and the Finale, starting with some mysterious drum strokes moves into a languorous melody, concluding with a great murmur of relief. The whole thing can seem at first glance like a distillation of all of Mahler's past symphonic heartaches, and there is no denying it is largely a solemn affair.

Sir Simon Rattle
Sir Simon Rattle recorded the work once before for EMI in the early Eighties with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This newer interpretation has the advantage of Rattle's added maturity, and in a side-by-side comparison, the Berlin effort appears the slightly better bet. The conductor takes the slow movements a shade more leisurely, giving Mahler's sublime dramatic moments more time to breathe, and the scherzos are more intense than ever. Interestingly, while the overall timing of the new rendition is over a minute and a half longer, it fits snugly on a single disc. With the older version, released at the very beginning of the CD era, EMI spread it out over two discs and added the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet No. 1 as a coupling.

Producer Stephen Johns and engineer Mike Clements recorded the music live at the Philarmonie, Berlin in September 1999, a composite of several evenings' recordings. It is brighter and sharper at the high end than the older Bournemouth recording, and even though the audience is fairly quiet, there are noticeable instances of wheezing and breathing, perhaps from Rattle himself. EMI thankfully edited out any applause. One cannot doubt the orchestra is always a delight to hear, but the sound will not strike everyone as an improvement over the older disc.

For new-time buyers of the Tenth, this newer Rattle realization is a good choice. For those who already have a Tenth, especially Rattle's own earlier one, all things considered, the differences between those and this new one may not seem worth the expense. Still, there is no questioning that Rattle knows his Mahler, and the glamour and allure of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic prove hard to resist.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa