Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thoughts on the Rite of Spring centennial

Yes, this is the centennial of the piece that arguably, more than any other of the past 150 years, changed modern Western art music.

With this year being the 100th anniversary of the Rite of Spring, here's a great article, one scandalous when it appeared, by Stravinsky's eminence grise, Robert Craft, about what all went into its formation, including Stravinsky's connections with Diaghilev, Ravel, and others.

And go here for a YouTube search of works by the Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Ciurlionis, mentioned in the piece.

Craft also gives a good analysis of the creation of this masterwork itself.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A good Mahler 6 is about nonexistent, I think

While I've got his Mahler 6, Boulez's effort here is not one of his best. And, between used CD stores and YouTube, I've sampled at least three dozen different M6 recordings, or at least the opening movement.

And, more than any other symphony, getting the opening movement correct is key. Normally, I have a very good understanding within 2-3 minutes of just how good, or bad, a first movement in general, and likely a whole M6 in general, will be.

Too many conductors pay too much attention to the "Ma non troppo" and not enough to the "Allergo energico" notation of the first movement. Among those that do pay attention, half or more of them don't nuance the tempo enough (listening to Bernstein now, with just that problem). And, for a few who get the whole first movement more than halfway correct on "snappy but nuanced" on tempo, and on good volume, usually either get one or the other of the middle movements a bit wrong, or get the finale way wrong.

That said, in an M6, I prefer the Scherzo come before the Andante on the middle movements. And in this structure, especially, it's key not to dawdle the finale.

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I had new hopes in listening to Zinman's M6, part of a new recording release of the full Mahler cycle. He's better than Boulez on this one, in some ways. However, he clocks the overall symphony at more than 80 minutes, meaning he's dragging somewhere. Ditto on the M2. (Note: Every Mahler symphony, except the 3rd with repeats included, should be a 1-CD affair. And righly so, without rushing.)

And, not, this isn't "just me" saying this, and even if it were, it's not because I'm cheap about buying CDs.

Reportedly, the composer himself, baton in hand, clocked the 7th at under 75 minutes at its premiere.

Due to this, primarily, a lot of modern conductors whom many classical aficionados tout as being great on Mahler are bleah or worse in my book.

Michael Tilson Thomas is so-so at best; semi-hit and more-often miss might be more accurate.

Simon Rattle is simply horrible. I heard him, and saw him, on PBS, not too long after he got the baton in Berlin, do either the 2 or the 6. It was awful.

Bernstein? Lenny was OK at times, godawful at others. I heard him earlier doing a Mahler 6 at Vienna. Certainly "allegro energico," but certainly also totally lacking in tempo nuance, per my plaint above. (Of course, Lenny's Beethoven Ninth after the fall of the Berlin Wall showed just how much he lacked nuance. The finale was the worst Beethoven train wreck I have ever heard.)

Giuseppi Sinopoli got touted for his alleged psychological insights in the early 1990s, when he started branching out into non-operating major conducting. His M6 got draggier with each movement; the finale sounded like a funeral march and I've never bought a CD of his stuff since.

Gustavo Dudamel knocked the socks off the Shostakovich 10, or at least the "Stalin's dead" movement. But his Mahler is almost somnambulent.

As I noted above, Boulez is generally good on Mahler tempos, including some degree of nuance, though he misses some of the late-Romantic side of Mahler. But, he's not always great, or even very good. His M2 just is wrong, and that's with having recorded it before officially jumping into the full Mahler cycle with Deutsche Gramophone, then again as part of that cycle, near the end. He blew it both times and didn't seem to have learned a lot in between.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An incredible Allegro from the Shostakovich 10th

I don't think I've ever heard the "hair on fire" (also known as the "Damn, I'm glad Stalin is dead") Allegro from Shostakovich's 10th Symphony conducted in anywhere near 4 minutes flat.

Until now. And this, by the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony under Gustavo Dudamel (who I heard live in Dallas several years ago):



Man, that just bristles!

It's interesting in part because I am now listening to his Mahler 2, opening movement ... and it's slow. Not quite so slow as to be ponderous, but slow. Actually, as I listen further, I withdraw that. It at least hits the edges of ponderous later on.

He does have some good sonic work, but ... it's not fully to my taste. Mahler had a lot of tempo changes, but they were usually fairly subtle and nuanced. These are too heavy. So, not fully to my taste.

However, this is. Indeed.

(The Mahler slowness doesn't seem to be limited to the Second; I've sampled the First and Ninth, and same thing. His opening to the Ninth is pretty bad.)

Friday, August 02, 2013

A 100-minute Mahler Ninth?

Boy, now I understand more of why I've never been a fan of Bernard Haitink.

And, no, that's not hyperbole. Browsing YouTube shows him turning in a performance clocked at 1:37:41.

As with most of Mahler, other than the Fourth without cuts, if its over 80 minutes, the length of a CD, it's too long.

Indeed, the maestro and disciple, Bruno Walter, comes it at 70 minutes on the Ninth.