Playlists: conducting fathers and sons

James Jolly Sat 2nd December 2017

James Jolly explores recordings by families of conductors

Conducting dynasties like the Järvis are fairly rare, but two conductors, rather than four, in a family aren’t so unusual.

Say the name ‘Carlos Kleiber’ to anyone with a vague interest in classical music and the response will probably be ‘Beethoven’s Fifth’. His is one of those recordings that doesn’t yet count as historic (it was released in June 1975), yet almost immediately took on a classic status. Richard Osborne, then a tyro critic for Gramophone, pinned his colours to the mast: ‘This is the finest Fifth we have had for at least a decade. It is a glorious achievement.’ Carlos’s father, Erich, one of the greatest conductors of the last century, left a number of recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth. Best known is the 1953 Decca version with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It is very fine: fiery, high-tension and precise; and I suspect the clarity and range of Decca’s recordings allows us to hear it pretty well as intended. If you’ve an hour or so, try the two side by side – quite a legacy from one family!

Mariss Jansons has achieved greater renown than his father, Arvı¯ds, an important figure in Leningrad musical life. While Mariss’s discography is extensive, Arvı¯ds’s representation is slight, but they do cross over in a couple of major works, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Mozart’s Requiem. Arvı¯ds recorded the Mozart with, uniquely, all four soloists from the same family, the renowned baritone Pavel Lisitsian, his daughters Rusanna and Karina and son Ruben. The performance is very well prepared and, in the old style, highly impressive (the ‘Lacrymosa’, taken very slowly, really works). Mariss Jansons has never been particularly bothered about historically informed practice and his Amsterdam recording takes its place among the more traditional interpretations. It’s superbly done – with beautiful playing from the great Dutch orchestra, magnificent choral singing from the Netherlands Radio Choir and four terrific soloists.

Armin and Philippe Jordan, both very much at home in the opera house, have not recorded much in common but given their pedigrees in Wagner (father Armin led some acclaimed Seattle Opera performances, while Philippe has a few Ring cycles under his belt and is limbering up for one at the Met next season), why not compare son, in orchestral excerpts from The Ring, with father in Parsifal?

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