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Overall, I found the Third Movement of the 4th Symphony as the most coherent, greatly and highly emotionally developed, as well as the most inspired and meaningful music Mahler managed to offer to posterity.
The Songs are the other great gift given to us. Lately, I saw a program on Classica (the only channel of Classical Music available here) with Christian Gerhaher, in one of his recitals from Berlin with BPO, where each Mahler song sounded as a true musical marvel: concise but full of musicality and emotionally meaningful, delivered in a most beautiful voice and profound nobility.
A few more names were mentioned and my opinions on them;
Abbado: No classical musician in my world had gone from heaven to gutter like him. I loved him when he was young, but his last 15 (or is it 20?) years I loathed him. I saw him first with LSO when he was in his 40's (?) and he was simply full of mojo. Saw him a few more times with COE and still ok. But once he took over Berlin he became washed out. He was solely responsible for completely shredding the magnificent orchestra into a second rate one. BPO sound then was thin and threadbare. His Lucerne recordings are positively dreadful, including all the lauded Mahlers. He redeemed himself rather handsomely though with his very last, Bruckner 9th which is seraphic. He never came to where I lived during these dreadful years, and I wasn't going to see him anyway. My collection of his consists of his earlier ones, of which Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet with Boston (on LP) and LSO Mussorgsky are stunning. Also his VPO Beethoven 7th would be my top choice.
Inbal: Never saw him live. I would have if he ever visited my area. His Mahler 3rd is one of my favorite M3s along with Asahina/Osaka and live Salonen/Dresden from 2011 Leipzig Mahler Festival which is on my CD-R. By the way, tjh do you know Svetlanov 3rd or any of his Mahler? I have the 3rd and think it is quite different but still rather satisfying.
Maazel: Saw him a few times. A supreme technician (only the Little K was his superior in that) and he could make the orchestra turn on a dime. It seemed to me he was proud of the ability and wanted to flaunt it often. A very deliberate conductor but unfortunately he was no Stokowski. In my book he is just a one-hit wonder, that one hit happened to be VPO M4. But the recording was way before his death, so it would be different from your missed opportunity.
Eschenbach: First saw him when he just started conducting. It was with Vienna Symphony and he didn't make much impression. Several years later he came to L.A. and conducted M5 and O my, how much difference that several years had made in his stature as a conductor. His exuded immense authority and I was duly impressed. Physically he was slim also with full hair when with VSO, but by LAPO his head was completely shaven and he'd added some meat to his bones. Saw him another time when he brought his Philadelphia Orchestra. By then he'd become rather grandiose like now and less interesting. And also I noted that the Ormandy's sound was completely gone from the orchestra. I saw them with Muti a few times previously and there was still Ormandy sound intact. I never saw them under Sawallisch, so am clueless as to when that happened. Anyway it was a sad realization. Right now I have a mixed feeling on Eschenbach as a conductor. Recently a very nice live Houston M8 from 2014 turned up on the internet. His whole Mahler 9 symphonies with Orchestre de Paris are online for free viewing, by the way.
And Gerhaher: I do not have much opinion on him. Certainly he is an accomplished singer, but I don't think I would go to see him live.
The Maher 3, like the Brahms Piano Concerto #1, is one of those works that for me is rare to hear a completely satisfying recording. (Karajan also never conducted the Brahms work. Richard Osborne claimed that no one knew why, though recently there was a Gramophone Barenboim podcast in which he tried to provide an explanation.). Interestingly it's also a Svetlanov (with Donohoe) that I eventually settled in the first mvt of the Concerto. Back to the Mahler 3, I am currently going for Vaclav Neumann. This despite that, like the Svetlanov (in both the Mahler and Brahms) the sound is not as powerful as the USSR SO, nor that Eschenbach Ravinia broadcast (which I believe is not available).
Your description of Eschenbach's looks in the VSO days is also apt in his Mozart triple concerto video with Karajan and Justus Fr.
I quite like the Brahms 2 with Muti and Philadelphia on record. Quality was high when I went to see him and Chicago once on Schubert 9, though I thought on radio the orchestra in earlier times was even better.
Few comments on your views, botari:
- Abbado: I share your frustration about his "development" in time. However, having lived in Berlin from 2003-2008, I had the chance to see him with BPO. He did not sound as terrible as quite a few discs on DG. Actually, he managed to make the BPO to become a "smooth" and quite polished Orchestra. He was very much appreciated by the members of BPO and he could manage to excite to the extreme the not so easy to please German audience. However, I can agree with you that he was more solid, powerful and convincing in his earlier years.
- Inbal was, at least in live performances (in Berlin), a revelation.
- Svetlanov: I have never seen him live. His recordings have not impressed me that much, due to uneven productions and not so impressive or even convincing recordings.
- Maazel: Hit-or-miss. However, when he was good, he could perform miracles. Recordingwise, it was, more or less, the same situation.
- Eschenbach: I prefer him on Piano (in his earlier years) than at the podium. I do not find most of his recordings that convincing or even exciting.
- Gerhaher: I believe for a Mahler recital, one has to go the extra mile to see him live. The man has a rare combination of actual beauty in his voice and sheer nobility in his singing.
I prefer him on Piano than at the podium
I prefer him on Piano than at the podium
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For heaven's sake, tjh. Do you have to pollute every thread with this nonsense?
I prefer Brahms 1st concerto to 2nd. In 2nd, I always lose interest from the 3rd mvmt on. And I do not like the lightweight last mvmt at all.. only Arrau/Giulini and Richter/Leinsdorf satisfy there in their own different ways. Out of dozens 1st I have, I would ultimately choose Gilels/Jochum, Grimaud/Nelsons and Kovacevich/Sawallisch. The last two are not necessarily better than the rest, but they give quite different feelings; Grimaud's unique way especially in the 2nd mvmt and Kovacevich's sounds fresh like a young man's composition for a change vs. usual heavy mid to late Brahms. Gilels (either LP or the first transfer on CD, not the Originals series which I got rid of after one hearing) basically swamps everything else.
It is not my concern that Karajan didn't do this or that because there are other greats. Neuman' M7 with Gewandhaus (but not the one with Czech PO - I find him square as usual) I would call my favorite. The sound is so old time.. nostalgic.
In Brahms 2nd, I would pick either Haitink/COA or Ančerl/Czech PO.
I agree with you on the Brahms 2nd cto dropping in value in the second half. Also true for me in Mozart's Vn/Va Sinfonia Concertante, and, to some extent, the Mendelssohn Violin Cto.
The Karajan Brahms repertoire is a bit interesting to me, as out of his 13 major purely orchestral works, Karajan bypassed 4 of them. Karajan's Brandenburgs at times feel heavier than his Brahms.
Haitink is great in Brahms 3, I would pick it along with Davis/Bavaria and Furtwangler.
I forgot to mention 2 more favorites; Giulini/VPO Brahms 2nd and Haitink/CSO Mahler 3rd. Both are powerful, even dissonant performances, rather unusual than normal interpretation. I saw Haitink/COA live a few times in early 80's at AA, and B2 was even more satisfying than his recording, adding much frisson in the last mvmt.
On the 3rd of Brahms, I'd say Bruno Walter with Columbia SO. The one I have is one of the earliest incarnations of CD from Japan. I find the much later Sony issue rather shrill sounding in comparison. Both the Little K's 60's version and Cantelli on EMI (LP) are wonderfully lyrical. I also love surging Kondrashin/COA live, found on the internet couple of years ago. Adding Asahina/Osaka on Canyon in there. I myself was never a big fan of Colin Davis in Brahms or Beethoven (his well-touted early RPO 7th included). Among live I attended, I fondly remember the Little K's (more passionate than the lyrical 60's rec.) and Neeme Järvi in D.C.
Mozart Sinfonia Concertante and Mendelssohn E minor concerto; I regard both as pure masterpieces from the two sure geniuses and never felt them lagging in their last mvmts, so your view is a little perplexing. To me, Beethoven Eroica Symphony, Bruckner 6 & 7 are notable top heavy compositions. On B7, only Celibidache/BPO and 1997 Asahina/TMSO are completely satisfying in the last mvmt. And what about the Barber VC - why is the last movement so frivolous after such wonderful first 2?
As long as Tjh express only his views and preferences, I do not see any "perplexing" issue if he finds some masterpieces of the most classic repertory as..."lagging" in their last movements. Of course, I believe that Brahms Second Piano Concerto, Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto are masterworks in their scope, their musicality and as inspired compositions in their entirety. However, the personal reaction to them could vary (the ear of the beholder).
For instance, the last two movements of the Second Piano Concerto by Brahms are some sort of strokes of genius: in the slow movement the composer achieves an exquisite lyrical environment to finely support a fiery turbulent middle -complex enough- climax reminiscent of the previous movements' anguish and passion. In the last movement achieves a fine and more original resolution through grace, refinement and fine nuances demonstratihng the various facets of a versatile composer.
For Mozart, it is unnecessary to defend any notes, let alone complete parts or movements, of his compositions. The man had the sense and the essence of Music in himself, in...perfection, even when he wanted to trivialise his genius. Mendelssohn almost likewise.
As for Barber's Violin Conerto's last movement, the first answer I may use is the one an older friend/musician himself told me when I complained about the many pauses of a contemporary composition of an influential composer of the past century: "the composer wanted it like that. Period"! Although the last movement looks somehow not fitting in the scope and sense of the first two gorgeously lyrical and rather constraint movements, the last movement is the most original, challenging and demanding for the soloist and the listener in terms of the integration of a daunting virtuosity into a musical purpose. The performer's role is vital to reveal this perplexed achievement of the composer.
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