Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

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slofstra
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Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Sun Mar 22, 2020 3:08 pm

(With apologies to the Who, whose album title I adapted.)

I was sooo impressed with this concert, which is available free (while it lasts), here:

https://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/concert/52528

Of course, this is the BPO, conducted by Kirill Petrenko.

The repertoire:
Igor Stravinsky
Symphony in Three Movements (25 min.)

Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Alagoana. Caprichos Brasileiros, Ballet Suite (31 min.)

Sergei Rachmaninov
Symphonic Dances, op. 45 (42 min.)

Have any of you seen this? What did you think? This is a very ambitious program. Three complex, very different, modern works, all with a large array of symphonic forces. To my ears, it all sounded extremely good.
If this is an indication of where the orchestra is headed under Maestro Petrenko, then there are going to be some very good times ahead.
From the web site, "all of [these pieces] were composed during the decade between 1940 and 1950 and explore entirely different avenues of musical modernism but are not based on Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique."
The modern music that I do enjoy, and I enjoy it greatly, flirts with atonalism while not being completely cowed by it. Rachmaninoff just ignored the trend, mind you, and Stravinsky could do whatever he wanted. But Zimmerman, Hindemith, Messaien, Bartok and Lutoslawski are sometimes described as atonal, but really aren't to my ears, because the music they wrote is highly listenable. (I don't mean to deprecate Webern and Schoenberg, but most of it doesn't do much for me.) Is it true that new music couldn't be programmed during the Depression Era unless it subscribed to the Viennese Second School? You sometimes read that in connection with the relative unpopularity of the great Ruud Langgard and others. If so, then I'd call this music that I do enjoy 'stealth tonal'. Play with atonality, but still make it listenable and musical.


It strikes me that the music showcased in this concert is difficult to play well. In the present case, the orchestra sounds crisp and sharp, forces are in unison and rhythmic, gentle highlights teased out, pleasing tempi throughout and constant shifts managed well. And Petrenko is having a great time on the podium.
Please let me know what you think. What do you think of Petrenko's extra little bow at the very, very end? I don't think I've quite ever seen that before.

maestrob
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by maestrob » Mon Mar 23, 2020 11:36 am

Thanks, Henry!

Tried to access the concert, but the website said my voucher for free concerts has been used already! I guess they have to straighten themselves out. I'll try later.

Am a great fan of Kirill Petrenko. Hope he starts issuing commercial CDs soon.

slofstra
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:42 pm

I think we had a conversation recently about digital streaming versus CDs. Just to give you an update on that, I have backed off a bit on my plans. I had purchased a fairly sophisticated DAC for my computer in order to stream HD sound from my music streaming service. But it was very buggy, and I sent it back to the supplier.
My TIDAL streaming music service still works great, but I'll still purchased SACD, Blu-Ray audio and legacy CD discs for some of my music. And I have a large sunk investment in discs as well.

The BPO voucher was supposed to last a month. Did it not do so? Or did you have it for over a month.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by maestrob » Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:53 pm

I don't think it's been a month since I used the voucher to hear the freebie Petrenko concerts posted earlier. Too bad: I thought everything was supposed to be free now for the duration of the pandemic.

I understand your frustration with streaming. Frankly, I just find it simpler to load a CD into my computer or home player: no fuss, no problems with glitchy technology. I'm not as technically advanced as you are, obviously, but I enjoy the music anyway! :D Also, I'm not sold on downloads from amazon. They sound pretty good, but true CD sound is more transparent to my ears.

slofstra
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Mon Mar 23, 2020 1:10 pm

maestrob wrote:
Mon Mar 23, 2020 12:53 pm
I don't think it's been a month since I used the voucher to hear the freebie Petrenko concerts posted earlier. Too bad: I thought everything was supposed to be free now for the duration of the pandemic.

I understand your frustration with streaming. Frankly, I just find it simpler to load a CD into my computer or home player: no fuss, no problems with glitchy technology. I'm not as technically advanced as you are, obviously, but I enjoy the music anyway! :D Also, I'm not sold on downloads from amazon. They sound pretty good, but true CD sound is more transparent to my ears.
I still stream, but at a lower level of quality. Close to CD but not quite. What I do like about streaming is being able to call up anything, and I mean anything, for a listen.
I have both an OPPO DVD/ Blu ray sound/ SACD player with high end DACs and an older ARCAM CD player. SACDs on the OPPO sound great, but CDs do not. The CD player went on the lam (about 15 years old) and I scouted around for a new one, but there wasn't much on the market to compare with the older player. I found a repair person and got it repaired. I like this CD player because it isn't all junked up with electronics and sounds really great.
There's a lot of equipment out now that I don't trust because of its complexity.

maestrob
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by maestrob » Mon Mar 23, 2020 1:39 pm

Well! I thought you might have an Oppo!

I've been running a Sony CD changer for about 6 years now and it works fine still. I made a serious investment in a pair of Bozak Century speakers back when I was at Villanova in 1969, and have been in love with them ever since. They were of course made for LP sound, but CDs and DVDs sound great on them still. That said, I have a spare CD changer for when the Sony dies, but I still see models listed on amazon even now. I'm not worried about CDs going out of style: they still make turntables, don't they? :wink:

For concentrated listening when my wife is sleeping, I use good headphones and my computer to bring out the fine details in a recording.

Modernistfan
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Mar 23, 2020 5:02 pm

I definitely like all of these works. Stravinsky, of course, was in his neoclassical period at that point. He didn't take up serialism until something more than a decade later. The funny thing is that, though, whether Stravinsky was in his early period of The Firebird, Petrushka, or The Rite of Spring, the neoclassical period, or his later serialist period (the masterpiece of that period is Agon), somehow it all still sounds like Stravinsky. The Rachmaninoff was resolutely tonal, although definitely incorporating more dissonance that his earlier works (his Third Symphony is similar). As for the Zimmermann, he never was a pure 12-tone composer and always incorporated other influences, including African-American folk music and jazz. He wrote Alagoana in somewhat of a transitional period for him. The reality is that there were relatively few purely serialist composers after Webern: I would say Boulez (until he later reintegrated some of the earlier French influences), Nono, and, for some works, Berio and Stockhausen. Henze, like many composers in the 1940's and 1950's, mixed 12-tone and tonal elements, outraging Boulez. I think that there never was a period in which serialism was so dominant that non-serialist works were shunned. During the 1940's and 1950's, many modern but non-serialist composers such as Prokofiev, Bartok, Hindemith, and Shostakovich were extremely popular (although Shostakovich had used such a high level of dissonance in his suppressed Fourth Symphony that the term "free tonality" might well be appropriate).

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Mon Mar 23, 2020 9:47 pm

maestrob wrote:
Mon Mar 23, 2020 1:39 pm
Well! I thought you might have an Oppo!

I've been running a Sony CD changer for about 6 years now and it works fine still. I made a serious investment in a pair of Bozak Century speakers back when I was at Villanova in 1969, and have been in love with them ever since. They were of course made for LP sound, but CDs and DVDs sound great on them still. That said, I have a spare CD changer for when the Sony dies, but I still see models listed on amazon even now. I'm not worried about CDs going out of style: they still make turntables, don't they? 😉

For concentrated listening when my wife is sleeping, I use good headphones and my computer to bring out the fine details in a recording.
Wow, 50 year old speakers. Mine are a pair of Totem Arro's, modestly priced but with superb imaging. They are matched with a Totem.Tribe sub. Pretty happy with this setup.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Mon Mar 23, 2020 9:56 pm

Modernistfan wrote:
Mon Mar 23, 2020 5:02 pm
I definitely like all of these works. Stravinsky, of course, was in his neoclassical period at that point. He didn't take up serialism until something more than a decade later. The funny thing is that, though, whether Stravinsky was in his early period of The Firebird, Petrushka, or The Rite of Spring, the neoclassical period, or his later serialist period (the masterpiece of that period is Agon), somehow it all still sounds like Stravinsky. The Rachmaninoff was resolutely tonal, although definitely incorporating more dissonance that his earlier works (his Third Symphony is similar). As for the Zimmermann, he never was a pure 12-tone composer and always incorporated other influences, including African-American folk music and jazz. He wrote Alagoana in somewhat of a transitional period for him. The reality is that there were relatively few purely serialist composers after Webern: I would say Boulez (until he later reintegrated some of the earlier French influences), Nono, and, for some works, Berio and Stockhausen. Henze, like many composers in the 1940's and 1950's, mixed 12-tone and tonal elements, outraging Boulez. I think that there never was a period in which serialism was so dominant that non-serialist works were shunned. During the 1940's and 1950's, many modern but non-serialist composers such as Prokofiev, Bartok, Hindemith, and Shostakovich were extremely popular (although Shostakovich had used such a high level of dissonance in his suppressed Fourth Symphony that the term "free tonality" might well be appropriate).
Nice synopsis. The Alagoana does incorporate jazz. In fact, I didn't get any sense of an overarching pattern in this piece; a bit of a hodge-podge, but a delight to the ears throughout, so it doesn't matter.
Now, I feel I have to listen to Shostakovich's fourth again soon. There's one recording by the CSO with Haitink that I remember liking very much.

Modernistfan
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by Modernistfan » Tue Mar 24, 2020 7:51 am

You might also try the Krenek Second Symphony, which may have been an influence on the Shostakovich Fourth. In Leningrad in the 1920s, when the apparatchiks had not yet begun to restrict the range of expression available to composers, both Berg and Krenek were heard quite frequently. The Krenek Second is also in three movements, with a roughly similar structure to the Shostakovich Fourth, and written in the same sort of "free tonal" style I mentioned for the later Shostakovich work (it is plenty dissonant). There are recordings on Decca and CPO, which I have, and an earlier recording on Amadeo (Austrian Polygram) which is probably now impossible to find.

maestrob
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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 24, 2020 11:00 am

slofstra wrote:
Mon Mar 23, 2020 9:47 pm
maestrob wrote:
Mon Mar 23, 2020 1:39 pm
Well! I thought you might have an Oppo!

I've been running a Sony CD changer for about 6 years now and it works fine still. I made a serious investment in a pair of Bozak Century speakers back when I was at Villanova in 1969, and have been in love with them ever since. They were of course made for LP sound, but CDs and DVDs sound great on them still. That said, I have a spare CD changer for when the Sony dies, but I still see models listed on amazon even now. I'm not worried about CDs going out of style: they still make turntables, don't they? 😉

For concentrated listening when my wife is sleeping, I use good headphones and my computer to bring out the fine details in a recording.
Wow, 50 year old speakers. Mine are a pair of Totem Arro's, modestly priced but with superb imaging. They are matched with a Totem.Tribe sub. Pretty happy with this setup.
Current models of speakers can be very good and transparent, but I like the warm, woody sound of the Bozaks. They were hand-crafted, and are truly full-size, unlike many modern units which rely on compact technology to simulate bass notes, while the Bozaks reproduce bass in a natural way. They easily handle 100 watts/channel or more, but I rarely play them at full volume since I live in an apartment. I just like having the reserve to call on when needed. That said, I had them rebuilt with new drivers in 1980, so they're really only 40 years old! :wink:

As for Shostakovich IV, I would recommend Ormandy/Philadelphia as the world premier recording of that symphony (Konrashin finally recorded it in 1967, three years after Ormandy.). Oleg Caetani's digital rendition (He's the son of Igor Markevitch.) is also very powerful.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by diegobueno » Wed Mar 25, 2020 10:18 am

That's a very ambitious program. The Rachmaninoff is very difficult from a rhythmic standpoint, especially in the last movement, in which a Russian liturgical chant is employed, in a rhythmic setting which goes against the prevailing 6/8 meter. The one time I played it, the conductor had to move the bar lines and conduct in mixed meters in one spot because it was too difficult to stay together otherwise. I assume this is not necessary in the top orchestras, but it does make them sweat.

The Stravinsky is difficult because everything is exposed and it all has to be played just so.

I don't know the Zimmerman, but it sounds intriguing.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by Rach3 » Wed Mar 25, 2020 5:51 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 10:18 am
I assume this is not necessary in the top orchestras, but it does make them sweat.
Vey interesting.Thanks for the insight. The 2 - piano cannot replicate the sound world , especiallythe sax, but I find their transparency appealing.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Thu Mar 26, 2020 4:37 pm

I actually only have three recordings of Shostakovich's 4th, and two of them are conducted by Bernard Haitink. One doesn't usually use Haitink and dissonance in the same sentence. However, I did replay the recent recording of the 4th with Haitink and the CSO and it is top drawer. (I remember it beginning a great recording, but had to replay it to remember why.) I also reread a bit of the history around this composition - it stayed in the drawer for 25 years thanks to Josef Stalin. Thank goodness we have it now.
And on a tangent, for anyone interested in modern Soviet history you must see the recent movie 'Death of Stalin', which is a black comedy. It's a bit in the style of Bulgakov - that is, the events are horrible, but so bizarre that they take on a comic sheen.
Now I'm tasking myself with a comparative performance,and then the Krenek 2nd.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by diegobueno » Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:19 pm

slofstra wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 4:37 pm

And on a tangent, for anyone interested in modern Soviet history you must see the recent movie 'Death of Stalin', which is a black comedy. It's a bit in the style of Bulgakov - that is, the events are horrible, but so bizarre that they take on a comic sheen.
Interestingly, the opening incident in that movie, where Stalin calls up the concert hall to request a recording of the performance of the Mozart piano concerto they had just played (which causes them to scramble to reassemble the musicians) come directly from (allegedly) Shostakovich's Testimony. There is no other source that backs up the story (if there is, I'd like to be corerected).

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by Rach3 » Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:40 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:19 pm
There is no other source that backs up the story (if there is, I'd like to be corerected).
No idea source here : https://www.classicfm.com/discover-musi ... na-stalin/

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by barney » Sat Mar 28, 2020 7:13 am

It's certainly passed into musical folk lore. I see no reason to doubt it.
In the film, which I enjoyed greatly sort of against my will, the concert is the night Stalin dies. Which is also, famously, the night Prokofiev dies.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by diegobueno » Sat Mar 28, 2020 10:01 am

Rach3 wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:40 pm
diegobueno wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:19 pm
There is no other source that backs up the story (if there is, I'd like to be corerected).
No idea source here : https://www.classicfm.com/discover-musi ... na-stalin/
The wording here, especially the account of Yudina's letter and Stalin's reaction very closely echoes the wording of the passage in Testimony, including the phrase "twitch of the eyebrows". Also the wording of Yudina's letter is exactly the same, even though "Shostakovich" admits to only paraphrasing its contents. I suspect this author used Testimony as his source.

From Testimony (page 194):
Soon after, Yudina received an envelope with twenty thousand rubles. She was told it came on the express orders of Stalin. Then she wrote him a letter. I know about this letter from her, and I know that the story seems improbable; Yudina had many quirks, but I can say this--she never lied. I'm certain that her story is true. Yudina wrote something like this in her letter: "I thank you, Iosif Vissarionovich, for your aid. I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country. The Lord is merciful and He'll forgive you. I gave the money to the church that I attend".

And Yudina sent this suicidal letter to Stalin. He read it and didn't say a word, they expected at least a twitch of the eyebrow. Naturally, the order to arrest Yudina was prepared and the slightest grimace would have been enough to wipe away the last traces of her. But Stalin was silent and set the letter aside in silence. The anticipated movement of the eyebrows didn't come.

Nothing happened to Yudina. They say that her recording of the Mozart was on the record player when the leader and teacher was found dead in his dacha. It was the last thing he had listened to.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by slofstra » Thu Apr 02, 2020 3:26 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 10:01 am
Rach3 wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:40 pm
diegobueno wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:19 pm
There is no other source that backs up the story (if there is, I'd like to be corerected).
No idea source here : https://www.classicfm.com/discover-musi ... na-stalin/
The wording here, especially the account of Yudina's letter and Stalin's reaction very closely echoes the wording of the passage in Testimony, including the phrase "twitch of the eyebrows". Also the wording of Yudina's letter is exactly the same, even though "Shostakovich" admits to only paraphrasing its contents. I suspect this author used Testimony as his source.

From Testimony (page 194):
Soon after, Yudina received an envelope with twenty thousand rubles. She was told it came on the express orders of Stalin. Then she wrote him a letter. I know about this letter from her, and I know that the story seems improbable; Yudina had many quirks, but I can say this--she never lied. I'm certain that her story is true. Yudina wrote something like this in her letter: "I thank you, Iosif Vissarionovich, for your aid. I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country. The Lord is merciful and He'll forgive you. I gave the money to the church that I attend".

And Yudina sent this suicidal letter to Stalin. He read it and didn't say a word, they expected at least a twitch of the eyebrow. Naturally, the order to arrest Yudina was prepared and the slightest grimace would have been enough to wipe away the last traces of her. But Stalin was silent and set the letter aside in silence. The anticipated movement of the eyebrows didn't come.

Nothing happened to Yudina. They say that her recording of the Mozart was on the record player when the leader and teacher was found dead in his dacha. It was the last thing he had listened to.
What's the thinking on 'Testimony' these days? I remember that on publication there was a significant amount of skepticism on the book's authenticity.
Some years ago I read 'A Life Remembered' by Elizabeth Wilson. It was a very illuminating history.

I have now played through another rendition of the Fourth Symphony conducted by Kirill Kondrashin. My notes are at home, but I remember the jist of them. They have that shrill horn effect, of horns blown really hard, that seems to characterize some Russian recordings. I'm not fond of the effect. But the overall performance is delivered with passion throughout.
But I prefer Haitink with the CSO. The playing has more weight. If the Kondrashin performance is a powerful noisy automobile, then the Haitink performance is a steam roller. It doesn't need to rush, just ploughing over everything in its wake. I credit the CSO on that recording more than Haitink although it seems like a good combination.

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Re: Meaty, beaty, big and brassy

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 03, 2020 12:43 pm

Hello, Henry.

Generally agree with your assessment of Kondrashin and Haitink. The thing is, I'm not generally a fan of Haitink's and, after re-listening to that CSO disc this morning, I have to say that it's one of Haitink's better performances. The recorded sound is exemplary, but still there are dull moments throughout. Haitink rides the orchestra rather than leading them: I always get the feeling that he should be pushing them more. That's what I love about Kondrashin. He seems energized, ethusiastic, electrifying. Sure his orchestra is not up to Western standards, but the spirit is very much there. That's why I admire Ormandy so much: he knew he was making history with his world premiere recording, and it shows, and he inspires his Philadelphia players to give everything plus. Still a benchmark for me.

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