An "Ozawa" thread

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Lance
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An "Ozawa" thread

Post by Lance » Mon Mar 22, 2021 2:10 pm

Inasmuch as Ozawa's name has come up on the James Levine thread, I thought we ought to have one pertaining to just Ozawa.

My own thoughts are that, from long ago into the LP era, Ozawa was never a top contender for me. I don't know why. However, I show some 100 listings on major and non-major labels with him as a conductor, and mostly in any collaborations he participated in such as Pennario, John Browning, Rostropovich, Peter Serkin, Weissenberg, etc., and many singers and other instrumentalists. I also acquired the six-CD boxed set from RCA [39210], the DGG 8-CD boxed set [483 5496] with Boston SO recordings, and his 11-CD boxed set from Decca [478 2358] not to mention countless individual recordings. In all these boxed sets, most include just orchestral, non-collaborative recordings. I've really tried to give him a fair chance in the orchestral repertoire. There are, of course, some outstanding collaborative recordings among all these listings. When I listen to the Boston Symphony recordings, and make comparisons between Monteux, Munch, Leinsdorf, Steinberg (in the stereo recordings), including Koussevitzky's early mono recordings, I am more convinced by the others than by Ozawa. Ozawa is highly esteemed in most music circles, and he has worked with some of the finest orchestras during his long career not to mention recordings for every major label. So, in the final analysis, Ozawa has done something right. Perhaps it is more my infatuation with the older generation of conductors mentioned above. But even later, I find Bernstein more convincing in the mainstream repertoire than Ozawa. Has Ozawa given the USA and the world some fine music-making, I think so.
Lance G. Hill
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david johnson
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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by david johnson » Tue Mar 23, 2021 1:43 am

I keep some Ozawa recordings around that I especially enjoy - : Janácek:Sinfonietta and Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, both with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

maestrob
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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 23, 2021 10:05 am

Lance, I generally agree with your assessment above, as I used to listen regularly to radio broadcasts of concerts from Boston, as well as, of course, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago & Cleveland. Somehow, I inevitably found other conductors more satisfying during the 1970's when Ozawa was settling in, but just recently I have been exploring his earliest efforts for RCA, and have been pleasantly surprised by his successes with XXth Century repertoire, particularly in Chicago. What I've heard so far is electrifying. Those successes (as well as his relationship to Leonard Bernstein, whom Ozawa assisted with many Young People's Concert broadcasts) propelled his career forward, I'm sure, but he quickly revealed his weaknesses in interpreting Romantic repertoire in Boston during those radio broadcasts I mentioned.

I've heard that he had strong financial connections to Japan who supported his tenure in Boston, so that may explain his long presence there (29 years, longer than Koussevitsky's 25 years) in spite of the many rumors of low morale among the musicians. Again, let me emphasize that I have no way to document this, so it's only speculation on my part.

I have very few of his CDs: a Berg/Stravinsky concerto pairing with Perlman that is quite beautiful on DGG (although I now prefer Thomas Zehetmair's Berg and Vengerov/Rostropovich in the Stravinsky), and a CD of left-hand piano concertos with Leon Fleisher that is quite good but not inspiring, come to mind immediately. OTOH, I have a terrible Mahler VIII on Phillips that was given to me as a joke for a birthday present, as well as the Prokofiev box that was issued on DGG, which seems rather tame and occasionally undisciplined to my ears, especially when compared to Ormandy, Rozhdestvensky or Leinsdorf. Need I say more?

I also have a DVD from Berlin or Vienna(?) of an operatic concert that went quite well.

Here's a more positive take on his career dating from when he won the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2015:

https://www.wbur.org/artery/2015/12/04/ ... edy-center

And there's this from the same source in 2018:


https://www.wbur.org/artery/2018/01/08/ ... rdom-japan

And, just for the record, here is his Wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiji_Ozawa

So, as in many things, my experience of Ozawa's music-making is quite limited by personal choice. So far, his earliest music-making seems to be the best I've heard.

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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by Wallingford » Sun Mar 28, 2021 2:44 pm

Twenty or so years back, I acquired a bunch of Ozawa/BSO concert broadcasts on open reel tape, from the 60s and 70s, from an anonymous New York collector. (This guy really had hi-fi--a top-of-the-line Wollensack, good FM reception, and most likely equalized, with no overload or imbalance.)

Generally Ozawa's strong points were, apart from his super technique and great memory, his sympathies for contemporary repertory and the big splashy showpieces. His pre-20th century fare was flawless, disciplined, and little more.

But in the 60s and 70s, we thought he was 'cool.' He clicked with the younger generation.
Good music is that which falls upon the ear with ease, and quits the memory with difficulty.
--Sir Thomas Beecham

Wallingford
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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by Wallingford » Sun Mar 28, 2021 2:51 pm

I have many fond memories of my parents allowing me to watch Evening at Symphony on PBS, on their living room color set, my father referring to him by his first name only, his stage theatrics, and forever wiping off his sweat at the end.

This from two parents who always preferred polkas and C&W.
Good music is that which falls upon the ear with ease, and quits the memory with difficulty.
--Sir Thomas Beecham

maestrob
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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by maestrob » Mon Mar 29, 2021 10:59 am

Wallingford wrote:
Sun Mar 28, 2021 2:44 pm
Twenty or so years back, I acquired a bunch of Ozawa/BSO concert broadcasts on open reel tape, from the 60s and 70s, from an anonymous New York collector. (This guy really had hi-fi--a top-of-the-line Wollensack, good FM reception, and most likely equalized, with no overload or imbalance.)

Generally Ozawa's strong points were, apart from his super technique and great memory, his sympathies for contemporary repertory and the big splashy showpieces. His pre-20th century fare was flawless, disciplined, and little more.

But in the 60s and 70s, we thought he was 'cool.' He clicked with the younger generation.
What you said.

I remember distinctly that he would wear turtlenecks on TV to conduct his concerts. That said, I agree with your overall assessment. Still, I'm enjoying hearing his Chicago Symphony recordings for the first time, even his Tchaikovsky V, which is quite energetic and well thought out. I may buy that RCA box, but let the Boston Symphony box from DGG slide...again.

I need to do more listening though to make up my mind.

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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by Lance » Tue Mar 30, 2021 2:18 am

No one, near as I can determine, has said much about Ozawa's Decca 11-CD boxed set [478 2358], which features a number of orchestras including the Boston, Saito Kinen, Vienna and Berlin POs. Some items include a Mahler 2nd, Poulenc Gloria (w/Battle), Tchaikovsky 5th. For me, probably one of Ozawa's most uninteresting recordings appeared on Philips [468 999], the live 2002 New Year's Concert in Vienna, music largely by the Strauss family. He seemed out of his element in this music.
Lance G. Hill
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rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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maestrob
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Re: An "Ozawa" thread

Post by maestrob » Tue Mar 30, 2021 7:55 am

Lance wrote:
Tue Mar 30, 2021 2:18 am
No one, near as I can determine, has said much about Ozawa's Decca 11-CD boxed set [478 2358], which features a number of orchestras including the Boston, Saito Kinen, Vienna and Berlin POs. Some items include a Mahler 2nd, Poulenc Gloria (w/Battle), Tchaikovsky 5th. For me, probably one of Ozawa's most uninteresting recordings appeared on Philips [468 999], the live 2002 New Year's Concert in Vienna, music largely by the Strauss family. He seemed out of his element in this music.
Image

If you mean this one, Lance, I can't hear it on Amazon, so I won't comment myself, other than to say that I'm sure I would prefer Abbado's Mahler II from Lucerne and HvK's Alpine Symphony in Berlin, along with Sir Andrew's from, of all places, Melbourne. Still, here's a thorough review (with complete contents list) from Huntley Dent on Amazon who has heard the entire box. He sounds like he knows what he's talking about. I'll avoid the Takemitsu disc, thank-you! 😉

Reviewed in the United States on April 7, 2011
Verified Purchase
This 75th anniversary tribute to Seiji Ozawa comes at a sad time, with his battle against cancer and a lingering shadow over his 29 years with the Boston Sym., which was too long and ended more with relief that he departed than regret that he couldn't stay longer. But with the passage of time we will get a more balanced view of Ozawa, the most famous classical musician from Japan in the twentieth century. Decca has access to the whole Universal catalog, which enabled them to put together recordings going back to 1972 and spanning DG and Philips, the two labels that the conductor worked with after an early stint with RCA and occasional forays to other labels. At less than $50, this 11-CD box set comes at a super-budget price, offering readings that surpass almost any budget label, whatever one may think of each performance in detail.

It was intelligent of the compilers to arrange each CD as a program rather than a miscellany. Without going into critical detail, let me sketch in each disc.

CD 1 -- An all-Bartok program featuring Ozawa's Japanese orchestra, the Saito Kinen. Bartok is one of his strongest composers, and the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celestra is given an alert, agile reading. the orchestra itself doesn't compete on an international level in terms of virtuosity and power, but in the Concerto for Orchestra (a perennial showpiece for the BSO, which commissioned it) only the most demanding passages in the finale fall a bit short. Ozawa's interpretation is accomplished, and the recorded sound is excellent.

CD 2 - We remain with Saito Kinen for Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, a work close to Ozawa's heart and one that played a big part in impressing the Boston audience, along with the board, when the BSO auditioned him as a guest conductor in the early Seventies. No surprise that this reading is expert and the orchestra is on their toes. the brief filler is Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess, done smoothly and with a nice, delicate atmosphere.

CD 3 - An all-Takemitsu program with the Saito Kinen orchestra. the composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was venerated in Japan, and his impressionistic blend of post-Debussy atmospherics with traditional Japanese musical gestures is quite accessible. Ozawa did a great deal to bring this music to the rest of the world. He gives all-but-definitive performances here, and the orchestra seems very at home, more so than in the two preceding discs.

CD 4 - The BSO appears for the Mahler Sym. #2, dating to 1986. Presumably this is the same recording, with Kiri Te Kanawa and Marilyn Horne as soloists, that is part of Ozawa's complete cycle. At 79 min. it's one of the few readings that can be squeezed on to one CD. While not the most vigorous or imaginative reading to be found, this installment in the cycle was far better than average, and the sonics are good. The BSO offers unusually elegant playing for a Mahler symphony (not what I prefer personally), but fans of the orchestra should be happy.

CD 5 - This unexpected and rather delightful disc contains Bach transcriptions by 20th-century composers: Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Webern. The first item, however, is the most famous transcription of all, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Stokowski, and believe it or not, Ozawa throws himself into it with abandon. If only he approached Mahler in the same spirit. The BSO is fully on board, and the recorded sound has tremendous impact. An outright winner.

CD 6 - Long considered America's "French orchestra," it's only fitting that we get a complete disc of Poulenc, including his most popular works. The Gloria was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation and premiered in Boston in 1961 under Munch. Ozawa's reading is mostly bright and forward (the opening movement sounds like a pep rally), and Kathleen Battle is sublime as the solo soprano. The eminent Simon Preston is soloist in the Organ Cto., with the BSO's equally eminent timpanist playing an almost equal part. The performance is as good as any I've ever heard; the sound is vivid and very present. Less popular but a very interesting work is the Concert champetre for harpsichord, here played by the English virtuoso Trevor Pinnock on a triple-decker instrument. The whole disc is another outright winner.

CD 7 - A live concert from 1993 with the Vienna Phil. of two Russian light classical staples: Scheherazade and the Russian Easter Festival Over. Ozawa went to the Vienna State Opera after leaving Boston, and he has always been held in high repute there -- the New Year's concert he led became a huge bestseller on disc. I don't identify either this orchestra or conductor with Rimsky-Korsakov, and there's a good deal of misplaced refinement (what a pleasure, though, to hear the ultra-elegant solos by the concertmaster, Reiner Honeck). At this late date Ozawa was well into the style of sleepy conducting that spoiled his final period in Boston, but other listeners may be pleased by such gorgeous restraint in music where most conductors, particularly the Russians, go for broke.

CD 8 - The Vienna Phil. again, this time from 1996 in Strauss's magniloquent Alpine Sym. By the time that this recording was originally issued, in 1997, Ozawa couldn't duplicate his early-digital splash in Strauss's great tone poems -- I remember a Zarathustra from Boston that was widely touted for its sonics. There are other fine versions of the Alpine Sym. with the Vienna Phil, but they are so stupendous that this CD is another winner.

CD 9 - An all-Tchaikovsky program featuring Sym. #5 and the 1812 Over. with the Berlin Phil. One is apt to forget that Ozawa's recording career extended to Berlin, but he was a mainstay on Philips. In addition, he conducted a wide range of Tchaikovsky's music, including ballets, operas, and symphonies. The ballets were led in an overly refined manner, but this is a blockbuster Fifth Sym. with the Berliners captured in warm sound with lots of impact. Ozawa's energy level is high, and the whole program scores a scucess.

CD 10 - We remain in Berlin for a standard program of overtures and preludes by Wagner, a composer Ozawa isn't identified with. But the Berliners have made similar recordings with Maazel, Tennstedt, and of course, Karajan. The orchestra isn't likely to make a slip up, and their execution will always be world class. Ozawa isn't the most positive influence; at times he allows the line to sag, and his leadership overall is skilled bu neutral. The chief value of this CD is to show him in lesser-known repertoire, I suppose.

CD 11 - Finally, a backward glance to San Francisco, where the young Ozawa first made a name in the U.S. The multi-composer program is based on the theme of Romeo and Juliet as treated from Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev and Bernstein. In 1972 the San Francisco SO wasn't in great shape, and you can tell that they aren't Boston or Berlin. but Ozawa's gifted leadership gets them through, and it's a pleasure to hear him when his musical personality was at its freshest and most vital. The excerpts from West Side Story actually swing, and the trumpets have moments when they blister. the sound is close up but a bit dull.

Taken as a whole, this is a handsome tribute, and although the Japanese orchestra isn't terribly impressive, except in the Takemitsu, they are close to Ozawa's heart and deserve multiple discs. Of the remaining CDs, Decca has done a very good job bringing out the best in Ozawa's conducting while avoiding any glaring weaknesses. That's not the most charitable statement for me to make, but I've sat through a number of snooze fests on Friday afternoon in Symphony Hall, and it's really an expression of relief that these recordings are as good as they are.

Each disc comes in a paper sleeve, packaged into a slim line cardboard box. The program book is confusing about which orchestra is playing, so let me give the lineup:

Bach, J S:
Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV565

transcription: Leopold Stokowski

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Musical Offering, BWV1079: Ricercar a 6

transcription: Anton Webern

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Partita for solo violin No. 2 in D minor, BWV1004: Chaconne

transcription: Hideo Saito

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Canonic Variations on the Christmas Hymn 'Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her', BWV769

arr. Igor Stravinsky

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Prelude & Fugue in E flat major, BWV552 'St Anne'

transcription: Arnold Schoenberg

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Bartók:
Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta, BB 114, Sz. 106

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123, Sz.116

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Berlioz:
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Romeo and Juliet (Love Scene)

San Francisco Symphony

Bernstein:
West Side Story: Symphonic Dances

San Francisco Symphony

Mahler:
Symphony No. 2 in C minor 'Resurrection'

Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) & Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Poulenc:
Gloria

Kathleen Battle (soprano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings & Timpani

Simon Preston (organ)

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Concert champêtre

Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Prokofiev:
Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 - excerpts

San Francisco Symphony

Ravel:
Pavane pour une infante défunte

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Rimsky Korsakov:
Scheherazade, Op. 35

Wiener Philharmoniker

Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36

Wiener Philharmoniker

Strauss, R:
Fanfare für Wiener Philharmoniker, Op. 109

Wiener Philharmoniker

Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64

Wiener Philharmoniker

Takemitsu:
Ceremonial, An Autumn Ode

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Family Tree

Saito Kinen Orchestra

My Way of Life

Dwayne Croft (baritone)

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Requiem for string orchestra

Saito Kinen Orchestra

Air for flute

Aurèle Nicolet (flute)

Tchaikovsky:
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

Berliner Philharmoniker

1812 Overture, Op. 49

Berliner Philharmoniker

Romeo & Juliet: Fantasy Overture

San Francisco Symphony

Wagner:
Der fliegende Holländer: Overture

Berliner Philharmoniker

Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1

Berliner Philharmoniker

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Overture

Berliner Philharmoniker

Tannhäuser: Overture

Berliner Philharmoniker

Tristan und Isolde: Prelude & Liebestod

Berliner Philharmoniker

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