Friday, December 08, 2006

Bach-Mozart-Beethoven-Berlioz-Faure-Durufle And Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Joshua and I are spending this weekend with my parents, helping them get the house--and everything else--ready for Christmas. We are doing this so that my parents do not run themselves ragged, getting everything prepared for the arrivals of my two brothers and my older brother's family.

We have selected six discs to listen to this weekend, while we work, and we have selected music that we know my parents will enjoy.

Bach Organ Music, performed by Wolfgang Rubsam, on the Philips label

Mozart Violin Sonatas, performed by Isaac Stern and Yefim Bronfman, on the Sony label

Beethoven Harmoniemusik from "Fidelio", performed by The Amadeus Ensemble under Julius Rudel, on the Musical Heritage Society label

Berlioz's Harold In Italy and Overtures to "Rob Roy" and "Le Corsaire", performed by Pinchas Zukerman and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, on the Decca label

The Faure Requiem and the Durufle Requiem, performed by Judith Blegen and James Morris and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Robert Shaw, on the Telarc label

The Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Christmas Album, in which Miss Schwarzkopf is assisted by Julian Bream and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Charles Mackerras, on the EMI label

This particular organ disc is one of my very favorite recordings of Bach organ works. It was recorded in 1977 on the organ of the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Frauenfeld, Switzerland. At the time, Rubsam was a Philips artist and he was in the midst of recording a great deal of Bach for that label. The disc includes the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565; the Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 550; the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 549; the Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 545; the Fantasia in G, BWV 572; the Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 535; the Prelude, Toccata and Fugue, BWV 538 ("Dorian"); and the Pastorale in F, BWV 590. This is 63 minutes of music to die for, and Joshua is overwhelmed. I think we will have to play this disc over and over and over.

Rubsam now records Bach for the Naxos label, but I have never bothered to buy any of his Naxos discs, as I am content with his Philips recordings.

Rubsam must be a very strange man. In addition to his work as a professor and as an organist, he is also a licensed and active barber, with barber shops both in Germany and in Indiana, and he has a website that features numerous photographs of his barber work. From viewing the results on his website, I can only conclude that his objective is to make all of his clients look like Heinrich Himmler. I was appalled.

We selected the Mozart disc because we all enjoyed Anne-Sophie Mutter's Mozart recital a few weeks ago. Stern, too, was a great Mozartean, but his Mozart is entirely different from Miss Mutter's. Stern did not have Miss Mutter's extraordinary beauty of tone, nor the endless colors and shadings she can summon. He compensates, however, with phrasing of great specificity. Stern's Mozart is more linear than Miss Mutter's, and his Mozart is at least as good as hers, if not better (Miss Mutter has paid public tribute to the excellence of Stern's Mozart).

This particular disc, recorded in 1993, contains three sonatas, K. 296, K. 454 and K. 526. It was not recorded while Stern was in his prime, of course, but it is still pretty good. Bronfman is OK.

I was too young to have heard Isaac Stern in person, but my Dad says that Stern was extremely variable. My Dad says that he and my mother heard Stern many times but that they only heard him "on form" once, in a 1972 recital that included a Mozart sonata. According to my father, that particular Mozart performance was sublime.

The Harmoniemusik from "Fidelio" is sort of fun, although it is a little jarring when the arrangements cut short numbers before their conclusions in the full score. The arrangements, for woodwinds and string bass, are by Wenzel Sedlak.

The Berlioz disc is pretty unremarkable, at least to me. I love the music, naturally, but the performances are nothing to get excited about. I have never been especially impressed by Charles Dutoit, probably because he suffers in comparison with another, better master of the same repertory in which he specializes, Charles Munch.

In the early 1980's, Charles Dutoit was Principal Guest Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, but he did not remain long in that post. He still returns to conduct the orchestra on occasion, most recently last season.

We selected the Faure/Durufle disc to help us eliminate memories of the poor Durufle performance we heard in Hamburg. This disc features a good, capable performance of both works. It is a disc anyone would be happy to hear on occasion. The performances are not, however, special--they are workmanlike performances, clear and simply stated, but not eloquent. A better baritone than James Morris should have been engaged for the recording.

The Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Christmas Album is, of course, one of the classics of the grammophone. Is it not the lodestar of all Christmas recital albums?

This is the famous recording which begins and ends with "Silent Night". On the song's second appearance, Miss Schwarzkopf sings a duet with herself.

The album has been in print, nonstop, for almost fifty years, and it easy to see why it has been so enduring. The arrangements are fairly simple and very effective, Miss Schwarzkopf sings simply and cleanly (and this is one of her albums in which no one can accuse her of excessive artifice) and the organization of the material creates a very charming listening experience. My favorite track is Humperdinck's "Weihnachten", a song of incomparable beauty.

This album was conductor Charles Mackerras's first foray into the recording studio. It also features one of the earliest recorded appearances by Julian Bream.

Joshua hates it!

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