Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Karajan, Eschenbach and Frantz Play Mozart

Herbert von Karajan was one of the most renowned conductors of his generation, but he started his career as a pianist and returned to the keyboard from time to time in later years. He was especially fond of playing harpsichord in performances of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. With two younger colleagues - Christoph Eschenbach and Justus Frantz - he also made a specialty of Mozart's Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra. In this performance recorded in 1971 Eschenbach took the first part, Frantz the second and Karajan the third. At the time both Eschenbach and Frantz had major careers as soloists but both now spend more time conducting. This performance dates from the brief period when Karajan was conductor of the Orchestre de Paris and that is the ensemble featured in this video.

Paul E. Robinson

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Bychkov Conducts Shostakovich

This is some of the most terrifying music ever written; the scherzo from the Symphony No. 8 by Shostakovich. Here is a performance that is exemplary in every respect, not least of all, as a master class in conducting. Semyon Bychkov not only understands this music like few others but he knows how to get an orchestra to play it magnificently. The tempo is fast and the character of the music is intense and savage. Yet Bychkov is intense but incredibly controlled in his demeanor and gestures. Much of the time he is using little more than his right wrist to beat time. As you can see, however, the musicians are playing as if possessed. What is going on? Obviously, a great deal of preparatory work was done in rehearsal to establish tempo, dynamics, bowing techniques, balances, etc. But it is absolutely essential to the success of the performance to not only establish the tempo but to keep it steady. An experienced conductor knows that wild flailing movements produce only anxiety and chaos. Bychkov's controlled beat gives the musicians confidence and a reference point to anchor the intensity of their playing. As it happens, there is a video of Evgeny Mravinsky conducting this music. It was Mravinsky who conducted the first performance. Mravinsky too was poker-faced and appeared to be doing little more than beating time. I suspect that Bychkov is familiar with that Mravinsky video. Even more importantly, as a student Bychkov was encouraged to emulate that style of conducting.

The playing of the WDR Orchestra is superb with some especially exciting trumpet playing.

This video is also notable for its imaginative use of editing to enhance the musical experience. Unfortunately, this excerpt breaks off in the middle of the movement.  

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Art of Andres Segovia

One of the greatest musical experiences of my life was seeing Andres Segovia (1893-1987) sitting alone on the stage of Massey Hall in Toronto, playing to a packed house. The sound of an unamplified classical guitar is very small but it filled the hall that night, and every note was a miracle of musicianship and artistry. No one before or since made the guitar sound so expressive. But more than that Segovia conveyed to his listeners the very soul of music. It was unforgettable.

In this video you can see Segovia in his prime and marvel at the artistry. How did he get so many different colours out of the instrument? Every note is a thing of wonder but listen especially to how he colours the last run in the piece. The music is Fernando Sor's Variations on a Theme of Mozart, a Segovia specialty.

Paul E. Robinson


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Van Cliburn: In Memoriam

Music-lovers around the world mourned the loss last week of Van Cliburn (1934-2013), one of the giants among Twentieth Century pianists. Cliburn astonished the world of music when he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, at the age of 23. He then went on to become a legend in his own time. And that became part of the problem. The real Van Cliburn was continually faced with living up to the legendary Van Cliburn. In 1978 he withdrew from public performance. After some years in retirement he returned to concertizing but he now lacked the confidence of youth and more often than not gave performances far below his former high standards. Nonetheless, he will be remembered as an exciting performer who inspired millions.

He lived in Ft. Worth, Texas and became an icon of the community. He presided over the Van Cliburn Piano Competition held in Ft. Worth every four years. The competition was begun in 1962 and will be held this year May 24-June 9 in Ft. Worth.

In this 1962 video he is seen playing the last movement from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by Kirill Kondrashin. Cliburn's recording of this work with these same collaborators for RCA Victor was the first record by a classical artist to sell more than a million copies.

Paul E. Robinson