Today's Classical Music Video

Monday, May 26, 2014

Franz-Paul Decker: In Memoriam

The German-born conductor Franz-Paul Decker died in Montreal on May 19 at the age of 90. He was music director of the Montreal Symphony from 1967 to 1975 and returned often thereafter as a guest conductor. Just last season he had been scheduled to appear with the MSO - the main work was Richard Strauss' massive An Alpine Symphony - but was forced to cancel due to ill health.

Decker held many conducting posts in Europe throughout his career and he also had a close association with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Decker was highly regarded for his performances of the German classics, especially the music of Brahms, Richard Strauss and Bruckner. But he had very wide musical interests. In our video from 1989 he conducts a movement from the Symphony No. 6 by Shostakovich.

Paul E. Robinson

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Friday, May 16, 2014

The Art of Audio Restoration: Mark Obert-Thorn

We live in a time of tremendous technological advances in recorded music. But at the same time, there is chaos and uncertainty in the way that recorded music is marketed. The big companies like Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Decca and RCA have shrunk to being shadows of what they were. People are not buying CDs in the volumes needed to keep these companies viable. Music-lovers are getting their music in other ways – largely from streaming.

But let’s look at the bright side. All this new technology has provided us with the tools to go back to older recordings and make them new again.

My guest this week in the video is producer and audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. Mark is one of the best in his field. He loves old recordings and he has both the talent and the patience to get the best out of them in his restoration work.

Mark was born in Philadelphia and still lives there. He was formerly a pianist and a broadcaster, but for the past 25 years or so he has worked at restoring old recordings  – more than 200 so far. His work can be found on a variety of record labels including Naxos, Pristine, Biddulph, Cala, and Music & Arts. He was also the artistic consultant for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Centennial Collection.
The CD we talked about in the interview is now available as Pristine PASC 387. It is titled Stravinsky: First Recordings. The CD contains performances of The Rite of Spring from 1929 and The Firebird Suite (augmented 1911 version) from 1928. For more information visit the website at

Paul E. Robinson


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Grande Symphonie funebre et triomphale

Berlioz was one of the most innovative orchestrators in the history of music. He had a genius for combining instruments to produce unusual sonorities, and for using individual instruments in original ways. In 1840 he wrote a piece for a brass band of 200 players to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the revolution of 1830. The first performance was given by a huge band marching through the streets of Paris and the sound must have been astonishing. And it still is! A few years later the composer added a chorus to the final movement Apotheosis.

Performances of this Grande symphonie funebre et triomphale are rare today but Simon Rattle and members of the Berlin Philharmonic and more than a few "friends" took it on last October. Our video includes an excerpt from the last movement.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Barenboim Launches a New Label

Everyone knows by now that the classical music record business is a shadow of what it once was. The big companies have drastically reduced their operations in the face of the availability of product by other means, above all, streaming. One effect of all these cutbacks has been that few companies are now willing to sign exclusive or any other kind of contract with performers. Some artists have taken matters into their own hands and started their own labels. The latest to do so is Daniel Barenboim. He has just launched Peral, in association with Universal. It appears that Universal will be little more than a distribution system while Barenboim and Peral make their own artistic choices. Incidentally, "peral" means "pear" in Spanish and "Barenboim" means "pear tree" in Yiddish.

Peral's slogan is "For the Thinking Ear". Barenboim's idea is that the great classical music deserves a listener's full attention. He intends to do everything he can to help listeners understand the music with analysis and discussion. The delivery system for Peral releases will be centered around iTunes. In other words, Barenboim is recognizing that most listeners are now getting their music from streaming and that artists need to understand that and make the most of it.

Among the first releases will be some early Bruckner symphonies with Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin. The website for Peral is fresh and interesting in itself: