When, in my review of his recent performance to Haydn’s Creation, I was reflecting on Sir Colin Davis’ career, I mentioned the Ring Cycle he conducted at Covent Garden in 1976. I thought that Siegfried was the most successful of the performances, because Sir Colin seemed to have fallen in love with its spectacular score. In no other work are the beauties of Wagner’s composition so constantly and so openly present. As I sat raptly in my seat, the orchestra and all the wonderful qualities Sir Colin could reveal in it were without a doubt the focus of my attention. And so it is for most of us in most performances, past or present, whether it is Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Solti, Böhm (whose splendid Bayreuth performances, available on Philips, should be better remembered), Boulez, or Levine. The orchestra functions as storyteller—a surpassingly eloquent one, with all the resources of Wagner’s musical imagination.
One doesn’t often encounter all-Mendelssohn programs. If I were to find one in the Tanglewood season, I’d suspect it was a somewhat excessive gesture towards the more conservative members of the audience. On the other hand, from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Frans Brüggen, who has maintained a long-term relationship with the orchestra over the years, it meant a fresh look at three important works by a towering figure in nineteenth century music. Our view of Mendelssohn is still colored by the popular conception of him as a genial, highly privileged composer of tuneful works, who sadly died at the young age of thirty-eight. In truth, he was, both as a composer and a conductor, an extremely influential leader in the highly theoretical and factionalized world of Romantic music, the central figure in the more conservative, “classizing” group based in Leipzig.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1974, has enjoyed a world reputation for some time now for the work they have achieved over the years under Sir Charles Mackerras, who still conducts the orchestra on occasion. And they are anything if not versatile, playing a repertory spanning the Baroque and the contemporary. Saturday evening they were in their Classical mode, playing Haydn and Beethoven with a slightly relaxed compliment of original instruments (i.e. cellos on pins and metal flute alongside gut strings, natural horn and trumpet, etc.) under the direction of the brilliant Swiss conductor, Thierry Fischer. The evening was a splendid success, full of imaginative insights and intense music-making. The orchestra and singers seemed to enjoy it as much as the audience, a special distinction for Mr. Fischer, who conducts without a baton, using vigorous, occasionally extravagant gestures, which never failed to bring the musicians together in committed playing and tight ensemble.
When one is in town, one amuses oneself; when one is in the country,one amuses other people. Oscar Wilde, from The Importance of Being Earnest It was with this truthful [ … ]
Lately I’ve found that my favourite thing is to race mountain bikes with no gears. Or one gear depending on your point of view.
Last month two remarkable men died, Konrad Oberhuber on September 12 and Nicholas Hlobeczy on the 14th. Since they both exercised a similar beneficent influence on the world through art—and on me personally, I think it fitting to honor them together. They were on the surface quite different. One was a prominent curator and art historian, a specialist in the Italian Renaissance and in the art of drawing; the other was a photographer and poet, vividly familiar and loved by those who knew him and his work.