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Nick Bennett

Shibboleths

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We seem to have morphed into "let's kill Benji Britten;" a sentiment I would entirely go along with but for just two works.

 

The first is "The Hymn to the Virgin" which must rank as one of the most beautiful carols ever written, and the second is the ever popular "A Ceremony of Carols."

 

Then of course, there were those stupendous performances of the Bach passions, in the company of the Wandsworth School boy's choir.

 

Whatever one may read into it, Benjamin Britten was at his best when writing for, or conducting boy's voices.

 

MM

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Disagree! I'd state that it is just the opposite - no other music does stand so much mistreatment than Bach's - play half-speed, wrong instrumentations, etc etc....

it is (nearly) undestroyable.

I think you're right. In that case, I change my statement: "no-one seems to tolerate mediocrity less than I when listening to Bach." :rolleyes:

I agree that the instrumental music is fairly resilient, but a half-assed choral society performance of the great choral works is the very definition of frustration.

 

I would tentatively agree with some of the points about Franck, but then I heard a recording of the A major Fantaisie by Jennifer Bate from Beauvais which, while not totally inspiring, did something for me. Still need a lot of convincing. The B minor Choral and the Pièce Héroïque, on the other hand, are definitely worthwhile.

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I would tentatively agree with some of the points about Franck, but then I heard a recording of the A major Fantaisie by Jennifer Bate from Beauvais which, while not totally inspiring, did something for me. Still need a lot of convincing. The B minor Choral and the Pièce Héroïque, on the other hand, are definitely worthwhile.

For me, Franck's Prière has depths that I hadn't appreciated for years but then suddenly found.

JC

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Guest Barry Williams
For me, Franck's Prière has depths that I hadn't appreciated for years but then suddenly found.

JC

 

 

The same thing happened to me, but with Franck's Pastorale. Although I played it for twenty years the piece never moved me - until I bought the recording of Langlais (playing the entire Franck organ works).

 

Barry Williams

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For me, Franck's Prière has depths that I hadn't appreciated for years but then suddenly found.

JC

Me too. I think the problem is in the title. The piece always sounds so tedious when played slowly. A bit of forward momentum transforms it entirely. Less Victorian piousness and more Catholic fervour, I say!

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Me too. I think the problem is in the title. The piece always sounds so tedious when played slowly. A bit of forward momentum transforms it entirely. Less Victorian piousness and more Catholic fervour, I say!

I'm sure you are right. It certainly calls for passion and longing, even though it ends in profound sadness. Using the prescribed registration also sometimes thickens the texture in a way that, I suspect, was not the case at Ste Clotilde. It may be heresy to suggest it, but I sometimes feel that a string quartet could bring an expressiveness to Prière that is difficult to achieve on the organ.

 

The same thing happened to me, but with Franck's Pastorale. Although I played it for twenty years the piece never moved me - until I bought the recording of Langlais (playing the entire Franck organ works).

I have just listened to the Langlais recording again. It certainly bubbles with joy; nothing tedious or repetitive there.

JC

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Transcriptions obviously come into this category. If they don't appeal to you, you're a snotty snob, evidently. :lol:

 

I think there's another category of music, namely music that puts you beyond the pail if you do like it. For some people it's Messiaen or Ockeghem, for others it's Lefebure-Wely or John Rutter. Or maybe Elgar.

 

So, lets leave our inhibitions behind, ladies and gentlemen, and beat each other up over music we do or don't like. Transcriptions have been covered, so let's not go over that ground again!

 

I'll start the ball rolling by saying I can't stand Mozart, I think most of Liszt's works are shallow, and Bartok is the second greatest composer since Josquin.

 

Not quite composers but I have always thought Herbert von Karajan to be the most overrated conductor of the 20th century - and that's before we get on to his politics.

 

Peter

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Guest Barry Williams
Not quite composers but I have always thought Herbert von Karajan to be the most overrated conductor of the 20th century - and that's before we get on to his politics.

 

Peter

 

I disagree on both counts.

 

His performances had a precision and musicality altogether lacking from almost all others. The huge respect he was shown does not agree with your view. His personal skill as a keyboard interpreter of Bach has been accorded much acclaim. He achieved an orchestral standard of performance that is still unmatched, except by very few.

 

His alleged support of the Nazis was merely the briefest passing interest of a teenager. The facts have been well researched and do not support such a casual comment about his politics, regrettable though his short and very loose association with that utterly dreadful regime may have been. Others had close associations with undesirable politics and even aspired to high office.

 

Why judge his music with his politics anyway? If he was a fine musician (or a lousy musician) what has that got to do with his politics? ("Let us have nothing that is not in terms of itself" - Ralph Waldo Emerson - or put another way, why judge the price of apples by the price of motor cars.)

 

Barry Williams

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Not quite composers but I have always thought Herbert von Karajan to be the most overrated conductor of the 20th century - and that's before we get on to his politics.

I admire and enjoy some of his performances (earlier recordings, mainly); but I think that his search for absolute perfection ends ultimately in sterility, and that by example it had a baleful effect on the culture of recording for many decades. Not that he alone was responsible for this elevation of perfection over performance.

 

To go off on another tack... I've always had a liking for the recording of the Art of Fugue by the Wolfgang von Karajan Ensemble; three positive organs that add up to a two man + ped organ, played by three less-known related Karajans.

 

Paul

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His alleged support of the Nazis was merely the briefest passing interest of a teenager.

Not "alleged" and certainly after his teens. He joined the Nazi party when he was 26. According to "Grove" anyway.

 

The huge respect he was shown does not agree with your view.

Respect, I think, is the right word. Love, affection: probably not. He was notoriously autocratic and dictatorial. Somewhat right-wing qualities, wouldn't you say? That, for me, says all I need to know about the man; I don't think there is much point in getting hung up about what his actual politics might have been. But as Peter evidently recognises, this need not cloud an appreciation of his musical achievement.

 

I am not sure that I would agree that he is over-rated as a conductor. I think it is beyond question that he was one of the great Romantic interpreterss. Famously, his tempi were often very slow by today's standards and therein lies the problem. I think the two factors are probably not unconnected. Self-evidently, the longer a note lasts, the more emotion you can wring from it. Therefore slow performances will automatically lend themselves to deep interpretations. (And conversely fast ones are likely to be superficial - something performers of toccatas might usefully ponder). But of course this isn't the only factor shaping a performance. There are also questions of mood and the over-arching shape and proportion of the piece. To take the Franck chorals, I am sure we can all think of performances where the individual phrases are most lovingly shaped, yet the grasp of the overall architecture is lacking (I make no claims for myself: for all I know I may be as guilty of this as the next person).

 

I would suggest that von Karajan was one of the giants of his time and deserves to be recognised as such, but that, equally, he has not withstood the test of time. His speeds do not pass muster today because we are not so prepared as previous generations to sacrifice the emotions at the more "energetic" end of the scale. In short, the ratio of indulgence to vigour is not so acceptable as hitherto. Of couse, such judgements are purely down to fashion and that could change tomorrow.

 

If the above makes the slightest sense, don't blame me. Tonight I am feeling quite irresponsibly mellow, thanks to the world's finest single malt! :lol:

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I missed this topic when Britten was under the microscope last fall. By chance I have been listening to Rejoice in the Lamb this week at work (and getting chills from the watchman and his staff). The 13 January edition of the Pipeworks radio show has a recording from St. John's College, Cambridge which I have been enjoying as much for the lovely Mander organ as for the choral work.

 

As for shibboleths... Will I be cast into the outer darkness for confessing my dislike of Für Elise? Wailing and gnashing of teeth would be far preferable to suffering though it again.

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If the above makes the slightest sense, don't blame me. Tonight I am feeling quite irresponsibly mellow, thanks to the world's finest single malt! :lol:

Which would be...Laphraoig...Glenmorangie port finished...Talisker...Oban?

Another thread/topic perchance?

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Which would be...Laphraoig...Glenmorangie port finished...Talisker...Oban?

Another thread/topic perchance?

I would say Lagavulin; but last night I was on Glenmorangie burgundy finished.

 

Paul

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His performances had a precision and musicality altogether lacking from almost all others. The huge respect he was shown does not agree with your view. His personal skill as a keyboard interpreter of Bach has been accorded much acclaim. He achieved an orchestral standard of performance that is still unmatched, except by very few.

 

His keyboard interpretations may have been great, but his Brandenburg recordings are the slowest and most turgid on record.

 

However, I agree with all the other positive comments about him. As an avid 'tape' collector in my teenage years, I have many recordings by the man.

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Whenever one of the fugitives from Ephraim said ,"Let me go over," the men of Gilead would say to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" When he said "No," they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. [Judges 12:5-6]

 

So the real question under the heading "Shibboleth" should be "Can you correctly pronounce the names of composers?" I hope that we will be a little more merciful to those who offend than the Gileadites were.

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His alleged support of the Nazis was merely the briefest passing interest of a teenager. The facts have been well researched and do not support such a casual comment about his politics, regrettable though his short and very loose association with that utterly dreadful regime may have been. Others had close associations with undesirable politics and even aspired to high office.

 

Barry Williams

 

Thanks Barry and others who have responded to my post..

 

For Christmas last year I was given a DVD of that excellent film Taking Sides which addresses a similar topic viz Furtwangler's alleged connection with the Nazi regime. Has anybody seen it? If you haven't it is well worth watching.

 

Peter

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As for shibboleths... Will I be cast into the outer darkness for confessing my dislike of Für Elise? Wailing and gnashing of teeth would be far preferable to suffering though it again.

 

Off topic, I know, but we bought a new answerphone a few months ago. What I didn't know when I bought it is that it doesn't have a normal ringing tone but instead plays Fuer Elise every time somebody 'phones, with electronic beeps. There seems no way of changing it. It drives me up the wall!

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But not on an organ......

Indeed, but I was discussing von Karajan, who, as far as I am aware, was not noted for his organ performances. :)

 

Which would be...Laphraoig...Glenmorangie port finished...Talisker...Oban?

Another thread/topic perchance?

Ardbeg 10 year-old, closely followed by Ardbeg Airigh nam Beist and Ardbeg Uigeadail. More peat than Laphroaig, but without the medicinal tang. Pure nectar. Lagavulin is wonderful too - particularly the distiller's edition. I'd better stop here - I could go on and on!

 

His keyboard interpretations may have been great, but his Brandenburg recordings are the slowest and most turgid on record.

I agree. Von Karajan was, like so many musicians, quite monochrome in the sense that he had only one style (so far as I am aware - I have never made any detailed study of him). Pavarotti is another similar example - but at least he appears to have had the sense to stick (mostly) to the type of music that suited his style and voice.

 

This raises an interesting point about what makes a great performer. Is it enough to be able to produce great performances of perhaps just a few pieces, or should a great performer be sufficiently chameleon-like to adapt equally effectively to all the different musical periods and styles? My personal feeling is that both Von Karajan and Pavarotti were great performers, but ones that had their limitations. I am trying to think of a conductor who is equally great in all areas, but can't immediately.

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Ardbeg 10 year-old, closely followed by Ardbeg Airigh nam Beist and Ardbeg Uigeadail. More peat than Laphroaig, but without the medicinal tang. Pure nectar. Lagavulin is wonderful too - particularly the distiller's edition. I'd better stop here - I could go on and on!

For me, pretty much any of the Islay malts. I have a soft spot for the place having spent a couple of weeks there on a "practice" honeymoon when our real honeymoon had to be defered whilst I had my back repaired under the surgeon's knife.

 

Subsequently when I started working as a freelance IT contractor I was faced with having to come up with a company name. The deadline from my accountant loomed near, and I was still without inspiration. On the final evening before I had to respond, I was partaking in some Caol Ila 12 year old with a friend. After possibly one more dram than strictly necessary, I came up with the name Caol Ila Computing. This seemed like a good idea at the time and rolled off the tongue nicely. Subsequently though this has proven to be a particularly stupid idea given that I have yet to have a supplier spell the name correctly the first time they send me a cheque.

 

Back to things musical, whilst on that same trip to Islay we happened to see a poster advertising "International Basson Recitalist - George Zukerman" performing at Bruichladdich vilage hall. I particularly recall,

 

- the fascination of the islanders by the new-fangled electric piano (Clavinova) that was being used to accompany George.

- the homely ambience of the hall courtesy of the radiant bar heaters along the walls

- the stage lighting (namely a couple of standard lamps from somebody's living room)

- the whole place being pitched in darkness mid-concert and the Clavinova being silenced when the electric meter ran out of 50p's

- the obligatory interval shortbread biscuit and whisky provided by the Islay Tourist Office

 

The music wasn't bad either.

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