Classical Companion

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Peter Quantrill  |  Sep 20, 2022
Mentor to Bernstein and Karajan, controversial chief of the NYPO, Mahler pioneer, the Greek conductor is finally receiving his due. Peter Quantrill says it's not before time

Leonard Bernstein once addressed the 'art' of conducting in scientific terms, saying it required 'an inconceivable amount of knowledge', 'a profound perception of the inner meanings of music' and 'uncanny powers of communication'. More ambitiously, 'the conductor must not only make his orchestra play; he must make them want to play. He must make the orchestra love the music as he loves it'.

Peter Quantrill  |  Aug 12, 2022
Written in the midst of personal crisis, the Second smiles and laughs with a humour that can be elusive. Peter Quantrill discovers which conductors land all the punchlines

Two years after the First Symphony, completed in 1800, Beethoven made a different kind of statement with the Second, on a grander scale, evident from the emphatic proclamation of D major rather than the First's quizzical gambit which deliberately contradicts its stated key of C. The Second seems to have been the longest symphony (by number of bars) composed up to that point in the genre's relative infancy – though Beethoven may have had in mind the spacious grandeur of Mozart's final symphony in D major, the 'Prague'.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jul 08, 2022
Resistance fighter, modernist architect, electroacoustic pioneer: where to start with a composer whose music remains forever new? Peter Quantrill has some ideas...

It would be pleasing though wrong to contend that Xenakis's time has come, a century after his birth. For one thing, the Greek composer and his achievements were celebrated across the world during his own lifetime. Like Beethoven and Stravinsky before him, he enjoyed as many successes as scandals. For another, the stiff wind of modernism which blew through European culture during the first half of the last century has slackened off to a climate of gentle zephyrs.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jun 21, 2022
Young man's music, emulating Classical ideals while coloured with wistfulness for something lost... Peter Quantrill on the recorded legacy of an elusive masterpiece

Ravel was a sharp-suited Parisian-about-town in his late 20s when he wrote the String Quartet during 1902-3. He had a decade of composition behind him, mostly piano pieces, but little to show for it. He didn't even have a graduation certificate from his years of study at the Paris Conservatoire, still less any recognition conferred by the coveted Prix de Rome, despite several unsuccessful attempts to win over the conservative judges while pointedly breaking their rules and fastidiously refining his own voice.

Peter Quantrill  |  May 10, 2022
Sacred or secular? Ritual or drama? Peter Quantrill tackles some of the big questions while exploring a sublime but ever-controversial opera on record and film

Iwas not thinking of the Saviour when I was composing Parsifal', wrote Richard Wagner to his wife Cosima – dismantling one of many misconceptions held about his last music drama. One practical motivation, having contemplated the subject matter for over 30 years, was an inheritance to Cosima and their children which would secure both their financial future and that of the theatre at Bayreuth which he had built to stage the Ring.

Peter Quantrill  |  Apr 12, 2022
Music that's icy but never cold, new but strangely familiar... Peter Quantrill explores the enchanting and uncanny world of the perfectionist Danish composer

What does snow do? Snow dazzles, conceals, melts. Snow is as much defined by the paths and pitfalls you can't see beneath as its surface crunch and glitter. So it is with Schnee, the composed 'Snow' chamber-cycle of Hans Abrahamsen. A dry summary would enumerate five pairs of canons divided by three intermezzi of open fifths, scored for nine instruments, but Schnee is much more slippery than that.

Peter Quantrill  |  Mar 10, 2022
A sense of both physical space and conceptual time is essential in order to realise fully the beauties of this essence of Englishness in music, says Peter Quantrill

It would be hard to overstate the impact of the Tallis Fantasia on both listeners and composers of the last 70 years, for many of whom it has opened a great wooden door on to both Vaughan Williams and a wider world of music that feels spiritual in character without being tied to a particular faith or religion.

Peter Quantrill  |  Feb 03, 2022
War and heartbreak colour the backdrop to this ever-popular sketch of Spain, but the best recordings are rooted in Baroque fantasy and formality, says Peter Quantrill

The Concierto de Aranjuez was composed in exile from one war and first performed in the shadow of another. Joaquín Rodrigo began writing it in 1939, having fled to Paris with his wife Victoria from the Spanish Civil War. The couple had met in the French capital a decade earlier, she a recent piano graduate from the Conservatoire and he a student of Paul Dukas at the École Normale. They married in Valencia in January 1933, against her father's wishes, and took a honeymoon in Aranjuez, a town south of Madrid dominated by its royal palace and gardens.

Peter Quantrill  |  Dec 28, 2021
The Czech-speaking lands beyond Austria hold a rich tradition of festive music. Peter Quantrill explores Masses and carols and the special genre of pastorella

Precious few countries can boast a Christmas repertoire as rich and colourful as the Czech Republic. None of it, however, concerns the figure of Svatý Václav – St Wenceslas – who was posthumously ennobled from dukedom to kingship by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I following his assassination in 935AD.

Peter Quantrill  |  Dec 14, 2021
Verdi holds the key to understanding the work of the old-school maestro, 80 this year. Peter Quantrill surveys a tumultuous career and finely honed legacy on record

I remember how my heart skipped a beat one hot afternoon in 1989 when, browsing through the stacks of a secondhand LP emporium in London, I pulled out Riccardo Muti's recording of Tchaikovsky's 'Little Russian' Symphony. It was a noisy Italian EMI pressing – 'La Voce del Padrone' – and there was a huge scratch in the middle of Romeo and Juliet on Side A.

Peter Quantrill  |  Nov 09, 2021
There's so much to enjoy – and a lot to go wrong – about recorded versions of a symphony facing in several different directions at once, says Peter Quantrill

Saint-Saëns had been organist of the Madeleine Church in Paris for almost 30 years when he wrote the last of his five symphonies – the first two unnumbered – in 1886. But the commission for it came from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and he conducted the premiere at St James's Hall in London.

Peter Quantrill  |  Oct 12, 2021
A silly farce or a social experiment gone wrong? There are no right answers – though a few wrong ones – to the riddle of this dramma giocoso, says Peter Quantrill

Giochiam', says Don Alfonso, to set in motion Mozart's final collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte: let's play a game. The nature of the game is a wager over feminine fidelity, laid with two soldiers to prove that, in the moral of the untranslatable title, 'all women are like that'.

Peter Quantrill  |  Sep 14, 2021
You might want to think of the Bachianas Brasileiras like the mouth of the Amazon, says Peter Quantrill, because a flood of discoveries awaits the intrepid listener

European classical music arrived in the world's fifth largest country with the Jesuits, who brought with them the sacred polyphony of Palestrina and Victoria. Those young men who showed musical aptitude were trained not only as priests but as singers and composers.

Peter Quantrill  |  Aug 10, 2021
Music among friends, written by a young genius at one of the happiest times in his troubled life... Peter Quantrill explores the history on disc of a feel-good masterpiece

Growing up in a one-room apartment in an overcrowded district northwest of the Ring, pupil then assistant to his schoolteacher father, Schubert was Viennese born and bred, a city boy with even more reason than Beethoven to seek pleasure and solace in the surrounding countryside. Lacking time or resources for more refined pursuits, Schubert in his early 20s relaxed principally by drinking (coffee and alcohol, both to excess), smoking (likewise) and walking.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jul 19, 2021
'The fourth man' on the stage of the biggest classical music concert in history. A 60-year career from Bombay to Rome via Vienna, surveyed by Peter Quantrill

India has a classical music tradition of its own: does it need the European sort? The British imperial colonialists thought not, and hired Italian salon orchestras to play in their clubs and hotels without fostering any programme of music education.

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