Classical Companion

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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.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jun 16, 2021
A Passiontide masterpiece every generation of performers and audiences reinvents for itself... Peter Quantrill casts an ear back over more than half a century of recordings

In telling the life of Christ, the four Gospels of the New Testament all build towards his betrayal, his trial, his death on the cross and resurrection. The first three events are known together as Christ's Passion, from the Latin passio: I suffer. Church composers had treated the text with varying degrees of freedom and complexity – the season of Lent being a time for quietude and restraint in every respect of life including liturgical worship – for centuries before Bach made his first setting of the Passion, during the early months of 1724.

Peter Quantrill  |  May 21, 2021
When the Russian composer Stravinsky died in April 1971, he left a legacy of definitive recordings. Half a century on, Peter Quantrill finds that his music lives beyond his time

Surely one mark of genius is that even your failures turn out to be successes in the end? The Rite Of Spring's infamous reception at its premiere in Paris in 1913 would have sunk the confidence of a lesser composer. Many of those around him were distraught, while the impresario Serge Diaghilev stoked the flames of scandal. At the centre of it all, Stravinsky kept his head.

Peter Quantrill  |  Apr 26, 2021
A sensuously beautiful tribute to old Vienna, to the waltz and a fast-vanishing age of elegance. Peter Quantrill explores the opera's background and suggests recordings

The premiere of Der Rosenkavalier took place on the 26 January 1911, at the Royal Court Opera in Dresden. The success of the piece became an event in itself, perhaps the most glittering triumph in the history of opera. Special trains were laid on to ferry visitors from Berlin eager to attend extra performances. The work was immediately taken into the international repertory, and there it has remained.

Christopher Breunig  |  Mar 12, 2021
As Christopher Breunig prepares to take a short sabbatical on a series begun in 2014 (continuing under new management) he adds a comment or two on some favourites

When I began collecting, EMI's producer Walter Legge was reviving Otto Klemperer's recording career after his fallout with Vox, and we had Beethoven's Leonora Overtures and Symphonies Nos 3, 5 and 7 (the 'Eroica' my very first LP).

Christopher Breunig  |  Feb 12, 2021
Coming from Sydney to London with an ambition to conduct, his scholarship to study in Prague led to a passion for Czech music. Christopher Breunig has the story

Recently, I have been entertaining myself by watching the online reviews by the American critic David Hurwitz (he's executive editor of the subscription site Classics Today – where all the most interesting reviews are for 'insiders only'…).

Christopher Breunig  |  Jan 22, 2021
Admired by his colleagues yet unpredictable for managers, he was a perfectionist who lived in his father's shadow. Christopher Breunig looks back at this reclusive genius

Iam very slow on the uptake. But now I know what's wrong: the quavers are too low on nicotine. They need a little bit more tar – they have to be a bit more venomous…' And: 'the side-drum has to edge its way in. It has to be very conspiratorial, a schizophrenic back and forth between sentimental and rumbustious'. Not the sort of rehearsal instructions orchestral players would be used to – but then, Carlos Kleiber was different.

Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 18, 2020
The most urbane of English podium figures, he delighted audiences as much as he antagonised orchestral players. Christopher Breunig ponders his relevance today

Herbert von Karajan? A sort of musical Malcolm Sargent.' It was a typical Beecham putdown, even though he admired his younger colleague's skill with choral forces, and was assisted by him in 1932 when Beecham was creating his London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Christopher Breunig  |  Nov 26, 2020
Written under duress during four months in spring 1937, this would become his most popular work. Christopher Breunig sets out the background and suggests recordings

New pieces by composers Harrison Birtwistle or Peter Maxwell Davies, say, will have received polite applause and a few boos from the audience at their premieres. But no government response.

Christopher Breunig  |  Oct 20, 2020
A child prodigy from Budapest, lured to the States with a false promise, he took over a top orchestra and stayed with it for 44 years. Christopher Breunig gives an outline

It's a nice story, but discredited, that the young Hungarian musician, Jenő Blau, changed his surname because he'd sailed to New York in 1921 on the SS Normandie. Ormandy himself told his Philadelphia lead violinist Anshel Brusilow that his French grandmother had changed her name from Goldberg to Or-mont, while other sources say that Ormandy was his second forename anyway.

Christopher Breunig  |  Sep 08, 2020
Were these meant to be heard as a single entity? Does the theory survive scrutiny? Christopher Breunig suggests library versions both 'historically aware' and traditional

When Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Teldec recording of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony appeared in 1985, his sleeve essay suggested the score was in fact a musical translation of a cathartic event from his youth, (i) concerning his mother's death, and (ii) the subsequent reconciliation with his father, and as such complete.

Christopher Breunig  |  Aug 07, 2020
One of the few Japanese musicians to have made a long career in the West, with a Boston tenure of 29 years. Christopher Breunig looks at his life and wide discography

Atough game of rugby football put an end to the hopes that a young Japanese boy would become a concert pianist. Seiji Ozawa, then 15, was mad about the game but severely damaged his hand in a scrum. When his piano teacher suggested he might think of conducting instead, he had never even seen a symphony orchestra, live or on television.

Christopher Breunig  |  Jul 14, 2020
A staple musical diet option for many of us, distasteful to a few, these four works come in a variety of flavours. Christopher Breunig suggests complete and partial choices

Aimez-vous Brahms?' asked Françoise Sagan in 1959 (well, it was the title of her novel, actually). For some reason, Benjamin Britten did not like much of Brahms's music – he retained a soft spot for the D-minor Piano Concerto and the early Piano Quartet. But, writing in his prewar diaries, he considered Symphony No 1 to be 'pretentious' and No 2 'ugly and gauche'.

Christopher Breunig  |  Jun 16, 2020
Outpacing her father when they both were learning the violin, she has become one of the most intrepid of today's musicians. Christopher Breunig focuses on the highights

We record collectors first became aware of the violinist Isabelle Faust 23 years ago, when in its 'Nouveaux Interpretes' series Harmonia Mundi issued a coupling of Bartók Sonatas, where she was partnered by the Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec. I remember what was probably their London debut recital at that time. In 2003 they recorded a mixture of pieces by Janáček, Lutoslawski and Szymanowski.

Christopher Breunig  |  May 27, 2020
Warner Classics and Deutsche Grammophon are early to the party, with huge boxed CD editions. Christopher Breunig suggests more affordable library must-haves

In 1970, Deutsche Grammophon marked the bicentenary of the birth of Beethoven with LP box sets, part reissue partly new recordings, to provide the first comprehensive Edition. (Philips did much the same for Mozart but marking 200 years after he had died – this time all CDs.)

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