Magazine article The Spectator

Music Rediscovering Spotify

Magazine article The Spectator

Music Rediscovering Spotify

Article excerpt

All my life I've wanted to be able to write confidently about orchestral performances and I think I may have cracked it. So forgive me while I show off for a paragraph.

In the last movement of Bruckner's Seventh, Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra capture the jauntiness of the opening theme; there's a twist of Haydn amid the grandeur. But it takes a long time for the brass and woodwind to settle down, and when Bruckner gathers his forces for a climax the conductor leans heavily on the gas pedal, as if he's nearly missed a turning. No such problems with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, where from the first bar the sheen of the violins tells you that every twist of the score has been mapped out, not to say ironed out, well in advance. Vorsprung durch Technik. For a happy medium - and 'happy' is the right word - listen instead to Eugen Jochum with the same orchestra: the strings are as gorgeous as ever and the pulse expertly sustained, but any pomposity is held in check by flutes skipping merrily through the dotted rhythms.

How was that? Pretty convincing, eh? I hope so, because underneath the Word document on which I'm typing this is a Spotify playlist of nine different versions of the finale of the Seventh. When I say Jansons nearly misses his turning I'm not relying on my memory of two seconds of music out of a 13-minute movement; nor have I scribbled a knowing aside into my (non-existent) copy of the score. I've just moved my mouse until I've found the dodgy gear-change, at 3'52'', then clicked up to Karajan, Jochum, Barenboim, Haitink, etc. to hear how they negotiate it. And you don't have to play this game for very long before you notice the distinctive sounds of the Berlin, Chicago and North German Radio Symphony Orchestras.

This sort of comparative listening has always defeated me in the past, especially in big Romantic symphonies or knotty 20thcentury scores. It's just too bloody difficult.

Sure, I can waffle about the velvety warmth of the Concertgebouw or the edge-of-theseat theatrics of the Budapest Festival Orchestra; I can even hear these qualities in the concert hall or on disc. But that's probably because I've read about them - most recently in Tom Service's superb Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and their Orchestras - and therefore sit down knowing what to expect. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.