Neiva/Javan/São Paulo SO and choir/Karabtchevsky(Naxos)
The conductor – who led the Berlin Philharmonic from 1956 to 1989 – is the subject of a new BBC documentary. But he remains an enigmatic figure, whose musical approach sounds a false note in today’s world
Herbert von Karajan. He’s both an icon and an enigma in the story of 20th century music. Baton aloft, hair expertly coiffed, shot in soft-focus lighting from the left (he insisted he was photographed from what he thought was his best side), he is the familiar face of millions of records, videos, laserdiscs, and now DVDs and downloads, the person who arguably did more to turn symphonic music into a commodity in the postwar era. He is also the despotic maestro of imperialistic ambition, who wanted to conquer every available media possibility and turn them into publicity-generating – and commercially lucrative – opportunities for him and his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic.
But Karajan the man remains elusive: a conductor who didn’t – and possibly couldn’t – form friendships with the musicians he led for more than 30 years, whose political past (he was a member of the Nazi party) was a dark halo over his reputation throughout his life, and whose music-making itself, for all its gigantic success, has now become a legacy that most of today’s conductors openly repudiate. Karajan’s approach, they say, represents an ideology in which the superficial gloss, finish and perfection of orchestral sonority is an end in itself, a one-size-fits all solution for repertoires from Bach to Berg, from Mozart to Mahler, which ironed out the expressive edges of everything he conducted. Simon Rattle, for one, has talked about how he was “slightly repelled” by the Karajan sound when he heard it in the flesh for the first time, and he’s just one conductor who feels that Karajan – “the emperor of legato” – belongs to a musical world that has no place in today’s orchestral culture.
A violinist has suggested to a child’s parents they ‘bring her back when she’s older’. Fair enough?
I wasn’t at last night’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall in which violinist Kyung Wha Chung made her first London appearance in 12 years. But on the face of it, what’s been reported by our own reviewer and by the Times’s Anna Picard seems shocking.
“Exasperated by an avalanche of adult coughing between movements, Chung calmly upbraided some parents for bringing along a young child who dared to cough too,” writes Jeal in today’s review.
Royal Festival Hall, LondonExpectations were high, and Chung struggled to make her instrument sing, but her natural authority won out – even if it terrified the audience
Comment: Was Kyung Wha Chung right to upbraid a coughing child disturbing her recital?
Edward Elgar is one of this country’s finest composers but a string of inadequate performances and his popularity among ‘the wrong sort’ do him no favours
In the first of a six-part series, Tim Ashley goes in search of the best opera productions available to watch complete on YouTube. To open the series, he looks at opera’s greatest love stories. Tell us in the comments section of your own personal favourites.
Opera is about many things. However it is, first and foremost, an extended analysis of the nature of love. It examines why we love, and what love signifies in erotic, emotional and spiritual terms, its comic triumphs and its tragedies and failures - and it shows what happens when love comes into conflict with the forces of political reaction and religious orthodoxy, and how it turns sour when subject to abuse or obsession. We’ll be looking at variations on this immense theme in coming weeks. But by way of a prelude, here are five of the most iconic operatic love stories ever written.
$100,000 composing award honours the prolific 62-year-old musician
In 1943 the conductor John Barbirolli was recruiting new players for the Hallé orchestra, which had greatly diminished in size during the second world war. Auditioning one evening in a gloomy Manchester church hall, Barbirolli called for the final applicant and was startled to see a boy come into the room. It was the flautist Oliver Bannister, who has died aged 88; at the time of this first opportunity, he was 17. As soon as Barbirolli heard him play there was no doubt as to his outstanding musicianship. Bannister was immediately appointed second flute and became principal in 1945.
Although not a soloist by nature, while with the Hallé he gave performances of Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto, Frank Martin’s Ballade and Domenico Cimarosa’s Concerto for Two Flutes, with Bill Barlow. He also gave several performances of Bach’s Suite in B minor for flute and strings, one of which was conducted by the composer and musical all-rounder Paul Hindemith. The orchestra’s leader, Martin Milner, maintained that Bannister’s brilliant technique and musicianship were “of such good quality that the other woodwind all played to him – intonation, phrasing, everything”.
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