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  1. #1
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    Basic Tchaikovsky, Symphonies 4,5, and 6

    While I have said that IMO, Beethoven was the greatest of all composers and Bach was the geuius without whom ALL western music as we know it today regardless of genre would not be possible, there is no doubt that Tchaikovsky is right up there among the greatest of all time. To me he has always been the "master of melody" and nobody wrote more beautiful melodies or more of them than he did. It's hard to believe that such a tortured soul could have given the world so much beautiful music. If you are at all interested in what symphonic music is all about or if you just want a fine recording of the late symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Deutche Grammaphone DG 453-088-2 Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4,5,and 6 played by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan IMO is an excellent choice.

    I am going to say right off the bat that I am not a fan of the 4th symphony. Although it is written with the same incredible skill and orchestrations as his great works, as with lesser works by other great composers like the Dvorark violin concerto and the Mendelsohn piano concerto, it has practically nothing to say, at least not to me. I will admit however that the last movement is very exciting. The third movement is almost entirely pizzicato (plucked strings) and is an excellent test for the deep bass and mid bass of plucked cellos and double basses which is so often not well rendered on many recordings or by many fine sound systems. (This alone gives me reason to belive that there is something very wrong with the way we measure loudspeaker systems.)

    If I had to choose between the 5th and 6th, I prefer the 6th. Both are immense works right up there with Dvorak's 9th (New World), Mendelsohn's 3rd (Scotch), and Bethoven's 3rd(Eroica), 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th(choral). Both have many unforgettable melodies that are beautifully orchestrated. Both have long passages that build to soaring climaxes. But the 6th (pathetique) is possibly unique in that the last movement appears to be Tchaikovsky's suicide message to the world. Nine days after its premiere, he killed himself by drinking poison. The sixth also seems to make references to the Serenade for Strings. Although Tchaikovsky was not one of the "Russian Five" he towered far over all of them. If you like this music, try some of his ballets like the Nutcracker or Swan Lake or his overtures like Romeo and Julliet. His violin concerto and his first piano concerto are among the greatest works for those instruments and he wrote tons of other great music. BTW, these recordings will give you lots of massed violin passages, an excellent test of accuracy of high frequency reproduction and its massive orchestrations will also give you something to test the overall tonal balance of your sound system. You will also understand the meaning of dynamic range and why vinyl records can't contain them without compression.

    There are many other fine recordings of these two symphonies but I think these are about as good a combination of great performances and excellent sound as you will find.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    While I have said that IMO, Beethoven was the greatest of all composers and Bach was the geuius without whom ALL western music as we know it today regardless of genre would not be possible, there is no doubt that Tchaikovsky is right up there among the greatest of all time. To me he has always been the "master of melody" and nobody wrote more beautiful melodies or more of them than he did. It's hard to believe that such a tortured soul could have given the world so much beautiful music. If you are at all interested in what symphonic music is all about or if you just want a fine recording of the late symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Deutche Grammaphone DG 453-088-2 Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4,5,and 6 played by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan IMO is an excellent choice.

    I am going to say right off the bat that I am not a fan of the 4th symphony. Although it is written with the same incredible skill and orchestrations as his great works, as with lesser works by other great composers like the Dvorark violin concerto and the Mendelsohn piano concerto, it has practically nothing to say, at least not to me. I will admit however that the last movement is very exciting. The third movement is almost entirely pizzicato (plucked strings) and is an excellent test for the deep bass and mid bass of plucked cellos and double basses which is so often not well rendered on many recordings or by many fine sound systems. (This alone gives me reason to belive that there is something very wrong with the way we measure loudspeaker systems.)

    If I had to choose between the 5th and 6th, I prefer the 6th. Both are immense works right up there with Dvorak's 9th (New World), Mendelsohn's 3rd (Scotch), and Bethoven's 3rd(Eroica), 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th(choral). Both have many unforgettable melodies that are beautifully orchestrated. Both have long passages that build to soaring climaxes. But the 6th (pathetique) is possibly unique in that the last movement appears to be Tchaikovsky's suicide message to the world. Nine days after its premiere, he killed himself by drinking poison. The sixth also seems to make references to the Serenade for Strings. Although Tchaikovsky was not one of the "Russian Five" he towered far over all of them. If you like this music, try some of his ballets like the Nutcracker or Swan Lake or his overtures like Romeo and Julliet. His violin concerto and his first piano concerto are among the greatest works for those instruments and he wrote tons of other great music. BTW, these recordings will give you lots of massed violin passages, an excellent test of accuracy of high frequency reproduction and its massive orchestrations will also give you something to test the overall tonal balance of your sound system. You will also understand the meaning of dynamic range and why vinyl records can't contain them without compression.

    There are many other fine recordings of these two symphonies but I think these are about as good a combination of great performances and excellent sound as you will find.
    Them's fightin' words, Skeptic! Beethoven was the greatest symphonist of all time, everybody knows that. Much though I like and admire Mendelssohn's Scotch symphony and Dvorak's New World Symphony, they are hardly on the same level, and neither is Tchaikovsky.

    Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies are great works. I also find it hard to warm up to the 4th symphony, thought the critics think it the greatest. I haven't heard any of the Karajan versions (you and the Penguin Guide like the 1977 recordings). I like the wonderful recording with Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphonyand when I'm in the mood (depressed!) Mitropolous recording with the NYPO is my favorite.

    Haydn's Paris and London symphonies, Mozarts' late symphonies, Schubert's 8th and 9th, all four Brahms symphonies, Sibelius' 2nd and 5th, at least-- I listen to them more often than I ever will listen to the Tchaikovsky symphonies.
    "Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony."
    ------Heraclitus of Ephesis (fl. 504-500 BC), trans. Wheelwright.

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    "Them's fightin' words, Skeptic! Beethoven was the greatest symphonist of all time, everybody knows that. Much though I like and admire Mendelssohn's Scotch symphony and Dvorak's New World Symphony, they are hardly on the same level, and neither is Tchaikovsky."

    That's what I said, or at least I thought I did. Sorry if I made that unclear.

    "...everybody knows that....."

    I'm not sure they do, but I'm working on it, believe me I'm working on it. BTW, Rimsky-Korsakov didn't think much of Beethoven as an orchestrator. He certainly didn't use the kinds of colors you see in the later half of the 19th century. However, whatever his limitations in that regard, it didn't diminish the power of his music. (I particularly love the way he uses brass and timpani.) It's funny how you can get familiar with the individual structure and orchestrations typical of each of these composes and take a well educated guess about who wrote a piece you are not familiar with when you tune in to the middle of it on the radio.

    "I listen to them more often than I ever will listen to the Tchaikovsky symphonies."

    I don't listen to any of them nearly enough. Somehow I keep gravitating back to Beethoven. But even a confirmed gourmet likes a break from fillet mignon and will eat a rost capon once in a while, even if just for variety.

    "I like the wonderful recording with Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphonyand when I'm in the mood (depressed!) Mitropolous recording with the NYPO is my favorite."

    I like Monteux also and will look out for his recordings. I assume they are on RCA.

    As for Metropolous, he had a reputation for conducting very very slowly. In fact too slowly for my taste. It's said that Toscanini often perfromed works in half the time Metropolous did. I guess Toscanini was too fast for my taste. Just the right tempo is IMO one of the most critical elements in maximizing my enjoyment of music, and in that regard von Karajan is usually right on target. Also these old recordings didn't have the fidelity of recordings starting in the late 1950s which really detracts from my enjoyment of them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    "Them's fightin' words, Skeptic! Beethoven was the greatest symphonist of all time, everybody knows that. Much though I like and admire Mendelssohn's Scotch symphony and Dvorak's New World Symphony, they are hardly on the same level, and neither is Tchaikovsky."

    That's what I said, or at least I thought I did. Sorry if I made that unclear.

    "...everybody knows that....."

    I'm not sure they do, but I'm working on it, believe me I'm working on it. BTW, Rimsky-Korsakov didn't think much of Beethoven as an orchestrator. He certainly didn't use the kinds of colors you see in the later half of the 19th century. However, whatever his limitations in that regard, it didn't diminish the power of his music. (I particularly love the way he uses brass and timpani.) It's funny how you can get familiar with the individual structure and orchestrations typical of each of these composes and take a well educated guess about who wrote a piece you are not familiar with when you tune in to the middle of it on the radio.

    "I listen to them more often than I ever will listen to the Tchaikovsky symphonies."

    I don't listen to any of them nearly enough. Somehow I keep gravitating back to Beethoven. But even a confirmed gourmet likes a break from fillet mignon and will eat a rost capon once in a while, even if just for variety.

    "I like the wonderful recording with Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphonyand when I'm in the mood (depressed!) Mitropolous recording with the NYPO is my favorite."

    I like Monteux also and will look out for his recordings. I assume they are on RCA.

    As for Metropolous, he had a reputation for conducting very very slowly. In fact too slowly for my taste. It's said that Toscanini often perfromed works in half the time Metropolous did. I guess Toscanini was too fast for my taste. Just the right tempo is IMO one of the most critical elements in maximizing my enjoyment of music, and in that regard von Karajan is usually right on target. Also these old recordings didn't have the fidelity of recordings starting in the late 1950s which really detracts from my enjoyment of them.
    Oh I know who you really think wrote the greatest symphonies. You made that clear a little while ago in the favorite symphonies thread.

    Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. James Stagliano, French Horn solo; Pierre Monteux, Boston Symphony Orchestra. RCA LSC-2239. Copyright 1958, so I presume if was recorded then or a little earlier. It's stereo, and the sound is pretty good. I think it has been reissued on CD.

    Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6 in B minor, Op. 74. Dimitri Mitropoulos, New York Philharmonic. Columbia Odyssey 32 16 0216. Previously released on MS 6006. No recording date, but the Odyssey Library of Congress Catalog number is R67-4246, so I presume the original release was several years earlier. It's a stereo recording, not bad for the age. It's not a slow performance, really, but quite an expressive one. The timings for the four movements are 15:32, 7:32, 8:34, and 8:24.

    I have never given much weight to servant family legends about Tchaikovsky's suicide, including when they were first published in Stereo Review many years ago. They seemed improbable to me then and still do.

    I also don't think that Tchaikovsky totally eclipsed the Russian "Mighty Five" since Mussorgsky was one of them. Mussorgsky didn't do symphonies and ballets, of course. Borodin did compose symphonies, and his 2nd Symphony is a very interesting and powerful work, the classic recording of which is, of course, Jean Martinon's with the London Symphony, found very cheaply on The World of Borodin, London 444 389-2, previously issued on LP with fewer couplings on London SPA 4054.
    "Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony."
    ------Heraclitus of Ephesis (fl. 504-500 BC), trans. Wheelwright.

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    "I have never given much weight to servant family legends about Tchaikovsky's suicide, including when they were first published in Stereo Review many years ago. They seemed improbable to me then and still do."

    I guarantee that reports of Tchaikovsky's suicide not only predate the existance of Stereo Review Magazine but probably the birth of most of the people who wrote for it. Here's what Christopher Headington who wrote the liner notes for DG in this set had to say; "Nine days after the premiere he was dead: and that this was a suicide by poisoning now seems certain since the recent emergence (1978) of new evidence in the Soviet Union." This has been widely accepted by musical historians and seems perfectly logical considering the torment he was plagued with all of his life due to his homosexuality.

    "I also don't think that Tchaikovsky totally eclipsed the Russian "Mighty Five" since Mussorgsky was one of them. Mussorgsky didn't do symphonies and ballets, of course. Borodin did compose symphonies, and his 2nd Symphony is a very interesting and powerful work.."

    Mussourgsky's most famous work of course was Pictures at an Exhibition. It was written by him for piano and was later orchestrated by Ravel who did a magnificent job of it. I highly recommend it and there are many fine recordings of it. Borodin who was also a world famous chemist and is credited with some significant discoveries wrote the opera Prince Igor from which we get the beautiful Polovtsian dances (also highly recommended) and as you said wrote some beautiful symphonies although nothing in the same league with Tchaikovsky 5 and 6. Apparantly you disagree. But his most endearing work as far as I am concerned was his string quartet which is often paired with the Tchaikovsky quartet. It was the second movement of the Tchaikovsky string quartet, the andante cantabile which made Tchaikovsky world famous. Audiences screamed for it to be played again and again and again when they heard it performed (there were no such things as recordings.) Yet I personally prefer the haunting Borodin quartet from whose melodies two popular songs emerged "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads", and "This is My Beloved." DG has an excellent recording pairing the two of them performed by the Emerson Quartet. Mussourgsky also wrote of course Night on Bald Mountain which is actually called Night on Bear Mountain. Where would Walt Disney have been without him?

    Of the other three, Rimsky-Korsakov's music was IMO the most interesting. Scheherezade was of course his most famous work and again there are many fine recordings of this work, my favorite being the Bernstein recording on Columbia with the NY Philharmonic (I've probably got more than a dozen others.) And I highly recommend this music too, in fact to anyone looking for an introduction to classical music, I would say this and the Pictures at an Exhibition would be two excellent choices to start with as they are very easy for any listener to understand. And what did Glinka give us that is memorable, Russlan and Ludmilla? And Ceasar Cui, nobody ever even heard of him. Yes I'd say Tchaikovsky towered over the lot of them but I think we don't see eye to eye here either.

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    I don't buy the stories.

    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    "I have never given much weight to servant family legends about Tchaikovsky's suicide, including when they were first published in Stereo Review many years ago. They seemed improbable to me then and still do."

    I guarantee that reports of Tchaikovsky's suicide not only predate the existance of Stereo Review Magazine but probably the birth of most of the people who wrote for it. Here's what Christopher Headington who wrote the liner notes for DG in this set had to say; "Nine days after the premiere he was dead: and that this was a suicide by poisoning now seems certain since the recent emergence (1978) of new evidence in the Soviet Union." This has been widely accepted by musical historians and seems perfectly logical considering the torment he was plagued with all of his life due to his homosexuality.

    "I also don't think that Tchaikovsky totally eclipsed the Russian "Mighty Five" since Mussorgsky was one of them. Mussorgsky didn't do symphonies and ballets, of course. Borodin did compose symphonies, and his 2nd Symphony is a very interesting and powerful work.."

    Mussourgsky's most famous work of course was Pictures at an Exhibition. It was written by him for piano and was later orchestrated by Ravel who did a magnificent job of it. I highly recommend it and there are many fine recordings of it. Borodin who was also a world famous chemist and is credited with some significant discoveries wrote the opera Prince Igor from which we get the beautiful Polovtsian dances (also highly recommended) and as you said wrote some beautiful symphonies although nothing in the same league with Tchaikovsky 5 and 6. Apparantly you disagree. But his most endearing work as far as I am concerned was his string quartet which is often paired with the Tchaikovsky quartet. It was the second movement of the Tchaikovsky string quartet, the andante cantabile which made Tchaikovsky world famous. Audiences screamed for it to be played again and again and again when they heard it performed (there were no such things as recordings.) Yet I personally prefer the haunting Borodin quartet from whose melodies two popular songs emerged "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads", and "This is My Beloved." DG has an excellent recording pairing the two of them performed by the Emerson Quartet. Mussourgsky also wrote of course Night on Bald Mountain which is actually called Night on Bear Mountain. Where would Walt Disney have been without him?

    Of the other three, Rimsky-Korsakov's music was IMO the most interesting. Scheherezade was of course his most famous work and again there are many fine recordings of this work, my favorite being the Bernstein recording on Columbia with the NY Philharmonic (I've probably got more than a dozen others.) And I highly recommend this music too, in fact to anyone looking for an introduction to classical music, I would say this and the Pictures at an Exhibition would be two excellent choices to start with as they are very easy for any listener to understand. And what did Glinka give us that is memorable, Russlan and Ludmilla? And Ceasar Cui, nobody ever even heard of him. Yes I'd say Tchaikovsky towered over the lot of them but I think we don't see eye to eye here either.
    Yeah, yeah, Piotr was homosexual (true) and there was going to be a scandal about an affair with an aristocrat and some friends held a "court of honour" and everybody decided Piotr should kill himself. Highly unlikely, IMHO. One thing that struck me was this notion of a "court of honour," something I have never heard of outside of the Boy Scouts. Was this some sort of customary institution? And if there were such a thing, why should he obey it? Sounds like gossip to me. There are a couple of other theories but what is the evidence, really? The upper classes apparently tolerated homosexuality. Are we to accept the word of the doctors that he died of cholera or a bunch of gossips?

    And Tchaikovsky's suicide is not universally accepted by any means as the summaries and comments on the following book show:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...25622?v=glance

    A search on the net will show different levels of credulity.

    Mussorgsky composed one of the greatest operas, Boris Godunov. Tchaikovsky's operas have never attained the same eminence. Pictures at an Exhibition was, of course, originally a piano work--and I much prefer Ravel's orchestration--but it's still a great work. Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky were both great composers but they did different things, so it's hard to compare. Tchaikovsky had far greater output, of course.

    I don't mean that Borodin's 2nd Symphony is better than Tchaikovsky's, but it is a fine work and he was a very competent composer. I think his Kismet quartet, no.2, is much better known than Tchaikovsky's Quartets. It's a really nice work. I have Gabrieli Quartet's excellent recording, coupled with Dvorak's American Quartet, on an LP, EMI Music for Pleasure CFP40041

    I like some of the smaller works by Rimsky-Korsakoff such as May Night, the Tsar Tsaltan Suite, the Russian Easter Festival Overture, and the Christmas Eve Suite, no. 2. I really don't listen to Scheherezade, which is everyone's favorite--I know, I know.

    Cesar Cui, judging from the one CD of a few of his works for violin and orchestra I have, Marco Polo 8.220308, was truly a minor composer. At least I can say I've heard some of his music!
    "Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony."
    ------Heraclitus of Ephesis (fl. 504-500 BC), trans. Wheelwright.

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    While it is true that these other composers were very fine and wrote some beautiful work, it seems to me that Tchaikovsky basically put the Russian/Slavic school on an equal footing with the German school in case there had ever been any doubt. Considering who he was up against, this was no small feat. He also IMO partially laid the groundwork for Rachmaninoff who actually followed behind him by only a few decades or so (Why are all of the greatest composers nut cases?) Of course, Rachmaninoff borrowed heavily from Liszt and Chopin both of whom he admired and was jealous of (have I gone out far enough on a limb and sawed it off yet?) Yes the Russian Easter Overture was a great overture but so is Romeo and Julliet and every bit its equal. The problem I have with the Russian five being in Tchaikovsky's league is that for every great work I can think of from one of them, I can think of another one at least as great from Tchaikovsky. Had Tchaikovsky been alive today, I have no doubt he would have gone to Hollywood and written for the movies. he might even have been happy there which of course would have ruined him. I can't say the same for the others. (In fact, the only movie score which exists that is of even remotely comparable quality to any of them has to be Prokoffief's Alexander Nevsky Suite-very highly recommended-get the DG version in Latin and Russian. Take my word for it, it sounds incredibly stupid in English, absolutely wretched.)

    OK, I've had my say about Tchaikovsky for now. Besides, tonight I heard von Karajan's performance of the Mendelsohn 3 (Scottish,not Scotch) and 4 (Italian) and the Hebrides overture (Fingal's Cave.) Perhaps I'll write a thread comparing his performances with the Berliner Philharmoniker against Kurt Mazur's with the Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig. Who knows, maybe I'll even rummage my basement for some old vinyls to throw in as a kicker.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    While it is true that these other composers were very fine and wrote some beautiful work, it seems to me that Tchaikovsky basically put the Russian/Slavic school on an equal footing with the German school in case there had ever been any doubt. Considering who he was up against, this was no small feat. He also IMO partially laid the groundwork for Rachmaninoff who actually followed behind him by only a few decades or so (Why are all of the greatest composers nut cases?) Of course, Rachmaninoff borrowed heavily from Liszt and Chopin both of whom he admired and was jealous of (have I gone out far enough on a limb and sawed it off yet?) Yes the Russian Easter Overture was a great overture but so is Romeo and Julliet and every bit its equal. The problem I have with the Russian five being in Tchaikovsky's league is that for every great work I can think of from one of them, I can think of another one at least as great from Tchaikovsky. Had Tchaikovsky been alive today, I have no doubt he would have gone to Hollywood and written for the movies. he might even have been happy there which of course would have ruined him. I can't say the same for the others. (In fact, the only movie score which exists that is of even remotely comparable quality to any of them has to be Prokoffief's Alexander Nevsky Suite-very highly recommended-get the DG version in Latin and Russian. Take my word for it, it sounds incredibly stupid in English, absolutely wretched.)

    OK, I've had my say about Tchaikovsky for now. Besides, tonight I heard von Karajan's performance of the Mendelsohn 3 (Scottish,not Scotch) and 4 (Italian) and the Hebrides overture (Fingal's Cave.) Perhaps I'll write a thread comparing his performances with the Berliner Philharmoniker against Kurt Mazur's with the Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig. Who knows, maybe I'll even rummage my basement for some old vinyls to throw in as a kicker.
    For the Scotch Symphony (that's what it's called on my LP) and the Hebrides Overture, it's hard to beat the remarkable performances by Peter Maag and the London Symphony Orchestra on London Stereo Treasures STS 15091.

    Christoph von Dohnanyi recorded it as the Scottish Symphony (along with no. 4 and the Hebrides) with the Wiener Philharmoniker, which I have on London 417 731-2 (I think there is a two CD set of all of them, too).

    I think I might give Maag a slight edge on the performances and the Dohnanyi a slight edge on the recording quality, which in both cases are very good.

    Mussorgsky was the greatest composer of the Five, without a doubt. Tchaikowsky was greater in many areas than any of them, but I think Boris Godunov is one of the greatest of all operas and Pictures, of course, is unique and has been orchestrated by quite a number of composers.

    Prokofieff's Alexander Nevsky Suite is a wonderful work, to be sure. We had a recording at home with Jennie Tourel doing the mezzo; I her solo and some of the choruses are in Latin but the Peregrinus is in Latin. I haven't heard it in English for decades, but I have seen the text and it doesn't seem so bad to me. I have a couple of excellent recordings on LP (Previn and Schippers) in Russian and Latin, but I like Dutoit, MSO, on a London CD very much with Jard van Nes as the mezzo, and I usually play it.

    A friend of mine is a professional violinist, who is quite a fan of Tchaikovsky, and he thinks Prokofieff's Romeo and Juliet is the greatest ballet score.

    I have tried to warm up the Shostakovich but so far haven't really succeeded.

    What makes you think Rachmaninoff was a nut case? He went through a depression for which he underwent a treatment by a Dr. Dahl. However, he seems to have become a stable family man with enough sense to stay away from revolutions. His Second Symphony is a favorite (Ormandy), the tone poem, The Isle of the Dead (Reiner, Previn), and the Third Piano Concerto (Horowitz/Reiner and Ashkenazy/Ormandy). The great choral work, The Bells is interesting, and it's the Vespers is fun to perform.
    "Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony."
    ------Heraclitus of Ephesis (fl. 504-500 BC), trans. Wheelwright.

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    For Alexander Nevsky, I prefer Claudio Abbado conducting the London Symphony and the London Symphony Chorus on DG 419 603 2. I have this identical recording on vinyl. I have another sung in English as I said, I think on an RCA recording on vinyl and I really can't bear hearing it in English. Experts on cinema credit the Movie, an old black and white (with English subtitles for us in the English speaking world) as the greatest movie of all time and the score as the greatest film music of all time. Ironic that most people including avid movie goers never heard of it. (For those who don't know, the film is about the war between the Sacred Order of the Teutonic Knights who invaded and occupied Russia and the Russians under Prince Alexander Nevsky with an enormous battle on frozen lake Chud near current day St. Petersburg fought around 1260AD. The score was later adapted by Prokoffief as an orchestral suite.) This music certainly eclipses anything else ever written for the cinema, not only in size and scope but in the tremendous skill with which is was written.

    Rachmaninoff was lucky to have escaped the revolution and the Soviet era in Russia. Prokoffief and Shostakovich were not so lucky. They were constantly at the mercy of censors who could capriciously decide from one day to the next which music was in keeping with the politics of the revolution and which was dangerously anti revolutionary. Shostakovich seems to have suffered the worse. However, the one work he wrote which I find to be of stellar worth is his Symphony No. 5. If you don't like Shostakovich, I hope you haven't heard this work because I would hate to think you have dismissed it. I've got at least three recordings including Bernstein's with the NY Philharmonic(Columbia MK44711) Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw (London /Time Life CMD-29A) and Stokowski conducting The Stadium Symphony (mostly players from the NY Philharmonic) on Everest EVC 9030. I have both the Bernstein and Stokowski on vinyl as well. If I had to pick off the top of my head, I'd probably pick the Bernstein recording but I really should listen to them again.

    What makes me think Rachmaninoff was a nut case? He was in suicidal depression. I'm sure it wasn't helped by Cesar Cui's comment about his first symphony "If their was a conservatory in hell, Mr. Rachmaninoff would take first prize for his symphony." Dr. Dahl used hypnotherapy to successfully treat him. While Rachmaninoff wrote some fascinating orchestral and choral work like his symhonic dances, his oratorio "The Bells" and Vespers, he was first and foremost a composer of piano music and a highly accomplished pianist himself. The second and third piano concertos and his Rhapsody on a theme of Pagannini are his best known works. I must have well over a dozen recordings of the second myself but I keep coming back to the Van Cliburn performance as my favorite RCA 5912-2-RC where it is paired with the Tchaikovsky cocerto. I think RCA also offers it paired with the Beethovern 5th concerto (Emperor) on cd as well. And of course I have a couple of copies of this very recording on vinyl. Honestly, I could never warm to his symphonies or Isle of the Dead. It's just too too dead for me. BTW, he was of course fascinated by the ancient theme Dies Irae which he used again and again. But so were many other composers. As for the third, I must admit that of all the recordings I've heard, none equals Martha Argerich's and that includes both Ashkanazy's and Van Cliburns IMO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    For Alexander Nevsky, I prefer Claudio Abbado conducting the London Symphony and the London Symphony Chorus on DG 419 603 2. I have this identical recording on vinyl. I have another sung in English as I said, I think on an RCA recording on vinyl and I really can't bear hearing it in English. Experts on cinema credit the Movie, an old black and white (with English subtitles for us in the English speaking world) as the greatest movie of all time and the score as the greatest film music of all time. Ironic that most people including avid movie goers never heard of it. (For those who don't know, the film is about the war between the Sacred Order of the Teutonic Knights who invaded and occupied Russia and the Russians under Prince Alexander Nevsky with an enormous battle on frozen lake Chud near current day St. Petersburg fought around 1260AD. The score was later adapted by Prokoffief as an orchestral suite.) This music certainly eclipses anything else ever written for the cinema, not only in size and scope but in the tremendous skill with which is was written.

    Rachmaninoff was lucky to have escaped the revolution and the Soviet era in Russia. Prokoffief and Shostakovich were not so lucky. They were constantly at the mercy of censors who could capriciously decide from one day to the next which music was in keeping with the politics of the revolution and which was dangerously anti revolutionary. Shostakovich seems to have suffered the worse. However, the one work he wrote which I find to be of stellar worth is his Symphony No. 5. If you don't like Shostakovich, I hope you haven't heard this work because I would hate to think you have dismissed it. I've got at least three recordings including Bernstein's with the NY Philharmonic(Columbia MK44711) Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw (London /Time Life CMD-29A) and Stokowski conducting The Stadium Symphony (mostly players from the NY Philharmonic) on Everest EVC 9030. I have both the Bernstein and Stokowski on vinyl as well. If I had to pick off the top of my head, I'd probably pick the Bernstein recording but I really should listen to them again.

    What makes me think Rachmaninoff was a nut case? He was in suicidal depression. I'm sure it wasn't helped by Cesar Cui's comment about his first symphony "If their was a conservatory in hell, Mr. Rachmaninoff would take first prize for his symphony." Dr. Dahl used hypnotherapy to successfully treat him. While Rachmaninoff wrote some fascinating orchestral and choral work like his symhonic dances, his oratorio "The Bells" and Vespers, he was first and foremost a composer of piano music and a highly accomplished pianist himself. The second and third piano concertos and his Rhapsody on a theme of Pagannini are his best known works. I must have well over a dozen recordings of the second myself but I keep coming back to the Van Cliburn performance as my favorite RCA 5912-2-RC where it is paired with the Tchaikovsky cocerto. I think RCA also offers it paired with the Beethovern 5th concerto (Emperor) on cd as well. And of course I have a couple of copies of this very recording on vinyl. Honestly, I could never warm to his symphonies or Isle of the Dead. It's just too too dead for me. BTW, he was of course fascinated by the ancient theme Dies Irae which he used again and again. But so were many other composers. As for the third, I must admit that of all the recordings I've heard, none equals Martha Argerich's and that includes both Ashkanazy's and Van Cliburns IMO.
    I'm not sure "luck" is quite the word I would use as Rachmaninov not only took his family away to miss the 1905 revolution, he spirited them away with the 1917 revolution (and he was lucky to have gotten out) and as far as I know, never went back.

    He certainly did write a lot of piano music and is considered by many to have been the greatest pianist of the 20th century. But his skills also extended to conducting, and he probably could have had a career as a conductor, too, but decided to make his money playing piano, which meant that at age 45, he set out to learn sufficient repertoire to do so, a remarkable feat.

    I do have a recording of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony on LP with Kertesz and the Suisse Romande Orch. I hadn't listened to it for many years, so perhaps I did just dismiss it. I have just played it and it indeed does seem a notable work, but unfortunately both sides of my LP have a flaw which needs to be skipped. So I will have to acquire a CD of that symphony and I thank you for the recommendations.
    "Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony."
    ------Heraclitus of Ephesis (fl. 504-500 BC), trans. Wheelwright.

  11. #11
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    Of course it is always a matter of opinion but mine is that of those I've heard, the Shostakovich Fifth is the best symphony written in the 20th century. But then symphony writing has not been a favored form for 20th century composers. What I find interesting is that having heard so much music in my "formative years" from the 19th century backwards, where dissonance was rare and used for shock as for example in the opening movement of the Eroica, the Schostokovich was wholly alien to my ears and even the best of 20th century music which made extensive use of dissonance like this one or Le Sacre du Printemps was extremely difficult for me to listen to even though it held a compelling fascination. About a couple of years ago I heard Le Sacre again for the first time in many many years and what astonished me was that far from sounding strange or at times even horrifying any more, it seemed perfectly natural and familiar. Anyone who has never heard Le Sacre or anything like it and hears it for the first time will wonder how anyone could find it familiar. Somehow as I grow older, even the most radical ideas become wonderous if they have real merit to them. Was Le Sacre in any way influenced by Tchaikowsky or the Russian Five? I can't see how that is possible. Paraphrasing Stravinsky's own words, it seems to have flown in from outer space, landed in his head and all he did was write it down. Nothing before even remotely like it. Was the audience horrified? At the premiere in Paris, they threw eggs and tomatos at the orchestra. BTW, for anyone daring to hear it for the first time, get and excellent recording on cd and hear it through a wide range sound system. It will give it one hell of a workout.

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