Classical Companion

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Christopher Breunig  |  Aug 06, 2019
At one time this music was deemed 'not for the man in the street', although times have changed! Christopher Breunig suggests choices from choral, solo and chamber works

I guess the Fifth Symphony is the work that makes listeners sit up and begin to explore the music of Beethoven. Its opening dot-dot-dot-dash motif was used by the Allies as a Victory emblem for broadcasts to occupied Europe.

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.)

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'.

Christopher Breunig  |  Apr 23, 2019

Kirill Petrenko's two September Prom concerts and, a few months earlier at The Barbican, a Mahler Seventh, suggest a promising new chapter opening for the Berliner Philharmoniker – as we Brits must learn to call it, the German title now unerlässlich.

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  |  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.

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  |  Jul 03, 2019
He was an idealistic figure, founding the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and even working to improve the Steinway grand. Christopher Breunig looks at his career

Six years ago no-one would have dreamt that the most recommendable recordings of the two Elgar Symphonies would come from Stockholm and Berlin. The second pair, with the Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim, reflected a renewed interest in music introduced to the aspiring young musician by Sir John Barbirolli back in the early 1970s.

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'.

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  |  Mar 19, 2020
Composed when he was influenced by the Knaben Wunderhorn collected folk poems it stands unique in form and aspiration. Christopher Breunig offers an introduction

As this issue of HFN is likely to reach you during the festive period, why not a piece that starts with sleigh-bells? No, not Leroy Anderson, but Mahler's fourth symphony, written in 1899-1900, and first performed in Munich in November 1901. The UK premiere came just a few years later in a 1905 Prom concert with Sir Henry Wood.

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  |  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  |  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.

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.

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