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  |  Dec 12, 2023
Walking the thin red line between public acclaim and official condemnation, Lyatoshynsky embodies the art and the politics of his time, says Peter Quantrill

Ukraine had been a neglected outpost of Imperial Russia long before it was incorporated within the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) in 1922. Accordingly, born in 1895 into a prosperous and cultivated middle-class family, Borys Lyatoshynsky received a typically thorough state education at one of the boys' schools in the city of Zhytomyr, in north-west Ukraine.

Peter Quantrill  |  May 09, 2023
Brahms the beardless, Brahms the keyboard revolutionary: the D minor Concerto sorts out pianistic sheep from goats. Peter Quantrill surveys almost a century of recordings

Picture yourself sitting in the audience at the earliest performances of the D minor Concerto, in January 1859, the 25-year-old composer at the keyboard. Imagine that the contemporary piano concerto meant Liszt and Litolff: glitter and fluff, brevity and showmanship. How would you take to the epic first movement, itself as long as several whole Mozart concertos? No wonder that it was hissed in Leipzig – Brahms wrote off the event as a brilliant and decisive failure.

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'.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jun 13, 2023
Fauré Mark 2? Absolutely not, says Peter Quantrill, as he unravels the mysteries and contradictions surrounding this devotional work, and surveys its history on record

In 1941 the Vichy government of wartime France commissioned pieces from a wide range of composers as part of a nationalist cultural revival. Duruflé was 39 at the time and known more as an organist, not least because he withheld and revised far more music than he published, though in 1936 Paul Paray had conducted the premiere of three orchestral Dances which masterfully synthesise Debussyan impressionism and Ravellian shades of light.

Peter Quantrill  |  Dec 27, 2022
From walking sticks to sliced bread... the Ninth has been used to sell everything, not to mention cultural identities. Peter Quantrill returns to a landmark of the repertoire

We associate 'cultural cringe' with the reluctant debt felt by Australians towards 'the old country' (the UK), but the term easily fits the rapture shown by the New York public in December 1893 after the hotly awaited premiere of what was greeted as 'the first American symphony'. Department stores began selling 'Antonín Dvořák' shirts, ties and walking sticks. Becoming a brand does not seem entirely to have bemused this butcher's son from Bohemia.

Peter Quantrill  |  Nov 25, 2022
As an ensemble that defined the sound of quartet playing in the digital age nears retirement, Peter Quantrill explores a legacy from Purcell to Prokofiev and beyond

In October 2023 the Emerson Quartet will take to the stage of Alice Tully Hall in New York. They will fiddle with the music on their stands, as they do. Their eyes will meet, their heads will lift a fraction and they will lay bow to string together for the very last time.

Peter Quantrill  |  Oct 10, 2023
Friend to Ravel and Stravinsky, hi-fi buff, mathematician and philosopher – there was more to the Swiss conductor than his dusty demeanour, as Peter Quantrill explains

Ansermet made his first recordings in 1915, as a conductor of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes while on tour in New York, and always thereafter took a keen interest in the potential and the limits of recording technology. In September 1929 he became the first non-English conductor to make records for Decca, with a set of six Handel Concerti Grossi performed by a pick-up band at the Chenil Galleries studio in Chelsea.

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