Classical Companion

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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  |  Aug 23, 2023
Peter Quantrill takes a personal journey through the music of a Transylvanian-born composer who defined the space age in sound and continued to discover new worlds

Kylwiria is a beautiful, unknown land with rivers, mountains and lakes, a fairytale place where people live together in harmony. It has its own language, its own grammar. But Kylwiria does not really exist. At least, it existed only in the imagination of a Hungarian teenager, born in a small town in Transylvania in 1923.

Peter Quantrill  |  Nov 14, 2023
Oratorio, opera, or both? Peter Quantrill looks at Handel's Christian tragedy, and the stagings and recordings that have given it long overdue recognition as his masterpiece

It is, apparently, impossible to write about Handel's penultimate oratorio without quoting the composer's own gloomy view of its failure at the box office when it was first performed at the Covent Garden Theatre, London, in March 1750. 'The Jews will not come to it because it is a Christian story; and the Ladies will not come because it is a virtuous one.'

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  |  Feb 13, 2024
Gut or steel? Repeats, or straight through? Pathos or plain speaking? Peter Quantrill looks behind the notes of an enigmatic masterpiece and asks 'What is Haydn up to'?

A quick reminder: tonal music – indeed almost all western music for that matter – is built from 12 equally separated notes within the compass of an octave. Each tonality (C major, D minor, etc) uses eight of those notes in a scale: hence octave, 1-8. The root chord of each tonality (also called key signature) contains the first, third, fifth and eighth notes of the scale, 1-3-5-8.

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.

Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 01, 2018
A child prodigy from Russia whose technical aplomb was miraculous, but whose persona many perceived as icy. Christopher Breunig names his favourite recordings

For the violinist Itzhak Perlman, and others of his generation, the subject of this month's Classical Companion was a deity – 'I can't believe it. I'm talking to God – to Heifetz' he said of first meeting him when he was 14. But as Jascha Heifetz died in 1987, perhaps he's just a name on a CD cover to today's aspiring young violinists.

Peter Quantrill  |  Feb 03, 2022
War and heartbreak colour the backdrop to this ever-popular sketch of Spain, but the best recordings are rooted in Baroque fantasy and formality, says Peter Quantrill

The Concierto de Aranjuez was composed in exile from one war and first performed in the shadow of another. Joaquín Rodrigo began writing it in 1939, having fled to Paris with his wife Victoria from the Spanish Civil War. The couple had met in the French capital a decade earlier, she a recent piano graduate from the Conservatoire and he a student of Paul Dukas at the École Normale. They married in Valencia in January 1933, against her father's wishes, and took a honeymoon in Aranjuez, a town south of Madrid dominated by its royal palace and gardens.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jan 17, 2023
'The Bat' has charmed audiences for almost 150 years, but does the fizz stay fresh or fall flat on record? Peter Quantrill raises a glass to the ultimate New Year's operetta

Johann Strauss's third operetta was an instant hit when it opened at the Theater an der Wien in April 1874. Austria had suffered a stock-market crash the previous year and audiences were in the mood to rinse away their troubles with buckets of sekt and a slice of escapist nostalgia. Strauss set to work and sketched the whole operetta in six weeks, boiling down a typical, if confused-looking, medley of German farce, French vaudeville (the original story by Meilhac and Halévy) and Viennese adaptation.

Christopher Breunig  |  Jul 14, 2020
A staple musical diet option for many of us, distasteful to a few, these four works come in a variety of flavours. Christopher Breunig suggests complete and partial choices

Aimez-vous Brahms?' asked Françoise Sagan in 1959 (well, it was the title of her novel, actually). For some reason, Benjamin Britten did not like much of Brahms's music – he retained a soft spot for the D-minor Piano Concerto and the early Piano Quartet. But, writing in his prewar diaries, he considered Symphony No 1 to be 'pretentious' and No 2 'ugly and gauche'.

Peter Quantrill  |  Jun 16, 2021
A Passiontide masterpiece every generation of performers and audiences reinvents for itself... Peter Quantrill casts an ear back over more than half a century of recordings

In telling the life of Christ, the four Gospels of the New Testament all build towards his betrayal, his trial, his death on the cross and resurrection. The first three events are known together as Christ's Passion, from the Latin passio: I suffer. Church composers had treated the text with varying degrees of freedom and complexity – the season of Lent being a time for quietude and restraint in every respect of life including liturgical worship – for centuries before Bach made his first setting of the Passion, during the early months of 1724.

Christopher Breunig  |  Feb 04, 2020
A tireless American virtuoso, he began his Decca discography as the 78rpm era ended. Now it's all boxed together at a bargain price. Christopher Breunig takes a listen

Exasperated by the pianist's fussiness over phrasing, when recording Brahms's D-minor Concerto with the LSO in 1962, George Szell conducting [HFN Aug '18] told him to 'just play the f***ing notes'.

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