Classical Companion

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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.

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'.

Christopher Breunig  |  Mar 12, 2021
As Christopher Breunig prepares to take a short sabbatical on a series begun in 2014 (continuing under new management) he adds a comment or two on some favourites

When I began collecting, EMI's producer Walter Legge was reviving Otto Klemperer's recording career after his fallout with Vox, and we had Beethoven's Leonora Overtures and Symphonies Nos 3, 5 and 7 (the 'Eroica' my very first LP).

Christopher Breunig  |  Apr 17, 2020
Training complete, he followed in his father's footsteps working with the Leningrad Philharmonic but his final years were in Munich. Christopher Breunig tells the story

When Herbert von Karajan took the Berlin Philharmonic to Moscow and Leningrad in 1969 he also gave a conducting masterclass for 12 students, where he was impressed most by the young Latvian Mariss Jansons, then 26. Jansons sat in on rehearsals where he said the orchestra 'played at two-hundred per cent capacity. It was unbelievable'. (Melodiya briefly issued on CD the Shostakovich Tenth from the Karajan concert.)

Christopher Breunig  |  May 08, 2019
There's more to this composer than 'Fingal's Cave' and the 'Italian' Symphony. Christopher Breunig offers some recommendations for your record collection

Ilooked over my Symphony and the Minuet – Lord! – bored me to tears, it was so monotonous.' That was the 20-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, about to come to London in 1829 to present his first (orchestral) symphony, and writing to his parents.

Christopher Breunig  |  Mar 12, 2019
Winning a conducting prize at Tanglewood kick-started his career, and at Boston he dived into recording at the deep end. Christopher Breunig gives a resume

In some recitals with other kids all playing nice-sounding pieces, I'd come crashing in with Bartók, or some American composers I was already playing – Henry Cowell, for instance.' That was Michael Tilson Thomas, looking back to his pre-teens in an interview given in the June '87 issue of HFN when he was working and recording with the London Symphony Orchestra as its principal conductor (he's now the LSO's Conductor Laureate).

Peter Quantrill  |  Oct 12, 2021
A silly farce or a social experiment gone wrong? There are no right answers – though a few wrong ones – to the riddle of this dramma giocoso, says Peter Quantrill

Giochiam', says Don Alfonso, to set in motion Mozart's final collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte: let's play a game. The nature of the game is a wager over feminine fidelity, laid with two soldiers to prove that, in the moral of the untranslatable title, 'all women are like that'.

Christopher Breunig  |  Sep 08, 2020
Were these meant to be heard as a single entity? Does the theory survive scrutiny? Christopher Breunig suggests library versions both 'historically aware' and traditional

When Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Teldec recording of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony appeared in 1985, his sleeve essay suggested the score was in fact a musical translation of a cathartic event from his youth, (i) concerning his mother's death, and (ii) the subsequent reconciliation with his father, and as such complete.

Peter Quantrill  |  Oct 11, 2022
A midsummer pageant of seduction and celebration, dressed in French and English costumes – Peter Quantrill explores the history of this 'dramatick opera' on record

Yokels in drag, flying scenery and orange trees: even by the lavish standards of theatrical entertainment in late 17th century London, The Fairy Queen dazzled spectators of its premiere at the Dorset Garden Theatre. 'The Court and Town were wonderfully satisfy'd with it' said one contemporary source – and no wonder – 'but the Expences in setting it out being so great, the Company got very little by it'.

Christopher Breunig  |  Jun 05, 2019
A turning point for the composer, this great romantic piece was introduced to a wider audience with the film Brief Encounter. Christopher Breunig offers his library choices

Anyone who has seen the 1945 British film classic Brief Encounter will remember the music that enhanced the performances by the two principal stars, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard – Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. (The pianist for the soundtrack was Eileen Joyce.)

Peter Quantrill  |  Jun 21, 2022
Young man's music, emulating Classical ideals while coloured with wistfulness for something lost... Peter Quantrill on the recorded legacy of an elusive masterpiece

Ravel was a sharp-suited Parisian-about-town in his late 20s when he wrote the String Quartet during 1902-3. He had a decade of composition behind him, mostly piano pieces, but little to show for it. He didn't even have a graduation certificate from his years of study at the Paris Conservatoire, still less any recognition conferred by the coveted Prix de Rome, despite several unsuccessful attempts to win over the conservative judges while pointedly breaking their rules and fastidiously refining his own voice.

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