Classical Companion

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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.

Peter Quantrill  |  Dec 14, 2021
Verdi holds the key to understanding the work of the old-school maestro, 80 this year. Peter Quantrill surveys a tumultuous career and finely honed legacy on record

I remember how my heart skipped a beat one hot afternoon in 1989 when, browsing through the stacks of a secondhand LP emporium in London, I pulled out Riccardo Muti's recording of Tchaikovsky's 'Little Russian' Symphony. It was a noisy Italian EMI pressing – 'La Voce del Padrone' – and there was a huge scratch in the middle of Romeo and Juliet on Side A.

Peter Quantrill  |  Apr 26, 2021
A sensuously beautiful tribute to old Vienna, to the waltz and a fast-vanishing age of elegance. Peter Quantrill explores the opera's background and suggests recordings

The premiere of Der Rosenkavalier took place on the 26 January 1911, at the Royal Court Opera in Dresden. The success of the piece became an event in itself, perhaps the most glittering triumph in the history of opera. Special trains were laid on to ferry visitors from Berlin eager to attend extra performances. The work was immediately taken into the international repertory, and there it has remained.

Christopher Breunig  |  Sep 10, 2019
Composed when he was 34, this tone poem for large orchestra quotes from his earlier works and Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. Christopher Breunig looks at the recordings

Go back 60 years and look at the LP catalogue and you'll only find a single version of Richard Strauss's 1898 tone poem Op.40, Ein Heldenleben ['A Hero's Life'], with the Vienna Philharmonic, no less, under Clemens Krauss. He was a conductor largely associated with that composer [Decca 478 6493 has all his orchestral recordings and includes the opera Salome] as well as the 'other' Strausses.

Peter Quantrill  |  May 10, 2022
Sacred or secular? Ritual or drama? Peter Quantrill tackles some of the big questions while exploring a sublime but ever-controversial opera on record and film

Iwas not thinking of the Saviour when I was composing Parsifal', wrote Richard Wagner to his wife Cosima – dismantling one of many misconceptions held about his last music drama. One practical motivation, having contemplated the subject matter for over 30 years, was an inheritance to Cosima and their children which would secure both their financial future and that of the theatre at Bayreuth which he had built to stage the Ring.

Christopher Breunig  |  Oct 18, 2019
The Dresden musician's oboe and pianoforte playing pushed him into the role of conductor. Christopher Breunig looks at this great Straussian's extensive repertoire

Rummaging through a box of unsorted CDs I came across a 1972 orchestral concert by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra [Scribendum SC 004]. The conductor was Rudolf Kempe, one of my most admired artists but someone I hadn't written about in this HFN series we began in July '14. (Incidentally, the soloist there, in Mozart's Piano Concerto K595, was Friedrich Gulda, liberally sprinkling decoration over his part, whereas his DG studio recording with VPO/Abbado is almost bereft of it.)

Peter Quantrill  |  Nov 09, 2021
There's so much to enjoy – and a lot to go wrong – about recorded versions of a symphony facing in several different directions at once, says Peter Quantrill

Saint-Saëns had been organist of the Madeleine Church in Paris for almost 30 years when he wrote the last of his five symphonies – the first two unnumbered – in 1886. But the commission for it came from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and he conducted the premiere at St James's Hall in London.

Peter Quantrill  |  Aug 10, 2021
Music among friends, written by a young genius at one of the happiest times in his troubled life... Peter Quantrill explores the history on disc of a feel-good masterpiece

Growing up in a one-room apartment in an overcrowded district northwest of the Ring, pupil then assistant to his schoolteacher father, Schubert was Viennese born and bred, a city boy with even more reason than Beethoven to seek pleasure and solace in the surrounding countryside. Lacking time or resources for more refined pursuits, Schubert in his early 20s relaxed principally by drinking (coffee and alcohol, both to excess), smoking (likewise) and walking.

Christopher Breunig  |  Aug 07, 2020
One of the few Japanese musicians to have made a long career in the West, with a Boston tenure of 29 years. Christopher Breunig looks at his life and wide discography

Atough game of rugby football put an end to the hopes that a young Japanese boy would become a concert pianist. Seiji Ozawa, then 15, was mad about the game but severely damaged his hand in a scrum. When his piano teacher suggested he might think of conducting instead, he had never even seen a symphony orchestra, live or on television.

Christopher Breunig  |  Nov 01, 2018
Perhaps the last great Russian Romantic symphony, it was premiered by the composer himself in 1908. Christopher Breunig has been listening to some modern recordings

'A six and a half foot scowl' was how Stravinsky defined his fellow compatriot composer (they both left Russia for the States). But there's plenty of historic film which shows this aperçu was wide of the mark. You can see him on the boat crossing the Atlantic, relaxing with family and friends in America, and standing with one of the big cars he enjoyed there [to the accompaniment of the slow movt of Symphony No 2 in the 1959 RCA/Sony Ormandy recording]. But we have no performance material, alas, either as pianist or conductor.

Christopher Breunig  |  Nov 26, 2020
Written under duress during four months in spring 1937, this would become his most popular work. Christopher Breunig sets out the background and suggests recordings

New pieces by composers Harrison Birtwistle or Peter Maxwell Davies, say, will have received polite applause and a few boos from the audience at their premieres. But no government response.

Christopher Breunig  |  Jan 03, 2020
A modest musician, he made a huge contribution to classical music broadcasting while his repertoire, says Christopher Breunig, was far wider than most remember it

You might think of Sir Adrian Boult as an elderly, conservative and very English gentleman with a repertoire mostly comprising English music. But download the 170-page discography by Philip Stuart [crqeditions.co.uk/ZqnlPmJU182] and a very different picture emerges.

Christopher Breunig  |  Feb 12, 2021
Coming from Sydney to London with an ambition to conduct, his scholarship to study in Prague led to a passion for Czech music. Christopher Breunig has the story

Recently, I have been entertaining myself by watching the online reviews by the American critic David Hurwitz (he's executive editor of the subscription site Classics Today – where all the most interesting reviews are for 'insiders only'…).

Christopher Breunig  |  Dec 06, 2019
The First had an immediate world acclaim not mirrored after the Second was premiered. Only recently did non-UK recordings appear, says Christopher Breunig

We have to admit that, at present at any rate, Elgar does not travel,' noted the much respected Gramophone reviewer Trevor Harvey, in 1964. He was writing about one of Sir Adrian Boult's less well known recordings of the Symphony No 2, made with the Scottish National Orchestra and issued on the Waverley label.

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