Short, dapper and elegant, the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867 – 1957) cut a spritely figure; polite and attentive in congenial company but famous for his fiery outbursts in rehearsals, he marshalled his orchestral forces with a hitherto unheard of precision and intensity to produce a soundscape that was unmistakeably his own. In a long…
Who could possibly resist this collection? With cellist Truls Mørk’s commanding account of the Cello Concertos, a scintillating The Carnival of the Animals and Louis Lortie’s scene-stealing turn in the fantasy Africa, this album is a sure-fire winner.
Once described as “the best conductor of French music the French never had”, Sir Thomas Beecham’s talents are on full display with these superb benchmark performances of Bizet’s irresistible works.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) once wrote “I am only too often reminded that I am a difficult person to get along with. I am growing accustomed to bearing the consequences of this”. Famously bad-tempered, tactless and cynical, he is once said to have left a party saying “if there is anyone in here I…
Shortly before the premiere in 1915 of his tone poem Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Richard Strauss (1869 – 1949) quipped “Now at last I have learned to orchestrate!”
In the third volume of his memoirs, An Orderly Man (1983), the actor Dirk Bogarde tells the story of the first screening for Warner Bros. studio executives of the film Death in Venice, directed by Luchino Visconti. Naturally they were curious to see how their money had been spent.
Together with Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian (1903 – 1978) is considered one of the three giants of Soviet music, albeit the most conservative for he wrote colourful, evocative and unashamedly tuneful music with a broad popular appeal.
For many, the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams [1872 – 1958] evokes a dreamy, nostalgic vision of England – more Downton Abbey than Dickens – with folk music blending with tranquil, rural landscapes, and a suggestion of Choral Evensong with “hallowed traditions and hallowed halls”. And his most popular works – The Lark Ascending, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Fantasia on Greensleeves – tend to cement his status as the most quintessential composer of English pastoral music.
A contemporary critic and composer, Peter Warlock, once waggishly remarked that Vaughan Williams’ music is “… too much like a cow looking over a gate”. However, a deeper familiarity with his music gives the lie to this caricature. Vaughan Williams is adept at evoking landscapes and nature: from rural idylls and bustling cityscapes, to bleak and desolate wildernesses. Far from being reassuring, his music often has the power to be deeply unsettling.
The ballet The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) is one of the most famous and influential pieces in twentieth century music. It sparked a furore on its first performance in Paris in 1913, owing its startling, coruscating score and the controversial theme of a pagan sacrificial rite. It has nevertheless become…