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Thread: Why Are Some Conductors Considered Good In Some Pieces Than Others?

  1. #16
    Junior Member Faville's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swosh View Post
    It's personal preference for most in the end, isn't it?. Each conductor brings their own nuances to a piece, so it ends up on average being subjective. Musicians themselves could have personal interest in a piece of music, or if they play it so often, it becomes dry and robotic for them. Any number of factors can determine quality of a recording. Take this scenario:

    Raff, virtually non existent in the concert hall, has a few recordings of his symphonies by different conductors and orchestras. (His symphonies are worthy, in my opinion, of the concert halls beside Mahler, Beethoven, and Mozart, etc.)

    But how do you decide which recordings are "better" with less than 5 complete sets? I am personally going to withhold judgement, and wait to see how I react when Raff receives the exposure he deserves. With more recordings comes more good and "bad" or "unfaithful" recordings.

    But I think you get the gist of my point.
    I agree that ultimately it will be subjective for 95% of listeners and pieces. Depending on the composer and era, though, there is justification for more subjective judgement of a work. Gunther Schuller makes an excellent case for actually following what composers wrote in his book The Compleat Conductor. That composers like Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, R. Strauss knew exactly what they wanted and are fairly explicit in their scores (especially to conductors who know how to delve and study), and that there is no reason for a conductor to alter this with their own ideas of what is "right" for the piece.
    Of course, the lay listener (or even the pro who does not have the time or advantage of score study) is at a disadvantage and must trust their favorite conductors and orchestras and then judge by how the music moves them, and ultimately who is to judge that?
    Baroque/Renaissance/early Classical has a lot of extra room for play.
    Last edited by Faville; Oct-09-2019 at 05:00.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swosh View Post
    But how do you decide which recordings are "better" with less than 5 complete sets? I am personally going to withhold judgement, and wait to see how I react when Raff receives the exposure he deserves. With more recordings comes more good and "bad" or "unfaithful" recordings.
    First, thanks for mentioning Raff. His absence from concert halls is a shame, but then that could be said of many, many other composers too. I have as it happens played some Raff. Symphonies 5 & 9, a Festival March, the Sinfonietta and the Cavatina.

    Anyway...there are basically two ways to decide if a recording is good, or better than another. The first is a totally subjective one: how does the listener react? Is it exciting, moving, emotional? Is it in tune and pleasant to listen to? Is this something I would listen to again?

    The second method is more rigorous: what does the score say? The score after all is "the Bible" when it comes to music. There are some conductors and critics who believe that the most important job of the performer is to play the music as closely to what the composer wanted as possible. The above mentioned book - which anyone interested in classical music should read - by Gunther Schuller lays it out clearly and goes into sometimes excruciating detail of how many famous conductors get it wrong. Another conductor, Erich Leinsdorf, wrote a book, "The Composer's Advocate" which argues the same thing: your duty is to play the music as the composer intended.

    So, evaluating a recording you're in a pickle. How do you do it? I like to take the middle. Some recordings are technically fine, they follow the score to the letter. Every detail, nuance and marking has been followed to a T. And it's boring as hell. Or cold and unmoving. Some flout the composer's intention so freely that I should despise it, yet there's undeniable excitement, thrill and emotional outpourings that are irresistible.

    In Raff's case, there isn't a lot of performance tradition to go by. But consider two recordings of the 5th "Lenore": the Jarvi on Chandos and the Herrmann on Unicorn. Both are extremely well played by the orchestras. No issues there. The Unicorn is nearly 50 years old, the Chandos just a few years old, but sound-wise they're both acceptable.

    Jarvi follows Raff's metronome marks to the letter. And to me it sounds, herky-jerky. There's no room to breathe, it never relaxes. It's very HIP - and I should give it 5 stars - he plays it how Raff wrote and apparently wanted it. Herrmann takes much more relaxed tempos, adds quite bit of rubato. Tempos far below Raff's marking. Yet it is so much more communicative. It sings, and you can tell the conductor absolutely loved this music. Reviewed objectively, Herrmann's should get a bomb. But reviewed subjectively, it's top of the charts!

    You can find reviews of practically anything that are diametrically opposed. I remember when Maazel's Mahler 2nd from Vienna came out. Stereo Review just raved about it, calling it one of the great readings. Norman Lebrecht labeled it a CD that should never have been made, a real CD from hell. Personally, I like it, a lot.

    Here's what you have to always remember: no one sets out to make a bad recording. You can't survive in the marketplace if you do. And frankly, most people could never tell the difference between several recordings of a work. Splitting hairs, analyzing every little detail and then awarding a star to someone is a silly and futile exercise. I can enjoy Ravel from Martinon, Dutoit, Cluytens, and Ozawa every bit as much as Ravel from Abaddo, Ormandy, Solti, or Karajan. The music is the important thing. Are there bad recordings? Of course. Sometimes some performers have stupid and weird ideas that should never have been recorded, but thankfully, those are far and few between. (And Mrs. Miller recordings don't count!)

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  4. #18
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    Yes. I remember reading some memoir of Harnoncourt where he talks of his time before forming the CMW, performing under Karajan at the Wiener Symphoniker, and his feeling that the beauty of sound that was created under Karajan was compelling, but that he sensed that something different could be found in the music. I was impressed the Harnoncourt was not speaking with a tone of resentment, that the tradition way was wrong, but that it wasn't the only way.
    I saw a documentary about Karajan on TV with quite a lot of Harnoncourt talking, saying much the same thing. He clearly had some affection and lots of admiration for the man as well as being somewhat amused at some of Karajan's foibles.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Back in 1991, Richard Taruskin wrote an excellent article about the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt Bach cantatas:

    https://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/27/a...rk-vision.html

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  7. #20
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    In Raff's case, there isn't a lot of performance tradition to go by. But consider two recordings of the 5th "Lenore": the Jarvi on Chandos and the Herrmann on Unicorn. Both are extremely well played by the orchestras. No issues there. The Unicorn is nearly 50 years old, the Chandos just a few years old, but sound-wise they're both acceptable.

    Jarvi follows Raff's metronome marks to the letter. And to me it sounds, herky-jerky. There's no room to breathe, it never relaxes. It's very HIP - and I should give it 5 stars - he plays it how Raff wrote and apparently wanted it. Herrmann takes much more relaxed tempos, adds quite bit of rubato. Tempos far below Raff's marking. Yet it is so much more communicative. It sings, and you can tell the conductor absolutely loved this music. Reviewed objectively, Herrmann's should get a bomb. But reviewed subjectively, it's top of the charts!
    I'm a fan of Raff's Lenore. My favourite version is Stadlmair's, slower but more spontaneous than Jarvi's, but faster than Hermann's which i found a bit too plodding. Requires great judgement, like walking on a tight rope.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b95MpCtPJsc
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Oct-09-2019 at 14:18.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    It is, of course, subjective. We all want different things from our music. But I can say as an example: I love Karajan's Brahms but am quite lukewarm on his Bach. Conversely, I love Gardiner's Bach but am lukewarm on his Brahms.





    The music has its own strengths, and is best paired with a conductor and orchestra that shares those strengths. Bach is all about light interplay between musical lines, and Karajan is typically not very light. He and the BPO prefer a booming, blow your hair back sound. So Gardiner is a better fit. Brahms is filled with much more swelling, stormy, romantic sounds. And so the preferences are reversed - Gardiner's Brahms sounds shrill, punctuated and whiny, while Karajan's aesthetic fits the music better.





    But this is just my own preference. Maybe someone wants a really fast Brahms with thinner orchestration, and maybe someone wants a really plush Bach.
    Last edited by MatthewWeflen; Oct-09-2019 at 16:28.

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