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

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    Senior Member haydnguy's Avatar
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    Default Why Are Some Conductors Considered Good In Some Pieces Than Others?

    I have an example:

    Back when John Eliot Gardiner was releasing his Bach Cantatas (on individual disks) they were expensive (to my pocket book). I really wanted the Gardiner version but decided on the complete Harnoncourt instead because of price. (Big Box)

    Harnoncourt is a respected conductor so I'm wondering why his is so dismissed? Is it because Gardiner's was considered so much better?

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Is it? I was under the impression that it was considered one of the most widely respected and most groundbreaking Bach cantata cycles (it was one of the first, no?) Perhaps some object to his extensive use of child choirs...?

    In any case, the Gardiner Bach cantatas that I have heard are the worst I've heard. I like Ton Koopman, Masaaki Suzuki, and what I've heard of the Harnoncourt and Leonhardt cantatas.

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    Senior Member Eva Yojimbo's Avatar
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    People have ideals in their head of what any given work/composer should sound like, and because many conductors have distinctive styles/sounds it's easy for those people to think they don't fit the ideal they have in their head for that work/composer. The most I know about Harnoncourt's Bach cantatas is that many didn't dig the boy sopranos. It was also the first (IIRC) complete cantatas cycle and thus probably has some of the flaws of any "first endeavors." I'm guessing the scholarship had come a long way from then to the time when Gardiner and Suzuki recorded theirs. Sound probably improved as well.
    Last edited by Eva Yojimbo; Oct-08-2019 at 13:03.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Harnoncourt's was very much a pioneering effort which featured boy sopranos (which Harnoncourt himself dispensed with later) and was made at a time when HIP playing was in its infancy so the instrumental playing is a bit rough to say the least. Gardiner's has the advantage of a superb choir. I'm surprised to hear someone say it's the worst. Certainly Ton Koopman and Masaaki Suzuki are good from what I've heard if you want HIP.

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    Senior Member D Smith's Avatar
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    Harnoncourt's use of boy sopranos and the sometimes erratic ensemble make his set a non-starter for me but kudos to him for being the first to attempt an HIP approach to the cantatas. I have the Gardiner set and various Suzuki, Koopman, Herreweghe and Rilling. I love Gardiner. The soloists are generally excellent the performances lively and fresh and not over-produced. Suzuki and Koopman are very good too from what I've heard though more homogeneous. But to the OP's question, it's not so much Harnoncourt's conducting but his artistic decisions and limitations of his orchestra that make his set less desireable to me.

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    For me the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set (or those that I have heard) are still the best musically. They have more heart and soul and seem more strongly linked to a tradition. But they do have their rough moments and some of the boy trebles are not very good. Modern HIP recordings are technically much more accomplished and I have and enjoy a lot of the Suzuki recordings. I guess the reason the OP reports that Gardiner was expensive while Harnoncourt was cheap is that by the time the Gardiners started coming out the Harnoncourt were already quite old. It does seem that as a recording ages the price can fall dramatically .... but then starts to rise again.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    For me the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt set (or those that I have heard) are still the best musically. They have more heart and soul and seem more strongly linked to a tradition. But they do have their rough moments and some of the boy trebles are not very good. Modern HIP recordings are technically much more accomplished and I have and enjoy a lot of the Suzuki recordings. I guess the reason the OP reports that Gardiner was expensive while Harnoncourt was cheap is that by the time the Gardiners started coming out the Harnoncourt were already quite old. It does seem that as a recording ages the price can fall dramatically .... but then starts to rise again.
    More strongly inked into a tradition? What tradition? Harnoncourt was one of the pioneers of HIP. There was little or no tradition when he started recording the cantatas.

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    Find the same with some soloists. One pianist that I can mention is excellent playing Russian Composers but not good at others. Cringe when I hear him perform others too

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    More strongly inked into a tradition? What tradition? Harnoncourt was one of the pioneers of HIP. There was little or no tradition when he started recording the cantatas.
    I often think I hear Vienna and its long tradition with classical music in Harnoncourt's work. I may be imagining that but there is something there. I heard it before I knew much about Harnoncourt or his links with Vienna. Of course, he is also something of an iconoclast but usually a very musical one.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Oct-08-2019 at 19:17.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I often think I hear Vienna and its long tradition with classical music in Harnoncourt's work. I may be imagining that but there is something there. I heard it before I knew much about Harnoncourt or his links with Vienna. Of course, he is also something of an iconoclast but usually a very musical one.
    Harnoncourt was one of the pioneers of the HIP tradition.

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    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I often think I hear Vienna and its long tradition with classical music in Harnoncourt's work. I may be imagining that but there is something there. I heard it before I knew much about Harnoncourt or his links with Vienna. Of course, he is also something of an iconoclast but usually a very musical one.
    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.
    Last edited by Baron Scarpia; Oct-08-2019 at 19:24.

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    ashfkjha iasofiuo
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Oct-08-2019 at 19:30.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Harnoncourt was one of the pioneers of the HIP tradition.
    I'm well aware of that. But he never went the way that many of the others went. He was always a little different. Try listening to his Handel Op.6 (Concerti Grossi) - his alone among the HIP recordings adopted slow and broad speeds where they are (arguably) needed. Pinnock and many other early adopters were brisk throughout and sound rather mechanical as a result.

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    Senior Member Dimace's Avatar
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    All this has nothing to do with quality of music, direction, orchestra, musical project innovation, novelties, etc. It is something simpler (in most of the cases)> Number of copies were made by the music label. Did they made 10.000 with the finest music? No value! Did they made 300 with bullsh…? Super value! Did the title went out of print? Super value! Did they have delete it from their lists? More value! The biggest value have the promo disks, my dearest! 100 pieces, different label (in most cases white) and voila! FFFF it! It has NOTHING to do with quality. It is collectors game (some of my best pieces as money value are awful. Terrible. I never listened to them. But are the best in my collection...)

    *On July, someone I know, has paid 1500 USD in Discogs for Oriental music of one Turkish group made 300 singles of NO MUSIC, 40 years before. He was lucky! It costs the double... FFFFn stories...
    O my brave Soul!
    O farther, farther sail!
    O darling joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
    O farther, farther, farther sail!

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    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.

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