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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Zubin Mehta Conducts Brahms

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It is hard to believe that Zubin Mehta turned 83 years old this past April. I have vague recall of Mehta as Music Director of my hometown Montreal Symphony (from 1961 to 1967), at a time of great civil and cultural transformation in my home province of Quebec – a relationship that he maintained for almost 20 years after he left, in part due to the fact his brother, Zarin, was the orchestra’s long time managing director.

Mehta received praise early in his career for dynamic interpretations of the large-scale symphonic music of Anton Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Franz Schmidt. His conducting is renowned as being flamboyant, vigorous and forceful. In an interview, Wilfrid Pelletier once said that Mehta was the best emerging conductor of the “next generation”. No small praise from a man who rubbed elbows with Toscanini, Walter and a young Bernstein!

Mehta famously held several music directorships during his long career – in Los Angeles (1962-1978 and its Conductor Emeritus) and in Israel (since 1977 and “Music Director for Life” since 1981) are among his most well-known tenures. Though significant and equally memorable, it appears we overlook his stay with the New York Philharmonic (from 1978 to 1991) where he is to this day its longest-serving Music Director, yet he has not maintained there any enduring relationship, leaving the orchestra for Florence and Munich appointments.

Like many of his predecessors (Bernstein being most noteworthy in that regard), Mehta had several recording projects with the Philharmonic, mostly for CBS Masterworks but on occasion appearing on other labels with the orchestra. Mehta’s tenure straddled the analog and digital periods, and I’d surmise that most of his recordings with the NYP were originally analog (many of them digitally revisited) and some were digital (most noteworthy being his “Live at Lincoln Center” recording of Isaac Stern’s 65th Anniversary concert). None of these projects, that included a Beethoven symphony cycle, left their mark, though I think this has a lot to do with the fact the repertoire espoused by Mehta is well frequented and it’s hard for specific projects to stand out, especially when so many contemporaneous projects had the novelty of digital working in their favour.

One of these projects, however, was later digitally reissued, and it’s a near-complete Brahms survey of the symphonies and concerti from the early days of Mehta’s New York tenure. Mehta later revisited many of the same works for Sony with his Israel Philharmonic in digital format. There can be no doubt that Mehta is in his element here!

The two recordings I retained for this Cover 2 Cover post are part of that project. Mehta’s recording of Brahms’ Fourth symphony is excellent – capturing the right balance of drama and jubilation. The “Double Concerto” features long-time collaborators Lynn Harrell and Pinchas Zukerman (Stern was the soloist for the violin concerto and Daniel Barenboim was featured in the two piano concerti – already shared in these pages a few years back). Filling the concerto recording is a fine reading of the Academic Festival overture.

Happy Listening!

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
New York Philharmonic
Zubin Mehta, conducting

Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Concerto In A Minor For Violin And Cello, Op. 102
(Violin – Pinchas Zukerman, Cello – Lynn Harrell)

CBS Masterworks ‎– M 35894 (1981)

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Symphony No. 4 In E Minor, Op. 98

CBS Masterworks ‎– M 35837 (1980)

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