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"Great Conductors Do Not Dance" - A Steinberg Appreciation - Part Three

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I've gone through about eight more discs from the EMI "Icons" set of William Steinberg recordings since my last entry on this topic, and there were a number of notable performances on those discs, including many Beethoven and Brahms entries along with a number of other standouts, such as the 1957 recording of the Dvorak Violin Concerto with Nathan Milstein.

But, I wanted to focus in particular on one of my very favorite Steinberg recordings - the Bruckner 4th Symphony. When people talk about the great Bruckner conductors, you seldom hear Steinberg's name mentioned. I wonder if this may be due, in part, to the fact that his golden years as a conductor were spent with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Though it was generally recognized in that era as one of the top five US orchestras, it recorded in the States on Capitol Records, which may not have had the cachet of RCA or Columbia.

Whatever the reason, the lack of recognition is regrettable because, among other things, Steinberg was absolutely tremendous with Bruckner. One might expect that a conductor who hated display and attention-grabbing in his role would put out performances of a slightly robotic-sounding nature. Far from it. This Bruckner 4th is as nuanced a performance as I've ever heard on disc, with so many subtle surprises. Sometimes Bruckner sounds repetitive and frustratingly impotent. In Steinberg's hands, we have a performance that not only brings out the power of the work, but makes everything seem somehow inevitable.

Before ending this, I also wanted to draw attention to another surprise on this particular disc. The Bruckner is (oddly) paired with a suite from Handel's Water Music. We've all become so used to HIP performances of Handel's music these days that the older mid-20th century performances seem bloated and inappropriate. In the case of Water Music and the Royal Fireworks Music, though, I have to confess to an anachronistic love a really lush orchestral interpretation from time to time.

I remember that years ago I went on a search for my ideal non-HIP performance of this music, but I was really disappointed with everything I heard, even when I had prepared myself to like it, based on the conductor's reputation. I wish I had found this recording then - it is exactly what I was looking for. Steinberg never drags his feet (ala Ormandy), but also never rushes things. He lets the orchestra breathe. I was very, very pleased.