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A Genius Gone Too Soon

The principal oboe of the San Francisco Symphony, Bill Bennett, was not only revered for his world-class tone, but also for his kind and welcoming demeanor. Unfortunately, he recently collapsed in a performance of Strauss’ Oboe Concerto and died soon afterwards of a brain hemorrhage. The video below is a moving, even tear-jerking excerpt of Mr. Bennett playing Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas.

An article about Mr. Bennett can be found here.

In Bruckner’s Style…

It is a shame that so many people confuse the tone-poem and opera writing composer Richard Strauss with the waltz-writing Strauss family from hundreds of years earlier, for R. Strauss’ music would be much better known otherwise.The piece below, Tod und Verklarung, or Death and Transfiguration, is one of this critic’s favorites. Though it may be heavy in places, it is full of action, and rewards the patient listener, much like Anton Bruckner. (Also, it’s only 20 or so minutes long- not half bad!)

The work is performed here by David Zinman and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich.

P.S. On a personal note, I have played this. The cello part, especially in the middle, is devilishly hard!

It Just Keeps Getting Better!

Not only did Gustav Holst compose for full orchestra, but he also wrote several pieces for wind ensemble. The piece below, his First Suite for military band, demonstrates his musical proficiency. The second movement is particularly good. This is performed by the United States Marine Band.

If You Wonder How It Sounds…

Here, at long last, is Bruckner’s glorious second symphony, performed here by the Chicago Symphony and famed Brucknerian Sir Georg Solti.

Bruckner Symphony No. 2 (Jochum, Staatskapelle Dresden)

One of the most unique characteristics of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s music is that each of his symphonies sound markedly different from the others. His Symphony No.2 in C Minor is a prime example. Following the happy, airy First Symphony, the Symphony No.2 is of a more brooding and melancholy character. The conductor on this recording, Eugen Jochum, proved himself able to adapt to Bruckner’s different musical personalities with this recording, unquestionably one of the best in existence.

In this critic’s discussion of Jochum’s recording of Bruckner’s First with Staatskapelle Dresden, he mentioned that the brass often  came off unsteady and squeaky, and that the violins tended to play with an unbecoming, superficial tone. These faults were nowhere to be found in the Second Symphony recording. The winds and brass, stable and aware of musical balance, were notably lyrical and full of beautiful tone. The string sections proved themselves adept at conquering Bruckner’s technically demanding composition.

The first movement, sad and tuneful, was played with proper attention to intonation and phrasing by Staatskapelle Dresden, and the balance among the violins, violas, cellos, basses, was impeccable. In fact, at one moment in the first movement, this critic dropped what he was doing in order to absorb the Dresden color of sound! The second movement was played nicely; Jochum and the orchestra avoided the trap of losing momentum throughout the movement. The orchestra played the heavy third movement well, but this critic wished that the orchestra could have varied dynamics and character when the main theme repeated itself over and over. However, the movement that was played with the best intonation, dynamics, character, and balance was the fourth movement. Jochum gracefully moved te melodies from one section of the orchestra to the next, and the orchestra itself handled difficult rhythms and figures.

In the end, Eugen Jochum’s recording of Bruckner’s Second Symphony was a nearly flawless interpretation of a difficult work. If this critic had any reservations about the first symphony, he certainly did not have any for the second. Purchasing this would be a wise decision.

Just As Good as the Concierto de Aranjuez

Part of the same rich Spanish classical tradition to which Joaquín Rodrigo belonged , Isaac Albéniz knew how to compose music. The work below, Asturias, is named for a beautiful Northern Spain province. Originally composed for piano, it was transcribed for guitar, and for good reason! Played here by John Williams (the same guy who performed the Concierto), Asturias is a work that one can listen to a thousand times.

Asturias, in Spain:

Hallelujah, Actually

It has been a long while since this critic listened to the English and German composer George Frederick Handel’s Messiah. Unfortunately overused in popular culture, the piece has its charms when not played too loudly or severely. I particularly like this version, Helmuth Rilling and the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, because it does not overly demand attention. This is the Hallelujah chorus played the right way!