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Discussion: Richard Strauss: Sinfonia Domestica - Reiner

Posts: 14
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Post by Daland August 29, 2007 (1 of 14)
I did not find this review particularly illuminating. It is condescending, inaccurate and unfair. To describe the Symphonica domestica as music "in one ear and out the other" or to put it on the same level as Mozart's youth symphonies is as unacceptable as the remark that you only need one recording of this work.
This attitude reminds me of German critics who still consider Rachmaninov's or Grieg's music irrelevant.

Nor can I confirm that the massed strings are congested in places or that there is no front-to-back dimension to the music. Sonically, this recording (dating from 1956, but three-channel) is slightly inferior to later ones in the series, but it is still remarkably full and transparent.

Some years ago I attended a live performance of the Symphonia domestica in Berlin, with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. He dispelled any doubts I might still have had that this work is among Strauss's finest scores. Of course, the composer unashamedly offers us glimpses into his private life. But who blames Mahler for doing exactly the same (with a great deal of self-pity)?

The list of conductors who recorded this work is quite impressive: Furtwängler, Szell, Reiner, Mitropoulos, Mehta, Maazel, Ashkenazy, Kempe, N. Järvi, Sawallisch, Karajan, Previn, Zinman, etc. Did they all conduct this work just to fill a gap in the catalogue or to provide a complete cycle of tone-poems?

Post by ramesh August 29, 2007 (2 of 14)
Daland,
if you are still in Berlin, it would be interesting to hear your impressions of the Berlin Philharmonic, now that their Führer is Mr Kozena. A friend of a friend has heard them recently and says that their turnover of members is high, and the sumptuous sound of the orchestra is not as distinctive as it was under Karajan.

On an unrelated matter, I have bought a few of the cheap Universal Japan DG 'the best 1000' reissues, and the analogue recordings sound better than the European releases in the 'Originals' series. Brahms PC2 with Gilels, Shostakovich 10/ Karajan- 1966 recording, Sibelius 5 & 7 Karajan, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik- Karajan 1966. Of course, they don't sound as good as the Universal Japan SACD releases. Nevertheless, in 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik', for instance, one can hear the double bass line in the Minuet & Trio very easily in this remastering-- listen to most 'Nachtmusiks' on plain CD and you will strain to hear the bass lines clearly, if at all in this movement. Also, the double bass lines in the outer movements of Karajan's Sib 5 are much clearer in this remastering than the 'Originals' reissue. I recently played for a friend the stereo SACD layer of Ashkenazy's Exton label Sib 5 and compared it to the CD layer of the 2006 Unijap remastering of the 1965 Karajan version. He preferred both the sound and the interpretation of the Karajan CD over the SACD.

Post by Daland August 30, 2007 (3 of 14)
ramesh said:

Daland,
if you are still in Berlin, it would be interesting to hear your impressions of the Berlin Philharmonic, now that their Führer is Mr Kozena. A friend of a friend has heard them recently and says that their turnover of members is high, and the sumptuous sound of the orchestra is not as distinctive as it was under Karajan.

Unfortunately, I never heard the orchestra in a live performance under Karajan because I lived in East Berlin before the Wall came down. The first concert I attended was the famous one on November 11, 1989 when Daniel Barenboim conducted an all-Beethoven programme. With hindsight, I would say that the sound was then more sumptuous than today and that it became leaner under Abbado whose repertoire I found too restricted. I preferred guest conductors like Levine (Sibelius), Gardiner (Berlioz) or Sawallisch (I never managed to get tickets for Günter Wand).

Reportedly, Abbado replaced half of the orchestra, and this tendency seems to continue under Sir Simon Rattle. But this has obviously not affected the standard of the playing. The sound may be less sumptuous and less integrated, but the intonation and the interplay are nothing short of perfect.

Post by Windsurfer August 30, 2007 (4 of 14)
ramesh said:

I recently played for a friend the stereo SACD layer of Ashkenazy's Exton label Sib 5 and compared it to the CD layer of the 2006 Unijap remastering of the 1965 Karajan version. He preferred both the sound and the interpretation of the Karajan CD over the SACD.

And you Ramesh, which sound did you prefer? and why? Did your guest prefer the VK sound for matters of sound reproduction or matters relating to the VK orchestral execution and interpretation?

That recording has always been a favorite of mine - especially that mysterioso bassoon passage. The subsequent VK recording was disappointing in that regard and so too have all others I have listened to.

This should be transferred to the discussion of the Ashkenazy disc if we go much further along these lines!

Post by Polly Nomial August 30, 2007 (5 of 14)
Daland said:

Unfortunately, I never heard the orchestra in a live performance under Karajan because I lived in East Berlin before the Wall came down. The first concert I attended was the famous one on November 11, 1989 when Daniel Barenboim conducted an all-Beethoven programme. With hindsight, I would say that the sound was then more sumptuous than today and that it became leaner under Abbado whose repertoire I found too restricted. I preferred guest conductors like Levine (Sibelius), Gardiner (Berlioz) or Sawallisch (I never managed to get tickets for Günter Wand).

Reportedly, Abbado replaced half of the orchestra, and this tendency seems to continue under Sir Simon Rattle. But this has obviously not affected the standard of the playing. The sound may be less sumptuous and less integrated, but the intonation and the interplay are nothing short of perfect.

I never managed to see HvK either (and I sadly have never lived in Berlin but I *have* been lucky enough to see them on several occasions in situ and also on tour). I think that in the early 1990's (before Abbado's vision really took hold) their playing was more universally sumptuous - no-one who has seen them play Bruckner under Rattle (or Dvorak for that matter) can deny that when asked, they can still "turn it on".

It is certainly true that Abbado favoured leaner textures for a large amount of the time (and the way the HIP movement has flourished in popularity with both performers and listeners over the last 20-30 years, he is not alone) but I can clearly recall many times when their timbre was as deep and luxuriant as can be imagined. The tour a couple of years ago with Haitink conducting Mahler's 3rd symphony was a glorious tour de force of tone colour and there was absolutely nothing malnourished about the playing.

I think that Abbado and Rattle have replaced a large proportion of the players of the orchestra (but there are some who played under HvK in the 1970's and a few more from the 1980's) but this is I suppose nothing to be too surprised about given that an orchestral musician has a working lifetime of at most 40 years in any one ensemble and HvK was able to appoint his last player some 20 years ago.

Out of curiosity what do you mean by "less integrated"? My interpretation of your phrase would be "less blended sonorities between sections" - is this a fair summary or have I misunderstood?

Regards

PN

Post by ramesh August 30, 2007 (6 of 14)
Bruce,
I can't remember why my guest preferred the K Sib 5 in terms of recording and performance. It's my favourite Sibelius 5 : I haven't heard many recordings of it, simply because the DG Karajan was so satisfying there wasn't any need to go further-- although by now I have bought 3 separate CD remasterings of the same performance!

EXton get a superb sound for the Stockholm orchestra even in stereo. I've never seen this orchestra in the flesh, though I presume this is exactly how they would sound. But they aren't the Berlin Phil at its peak.

As regards comments on 'less integrated' sound, Karajan could be considered a 'legato conductor', favouring a seamless homogeneity of sound in the strings, with woodwind entrances and terminations blended into the body of the strings rather than standing in sharp relief.

Post by Daland August 30, 2007 (7 of 14)
Polly Nomial said:

Out of curiosity what do you mean by "less integrated"? My interpretation of your phrase would be "less blended sonorities between sections" - is this a fair summary or have I misunderstood?

No, this is exactly what I mean. I remember a radio programme where they compared different versions of the prelude to Verdi's La Traviata - Toscanini and Karajan among others. The difference was very striking. While Toscanini went for razor-sharp articulation and clarity, Karajan sought a perfect blend of instrumental timbres, the utmost refinement of the orchestral sound.

Post by Polly Nomial August 30, 2007 (8 of 14)
Daland said:

No, this is exactly what I mean. I remember a radio programme where they compared different versions of the prelude to Verdi's La Traviata - Toscanini and Karajan among others. The difference was very striking. While Toscanini went for razor-sharp articulation and clarity, Karajan sought a perfect blend of instrumental timbres, the utmost refinement of the orchestral sound.

I fully agree about this aspect of their music making - whether this "loss" is a bad thing or not, I am not sure. Sometimes, I want to be able to tell what instrument is playing which line; at other times I like the illusion that HvK conjured up...

Post by georgeflanagin August 23, 2009 (9 of 14)
Stanbury said:

>

-g-> Why should I care? I see no relationship whatever between the number of channels used to /make/ any recording, and my listening to it, at home, on my system. It's not like I am going to listen on my three channel headphones with all three ears. I'm sure I have listened to many recordings made with "16 or more" channels, and I survived.

>

-g-> Ah. So this must be the argument that goes "The only reason you thought the sound was bad is that you exceeded the capabilities of your obviously inferior playback system." This recording is not the stuff of the RCA Living Stereo legend, or perhaps it is the stuff of the legend and not the fact.

-g-> All of the old Living Stereo recordings are heavily compressed; plug in a spectrum analyzer and one can see if not hear. That doesn't mean they are evil. Compression and recordings are wonderful things, allowing me to experience the joy of music performed in a concert hall I cannot attend, performed by people who are no longer alive, played in the year before I was born, with dynamics that my home cannot accommodate. This is just not a very good recording compared with many others on the same label at approximately the same time.

-g-> When I need to remind myself what live music sounds like, I need only climb a flight of stairs. The sound of any hi-fi compared with the real thing is pale. Enjoyable, but pale.

Post by Stanbury August 24, 2009 (10 of 14)
Georgeflanagin responds to my review that the number of channels in the recording is irrelevant to his listening. I should have been more precise in my review to say that the SACD has a 3-channel track of the Sinfonia while the Bourgeoise Gent. is only in 2-channel. Surely one should be able to hear the difference between 3- and 2-channel playback if one is paying attention.

Question for Georgeflanagin: I am no expert on the Living Stereo recordings, but I am curious about your comment that they are all "heavily compressed". Do you know if this compression was performed during the recording (on the tapes) or if it was added for making the LPs and SACDs?

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