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June 22, 2009

Just found another Web treasure: Schoenberg conducting Schoenberg and Mahler

Arnold Schoenberg CenterMusic lovers could spend every waking hour exploring the Web for aural treasure and never run out of discoveries. I feel I've barely scratched the surface, especially of material that is beyond even what YouTube has to offer, which is pretty staggering by itself.

Thanks to a friend in Florida, I just learned about a fabulous audio archive available for free listening, courtesy of the Arnold Schoenberg Center (left) in Vienna. If, like me, you didn't know about this site (please cut me some slack if you're way ahead of me), don't miss all the historic clips from the 1920s-'50s, a few of them with Schoenberg conducting. The items that really jumped out at me when I clicked into this trove for the first time are ...

from a concert recorded live in 1934 in Los Angeles, featuring the Cadillac Symphony. Schoenberg conducts the Lied der Waldtaube from his epic Gurrelieder with the great mezzo Rose Bampton as soloist -- a gripping souvenir.

But an even shinier gem from this concert, at least for me, is the clip of Schoenberg leading the orchestra in the second movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 2. Astonishing. Never mind the surface noise or the brief gap in the tape; those are minor distractions. What you have here is an entry point into a long-lost world of sensitivity to rhythmic nuance, a place where music is a living, breathing organism unconfined by bar lines or metronomes. This is exquisite phrase-molding from a composer who knew and deeply admired Mahler. Talk about an authenticity movement.

Anyway, there are several other fascinating items on this site, which I've only begun to explore. I heartily recommend that you dig in, too.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:15 AM | | Comments (1)


Now if _only_ certain conductors and/or ensembles would _perform_ the music in this fashion!!! I am wholly at one with the "living, breathing organism" concept. The score can only take one so far into the music, which ultimately feeds on one's humanity. Case in point: I just saw Berlioz' _Requiem_ in Philly lead by Charles Dutoit, and while the performance was excellent, Maestro Dutoit held the brass and percussion just a little too much in check. Compared to Sir Colin Davis' outstanding Philips recording (to which no one holds a candle, IMHumO), the more forceful moments needed a bit more oomph, and Dutoit did the "Offertory" a little too quickly (though it still worked). One had the sense that the conductor wanted to keep things moving (even the pauses between movements were quick, when the audience could have used some coughing time ;^), so I kinda felt like everyone was "on the clock" (though by _no_ means "phoning in" their performances).

(And I could have used a break during the opening of the "Agnus Dei": the quietest freakin' moments in the whole piece, and tears were flowing from my face as I fought to suppress a coughing fit... The same thing happened to me during Dvořák's 9th-symphony "Largo" with Alsop and the BSO. I succeeded, but my eyes were bloodshot by the end of the movement.)

The best point: The Philadelphia Singers Chorale did yet _another_ outstanding job -- talk about excellent diction _and_ voluminous sound, bless them!!! They were just as good here as in the Mahler 2nd and 8th from the past two years. Honor should also be given to Paul Groves, who sang a heartfelt "Sanctus" from the highest reaches of the hall, to splendid effect, with the chorus matching him turn for turn. David Patrick Stearns wrote that his vibrato was a bit brittle, but I blame this on Groves' position being so close to the hall's ceiling -- he had to force the sound a little to make it descend upon us! And few things match the sight of a whole line of 16 timpani across the back row (and I had been to a Native-American pow-wow, with three excellent drum circles, the day before); they were every bit as bone-rattling as they needed to be during the "Tuba Miram!" Only the brass choirs dropped the ball during their "Dies Irae" flourishes, as they clearly fell out-of-sync with each other.

All in all, I found myself thinking _of_ the Davis recording immedaitely after the concert; its impression could not be eclipsed by the live performance. I had listened to it during a long car trip the day before, and I found myself listening to it again on the drive home. Just a little more kick and personality from Dutoit may have had me reflecting on the live experience instead... I _could_ now be saying, "This recording is excellent, but you should have been there in Philly with me that day!" Alas, the opposite is true.

Thanks for the fascinating report from the City of Musical Love. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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