Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

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Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Lance » Fri Mar 15, 2019 10:49 pm

https://m.media-amazon.com/images/I/81V ... UL436_.jpg
Warner Classics 56144

Here's a mega-box I pondered, but after checking, it is quite an edition and gives us all his compositions in one handy boxed set. Warner apparently didn't have everything in their own catalogues and licensed some material from the Universal Group, and even Naxos! The line up of artists is stellar. While I thought I had most everything Berlioz wrote, I was missing much and have long been fascinated with his music. He was an original in many ways and also very much ahead of his time ... quite the orchestrator as well, of other composer's works.

According to the box blurb: "Hector Berlioz, France's greated Romantic composer exemplified the spirit of this age — yet his genius was also ahead of its time. Reflecting his colourful life, his music is astonishing for its originality and ambition, and for orchestration of groundbreaking brilliance. This, the first-ever complete Berlioz edition, comprises carefully selected recordings and even includes works completely new to the catalogue. The accompanying booklet, lavishly iillustrated, contains a fascination commentary from Berlioz giographer David Cairns."

Also of interest is a disc containing early historical recordings such as the world premiere recording (from 1924) of the Symphonie fantastique, far too much material to even list here.

The stellar lineup of artists includes names such as Alagna, Janet Baker, Patrizia Ciofi, Joyce DiDonato, Simon Estes, Fischer-Dieskau, Nicolai Gedda, Véronique Gens, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Kirchschlager, de los Angeles, McNair, Jessye Norman, José van Dam, Rolando Villazon, Anne Sofie von Otter and a wide range of others perhaps more known in Europe. Other artists include Gerald Moore, Geoffrey Parsons, Marie-Claire Alain, Alexandre Tharud. Conductors include Barbirolli, Bernstein, Boult, Colin Davis, Dutoit, Gardiner, Martinon, Muti, Nagano, Plasson, Norrington, André Previn, and many others.

Some other world premiere recordings also included. In listening to this set to the lesser-known works, I am amazed at the quality of his work, particularly his imagination.

MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. The boxed set will take about four inches on your already tight shelves! I simply had to make room for this one. If your ears seem to want some new material from the French Romantic era to feast your ears on, this set won't let you down.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Sat Mar 16, 2019 11:19 am

As a dedicated Francophile, I must consider this one, especially at the attractive price!

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Sat Mar 16, 2019 11:38 am

I've never been a fan of Berlioz. Initially deterred by "Symphonie Fantastique", I never went any further with the composer.

I was friendly with one of our broadcasters on our national FM network and he was a HUGE Berlioz fan; he particularly liked "The Childhood of Christ" and tried to arouse my interest, but it never fired my imagination.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Sat Mar 16, 2019 11:59 am

Belle wrote:
Sat Mar 16, 2019 11:38 am
I've never been a fan of Berlioz. Initially deterred by "Symphonie Fantastique", I never went any further with the composer.

I was friendly with one of our broadcasters on our national FM network and he was a HUGE Berlioz fan; he particularly liked "The Childhood of Christ" and tried to arouse my interest, but it never fired my imagination.
Berlioz was indeed a revolutionary and far ahead of his time. For the longest time I didn't get L'Enfance du Christ, but it slowly grew on me through the years. That said, it's not Berlioz's most approachable work. For that I would recommend a disc of his overtures, which are so inventive I nearly jumped out of my skin when I first heard them, as well as his Requiem, both in recordings by Charles Munch. (I've since sung the Requiem). The music is quite complex and very original, thus rewarding.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Sat Mar 16, 2019 12:38 pm

"Les Troyens" in this set is anything but stellar. It's taken from concert performances in Strasbourg, conducted by John Nelson, and the only name artist in the cast is Joyce DiDonato as Didon. Other principles are Michael Spyres as Énée and Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cassandre. Nelson conducted "Troyens" at the Met in 1973, substituting for Rafael Kubelik, as he had prepared the chorus; he hasn't conducted there in nearly 20 years. Nelson also conducts "Benvenuto Cellini" and "Béatrice et Bénédict," with similarly unimpressive casts. If you don't care about the operas, I suppose this set might be useful for filling in some gaps, but for most of this repertoire you could do much better, though perhaps more expensively.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Sat Mar 16, 2019 1:42 pm

John F wrote:
Sat Mar 16, 2019 12:38 pm
"Les Troyens" in this set is anything but stellar. It's taken from concert performances in Strasbourg, conducted by John Nelson, and the only name artist in the cast is Joyce DiDonato as Didon. Other principles are Michael Spyres as Énée and Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cassandre. Nelson conducted "Troyens" at the Met in 1973, substituting for Rafael Kubelik, as he had prepared the chorus; he hasn't conducted there in nearly 20 years. Nelson also conducts "Benvenuto Cellini" and "Béatrice et Bénédict," with similarly unimpressive casts. If you don't care about the operas, I suppose this set might be useful for filling in some gaps, but for most of this repertoire you could do much better, though perhaps more expensively.
Yes, I did check out the contents of the set on amazon and for the reasons you stated above I think I'll pass. I have most of the repertoire listed in better performances (to my ears, anyway). The set is a bargain, no doubt, for a young collector, but who can forget Jessye Norman at the MET? I'm also not fond of Norrington as a conductor. Thanks, Lance, for bringing this up, though. I have the John Nelson "Troyens," and it's quite good IMHO, but one must adjust the ears to a stellar cast of smaller voices than the MET production available on DVD with Norman/Troyanos/Domingo. Just because you've never heard of them, doesn't mean that singers can't be quite good, John! :wink:

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Sat Mar 16, 2019 2:19 pm

Well, I'm inclined to believe that if they were much good, I would have heard of them, and heard them. :) The thing is, I have the voices of Jon Vickers, Regine Crespin, and Christa Ludwig among many others in my mind's ear, so my standards can be pretty high.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by jserraglio » Sat Mar 16, 2019 2:24 pm

maestrob wrote:
Sat Mar 16, 2019 1:42 pm
I'm also not fond of Norrington as a conductor.
Happy 85th today, Sir Roger. I used to feel the same about Norrington (I tossed out his EMI Beethoven 9th disc) till I heard his RVW cycle with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin which was excellent. Just downloaded and am listening now to some of his Berlioz:

September 26/27, 2002
Beethovensal der Liederhalle, Stuttgart

Hector Berlioz
L’Enfance du Christ

Christiane Oelze soprano - Sainte Marie
Christopher Maltmann baritone - Saint Joseph
Mark Padmore tenor - Un Récitant
Ralf Lukas bass-baritone - Hérode
Mikhel Nikiforov bass - Un Père de famille
Bernhard Hartmann bass - Polydorus
Frank Bossert tenor - Un centurion

SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart
RSO Stuttgart
Sir Roger Norrington

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Sat Mar 16, 2019 4:57 pm

What is it that's ahead of its time and 'revolutionary' about Berlioz? I've obviously missed something. I have this and Regine Crespin is simply stunning! Berlioz certainly sounds very 'modern' here, especially alongside those other works on the CD.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGhcPl51L7c

But I've always regarded the orchestral work of Berlioz as rather overblown, and this always staggered me given his arrival hard on the heels of Beethoven. But a work like Les Nuits d’été is tender and lyrical and I'd like more of that and less of the huge orchestral thing. As I've said before, I'm not generally a fan of 19th century opera (with a couple of exceptions). For me, Berlioz started the aesthetic of composers that headed straight towards Wagner and then to Liszt, Bruckner and Mahler. I guess I've answered my own question. :D

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Sun Mar 17, 2019 1:16 am

Belle wrote:What is it that's ahead of its time and 'revolutionary' about Berlioz?
Have you never heard the Symphonie Fantastique? Berlioz was the first important composer whose works, including his symphonies, are program music, inspired by and illustrating literary and quasi-literary sources. As in the Fantastique's finale depicting a witches' sabbath:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKOCo9JgrT8

Take that, Beethoven! :mrgreen:

In opera he tended in the opposite direction. He composed one of the first Shakespeare operas that's at all performed, "Béatrice et Bénédict" (based on "Much Ado About Nothing"), and the first opera on such a grand scale that until fairly recent years it was hardly ever performed and then always divided into two evenings, "Les Troyens," after Virgil's "Aeneid."

For me, his output is very uneven, and some aspects of his style can be off-putting. In "The Romantic Generation" Charles Rosen gives a chapter to Berlioz, titled "Berlioz: Liberation from the Central European Tradition," and I think that's a pretty good summing-up of his significance. Rosen also writes, "Few contest his greatness: what is in question is his competence. This is very odd; it is hard to see how Berlioz can be as great as we all know him to be if he is as incompetent as many think."

A couple of samples from his operas - first, the overture to "Béatrice et Bénédict," which startled me with its wit the first time I heard it from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy5ravuBvd4

And then there's the miraculous Queen Mab scherzo from the Romeo and Juliet Symphony:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3VUvss0BHM
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Sun Mar 17, 2019 4:02 am

My friend who loved Berlioz raved on about Queen Mab and I never did get into that. I know Symphonie Fantastique and it's just not for me. It sits in my library never played. I think the Queen Mab is reminiscent of the music of Mendelssohn (not surprisingly). However, after listening a couple of times to the version you posted of Queen Mab I think it's superior to Mendelssohn, more original and better orchestrated.

Berlioz was by no means the first composer to use a program for his musical ideas:
http://www.douglasmeyer.info/heinrich-v ... alia-a-10/

And here is the work in question: more interesting than Symphonie Fantastique, IMO!! And, of course, the composer's wonderful use of scordatura!! Take that Schoenberg! :mrgreen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pYPa1014RA

I have the Rosen book, "The Romantic Generation" on my shelves and I've just turned up the chapter to which you refer and have started reading it. I must say it's far better written than "The Classical Style" and, though I've used it as a reference book, I think it's time to seize the day and read it from front to back. Right away Rosen has interesting things to say about Berlioz and I'll get back to it when I finish this.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:11 am

Belle wrote:Berlioz was by no means the first composer to use a program for his musical ideas
I said "important composer." Maybe you think Biber is more important than I do, and there are other Baroque composers who wrote descriptive music; one of my favorites is Marin Marais' "Tableau of a Kidney Operation."


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAfUUgg25_U

But I don't consider these important composers on a level with Berlioz. Maybe you do. As for the Symphonie Fantastique, like it or not it is an example of what's "ahead of its time and 'revolutionary'" in Berlioz's music, compared with what came before and after.

The Queen Mab scherzo isn't just generalized fairy music, it's an equivalent of Mercutio's speech in Shakespeare's play, with the tiny carriage and the tiny creatures that pull it in the feathery galloping rhythm. I never tire of it and I can never listen to it just once.

She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomi
Over men’s noses as they lie asleep.
Her wagon spokes made of long spinners' legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
Her traces of the smallest spider’s web,
Her collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small gray-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:02 am

jserraglio wrote:
Sat Mar 16, 2019 2:24 pm
maestrob wrote:
Sat Mar 16, 2019 1:42 pm
I'm also not fond of Norrington as a conductor.
Happy 85th today, Sir Roger. I used to feel the same about Norrington (I tossed out his EMI Beethoven 9th disc) till I heard his RVW cycle with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin which was excellent. Just downloaded and am listening now to some of his Berlioz:

September 26/27, 2002
Beethovensal der Liederhalle, Stuttgart

Hector Berlioz
L’Enfance du Christ

Christiane Oelze soprano - Sainte Marie
Christopher Maltmann baritone - Saint Joseph
Mark Padmore tenor - Un Récitant
Ralf Lukas bass-baritone - Hérode
Mikhel Nikiforov bass - Un Père de famille
Bernhard Hartmann bass - Polydorus
Frank Bossert tenor - Un centurion

SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart
RSO Stuttgart
Sir Roger Norrington
Years ago, I bought his Symphonie Fantastique and the Berlioz Requiem, both of which are failures on a huge scale. I've heard some of his Vaughan-Williams on youtube, and it wasn't as bad as his Berlioz and Beethoven, but Boult, Previn and Barbirolli were better. MHO.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by jserraglio » Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:42 am

maestrob wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 10:02 am
I've heard some of his Vaughan-Williams on youtube, and it wasn't as bad as his Berlioz and Beethoven, but Boult, Previn and Barbirolli were better. MHO.
I assume you heard RN's recent live cycle with the Deutsche-Symphonie-Orchester. That impressed me much more than the Decca commercial recs he did in the 90s. I was just shocked that I liked ANYTHING led by Norrington other than his EM recs on Das Arte Werk. His EMI LvB 9th was the only record I had ever seen fit to toss out in my entire life. (Of late, though, I am filling a garbage bin with hundreds of LPs every week, with thousands yet to discard.)

BTW, the Clevelanders hated Norrington as a guest, and he never got a call back. I entirely agree, Boult, Barbirolli and Previn were the greatest in RVW, but as a general listener, not a musician or musicologist, I like setting them in a context of different, if not lesser, interpreters, just as Thomas Heywood's mediocrity sets off Shakespeare's greatness. I have all their RVW recordings, both of Boult's cycles. Previn's on LP was my entree to these marvellous symphonies.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Modernistfan » Sun Mar 17, 2019 2:12 pm

I have posted previously about Norrington’s failings in the “Symphonie Fantastique” recording. For one thing, he cut the orchestra down to about 60 players, notwithstanding the fact that Berlioz had over 100 players in the premiere and his own writings said that he really wanted a huge orchestra. It really takes some effort to make the last two movements, “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath,” sound boring, but he managed it.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Sun Mar 17, 2019 2:33 pm

JohnF: I do definitely regard Biber as an important composer. He wrote many stunning sacred works (I love the "Requiem") and, of course, much instrumental and solo violin music. Die Rosenkranz Sonaten are just superb and a perennial favourite.

Agree with what you say about Queen Mab scherzo, but Symphonie Fantastique just doesn't convince. There is no doubt that Berlioz was the first really great orchestrator, IMO.

Interesting comments, too, about Roger Norrington. When I first heard his London Classical Players and Beethoven #6 in the late 80s I couldn't believe my ears. My friend on the FM network recorded it onto cassette for me from the BBC tapes of a live performance and it was only later that Norrington recorded it onto CD. But, more recently, Norrington dabbling in the repertoire past Beethoven just doesn't work for me. At the BBC Proms a couple of years ago he conducted the Brahms Symphony #1 which I found absolutely cringeworthy. It was with the Stuttgart Orchestra on their last performance before their amalgamation.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Sun Mar 17, 2019 4:44 pm

John F wrote:
Sat Mar 16, 2019 12:38 pm
"Les Troyens" in this set is anything but stellar. It's taken from concert performances in Strasbourg, conducted by John Nelson, and the only name artist in the cast is Joyce DiDonato as Didon. Other principles are Michael Spyres as Énée and Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Cassandre. Nelson conducted "Troyens" at the Met in 1973, substituting for Rafael Kubelik, as he had prepared the chorus; he hasn't conducted there in nearly 20 years. Nelson also conducts "Benvenuto Cellini" and "Béatrice et Bénédict," with similarly unimpressive casts. If you don't care about the operas, I suppose this set might be useful for filling in some gaps, but for most of this repertoire you could do much better, though perhaps more expensively.
Once again, we have to differ. I really enjoyed this Les Troyens. And - though I know this will weigh with you all much less than my opinion - it was the Gramophone Recording of the Year for 2018. In other words, the critics heard nothing better all year. They can't all be as dumb as me.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:19 am

barney wrote:it was the Gramophone Recording of the Year for 2018. In other words, the critics heard nothing better all year. They can't all be as dumb as me.
Of course they can, even dumber. :) As for it's being the Gramophone's recording of the year, even if we agreed to that it wouldn't signify much, considering the state of the classical record business and, indeed, of classical music performance today. The best of a poor bunch doesn't have to be very good.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:00 pm

Modernistfan wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 2:12 pm
I have posted previously about Norrington’s failings in the “Symphonie Fantastique” recording. For one thing, he cut the orchestra down to about 60 players, notwithstanding the fact that Berlioz had over 100 players in the premiere and his own writings said that he really wanted a huge orchestra. It really takes some effort to make the last two movements, “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath,” sound boring, but he managed it.
Great comments and a compelling reason to avoid the doctrinaire approach!

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Mon Mar 18, 2019 5:20 pm

John F wrote:
Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:19 am
barney wrote:it was the Gramophone Recording of the Year for 2018. In other words, the critics heard nothing better all year. They can't all be as dumb as me.
Of course they can, even dumber. :) As for it's being the Gramophone's recording of the year, even if we agreed to that it wouldn't signify much, considering the state of the classical record business and, indeed, of classical music performance today. The best of a poor bunch doesn't have to be very good.
Have you actually listened or are you relying on the fact that most of the singers were unknown to you? Everybody you hear for the first time is unknown to you, at least from direct experience. You may have read about them, and had expectations, but you may not.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Mon Mar 18, 2019 5:20 pm

John F wrote:
Mon Mar 18, 2019 1:19 am
barney wrote:it was the Gramophone Recording of the Year for 2018. In other words, the critics heard nothing better all year. They can't all be as dumb as me.
Of course they can, even dumber. :) As for it's being the Gramophone's recording of the year, even if we agreed to that it wouldn't signify much, considering the state of the classical record business and, indeed, of classical music performance today. The best of a poor bunch doesn't have to be very good.
Have you actually listened or are you relying on the fact that most of the singers were unknown to you? Everybody you hear for the first time is unknown to you, at least from direct experience. You may have read about them, and had expectations, but you may not.
Nor can you seriously believe that there wasn't a single good recording in 2018.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Mon Mar 18, 2019 6:36 pm

I'm pretty well informed about today's composers and musicians and their work, and have heard quite a few of them in person. The thing is that unlike some others here, I'm also familiar with performers and performances over the last 60 years or so, and recordings covering more than a century. From these I've grown into standards that few of today's performances and recordings can meet.

For example, WQXR's list of the best recordings of 2018 includes Beethoven's Missa Solemnis performed by the Bach Collegium Japan conducted by Masaaki Suzuki. My record collection includes versions by Toscanini, Klemperer, Karajan, Solti, and Bruno Walter. If Suzuki's recordings is one of the best of 2018, then 2018 can hardly have been a vintage year.
barney wrote:Nor can you seriously believe that there wasn't a single good recording in 2018.
Looking over the Gramophone's list, I do seriously believe that it contains no recordings that I'd be likely to consider outstanding. You who said that the Gramophone critics "heard nothing better all year" than the Nelson "Troyens," which I have no other reason to believe compares favorably with the best recordings and performances of the opera that I've heard. Would you say that Michael Spyres is an Enee in the class of Jon Vickers or Placido Domingo? I didn't think so.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Lance » Mon Mar 18, 2019 11:59 pm

I do realize when one buys a set of "complete" works by such a distinguished composer, one that contains myriad works of which there may be more profound performances and maybe even more well-known artists (such as Charles Munch's Berlioz recordings), there is still much to discover and enjoy of the far lesser works in the set. I stand by my initial thought that this is an excellent set - and for the price, I have no problem with the selections or artists thus far.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Wed Mar 20, 2019 4:41 pm

John F wrote:
Mon Mar 18, 2019 6:36 pm
I'm pretty well informed about today's composers and musicians and their work, and have heard quite a few of them in person. The thing is that unlike some others here, I'm also familiar with performers and performances over the last 60 years or so, and recordings covering more than a century. From these I've grown into standards that few of today's performances and recordings can meet.

For example, WQXR's list of the best recordings of 2018 includes Beethoven's Missa Solemnis performed by the Bach Collegium Japan conducted by Masaaki Suzuki. My record collection includes versions by Toscanini, Klemperer, Karajan, Solti, and Bruno Walter. If Suzuki's recordings is one of the best of 2018, then 2018 can hardly have been a vintage year.
barney wrote:Nor can you seriously believe that there wasn't a single good recording in 2018.
Looking over the Gramophone's list, I do seriously believe that it contains no recordings that I'd be likely to consider outstanding. You who said that the Gramophone critics "heard nothing better all year" than the Nelson "Troyens," which I have no other reason to believe compares favorably with the best recordings and performances of the opera that I've heard. Would you say that Michael Spyres is an Enee in the class of Jon Vickers or Placido Domingo? I didn't think so.
You remind me of a famous line from an Australian comedy about a TV current affairs show 20 years ago. The interviewer is grilling an author about his book, and asks some silly questions. The author says, "have you read the book?" The interviewer answers "No, and that means I can be objective."
I think the ensemble in this Troyens is the best I've heard. I am praising the recording, which I have heard, on its own terms. I do not suggest it is the best version ever, which would still be a subjective assertion; I do suggest that it is musically accomplished. My French is not distinguished, but French reviewers praised the diction etc by a Francophone cast.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Wed Mar 20, 2019 8:24 pm

Life's too short and getting shorter (I'm 78) to fritter it away on recordings that don't promise anything special. John Nelson is a competent but unimportant conductor whose highest positions have been as music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Theater of Saint Louis; while he is experienced with "Les Troyens," he prepared the chorus for the Met's premiere and stood in for a couple of performances when Rafael Kubelik got sick, but otherwise he conducted some revivals of standard repertoire and hasn't been back since 2000.

On my shelves I have the Davis Philips recording, Davis's London Symphony Orchestra concert performance which I flew to London to see, a BBC broadcast conducted by Beecham, and three Met performances, one conducted by Kubelik and two by James Levine with starry casts, plus Scherchen's recording of "Les Troyens a Carthage." Also quite a few selections with various singers and conductors, beginning with the earliest of all, Georges Thill singing Aeneas's final scene (deeply cut).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57dzFpCDx0w

As I said before, my standards for this opera and much else are consequently pretty high, and having sampled some of Dido's and Aeneas's music in the Nelson recording, I'm not impressed. So what's the problem?
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Wed Mar 20, 2019 11:54 pm

I agree with you that there's no time to waste on mediocrity - especially when over 60. But there are many wonderful new conductors on the block who have special things they can bring to performances. I think 'discerning' encompasses the acknowledgement that we can have it all, as long as we continue to choose carefully and keep listening. What luxury for us in the 21st century!!

Today at our music group we enjoyed a lecture on the Beethoven String Quartets, following mine a fortnight ago on the Klaviersonaten. Afterwards we stood around having an engaging discussion about the performances and the different approaches to issues like tempo and dynamics - which can really alter perceptions of music we know and love. One man said he didn't understand what 'recitative' meant in these kinds of works, or why some of the performances we heard (Alban Berg Quartet) had such an aggressive attack on the Sfz sections. He was referring to Op. 18/1 in the 1st and 3rd movements.

I explained that recitative was a term taken from opera in the conversational sections and that this usually involved lack of counterpoint and more 'syllabic' approaches to the musical line. A woman looked at me 'askance'...."syllabic"? Unless you believe, as I do, that music, language and speech are analogous then it's hard to get your head around these issues.

Any additional thoughts here on 'recitative' in instrumental works would be interesting! :D

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Thu Mar 21, 2019 5:12 am

There are whole categories of performances and recordings for which I have no time. One is HIP, driven by the futile musicological attempt to recapture the sound and style of the original performance, or performances of the composer's time. If Sviatoslav Richter were to give a performance on a fortepiano I would listen, not for the sound of the piano but despite it; otherwise, no thanks.

Another category is no-name performers, those I've literally never heard of - and I read a lot and listen to a lot in the hall, in broadcasts and online. Neither the Met nor my ears are right for unknowns. Sometimes I go to a performance for another reason and "discover" a major new talent; in 1998 I traveled to Brussels for Peter Brook's production of "Don Giovanni" and saw Peter Mattei in the title role, when he was essentially unknown outside of Sweden:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY6VV3Z-Dc4

Nobody could fail to recognize such a major voice and a major talent, but I wouldn't have gone to Brussels or even to Boston for the sake of an unknown Swedish baritone. And I wouldn't have had to. It wasn't long before his Met debut in "The Marriage of Figaro" (2002), soon followed by "Don Giovanni" (2003), and since then he has sung here every season. My point being that I don't have to search through the gravel to find the gold - if I wait, it will come to me.

What I do pursue, and it seems hardly anybody else here does other than Lance, is recordings by the major singers and musicians of the past, sometimes the very distant past. Forget about Historically Informed performances, these are actual historic performances, without benefit of musicologists and the resurrection of obsolete instruments. Some make the excuse that old-time recorded sound isn't up to present-day standards; while much of it is better than many people think, my response is so what? It's the music and music-making that we should focus on, not the technology by which these happen to have been preserved.

For example, Andras Schiff is certainly a fine Bach pianist, I've been to a couple of his recitals, but he's plain vanilla compared with Glenn Gould, not to mention Ferruccio Busoni, whose complete Bach recordings are here:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3P8WUGIYuw

Not easy listening, but this kind of playing, by a famous and influential pianist/composer once at the center of the world's musical life, is something that no living pianist can give us.
John Francis

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Thu Mar 21, 2019 10:42 am

I disagree about HIP. Scholarly research and practice has enabled us to hear shimmering and revealing performances of the great masterworks of the past. Not all performances are equal, of course, but the days of a Mahlerian=sized orchestra playing Beethoven as Romantic are over and we are afforded the opportunity of hearing his symphonies as they really were heard and understood. Berlioz has had this treatment too with Gardiner and his "Revolutionary" orchestra - but that didn't work for me, mainly because I'm not a fan of Berlioz. I think the HIP practitioners should have drawn a line after Beethoven and stuck with it.

In short, I'm a 'progressive' with regard to HIP.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Thu Mar 21, 2019 12:19 pm

Belle wrote:
Thu Mar 21, 2019 10:42 am
I disagree about HIP. Scholarly research and practice has enabled us to hear shimmering and revealing performances of the great masterworks of the past. Not all performances are equal, of course, but the days of a Mahlerian-sized orchestra playing Beethoven as Romantic are over and we are afforded the opportunity of hearing his symphonies as they really were heard and understood. Berlioz has had this treatment too with Gardiner and his "Revolutionary" orchestra - but that didn't work for me, mainly because I'm not a fan of Berlioz. I think the HIP practitioners should have drawn a line after Beethoven and stuck with it.
"Mahler-sized orchestra"? Perhaps you've been listening more attentively to HIP recordings than to the mainstream. Toscanini and others always used a reduced string section when performing Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven. It's about balancing the instruments and the sections, and the conductors we grew up with took great care over this. In Beethoven's day, concert orchestras could be very large - a performance of the 7th and 8th symphonies in 1814 had a "Mahler-sized" orchestra of 108 or possibly 123 players according to the surviving payroll, 60 of them selected from virtually all of Vienna's theaters plus as many as 60 unpaid amateurs.

HIP does not allow us to "hear [Beethoven's] symphonies as they really were heard and understood." First of all, they were not understood at all well when they were new; see Slonimsky's "Lexicon of Musical Invective" for some choice stupidities. We understand Beethoven's music much better than his contemporaries did. Second, lacking an actual sound recording, we can't possibly know what the Eroica sounded like in that small room in the Lobkowitz palace - so small that the invited audience had to sit in a separate room from the large orchestra. Third, we have no evidence and no particular reason to believe that Beethoven liked that performance or any others of his orchestral music, while he was still able to hear them. The winds for the premiere of the 9th symphony are said to have been "most miserable," but by then Beethoven was deaf.

https://www.hornsociety.org/publication ... re?start=1

Setting the HIP propaganda aside, then, you're certainly entitled to your taste as I am to mine, which is what I've been talking about. maestrob dislikes many of the recordings I find revelatory, objecting to their flexibility of tempo; he's entitled to his taste too. We don't "disagree" about each others' tastes, we differ, as is only to be expected. Anyway, all this is beside my point, which is how I decide what's worth my time and attention and what isn't.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Thu Mar 21, 2019 4:17 pm

I mean HUGE symphony orchestras of the type which play Mahler or Brahms. These were not Beethovenian forces. I have sat in these concerts myself and thought them ridiculous.

Disagree with what you say because much of Beethoven's orchestral work wasn't played during his lifetime - consistently or otherwise -and violins were tuned differently as well and other instruments didn't have the 19th century technological advances either. There was a particular sound in the first quarter of the 19th century which was quite different from the other end of the century and, though Beethoven couldn't hear, he certainly knew from experience what the sound was like. It's rather like changing the text of Shakespeare to 'update' it, IMO. Though there have been changes in playing STYLES since the early recordings we have, we definitely know now how these older instruments at least SOUNDED. And matters of intonation etc. on these instruments do make a difference. The fortepiano is a different instrument to the modern Steinway and, though I love that latter instrument, I rather enjoy Beethoven on fortepiano and have a mental image of him attempting to get it to play louder or softer!!

We heard a quote yesterday in our presentation about the Beethoven String Quartets about how badly these were played (lack of rehearsal time, etc.) and the unflattering reviews in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. Bad playing itself and performance practice of the period are mutually exclusive concepts, just as they are today.

HIP is not propaganda but well-researched musicology to replicate the sounds and practices of the time. I'm certainly very grateful for it and the illumination it has provided in baroque and pre-baroque music.

This man knows what he's talking about:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBUmuCSfV9k

Even though I adored Kleiber and love this performance I don't think in his widest dreams Beethoven would have envisaged an orchestra of this size and projecting power!! Especially for Symphony #4.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3-jlAamGCE

Compare with the size of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Harnoncourt. Thrilling!!! Transparent and lucid, with all the parts for the individual hearing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXeVsbPPm8Q

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Fri Mar 22, 2019 7:13 am

:)
Belle wrote:
Thu Mar 21, 2019 4:17 pm
I mean HUGE symphony orchestras of the type which play Mahler or Brahms. These were not Beethovenian forces. I have sat in these concerts myself and thought them ridiculous.
I'll bet you have never heard a Mahler symphony, let alone one by Brahms, with 18 first violins, 18 2nd violins, etc., with double or triple woodwinds. The extra players are mainly in the brass, and even with them, you have never seen an orchestra of 123 players in any modern concert or opera performance, not even "Elektra" whose violins are sometimes divided into 3 sections instead of the usual 2.

We've had this discussion before. I wrote and you read in 2017:
John F wrote:You say, "neither Beethoven nor Mozart would have envisaged a full blown (Mahlerian) symphony orchestra more than twice the size of the ones they knew.".. We know for a fact that Mozart loved big orchestras, bigger than he could afford to hire for his own concerts. He wrote home about a performance of one of his symphonies, "The symphony was magnifique and had a great success. Forty violins played, the winds were doubled, there were 10 violas, 10 double basses, eight cellos, and six bassoons." That's bigger than Mahlerian! Mozart also took part in the annual benefit concerts of the Tonkünstler Society which featured an enormous chorus and orchestra, possible because many professionals took part for free and amateur players and singers were also welcome.
viewtopic.php?f=10&t=47563&p=481183&hil ... ue#p481183

Also, "Haydn wrote his Paris symphonies for an orchestra that included 40 violins and ten double basses... If you prefer your Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven to be played by a mini-orchestra, that's OK, but the composers themselves appear to have had no such preference."

viewtopic.php?f=10&t=31289&p=315069&hil ... ue#p315069

You can't explain this away with the kind of arguments you're making (again!) because you, the musicologists, and all of us lack the only kind of evidence that would answer such questions decisively: hearing an actual 18th- or early 19th-century performance in person or in a sound recording. Unless you have a time machine. :) There's no way any orchestra with 18 or 20 first violins and strings and winds to match, whatever instruments they used and however tuned and played, can have sounded like today's "period" orchestras with 8 or fewer first violins etc. The one conclusion we can inescapably draw from the facts is that 18th century audiences, including composers, used big orchestras when they could and praised the results because they wanted and liked a big sound. Period.

The only performances I've heard in person and on records that exactly duplicate the original performing forces in number and, presumably, in effect are of Handel's "Royal Fireworks Music" in the original scoring for winds and percussion. This makes an incredible noise in a concert hall, but of course it was composed for an outdoors event. Here's Charles Mackerras's stunning recording of the first movement:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4NxNumD48E

That's with 16 oboes, 16 bassoons, 20 horns, one serpent, 8 pairs of timpani, etc. etc. Of course it isn't necessary to have 20 first violins for an orchestra to have this kind of impact. The modern symphony orchestra normally seats 14 firsts etc., 16 for Wagner's Ring, and as I've said, conductors reduce the strings for 18th century music. But perhaps instead they should double the winds, especially if they want to create something of the effect which those mammoth 18th and early 19th century orchestras must have had, especially in the smaller halls where they usually played. But of course that would make it twice as expensive to perform a Mozart or Beethoven symphony.

But I don't reject HIP performances and recordings because they aren't Historically Informed enough, or actually Misinformed. I just don't like their sound and style.
John Francis

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Fri Mar 22, 2019 12:04 pm

But I don't reject HIP performances and recordings because they aren't Historically Informed enough, or actually Misinformed. I just don't like their sound and style.
Well, actually, I do like them. I find many HIP performances fascinating because of their sonorities, so there! :D

In fact, HIP performances (good ones) are simply projections of current musical thoughts about tempo onto older instruments and their playing styles (no vibrato, etc.). Nothing wrong with that in my book. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say that I believe that modern HIP style would have pleased Toscanini, who was instrumental in establishing modern performance practices.

George Szell did a lot of tinkering with Schumann's symphonies, rescoring the wind and brass parts to fit modern instruments. I still like his ideas and listen to them regularly. I listen regularly to his excellent Beethoven, which is transparent and light-footed compared to HVK's full-blooded set with Berlin (1963), even though I admire the Toscanini set put together by RCA. I submit that HVK and Szell tried to emulate Toscanini in their tempo choices and overall shaping of the music, especially in the Ninth. These tempo choices spill over into current HIP performances when done well, and I find no reason to reject them. OTOH, I don't care for Klemperer's sluggish tempi in Beethoven (You once mentioned that you liked Klemperer.).

John, I'm not as deeply informed about performance practice as you are, but surely Berlioz wanted massive forces for his Symphonie Fantastique and Requiem, so Norrington's choice to record both works with smaller groups falls short of the mark, and I don't care for them. One of the last live concerts I saw was a magnificent performance of the Requiem in Avery Fisher Hall with Dutoit just after 9/11/2001. Berlioz would have been pleased, with brasses in the balcony and a massive percussion section.

My point is, sometimes HIP works, and sometimes it doesn't. Why not enjoy those performances that do? But, you've answered that question already, so there we are. My point is that there is no single BEST performance of a given work, only personal favorites.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Fri Mar 22, 2019 12:26 pm

maestrob wrote:HIP performances (good ones) are simply projections of current musical thoughts about tempo onto older instruments
In a way you're right - Richard Taruskin says essentially the same thing in his long essay about the so-called "authenticity" of HIP, titled "The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past." And he too likes some of the HIP recordings he's reviewed.

Whether Toscanini would have liked them too is impossible to know, of course. In the jacket notes for his Beethoven recordings with the Academy of Ancient Instruments, Christopher Hogwood says they didn't interpret the music at all, they just played it. Stravinsky would have approved, from what he wrote about performing his own music, but I shouldn't think Toscanini would. Of course not all HIP conductors and musicians play the music that straight. But from reports of Beethoven's playing by those who heard it, his style of performance may have been more like Furtwängler's than Toscanini's.

I like some of Klemperer's recordings, certainly, but not many of those from his later years when his tempos slowed to a crawl. The Brahms symphonies with the Philharmonia are first-rate, I'd say.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Fri Mar 22, 2019 3:24 pm

You can talk about forces in an orchestra, reducing or augmenting, but that doesn't change the SONORITY question. Instruments became increasingly sophisticated in the mid-late 19th century and when you hear Concentus Musicus/Harnoncourt playing on A415 violins and with the horns Beethoven and Mozart both knew it's a totally different sound experience and one I like. A large symphony orchestra playing music of this period means, for me, a far less transparent texture. I've read a lot on this topic and I've written about it as a Musicology student, in the past, starting with the work of Thurston Dart shortly after WW2. There had been some other clumsy attempts before that to escape the livery of the 19th century 'romantic' orchestra but these were generally unsuccessful.

First clumsy attempt is the sound of the harpsichord of the first half of the 20th century; as Beecham said, "skeletons copulating on a tin roof"!! But at least they were heading for the right idea. This is a stunning performance from Janet Baker, but she is accompanied by a curious mixture of 'harpsichord' with heavily vibrato-encumbered strings:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dl9Mbv5Ag-w

That performance sounds very old-fashioned to me; consider the 'forces' Purcell had at his disposal for the premiere of this work: a school!! He wasn't writing for a large chorus either.

Compare with this, which enters the sound world of Purcell: however, I'm not enamoured of the cold and dry tone of Emma Kirkby. The aria is accompanied by plucked instruments of the period: we get a 'glimpse' into that world and the original performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3wAarmPYKU

This is the perfect compromise, for me (though not the same aria): it's magnificent!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPX1l4ym2Qg

Did you watch the Malcolm Bilson segment I provided where he talks about intonation and touch on two different pianos and the relevance of that to scores of Mozart? Let's say that HIP isn't always a guarantee of quality and that we shouldn't discount non-HIP - but the attempt to replicate the sound and aesthetic of the period has involved huge scholarship and, in my opinion, delivered spectacular results in revealing music of the period. As for the attempts to provide a HIP aesthetic to Berlioz: I'm not familiar with that because I've never been a fan of the composer. Some people liked this, others not:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6cP--evheQ

But I'm more of a musical progressive on this score (pun intended), and not conservative because of my 'trait openness' (as Jordan Peterson might say).

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:48 pm

This discussion just confirms for me what the rest of you already know: I'm an imbecile.
As I read each comment, I think "that seems pretty fair". And you can't all be right - or can you? In one sense you certainly can: you can each present accurately your own opinion.
Actually, I think Maestrob said it best for me, and I'm sure we all agree: enjoy HIP when it's good. I often like the transparency, the different musical balance and sonority of a smaller HIP band, the way the inner voices can emerge, but it's not usually what I go to first.
I learned the Beethoven symphonies as a listener through Klemperer and the Philharmonia (in the early 1970s), and I loved their magisterial approach. It's interesting that I haven't gone back to them for years. I don't find them laboured, as some do, because of Klemperer's genius at holding things together at a slow tempo, but it is no longer my favourite.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:51 pm

PS: I had no idea that Mozart employed 40 violins. That is really interesting, thank you. But it doesn't mean he would always want 40 violins in each orchestral work. For example, it would really hamper the piano concerti on fortepiano. And the wind! Did he double the winds?

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Lance » Fri Mar 22, 2019 11:35 pm

This has been a most interesting thread. I'm sure everyone knows my love for the PIANO. In the ensuing years from about age 17 and beginning to collect LPs, pianos and pianists became of huge importance to me. I listened to the harpsichord recordings of Wanda Landowska, who used iron-framed Pleyel harpsichords, quite different from historical instruments. Still, the sound was there, albeit much more bold. (I even played her Pleyel at her home in Lakeville, Conn.). I never was much fascinated with the fortepiano. But time changes things and it changed me. Since the 1850s or so, the piano sound we are familiar with today was born then and evolved into the grand instrument it is today, even for the performance of Baroque keyboard music. Even Chopin's pianos (let alone Mozart's or Beethoven's keyboard instruments) didn't have the kind or volume of sound we equate with great pianos that must soar over an orchestra today.

Having long loved the art of Emanuel Ax, I was interested to see him come forth with a recording using historical instruments in his recording of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting [Sony 60771]. Not only is the concerto on this disc, but some other pieces on the restored Erard piano, not even a concert grand! The recording was startlingly revealing and highly listenable, delicate, perhaps, in a way the modern concert grand cannot be.

That said, I would never want to give up hearing older, highly-acclaimed music on present-day instruments. We might even say, Beethoven, Liszt, Mozart, Scarlatti and any other great composer of keyboard music - if exposed to present day instruments - would give us the same music and even more. So, long live present-day instruments as well as those from the past. There really is something out there for everyone, whatever your musical tastes. •
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rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by John F » Sat Mar 23, 2019 12:58 am

barney wrote:
Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:51 pm
PS: I had no idea that Mozart employed 40 violins. That is really interesting, thank you. But it doesn't mean he would always want 40 violins in each orchestral work. For example, it would really hamper the piano concerti on fortepiano. And the wind! Did he double the winds?
Mozart himself did not employ so many players for his subscription concerts in Vienna and elsewhere. He was describing the Concerts Spirituels in Paris which commissioned and performed his Paris symphony. Mozart's own concerts were given with players whom he hired and paid for out of his own pocket, so naturally he kept their number down to maximize his own income. The reason was economics, then, not art.

The cost of the orchestras for his operas was borne by the impresarios who had them performed, and depended on the circumstances such as the size of the theatre. "Don Giovanni" was premiered at the Estates Theater in Prague, an opera house so tiny that there wasn't room in the pit for an adequate number of strings; despite heavy orchestration which added clarinets and three trombones to the orchestra, there were only four first violins etc. Mozart never complained in writing about such matters but evidently made the best of what was available to him. That doesn't mean he actually wanted and was happy with what he got. We certainly would complain about a "Don Giovanni" with such an impoverished string section, and we'd be right to want something more like this:.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4s1OFwAlMMw

Yet another example of why it's not a good idea to try to replicate the first performance in the name of HIP.

For more on this topic see Neil Zaslaw, "Mozart's Symphonies," particularly the section "Size and Balance"in the chapter "Performance Practice." 18th century concert orchestras varied in size because of "fluctuating economic forces; for instance, the decline of Viennese orchestras in the late 1780s followed the war and depression into which Austria was then plunged. Orchestral make-up could also be linked to the size of a theatre or hall, the generosity of patrons, local customs and preferences, political changes, and even revolution. Early in his life, for instance, Mozart wrote for good-sized orchestras in Salzburg, The Hague, and Vienna, whereas near the end of his career he was involved with the tiny orchestras of Prague and Donaueschingen." Zaslaw provides a table of the sizes of concert and theatre orchestras that performed music by Mozart, and the numbers are all over the place; Zaslaw's graph of the number of string and non-string players includes some astonishing outliers.

In short, there was no standard size of a concert orchestra, they ranged from small to large and everything in between. The instruments weren't standardized either. Mozart's comments on the performance of his Paris symphony show that he appreciated the big orchestra of the Concerts Spirituels; while he praised the playing of the Prague orchestra, which must have been excellent to do justice to the Prague symphony, he says nothing about its size or lack of it.
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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Sat Mar 23, 2019 3:22 pm

MediciTV has available the LSO performing the Rossini Messa di Gloria with a massively sized LSO and huge choir. It's a totally different beast, when portrayed in these terms, to what Rossini knew and wrote for. It's a grand performance but I'd like to hear it with more balance between the orchestral parts and the singers - rather than a wall of sound.

It isn't just size either; intonation, pitch and balance and all things in between.

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Sun Mar 24, 2019 12:08 pm

Belle wrote:
Sat Mar 23, 2019 3:22 pm
MediciTV has available the LSO performing the Rossini Messa di Gloria with a massively sized LSO and huge choir. It's a totally different beast, when portrayed in these terms, to what Rossini knew and wrote for. It's a grand performance but I'd like to hear it with more balance between the orchestral parts and the singers - rather than a wall of sound.

It isn't just size either; intonation, pitch and balance and all things in between.
The disc pictured below is quite excellent and available used on U.S. amazon for a few dollars:

Image

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by Belle » Sun Mar 24, 2019 12:37 pm

Thanks for the heads-up on this. I also particularly enjoy this work by Rossini (I'm not at all a fan of his theatrical works):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXWeGof7_9o

I'm sure I heard (at least parts of) Rossini's Messa di Gloria in Augustinerkirche, Wien, with a small orchestra and choir, for Sonntag Hochamt. Just one of the memorable, treasured musical experiences in that beloved city. Actually, if you click on the link "Church Music Home Page" you'll see various pictures of the church and orchestra and a calendar showing that Puccini's realization of the same mass was programmed on 3 March this year. (Link at bottom of the page):

https://augustinerkirche.augustiner.at/ ... -augustin/

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by maestrob » Mon Mar 25, 2019 10:18 am

The Puccini Mass is an immature work, but lovely. Thanks for those interesting links, Belle!

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Re: Berlioz Complete Works - 27 CDs

Post by barney » Tue Mar 26, 2019 7:58 am

John F wrote:
Sat Mar 23, 2019 12:58 am
barney wrote:
Fri Mar 22, 2019 4:51 pm
PS: I had no idea that Mozart employed 40 violins. That is really interesting, thank you. But it doesn't mean he would always want 40 violins in each orchestral work. For example, it would really hamper the piano concerti on fortepiano. And the wind! Did he double the winds?
Mozart himself did not employ so many players for his subscription concerts in Vienna and elsewhere. He was describing the Concerts Spirituels in Paris which commissioned and performed his Paris symphony. Mozart's own concerts were given with players whom he hired and paid for out of his own pocket, so naturally he kept their number down to maximize his own income. The reason was economics, then, not art.

The cost of the orchestras for his operas was borne by the impresarios who had them performed, and depended on the circumstances such as the size of the theatre. "Don Giovanni" was premiered at the Estates Theater in Prague, an opera house so tiny that there wasn't room in the pit for an adequate number of strings; despite heavy orchestration which added clarinets and three trombones to the orchestra, there were only four first violins etc. Mozart never complained in writing about such matters but evidently made the best of what was available to him. That doesn't mean he actually wanted and was happy with what he got. We certainly would complain about a "Don Giovanni" with such an impoverished string section, and we'd be right to want something more like this:.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4s1OFwAlMMw

Yet another example of why it's not a good idea to try to replicate the first performance in the name of HIP.

For more on this topic see Neil Zaslaw, "Mozart's Symphonies," particularly the section "Size and Balance"in the chapter "Performance Practice." 18th century concert orchestras varied in size because of "fluctuating economic forces; for instance, the decline of Viennese orchestras in the late 1780s followed the war and depression into which Austria was then plunged. Orchestral make-up could also be linked to the size of a theatre or hall, the generosity of patrons, local customs and preferences, political changes, and even revolution. Early in his life, for instance, Mozart wrote for good-sized orchestras in Salzburg, The Hague, and Vienna, whereas near the end of his career he was involved with the tiny orchestras of Prague and Donaueschingen." Zaslaw provides a table of the sizes of concert and theatre orchestras that performed music by Mozart, and the numbers are all over the place; Zaslaw's graph of the number of string and non-string players includes some astonishing outliers.

In short, there was no standard size of a concert orchestra, they ranged from small to large and everything in between. The instruments weren't standardized either. Mozart's comments on the performance of his Paris symphony show that he appreciated the big orchestra of the Concerts Spirituels; while he praised the playing of the Prague orchestra, which must have been excellent to do justice to the Prague symphony, he says nothing about its size or lack of it.
Thank you John. You went to a lot of trouble on my behalf, and I'm grateful. Very interesting. One does get the feeling with Mozart that - while you couldn't say he wasn't one to complain, because his letters to his father are filled with often justified complaints - he was someone who simply got on with things and cut his suit according to the cloth. A very practical composer, not just sublime!

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