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(@dinah)
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A little while ago @Eldarboy shared a link to Naxos' downloads of the month, and it featured some Mariss Jansons recordings. I was very happy to come across that: Jansons is one of my most favourite conductors ever! That got me thinking, does every classical music lover have favourite/ preferred conductor(s)? I think the answer might be yes, in most cases.

Being an amateur classical music aficionado, and with no formal musical education whatsoever, I cannot read sheet music, and I'm not very well versed in music theory, consequently I depend on a conductor's interpretations of a composition more than others. And so, I find it very useful, imperative even, that I have some reliable names to turn to when I want to listen to interpretations of pieces I'm not very familiar with.

Always, when I want to listen to a work for the first time, I would want to "hear" what the composer "wrote", what message he intended for me as an audience, not the conductor's own fanciful "idea" of what (and how) a work should sound like. And in order to do that I must be able to trust the conductor to be an honest link between the composer and myself. To paraphrase Esa-Pekka Salonen: "A composer is the chef, and a conductor is the head waiter. Both are perfectly honorable professions, but a conductor's role is to deliver the composer's "food" on time and intact"! I think that pretty much sums up my view of a conductor: if I'm listening to Mozart conducted by Maestro X, I want to hear Mozart, and not Maestro X. If said Maestro have something new to add, please by all means compose a new piece yourself to communicate your ideas to me, do not (super)impose yourself upon the composer!

That being said, I would gladly consume all and any recordings of any conductor, provided they're of a decent enough quality and appeal to my own personal taste. My approach to (classical) music, as to any art form, is unashamedly highly subjective! However, there are certain conductors I gravitate towards, especially when it comes to certain repertoire, and others whom I absolutely refuse to touch (luckily, the later bunch does not comprise of many names, and I don't think it would be politically correct to discuss it here, so we'd leave it at that!)

 


   
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(@dinah)
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Now, I've already mentioned two of my absolute favourite composers: Mariss Jansons, whom I've loved since I first watched him conduct New Year's Concert on a live transmission from Vienna's Musikverein almost 10 years ago. That gentleman's positive energy and enthusiasm for music was contagious! The other is Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose 1985 recording of Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Balakirev with the Bavarian Radio Symphony is one of the very first albums I got (it was a used CD that I bought for myself with my own pocket money, so it holds a place of pride in my very small collection!). Not only is Salonen an excellent conductor, he's a wonderful educator and an eloquent speaker as well.

When listening to Mahler I usually find myself preferring Riccardo Chailly, and Iván Fischer (especially his Budapest Festival Orchestra recordings👌).

My favourite Schehrezade is Kiril Kondrashin's Concertgebouw recording (in general, I would choose any Kondrashin recording of a Russian composer blindfolded!). His Mahler is also wonderful.

Another very good conductor of Russian composers is Vasily Petrenko (his Oslo Philharmonic recordings and concerts are amazing).

When it comes to Scandinavian music I gravitate towards Scandinavian conductors, naturally 😉. Salonen, of course, is an excellent interpreter of Sibelius and Nielsen. Pietari Inkinen's Sibelius symphony cycle with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is magnificent.

In the case of "pre-classical" music it's usually ensembles, rather than conductors, that come to prominence. Yet if these are paired with the names of Harry Bicket and Trevor Pinnock (to name but a few), I know I'm in for an enjoyable treat!


   
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 Jen
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Posted by: @dinah

"A composer is the chef, and a conductor is the head waiter. Both are perfectly honorable professions, but a conductor's role is to deliver the composer's "food"

That’s a great quote from Esa-Pekka Salonen!  Although a composer’s intentions are not always precisely defined (or in the case of, say, a few of Beethoven’s tempi, they are defined but it’s disputed whether or not that’s what LVB really meant).  So the head waiter still has plenty of decisions make in how to present the food at the table.

That’s a tough question about favourite conductors.  I don’t seem to have favourites, it varies hugely from work to work! Although, agreed, there are a few conductors I would avoid (mentioning no names 😉).

I’m more likely to follow particular instrumentalists, or singers, ensembles or orchestras, and not just for baroque, but across the whole repertoire. 

Having said all that: I will take every opportunity to listen to anything that Philippe Herreweghe or William Christie conducts!


   
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 Hugh
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I'm not sure I have favourites either. In my record-buying days my purchases would nearly always be based on recommendations (and therefore be influenced by prejudices) in the Penguin and Gramophone guides or on the radio. I think that for me it's more a matter of favourite recordings than favourite conductors. Do any conductors stand out? Colin Davis, especially because of his Haydn symphonies and Mozart and Beethoven concertos with Kovacevic. Giulini with the Missa Solemnis(!) and Verdi Requiem (and Don Giovanni, although I actually listen more to the Klemperer recording). David Willcocks and the King's College choir. However, I suspect that in all these cases it's the music that I enjoy and these conductors happen to be the ones whose recordings were recommended.

A possible exception is Barbirolli. I love his recordings of Elgar's Cello Concerto (with Jaqueline du Pré), Sea Pictures (with Janet Baker), and The Dream of Gerontius (Janet Baker again), and the Mahler song cycles (with Janet Baker!) and Verdi's Otello (with James McCracken). In each case my love is at least as much for the contribution of the soloists.

The advent in my life of streaming is perhaps making me more aware of what conductors contribute. Following recommendations on the Primephonic forum I have been paying more attention in recent months to recordings by Giovanni Antonini, Manfred Honeck and (dare I mention his name) Currentzis, who has brought new life for me to Mozart's Da Ponte operas.


   
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Posted by: @hugh

In each case my love is at least as much for the contribution of the soloists.

Yes, indeed.  Looking across the CD shelves, certain conductors appear over and over, but that’s quite likely because of the soloists they typically collaborate with 🤔

Posted by: @hugh

…and (dare I mention his name) Currentzis, who has brought new life for me to Mozart's Da Ponte operas

Oh, I’m chuckling remembering the lively debate we had about Currentzis in the olden days of Primephonic!  Does any other conductor provoke such divided opinions?


   
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(@dinah)
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Posted by: @jen

So the head waiter still has plenty of decisions make in how to present the food at the table.

Indeed!! And here comes the critical part, and where a conductor's artistry and musicianship shines. He has to make informed decisions that wouldn't interfere with the overall nature of the work. Oh, I cannot tell you how many times I've heard pieces butchered by odd performance choices that I suspect are solely the conductor's fault! 🤨 (luckily not so many times, but these experiences left me scarred for life 😂)

 

 
Posted by: @jen

Yes, indeed.  Looking across the CD shelves, certain conductors appear over and over, but that’s quite likely because of the soloists they typically collaborate with 🤔

In the case of my collection, both the actual, physical one, and the streaming one, I've noticed that certain conductors tend to prevail, and thinking about it now, maybe you're right, maybe it has to do with whom (in my case it would be with which ensembles) they're collaborating 🤔. For example, I find that I always enjoy listening to the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and most of the time they're led by Iván Fischer, thus Maestro Fischer became a favourite!

 


   
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(@dinah)
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Posted by: @hugh

However, I suspect that in all these cases it's the music that I enjoy and these conductors happen to be the ones whose recordings were recommended.

It Could be that these conductors intelligently and subtley contribute something to the music that made you, and the recommending parties, like their recordings better than others'!

Sometimes one feels that a certain recording/ performance has a little bit of a je ne sais quoi quality to it that would appeal to one much more than equally wonderful and exceptional recordings that cannot be faulted in any way, but when it comes to grabbing a CD or choosing a streamed album to play one would always choose the former. I guess it might have to do with the subjectivity of art as I mentioned earlier?! Maybe we feel, on a subconscious level, that a certain conductor's music ideals better line up with our perception of what a certain piece should sound like?!


   
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Posted by: @hugh

Following recommendations on the Primephonic forum I have been paying more attention in recent months to recordings by Giovanni Antonini

Yes, Antonini with Giardino Armonico, and the superb Haydn 2032 series!  Again, I wonder, is it conductor or ensemble that appeals?  (A rhetorical question: it’s clearly the combination of both 😊)

It’s hard to listen to this:

https://app.idagio.com/albums/haydn-2032-vol-4-il-distratto

without remembering Maja’s comments on the splendidly enigmatic cover art… and Thomas B’s big Haydn project.  I continue to hope that one day they might find and rejoin us here…


   
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Posted by: @jen

Maja’s comments on the splendidly enigmatic cover art… and Thomas B’s big Haydn project.  I continue to hope that one day they might find and rejoin us here…

Indeed, it would be great.

I remember Jeff (urbanstrata, from memory) had listened to all the Haydn symphonies 27 times (or thereabouts). His shortlist of 24 that struck him particularly while listening introduced me among others to the marvellous number 39.

Re Antonini: don't forget Il pianto di Maria (and those gorgeous Vivaldi adagios).

On the cover art I particularly remember the chat about the bus broken down in the desert. Was that from Haydn 2032?

 


   
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Posted by: @hugh

Re Antonini: don't forget Il pianto di Maria (and those gorgeous Vivaldi adagios).

How funny you should mention that album… I just happen to be listening to it now 😂.  And how marvellous those adagios sound on my new speakers!

Posted by: @hugh

On the cover art I particularly remember the chat about the bus broken down in the desert. Was that from Haydn 2032?

Yes it was… I think @capriccio had a theory about the bus 😁

[edit: no it wasn’t!  Antonini and Giardino Armonico, but Handel’s Op.6 Concerti Grossi.  Another wonderful album.]


   
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(@capriccio)
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Posted by: @jen

Yes it was… I think @capriccio had a theory about the bus 😁

I did indeed, but I believe that theory might have been debunked for I can't, for the life of me, recall what it was. 


   
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 Hugh
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It was obvious that it was the viola player's fault.


   
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(@dinah)
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😂

Oh Goodness! Why does everybody keep picking on the poor viola players!!!!!


   
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Posted by: @dinah

does every classical music lover have favourite/ preferred conductor(s)?

A letter in the June 2022 edition of Gramophone touches on this point. The contributor was browsing some editions of the magazine from 1952 and noted "the most striking difference was ... the lowly status of the conductor .... in the headings to the reviews soloists and orchestras had their names printed in full and in bold type, but conductors, however distinguished, were given their surnames only, in plain text and in brackets. What a difference from today!" 


   
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@hugh The eternal "Is the conductor necessary?" debate probably had something to do with the lack of bold type in the magazine. I loved this quote from an advocate of conductors: "An orchestra without a conductor is like a letter full of LOVE without an address."

I've been using the wonderful Beethoven's Ninth iPad app ( https://apps.apple.com/us/app/beethovens-9th-symphony/id601942399) recently, and one of the things I love most about it is how you can switch between performances by four different conductors at any point: Ferenc Fricsay and the Berliner Philharmoniker, recorded in 1958; Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker, recorded in 1962; Leonard Bernstein, Wiener Philharmoniker from 1979; and John Eliot Gardiner, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, recorded in 1992.

 


   
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