The Arts Council Sounds Off on… Recordings that connect us to history

By David Brensilver
May 29, 2013, marked the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), and many people and organizations to which I stay connected via Facebook celebrated the occasion by posting their favorite performance clips of the work. And who was I to ignore the celebration?

I posted a comment on Facebook indicating that I was listening to an excellent, 2011 recording of the piece by Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (Norway), whose principal percussionist, Peter Kates, is a dear friend of mine.

Listening to Stravinsky’s monumentally important composition, I began thinking about the rich musical history that’s documented in my extensive collection of orchestral recordings. Naturally, I have numerous recordings of some pieces, while other works require only one.

Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, for example, is considered by many (including yours truly) to be the definitive performance of the work and the one I listen to almost exclusively.

And while I’m partial to the Mahler cycle that Leonard Bernstein recorded (for Deutsche Grammophon) in the 1980s with the New York Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, and Concertgebouw Orchestra, I do have and regularly listen to several different recordings of each of the composer’s symphonies— and I recommend the cycle Michael Tilson Thomas recorded with the San Francisco Symphony.

The same is the case with Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. While I own and regularly listen to a number of recordings of the piece, it’s a recording by Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony that I play most frequently.

The point here is that certain recordings speak to us in unique ways for different reasons. And what that means is that a particular performer —and a particular performance— has connected a listener to the music’s source, thereby keeping a composer relevant no matter how many years have passed since audiences first heard his or her work.

David Brensilver is the editor of The Arts Paper. This is his opinion.


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