Author Topic: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony  (Read 462 times)

Offline shawn

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Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« on: July 08, 2019, 04:24:36 PM »
Perhaps this topic has already been discussed on this board.

'I'm not at all sure that I like it myself now. All I know is that it's what I wanted to do at the time'

Well, people are often amazed when I confess about my favorite symphony from the complete symphony repertoire. I can understand that all to well. Because my favorite is an extremely nihilistic work, very forbidding, hardly accessible. It's not the kind of symphony you want people to hear when introducing them to Classical Music, because they'll probably run away screaming.

Here it comes...

Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony.

Yes. He tops my list.

There's something uncompromisingly honest about this work which I admire greatly. The mood is dismal throughout, but RVW counters those feelings, successfully and spine-chillingly with few moments of repose, which are extremely bitter sweet, not quite consoling, but unbelievably beautiful. The Fourth is a totally different deal than RVW's more pastoral symphonies (the 3rd, 5th). Copland once described the Fifth as looking at a cow for a considerable amount of time. In that respect, the Fourth is more like running away from a raging bull.

The Fourth is masterfully crafted. It's certainly not just a case of 'I felt depressed and disturbed, and therefore wanted to write it to shout a lot'. For what it's worth, William Walton called it the greatest symphony since Beethoven!  :o

My very favorite recording of this symphony? It was my first acquaintance of the work, Bernstein's on Sony. You know, on that embarrassing Royal Edition. Of course, Prince Charles' water color painting on the front had nothing in common with this boisterous symphony. But it's a great reading, and very well recorded considering the often disappointing sound Columbia got from the New York recording venues. Bernstein's approach to the first movement is much more measured, not so hectic, but without sacrificing the severity of tone.

And severe it is. Some see it as a portrait of war, but WW I ended some 16 years before. May be it's more of a Mahlerian premonition, towards WW II.

In fact, I think it's RVW's most Mahlerian symphony. Comparable to the Tragic Mahler Sixth, although the latter is on a much larger scale, uses a larger orchestra (especially brass) and feels more classically organized than RVW. What makes RVW's Fourth also special, for me, is the fact that it is very expressionistic, without sacrificing the basic principles of tonality.

Well, there you have it. What's your confession about the symphony that holds first place in your book?  ;D

Offline Thomass

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2019, 03:20:12 AM »
Tchaikovsky's First symphony. The greatest first symphony ever written, and the greatest symphony ever written, period.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2019, 10:03:09 AM »
Other great first symphonies: Mahler (of course); Sibelius; Shostakovich; Brahms (of course); Schumann; Vaughan Williams; Elgar (I like his 2nd better); Franck d-minor (his only symphony); Debussy's "La Mer" (yeah, I know - but some claim it's a symphony), and numerous others I'm just not thinking of.

Other symphonists got better as they went along. In that category, I would place: Dvorak; Bruckner Saint-Saens; Nielsen; Rimsky-Korsakov; Copland; Ives and Schubert (although, his early symphonies are better than some think).

Bruckner is an odd case for me. I like the scherzo from his first symphony, but I haven't been able to finish listening to his second symphony. It just seems like scrambled ramblings of not-so-great melodic ideas, etc.  Funny, because I really like the middle version (Oeser Edition) of his third symphony.  In fact, I like that more than the fourth symphony, although there are some truly great moments in his 4th (coda to the first movement!).

Offline shawn

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2019, 04:00:14 AM »
Bruckner is an odd case for me, too  :D There isn't a Mahler symphony I do not cherish greatly (of course, I have my favorites), but I'm far more selective (critical?) when it comes to Bruckner.

For me, Bruckner starts getting interesting with his Third. Wonderful brooding first movement. For some reason, I do not like his Fourth. Perhaps the self-imposed nickname 'Romantic' puts me off, I think it's rather pretentious, especially since this Fourth is no more or less romantic than his other output. It raises high expectations which Bruckner does not quite fulfill.

The Fifth is a milestone in his output. Wonderful. It also has the best finale (Bruckner wasn't always in his element when it came to finales). The Sixth, well, it's not one of my favorites, but the Adagio is classic Bruckner.

I always compare the Seventh to Mahler's Ninth; a magnificent first movement (a symphony in itself), and with remaining movements on a lower level of inspiration.

The Eighth is probably the one I admire most, despite the fact that the Finale is far too long (and rather episodic), and the Scherzo can be very repetitive. The first movement has great urgency. The Adagio is, imho, Bruckner's most spiritual statement, like a long prayer. I always refer to climax in this movement as the Mount Everest of musical climaxes, though the Adagio from No. 7 is no weak tea either!

The Ninth is a far more consistently inspired work than his Mahlerian counterpart, which may shock some people! Thank the Lord it hasn't got a finale! I think of the last notes of the Adagio as the most consoling music ever written, before Mahler came to the scene with his DLVDE and, ultimately, his Tenth...

I admire Bruckner, but I don't feel the same 'click' I feel with Mahler. Perhaps the comparison is unfair to begin with. Also, I cannot sense a distinct evolution in Bruckner's composing style. Which is no crime at all, but it would have made things a little more interesting.  :D

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2019, 01:30:09 AM »
You're scaring me - reading your posts is just like reading my posts. I agree on pretty much every point you make. Anyway, Jochum said that Bruckner 4 really should have been subtitled 'the mysterious', as opposed to "The Romantic".  That makes sense to me.

Offline shawn

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2019, 03:22:25 AM »
 ;D I'll try not to scare you in future  ;D

'Mysterious'... very interesting. Great Brucknerian, Jochum, great in Berlin/Bavaria and just as great in Dresden (though, I have a soft spot for that orchestra).

I relish Van Beinum in Bruckner. Though in mono, this man knew what it meant to be a true Brucknerian. He knew exactly how to maintain forward momentum, without hurting the overall structure. His coda to the Eighth is unique, it's unbelievably exciting, and has never been done that way!
« Last Edit: July 11, 2019, 08:49:55 AM by shawn »

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2019, 12:13:33 PM »
So I've heard from others. I've never listened to the van Beninum B8 myself, so I'll seek it out. My favorite completed Bruckner symphony is the 7th. I agree that the first movement is best, but I enjoy the whole thing. I get a kick out of Bruckner's, "Ride of the Valkyries" scherzo movement. I also like Bruckner's 9th more than the Mahler 9th (both are great), but not any of the attempted finales attached. I also very much like the Te Deum, which Mahler performed several times and spoke highly of.

Offline shawn

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2019, 03:24:15 PM »
Hello Barry, it can be difficult to acquire Beinum's 8th, at least without the other recordings. Happily this recording is on Youtube (with, to my ears, no apparent loss in audio definition) (It's not my upload  :D)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvqjNT4NE4g

If you can find it on a CD, you probably won't regret it. Beinum is definitely on the fast side. The polar opposite of Celibidache (EMI, who takes 35 minutes longer). But it's fast with a policy. I don't think Bruckner has ever sounded this urgent, this dramatic, this powerful. The scherzo and finale benefit hugely by this approach, as if Beinum recognized the repetitive and episodic weaknesses of these movements.

I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Being not a connoisseur of Bruckner, is there an indication to which extent Mahler conducted or championed the Bruckner works?

Offline erikwilson7

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2019, 03:40:58 PM »
Shawn,

I know Mahler actually conducted the world premiere of Bruckner’s Sixth. As for much else I’m not sure. He did admire Bruckner as an instructor during his late teen years and early twenties at the Vienna Conservatory; Bruckner was a renowned theorist (and organist) there. There are mixed accounts on whether or not the two had much actual contact, but Mahler later, in a letter, refuted the claims that he and Bruckner were close in his conservatory years.

Erik

Offline Vehemence

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2019, 03:56:25 PM »
I don't think I could claim one favorite symphony, even among Mahlers. It can change depending on mood, time of year, time of day or perhaps how tired I am when I get to sit down and listen. My least favorite is the Mahler 2. Other than that, I go through phases with them. Outside of Mahler I really enjoy Zemlinsky, Nielsen, Sibelius, Stravinsky and Ravel. Bruckner is hard for me, though when I listen to Bruckner I really Gerd Schaller on the podium.

Three years ago I finished reading the De La Grange biography and really started to listen to opera. I felt that I might gain a little insight by spending some time with music that Mahler spent the majority of his life conducting.  While I may not have gained much insight, I have found new music that I can't stop spinning. Again, I don't have an overall favorite but I love Wagner, the opera's of Strauss (especially Die Frau Ohne Schatten, a total masterpiece) Der Zwerg by Zemlinksy, Korngolds operas, and the Janacek operas are my most listened too.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2019, 10:24:45 PM »
I second your taste in opera. "Die Frau ohne Schatten" is one of my very favorites and Wagner has really grown on me over the years. I like Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West" because it has very short arias and involves places I know first hand, here on the left coast. It also has incredible harmonies and orchestration. The Janacek operas are a big favorite of mine. In fact, Janacek might possibly be my second favorite composer (it would be a tie between him and Shostakovich). I love "The Makropolous Affair". I haven't really warmed to Zemlinsky all that much. For that type of composer, I like Szymanowksi and Josef Suk more.  I think "The Mermaid (Seejungfrau) is my favorite Zemlinsky work. Schulhoff is very interesting to me and I like his "Flammen".

Offline Vehemence

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2019, 07:04:00 AM »
I will have to check out some Suk, Szymanowksi and Schulhoff, I am unfamiliar with their works.

I immediately enjoyed Zemlinksy, especially the Lyric Symphony. It's strike the same chord with me as Das Lied. 

Janacek is so forgotten it seems. Really sad. His 2 quartets are really good, his orchestral work stand up the best. James Conlon has a great 2 disc set of Janacek orchestral works that is a great pick up. My daughter will also watch 'The Cunning Little Vixen' with me, too. It's either that or Hansel und Gretel.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2019, 02:20:08 PM »
Yes, "Cunning Little Vixen" is also a big favorite mine as well - same for, "From the House of the Dead". A real Janacek 'sleeper' for me is the "Danube" symphony. I also like his crazy "Capriccio" and quirky "Mladi". A great composer with a different solution than Mahler. I love his music in the film "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".

Offline Roland Flessner

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2019, 02:46:44 PM »
This topic could, should and probably will go on endlessly! For now I'll just add a couple comments:

I've adored Janacek's music for many years, and I've seen "Káťa Kabanová" twice at Lyric Opera. It brings me to tears.

I needed time to acclimate to Josef Suk's idiom. The "Asrael" symphony is terrific. Though "A Summer Tale" not usually considered a symphony, it's a highly effective work too. The "Blind Fiddlers" movement, featuring two English horns, is some of the most beautiful music in the literature. I save it for special occasions.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: Confessions about your all-round favorite symphony
« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2019, 06:38:42 PM »
I actually like "A Summer Tale" more than "Asrael". Both are good, aren't they? "Fantastike Scherzo" is probably my favorite work by Suk.