On more than a couple of occasions this last month I have been jolted into memories of the
past: specifically about concerts I both wanted to be at or was actually at that you can relive
through the medium of live recordings.
On a recent BBC Radio 3 Building a Library programme, Verdi’s Requiem was the subject
and – as is usually the case – I found myself making more than a mental audit of my own
recordings of the work – from Toscanini to Abbado and all initial letters in between. On
checking online I was somewhat bewildered to find a DVD available of a performance
conducted by Claudio Abbado at the opening of the Edinburgh International Festival 1982. I
remembered the performance – with LSO forces, Margaret Price, Jessye Norman, Jose
Carreras and Ruggero Raimondi – quite distinctly as I was standing outside the Usher Hall
unable to get a return! Perhaps I knew at the time that the BBC was broadcasting it on
television, but if so I had clearly forgotten, so I had an extraordinary rush of excitement as I
ordered a second-hand copy and, a few days later, I sat down to watch it immediately it
arrived. I felt a curious sense of completion that I could now watch (again and again, should
I so desire) a performance I originally thought had been denied me forever.
Similar thoughts of increasing excitement are building within me because of the news that
this month the London Philharmonic Orchestra is releasing a nine-CD box set of live Mahler
recordings by Klaus Tennstedt. Now – of course, as a Tennstedt fan – I’ve been collecting
their separate releases over the years of Tennstedt conducting Mahler, so I shouldn’t need the
box set, as it duplicates recordings I already own. But – and there’s always a but – this new
set includes a previously unreleased recording of the very performance of Mahler’s
Resurrection Symphony on 12 May 1981 that, in one-fell swoop, converted me to Mahler.
How could I not want to own that and relive the resurrection? And if it means duplicating
seven CDs what the hell (after all – it’s worth it – to be re-resurrected!). I think that means
I’m an addict – but I’m not sure a surfeit of music ever killed anyone.
This week in London the Leipzig Gewandhaus is resident orchestra at the Barbican Hall. At
the first concert Riccardo Chailly (in his last appearances with his Leipzigers in London
before leaving at the end of the season) conducted Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, which took me
back to 27 April 1985, over at the Royal Festival Hall, when I heard the work for the first
time live. My guides to the work were none-other-than Herbert von Karajan and his Berliner
Philharmoniker. And it’s a performance that I can also relive again and again, thanks to
Testament, who released the whole concert (the first half was Beethoven’s Fourth
Symphony) on one CD.
But just in case you get the impression that I’m only living in the past – I just want to state
that CDs/DVDs are merely second best. Live performance is best, as hopefully my weekly
article will prove…
Nick Breckenfield has worked in and around the classical music industry over the last 25 years - at venues, agencies and as
a programme note writer and marketeer. He was Classical Music
editor for Whatsonwhen for 13 years,
and current clients include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.