Tully Potter about the musician ADOLF BUSCH


The Forgotten Great Conductors

by Tully Potter

What ever happened to Monteux, Reiner, Munch, Szell and Ormandy? asks Tully Potter

Fritz Reiner Conducts Strauss

Fritz Reiner Conducts Strauss

They dominated the record catalogues of the 1950s and 1960s. Orchestras trembled at their every irate, intemperate word and record company executives scuttled to do their bidding. When the CD arrived, their recordings were again released in swathes. And then, like the dinosaurs, they suddenly disappeared. The once-mighty maestros Pierre Monteux, Fritz Reiner, Charles Munch, George Szell and Eugene Ormandy seem to mean little to today’s record collectors, who have their own contemporary heroes and, if they turn to conductors of the past, pay more heed to Bernstein, Solti, Tennstedt or Karajan. Toscanini will always, like his compatriot Caruso, stand for the ultimate in quality. Beecham, Stokowski and Furtwängler have their cults, Talich and Mravinsky their niches, Walter and Klemperer their Mahler connections. But what has happened to the reputations of the five men who once bestrode the podiums of some of the best orchestras in the world? Are they a generation of extinct volcanoes?

Pierre Monteux (1875–1964) was a persuader rather than a tyrant, his attitude typified by his admonition of a London percussionist: ‘Monsieur, be modest with your timpani.’ He also had a sense of humour: asked why his hair remained jet black, while his moustache was white, he explained that the moustache had acquired so much more experience. It was Monteux’s misfortune to be the man trying to beat time during the near-riot at the premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913. For the rest of his life, like the sportsman he was, he gamely conducted or recorded that and other Stravinsky scores; but for my taste, he was no Stravinskian. Not that he lacked fire or even a touch of barbarism – his 1931 Symphonie fantastique with the Paris Symphony Orchestra, which he founded, is still unsurpassed – but French music was ingrained in him, in a way Russian music was not.

Continue to source article at: » 12th June, 2012




Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)

by Tully Potter

A personal assessment of DF-D's recordings

The death of the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (on 18 May 2012), only days before his 87th-birthday, has understandably sent shockwaves across the musical world. The first reaction of music-lovers and radio presenters will be to reach for some of his recordings – but which ones? He made more records than any singer before him; and it is a fair bet that no one will match his achievement in the future. As most people will be bewildered by the choice on offer, which will only be increased by the inevitable memorial releases, and as a younger generation has already arisen that did not hear him in his prime, one listener’s perspective on what I call the Dieskaugraphy may be useful.

The facts of his life are relatively simple; and as with most musicians the early years are the most interesting. He was born in Berlin on 28 May 1925 and his headmaster father did not add his mother’s name Dieskau to the family name of Fischer until 1934. It was a cultured, music-loving home – elder brother Klaus became a distinguished choral conductor – and Dietrich was brought up to appreciate German poetry. One thing he did not welcome was being forced to join the Hitler Youth. At 16 he began voice-training with Georg Walter. His first performance of Schubert’s Winterreise, given at school in 1943, was interrupted by an Allied air raid. Conscription into the army led to two years as a prisoner of war, hence his superb command of English in later times.

After his release, Fischer-Dieskau continued his study of voice and Lieder with Hermann Weissenborn, who also acted as his accompanist. His solo debut was made in Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem in Freiburg in 1947 and his stage debut came the following year at the Städtische Oper in Berlin, as Posa in Don Carlos. From 1949 he was appearing in Munich and Vienna. In 1951, during the Festival of Britain, he made his British first-appearance in Delius’s A Mass of Life with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting. His impact on British audiences was immediate – I remember talking to a member of the choir that took part in Fischer-Dieskau’s first performance in London, once again Brahms’s Requiem: “The moment he sang his first note, every eye turned to him.”

Fischer-Dieskau was a most distinguished opera singer, who sang in the premieres of such works as Frank Martin’s The Tempest (1956) and Hans Werner Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) although, with his height and basic nobility of posture, he felt unable to sing certain roles in productions, notably Papageno in Die Zauberflöte – fortunately he recorded it. He also had the typical singer’s round face, which made him difficult to disguise, although he had great success as King Lear in Aribert Reimann’s opera, at Munich in 1978. Among his best roles were the Count in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and the title role in Don Giovanni. He was a Bayreuth regular in the lyrical Wagner baritone roles in the mid-1950s. His Covent Garden debut came late, in 1965, as Mandryka in Strauss’s Arabella, another of his best assumptions.

Continue to source article at: »




Perfect Pirates on Peak form in Gilbert and Sullivan festival

by Tully Potter

Splendid: Simon Butteriss as the major-General in Pirates

Splendid: Simon Butteriss as the major-General in Pirates

How does a fiendish crew of Cornish pirates land up in Derbyshire? For three weeks every summer, Buxton, the charming town on the edge of the Peak District, is the centre of the universe for Gilbert and Sullivan fans.

This year’s 18th International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival includes virtually all the Savoy Operas, plus a few extras.

The event was the idea of Yorkshireman Ian Smith and his son, also Ian. The pair, from Halifax, were worried that, despite growing popularity abroad, the works of Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan were falling out of favour at home.

They picked Buxton because of its beautiful opera house, and because it’s right smack in the middle of England. When it started, there were just ten productions. This year, there are 50.

The two shows I’ve seen this summer are both outstanding — and very funny. The Pirates Of Penzance, which has a further performance on August 20 and is given by the resident company, boasts a splendidly doddery Major-General in Simon Butteriss and a swashbuckling Pirate King in James Cleverton.

Continue to source article at: » 12th August, 2011




Mstislav Rostropovich shares his memories with Tully Potter

by Tully Potter

Mstislav Rostropovich shares his memories with Tully Potter (Gramophone, April 2007)

Mstislav Rostropovich (photo: Sasha Gusov/EMI Classics)

The apartment block where Mstislav Rostropovich has his Paris pied-à-terre projects an air of slightly faded grandeur, like most of the buildings in Avenue Georges Mandel. But inside, Rostropovich himself is still magnificent, filling his pinstripe suit less opulently than of yore – he is 80 this month, after all – but with his bubbling energy uncapped and the distinctively chiselled face as mobile as ever. The beautiful hands with their long fingers remain infinitely expressive. Recalling how effortlessly he accompanied his wife Galina Vishnevskaya in Rachmaninov songs – recently reissued by DG – I ask him the width of his hand-spread on the piano. ‘I won a competition with Richter,’ he says proudly, leaping over to the Bösendorfer grand and demonstrating a left-hand chord. ‘You know how big Richter’s hands were, but Richter could only play it on the black notes – I can play it on the white notes.’ The walls of the living room where we talk are covered with impressive oil portraits, including an unfinished one by Serov of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. ‘All Russians,’ says the Maestro with an expansive gesture, indicating that he is in a home from home. As I  produce my notebook, explaining that I am an old-fashioned journalist, he counters with: ‘And I am an old-fashioned musician.’

We begin at the beginning, or even before it, as the reams written on Rostropovich pay full regard to his cellist father Leopold but barely mention his mother Sofia. It is a jarring shock to discover that the glorious career of six decades (so far), the more than 240 world premieres (by his own count), the sumptuous performances without number, might never have happened. ‘My mother was very beautiful, from Orenburg, an ancient Russian town – Pushkin lived there for a time. It was a very simple family. They adored music and the father conducted the choir in a church. They had four daughters, Vera, Nadezhda, Sofia and Nina, and a son who died. Three of the daughters went to the Moscow Conservatoire and graduated as pianists. When musicians came to Orenburg, they knew that there were these three sisters who played the piano. The famous cellist Semyon Kozolupov, who was born in Orenburg, went there to start a concert tour. He took Nadezhda as an accompanist, travelling all over Russia, and she became his wife and gave him three daughters, all musicians – one was the violinist Maria Kozolupova. My father came to Orenburg and he took the next daughter, Sofia, as an accompanist. My father made a programme with Sofia and invited her on tour and she became his wife. In 1925 they were teaching at Seratov, another town on the Volga, and my sister Veronika was born. In 1926 they changed to Baku and my mother understood too late that she was pregnant – she cried all over the house. My parents decided she would have to be aborted because she already had a little child. It was a joint decision. So my mother started to fight against me but as you see, I won this war.’

Continue to source article at: » April, 2007




Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt & Sophia Rahman at Wigmore Hall

by Tully Potter

Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt

As winner of the 2010 Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition on the Isle of Man, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt was entitled to a Wigmore Hall recital – and full marks to her for playing a largely unhackneyed programme. (Those of us who love the viola groan inwardly when we see yet another selection of the same handful of works advertised. No wonder the quite unjustified assumption is sometimes made that the instrument has no repertoire.) Pajaro-van de Stadt featured just one Certified Viola Classic, Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Fairy Tales), which she delivered with warm, even tone, supple rhythm, easeful bowing and considerable feeling, enhanced by finely judged portamento. The final movement, with Sophia Rahman providing a firm but sensitively romantic backdrop, was as moving as it should be. Roger Steptoe’s Sonatine I for solo viola was the set-piece for the competition and Pajaro-van de Stadt is credited with giving the premiere. An excellent piece which uses the whole compass of the instrument, it has already achieved an independent life, with performances in France, the US and elsewhere. This performance, billed as the UK premiere (presumably the IOM counts as foreign), was superb and clearly delighted the composer. I was not sure about the wisdom of following it directly with the other unaccompanied work of the evening, Penderecki’s Cadenza, but Pajaro-van de Stadt played it so well that any criticism was silenced.

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Responding to The Rite of Spring

by Tully Potter

Stravinsky's ballet provoked strongly divided opinions in Gramophone when it first appeared on record

Igor Stravinsky (Tully Potter collection)

Igor Stravinsky (Tully Potter collection)

March 1930 (AM Gordon-Brown)

The year 1913 saw the production, and consequent riot in the Paris Opera House, of Le Sacre du Printemps. Controversy still rages over the musical value of this stupendous work; its elemental brutality and primitive savagery have caused great offence to many people, but whether or not one admires the mentality of the perpetrator of such musical barbarianism one cannot deny its perfection of realistic expression and complete originality of exposition. Eminent critics belong to both parties in the controversy which rages round all post-Petrushka Stravinsky, so that I can only recommend those who are sufficiently interested in his subsequent musical development to avail themselves of the set of Sacre records issued by French HMV and to judge for themselves. The playing, under that very capable conductor of modern music, Pierre Monteux, is extremely fine, the recording is absolutely first-rate, and the whole thing is amazingly thrilling even if, in parts, rather horrible.

April 1931 (review, by WR Anderson)

Stravinsky The Rite of Spring

Orchestra Symphonique de Paris / Stravinsky (Columbia Records)

After waiting 18 years for The Rite (its inception and partial execution date back even further) we have in one month two recordings of it, the second of which has the advantage of the conductor's direction. Very frankly, the annotator says that 'such elemental force can arouse enthusiasm or kindle an equal aversion which may amount to some thmg like hatred.' It is most true that you cannot ignore the work. But has it left any successor of real power? Many imitators there have been, but I cannot think of a true successor, either from Stravinsky's hand or any other. This is worth pondering. One of my valued correspondents, in telling me that he has played the Capriccio (reviewed last month) seventeen times, and that he ranks it as the best thing the composer has done, says: "I don't really feel the Sacre to be music at all, as I understand it.' Is this feeling shared? He adds that he does not feel the Stravinsky of the earlier ballets and of The Rite 'as being really modern in spirit at all' – whereas the Capriccio seems to him very representative of the post-war spirit, 'a sort of cynical restlessness.' The phrase seems to me to hit off a truth: but what a poor world to live in, if that is what we are after!

I take it that Stravinsky has ground out of this reading of the Sacre all the 'poetry rubbidge'. The French orchestra is not so fine as the American, but it has a fragility of touch in places, and a relentlessness, that will probably commend the performance highly to devotees of the work. I should like to see a vote taken on, say, 'Dance of the Adolescents'. It seems to me extremely dull and un-moving patterning. Some words of Edith Sitwell, about the work as a whole, may, however, be suggestive: 'Life is energy, and the very fact of that life will eventually push us over the abyss into the waiting and intolerable darkness. In The Rite of Spring he gives us the beginning of energy, the enormous and terrible shaping of the visible and invisible world through movement.' We have moved a long way from old Haydn's chaos in The Creation (itself remarkably advanced for its day). Is the move for the better: and must art get nearer to the painful in order to express the primitive?

Continue to source article at: » 26th February, 2013



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The Tully Potter Book

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Adolf Busch

The Life of an Honest Musician

by Tully Potter

In two volumes. Includes two CDs: Busch the Performer; Busch the Composer

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