Over the River and Through the Woods to a ‘Pastoral’ Thanksgiving

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On a day when many New Yorkers travel out of the city to celebrate Thanksgiving in a more pastoral setting, we are celebrating Beethoven’s tribute to country life: Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, “Pastoral.”

It was an incredibly tight race all morning between a classic version of this symphony with George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, and a performance on original instruments with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. After a last-minute surge, you chose the ORR and we played it at noon.


Comments [28]

Michael Meltzer

Ferenc' comment on Beethoven "pushing the envelope" is particularly astute and worth some exploration. It is one side of a coin, the other being the goals of the instrument makers of the past 200 years.
I can't speak for the wind, brass and string people, but I would imagine their thinking to match that of the piano industry, where I spent more than 20 years and learned some history from inside as well as outside sources. From the 1830's when extrusion wire was invented in England through the next 75 years, almost all the piano makers had two benchmarks constantly in mind: the orchestral colors and structuring of the registers demanded by the writing of Beethoven, and the singing tone demanded by the writing of Chopin. Pianos were not built to an abstraction, but for customers who played Beethoven and Chopin. Every improvement and innovation had Beethoven and Chopin as test flights. If it crashed, it was abandoned. The exception was the French industry, eschewing the orchestral concept and by World War I, no longer competitive with the American, German, Austrian and British industries.
It is therefore no accident that Beethoven and Chopin sound wonderful on the modern piano, they have been contributors to its design. It is reasonable to expect that the makers of other instruments were also as mindful of the treasured repertoire of the past as they were of the potential for technical improvements.
The modern orchestra is not intended to be a distortion of the composer's intent. To the early instrument people those whose purism is a pendulum swing away from the self-indulgent super-romanticism of the Bernsteins and von Karajans, don't blame the instruments. The fault is on the podium.

Nov. 23 2011 01:35 PM
PeterPeter from clev

So never mind. Gardiner's perf is neither particularly period nor particularly marvelous. Are these made-up period instruments or period-period?

Go figure, P.

Nov. 23 2011 12:21 PM
William Leo Coakley from West Side, Manhattan

Yes, Gardiner today, Szell tomorrow. Each would bring his own genius to guide us through the country delights..

Nov. 23 2011 11:57 AM
NORMAN from Rockville Centre

The ORR under John Eliot Gardiner. If you heard them last week at Carnegie you can't miss with this symphony, which he didn't conduct in either of his two programs.Their period instrument sound is wonderful.

Nov. 23 2011 11:56 AM

I went with the period piece instruments....just for a change!

Nov. 23 2011 11:52 AM

My vote goes for the Gardner with period instruments!

Nov. 23 2011 11:52 AM
Norman Dee from Manhasset, NY

Gardner is a fine musician but Szell is phenomenal. Ultimately, is it the instruments' authenticity or the authenticity of spirit of Beethoven? Szell wins for me.

Nov. 23 2011 11:51 AM
Lilly Knuth from Garden City So

Szell has always been a favorite of mine. Loved Jeff Spurgeon remarks his morning. His sense of humor is wonderful.

Nov. 23 2011 11:47 AM

I agree with those who wish to hear more period pieces played on period instruments... I would like to add that it would be wonderful to hear period singers as well... i.e. COUNTERTENORS! They don't get enough 'general' airplay on WQXR.
I do want to thank you for pointing out the teacher/student link with Salieri and Beethoven. You always seem to do good old Salieri justice - come to think of it... his 'ghost' will be appearing as Scrooge in the Green Room, won't he? FMA all the way!

Nov. 23 2011 11:46 AM
Michael Meltzer

There is a simple solution. Since on Thanksgiving Day, WQXR is playing all-Beethoven, simply play the #1 choice today and the #2 choice tomorrow.
Neither choice deserves to "lose" and that way there are no losers.

Nov. 23 2011 11:37 AM
Ferenc from Queens

Beethoven was always pushing the piano and the orchestra, as well as vocalists beyond the limitations of their design and capabilities of the Classical era. Beethoven would want to hear Szell, and I would give him my ears to do so!

I also appreciate Mr. Melzer's comment regarding the incomparable brass section of the Cleveland Symphony.

Nov. 23 2011 11:36 AM
Flute Lady from Manhattan

I'd like to hear the period-instrument version, just to see whether my ear can detect much of a difference.

Nov. 23 2011 11:19 AM
PeterPeter from Cleveland

Gimme Szell. I'm from Cleveland, but I digress.

Period instruments often make me feel a little hollow, especially early romantic. Beethoven was thinking ahead.

Plus: Szell.
Either way, thanx, P.

Nov. 23 2011 11:15 AM
Alan Shuback

Go Gardiner! It's high time WQXR and the New York classical music scene at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall threw off its hoary old warhorse coat and embraced the scholarship of the last 50 years that has brought new life to all pre-1830 music. The warhorses want everyone to think that all such music was composed in the late 19th Century. If I hear one more piece by Bach played on piano, I will switch my allegiance to hip-hop. At least rap is authentic. By the way, WQXR, is it beyond you to play a Bach keyboard piece as it was composed by the master, i.e., on harpsichord? Or are you too tied in to Gouldish warhorsery?

Nov. 23 2011 11:12 AM
Kevin Avery

I'm curious to hear how the 'Pastoral' symphony might have sounded to its original audience. So with all due reverence to the mastery of Maestro Szell, today I prefer the orchestra of Maestro Gardiner.

Nov. 23 2011 11:09 AM
Jack Zamboni from Somerset, NJ

Like several others, I heard the ORR performacne last week and was blown away. Would like hear them again on the Sixth. My bet is the storm section wil be genuinley stormy.

Nov. 23 2011 11:06 AM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

After hearing the wonderful performance by the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique that was broadcast live from Carnegie Hall last week, I look forward to hearing them perform the Pastoral Symphony at noon today!

Nov. 23 2011 10:48 AM
Kenji Fujishima

If the Karl Böhm/Vienna Philharmonic performance had been chosen as the modern-instrument option, it would be no contest for me! But it's not...so eh.

Nov. 23 2011 10:34 AM
harrietb98 from Bayside, NY

I voted for the Cleveland Orchestra, mainly because I prefer the sound of a modern orchestra, to period instruments.

Nov. 23 2011 10:26 AM
Theresa from NYC

Nothing against Szell, but if they're going head-to-head, I'd go for JEG/ORR. Clean, crisp, dynamic. I was going to say, "as Beethoven heard it" but maybe that's not the right phrase... was he hard of hearing at that point?

Nov. 23 2011 10:26 AM

I voted for Szell, but will be delighted to hear either. Thank you for Beethoven month--and for all the years and years of the greatest music ever written.

Nov. 23 2011 10:23 AM

I heard Gardiner & ORR live from Carnegie Hall last week & they were wonderful! I would like to hear "The Pastoral Symphony" by them now! Rock on Beethoven!!! :-)

Nov. 23 2011 10:23 AM
J Cynthia Weber from Manhattan

JEG and period instruments! I've never heard it that way - and I want to.

Nov. 23 2011 10:01 AM
Grumpy from New York

Thank you, Michael Meltzer, for the perspective. Szell gets my vote today. Beethoven gets my vote always.

Nov. 23 2011 09:55 AM
Julia de Bary

Beethoven's Pastoral is unique..to me does not matter which of the orchestras will performed it...only want to listen one more time.
Thanl you:)

Nov. 23 2011 09:40 AM
Michael Meltzer

Do bear in mind, that the Cleveland Orchestra under Szell, at least in the 1960's when I was in music school, had in its time the most famous brass section of any orchestra in the world.

Nov. 23 2011 08:57 AM
Shelly Spritzer

Can't wait till the all Beethoven Day tomorrow. Ludwigs music is truly somethng to give thanks for. After hearing the 9th I have to shut off the music for a time. There is nothing that can possibly follow it

Nov. 23 2011 08:44 AM
Michael Meltzer

Do I want to hear this played by modern or period instruments?
Yes !

Nov. 23 2011 12:57 AM

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