Macabre Masterworks

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The final New York Philharmonic broadcast in October, coinciding with Halloween, features recordings of macabre masterworks from the New York Philharmonic Archives, including H.J. Wood’s arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (recorded in 1936 and conducted by Arturo Toscanini); Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement of Musorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain (recorded in 2012 and led by Alan Gilbert); Gounod’s Ballet Music from Faust (recorded in 1967 and led by Leonard Bernstein); Berlioz’s "Pandemonium" from The Damnation of Faust, featuring tenor Paul Groves, bass Willard White, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir (recorded in 2005 and conducted by Charles Dutoit); and Liszt’s A Faust Symphony, featuring tenor Charles Bressler, and the Chorale Art Society (recorded in 1971 and led by Leonard Bernstein).

Program details:

Bach (arr. H.J. Wood): Toccata and Fugue in d-minor, BWV 565

Musorgsky (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov): Night on Bald Mountain

Gounod: Ballet Music from Faust and "Pandemonium" from The Damnation of Faust

Liszt: A Faust Symphony

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Comments [1]

Les from Miami, Florida

The Henry Wood arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in d minor differs from the Leopold Stokowski arrangement originally for the Philadelphia Orchestra, as a generalization, as the original "Boris Godunoff" differs from the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration. Phrases in the Wood arrangement for winds are in the strings in Stokowski and vice versa. There was much intensity and color in the Toscanini performance. Including this in a program of macabre pieces makes no sense, but the opportunity to hear Toscanini conduct J.S. Bach, a composer he not often programmed, is both a joy and a treat. The Ballet Music from "Faust" was woefully disappointing --- not at all because of the playing or conducting --- but rather because four of the dances were omitted: Number 2, Adagio, Slow Dance; Number 4, "Cleopatra's Variations", Number 5 "Dance of the Trojan Women" and Number 6, "Mirror Variations". The "Ride to the Abyss" excerpt from "The Damnation of Faust" --- which also included the short "Epilogue on Earth" was bland by comparison with performances by Munch, Monteux and Ozawa. The opening anapest rhythm in the first violins is so much more exciting if played with spiccato; and the chorus didn't sound terrified at their first "Ah!". The Liszt "A Faust Symphony" evinced the best from Bernstein. He adhered to the tempo markings, yet at the recapitulation of the Faust motto there was no accent in the strings. The idea to ask the strings to play ponticello at the beginning of the Mephistopheles movement --- also heard in the 1976 Boston Symphony performance --- is an inspired one. The pipe organ at Symphony Hall in Boston is heard to better advantage than the (electronic?) one employed in the New York Philharmonic recording in the final chorus for male solo and male chorus, an alternate to the instrumental ending.

Nov. 03 2013 02:42 PM

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