Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A week of loss, memory and legacy

William Bennett, 56, the San Francisco Symphony principal oboist who collapsed Saturday while playing the Strauss Oboe Concerto with the orchestra, has died. "Bill was a great artist, an original thinker, and a wonderful man," said music director Michael Tilson Thomas. "I am saddened to have lost such a true friend."

A week of loss, memory and legacy

Van Cliburn at Fairmount Park, 1968
Van Cliburn at Fairmount Park, 1968

William Bennett, 56, the San Francisco Symphony principal oboist who collapsed Saturday while playing the Strauss Oboe Concerto with the orchestra, has died. "Bill was a great artist, an original thinker, and a wonderful man," said music director Michael Tilson Thomas. "I am saddened to have lost such a true friend."

Van Cliburn is remembered by artistic administrator Evans Mirageas in a piece here that gives special emphasis to the pianist's connections to the Mann Center.

Speaking of the Mann, the Fairmount Park presenter continues its developing relationship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in a Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration announced for June 25. Featured, the Mann says, are Garcia's "masterworks."

Lloyd Schwartz, a lovely writer with some of the best ears in the business, interviews Vladimir Jurowski here. The conductor has been keeping company with a certain orchestra in Boston.

The Sunday Inquirer carries an appreciation of Wolfgang Sawallisch by yours truly. It was one of those pieces that, in the writing, became larger and larger as I began to recall everything he has meant to the Philadelphia Orchestra and, in particular, its future. Most striking was his underappreciated role as a wise visionary. Sawallisch was an anti-careerist who cared more deeply about the well-being of the Orchestra than anyone knew. The evil constraints of time and space prevented Sunday's piece from saying all that could be said about Sawallisch, but I hope to say more on him again soon.

Here is a Sawallisch discography that just skims the surface of his recorded legacy.

Schumann, The Four Symphonies, the Philadelphia Orchestra. Perhaps the most idealized account of the Sawallisch rapport with his orchestra, these are warm, lucid performances, though more controlled than his set with Dresden Staatskapelle.

Nature’s Realm, Liszt, Les Préludes and Dvorák Three Concert Overtures, with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Water Lily). Recorded in the Academy of Music, this recording sparked controversy among audiophiles for its use of retro analog technology.

Stokowski Transcriptions (EMI Classics). Sawallisch tips the hat to his predecessor with surprisingly passionate readings of Bach, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (first movement) and Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral. The orchestral arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor is terrifying and wonderful. It’s not possible that a more saturated string sound exists on disc anywhere than than here in Bach’s Wachet auf.

Bruckner Symphony No. 4. Recorded in Memorial Hall, this Bruckner recording from 1993 does not match the intensity of the (unrecorded) Bruckner Symphony No. 5 in 2004 Sawallisch turned in at age 80. Still, it reaches perfection on its own terms: immaculate ensemble, rich sound and absolute authority.

Strauss Ein Heldenleben and Oboe Concerto, with oboist Richard Woodhams (EMI Classics). Curiously, an elegant oboe concerto with concise, witty orchestrations and a tone poem of bombast make for a satisfying pair. The orchestra is in prime form for both works.

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist Stephen Kovacevich and the London Philharmonic, and Brahms Five Songs with mezzo Ann Murray (EMI Classics). Sawallisch finds the soft edges of Brahms, and Kovacevich emphasizes the struggle. It might sound like a clash, but somehow it works. The 1993 recording comes across as an interesting but slightly quarrelsome conversation.

Strauss Horn Concertos with Dennis Brain and the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI). A half century after his death, Brain remains, for many, the horn player. Sawallisch and the Philharmonia support his highly developed sense of nuance.

— Peter Dobrin

Orff Carmina Burana with Agnes Giebel, Paul Kuen, Marcel Cordes, West German Radio Choir and Cologne Radio Orchestra (EMI). Decades before Orff’s “scenic cantata” became a crossover touchstone, Sawallisch’s 1956 recording uncovers levels of theater in the music without slighting the orgiastic frenzy. If more conductors listened to this recording, Orff wouldn’t have such a trashy reputation.

Strauss Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman) with Kurt Böhme, Reri Grist, Martha Modl and the chorus and orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera (Orfeo). Sawallisch made numerous great opera recordings during his Munich period (such as his Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for EMI), and this 1971 performance reveals two key sides of his personality: the champion of underdog repertoire in this late-period, Nazi-suppressed opera buffa, and the electrifying live performer he could be. Here, he commands a cast of veteran German singing actors plus American coloratura Grist, who seem to be living their roles as much as performing them.

Mendelssohn Elijah Op. 70 with Lucia Popp, Alicia Nafé, Peter Seiffert, Bernd Weikl and others, NHK Symphiony Orchestra. This highly regarded but little-circulated live 1986 recording from Tokyo shows why Sawallisch was so idolized in Japan. Mendelssohn’s sometimes musty oratorio never sounded so fresh, and the superb vocal casting cherry-picks the best of the Bavarian State Opera.

— David Patrick Stearns

 

Peter Dobrin Inquirer Classical Music Critic
About this blog

Peter Dobrin is a classical music critic and culture writer for The Inquirer. Since 1989, he has written music reviews, features, news and commentary for the paper, covering such topics as the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Venice Biennale, expansion of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra's bankruptcy declaration in 2011, Philadelphia's evolving performing arts center and the general health of arts and culture.

Dobrin was a French horn player. He earned an undergraduate degree in performance from the University of Miami, and received a master's degree in music criticism from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Elliott Galkin. He has no time to practice today.

Reach Peter at pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Peter Dobrin Inquirer Classical Music Critic
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