Great Conductors – Bill Newman’s Introduction and Coda

0 of 5 stars

Bill Newman directs some thoughts to the compilers of the “Great Conductors” series

Reviewed by: Bill Newman

Reviewed: August 2002
CD No: N/A

Allowing for a number of choices that might be tentatively offered from today’s hyped brigade of podium idols, a committee has now decided to get together and make their representative selection from the great conductors who commanded the music scene during the golden years of the last century.

Quite who chose the repertoire is anybody’s guess. The persons who wrote the liner notes obviously made their own recommendations; also those listed under the title “Acknowledgements” with its sub-heading “Special Thanks” – who together, or separately, form a solid core of opinion in such undertakings. I wonder whether they allowed themselves time to understand the commercial appeal when dividing consumer response between the collector – who has much of this material on CD already and has to decide whether to cut his losses to hear something freshly minted for the first time – and the general record-buying public, mostly green round the ears, but receptive to a genuine ’hard sell’.

Why does one experience the variable attention-grabbing programme planning of some compared to others? How many of those involved made ultimate claims and decisions for their suggestions? Or was it a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth instead of digging deep to resurrect every known unissued, and in certain instances ’Not passed by the Artist’, recording into a viable first release situation.

Could the selection have been bettered on some, to bring them in line with the rest? Were any so-called Great Conductors left out of the running, bearing in mind this was an important first release with no knowledge or information forthcoming of a second and third series. I forced myself to stay calm and not get riled about the phone not ringing. After all I didn’t sit next to shelves of white-label test-pressings (those that are sent out to reviewers) for nothing during my EMI days from 1955-1970. In those glorious years, recordings were pressed at the Hayes factory to be sent on to home and overseas affiliates, including EMI-France, Germany, Italy, and so on. I heard every one, and occasionally recited matrix numbers in my sleep!

John Pattrick is co-Executive Producer with Stephen Wright, both on the top rung of IMG Artists and responsible for this series. BBC Legends is their other high-line success story, as everyone who buys and collects CDs already knows. John, though, knows me as a rebel – we sometime shared the same general office at EMI, Manchester Square – but our respect for each other is still there. His intended overall view of artists’ repertoire – much in evidence here – would be handled differently by myself. Record compilation is a very astute exercise. You never please everyone, and ultimately follow your own dictates.

For the future, and this remains true with the second batch, I am disturbed that one of the greatest conductors from the last century has been omitted. Issay Dobrowen made distinguished EMI recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra: Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade (still the finest recorded version), and suites from Le coq d’Or and Tsar Saltan and the Russian Easter Festival Overture (2XEA200 – unissued). Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings (78rpm); Borodin, Prince Igor Overture … and with the Danish State Radio Orchestra: Tchaikovsky, Francesca da Rimini; Glinka, Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture.

John should investigate whether source material still exists for the opening of the BBC Symphony Orchestra series at the Royal Albert Hall in 1950 when Dobrowen conducted Beethoven’s Leonore III Overture and ’Emperor’ Concerto with Arrau, and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Mary Jarred and Frans Vroons. There are also Maida Vale concerts including superb performances of Borodin’s Symphony No.2 and Sibelius’s Tapiola.

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