Saturday, July 19, 2014


OK, who recorded over 300 albums?

Not so fast, Elvis the King. Or Michael King of Pop. Joining them in musical heaven, is one of the Kings of the Classics...Lorin Maazel. As Maestro for many symphony orchestras over his long career, he recorded a truly amazing amount of music.

Below is just a fraction...the very accessible SLAVONIC DANCE #8 which is "Presto" (meaning fast...or good music for a magic trick).

The two-album "Slavonic Dances" set was one of the first classical records I bought. I mention this not out of nostalgia, but to suggest that if a 12 year-old could enjoy might, too. Arista say they love it but the kids can't twerk to it. Back then, I bought a cheap version in mono on Urania, but when I could afford to upgrade, I chose Lorin Maazel's Emi Digital, even if it was with the less than Slavic Berlin Philharmonic. They say, Emma, that for one reason or another, Berlin has become the most dangerous city in Europe. But I digress. As usual.

Maazel was having some health problems in 2013 but figured he might get better. On his website, he mentioned that he was turning down the kind offers from symphonies around the world, and would make his comeback in the summer of 2014 via his own annual Castleton summer festival held near his home in Virginia. Yes, of all the places this man performed in around the world...he chose to call Virginny his home. Unfortunately he died there of pneumonia, his website calendar still showing his return schedule. He died the day he was supposed to make his return:

The details of Maazel's life and times (Mar 06, 1930-Jul 13, 2014) can be easily found elsewhere, so I'll nutshell it by stating his last name is pronounced Mah-Zell (accent on the Zell), that he was Jewish, born in France but raised in America. He helmed the New York Philharmonic (taking over for Kurt Mazur), and was also at various stages of his career, on the podium for the Cleveland Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera among others...and actually wrote an opera, "1984," based on the Orwell nightmare of a life ruled by a Big Brother called Google.

A pretty incredible man, Maazel could speak the languages of most of the great classical masters...Italian, German and French...and had a photographic memory. He could conduct an orchestra without having the score in front of him. This guy knew the score. The New York Times once wrote: "Maazel, when he’s ‘on,’ has led some of the finest, most impassioned, most insightful performances in memory. When he’s good, he’s so good that he simply has to be counted among the great conductors of the day..." The unfortunate thing is that he was a great conductor at a time when it increasingly didn't matter.

Through the 80's and 90's, there was a downturn in sales of classical music, and less support for live concerts. At the turn of the 21st Century, we've seen many symphony orchestras struggle (as well as opera houses and ballet groups) because this type of entertainment is just not popular anymore.

At one time, most any reasonably sophisticated fan of good music (including me) could easily name the great conductors and their orchestras. Even the not-so-great conductors. Name the city and I could tell you who conducted the orchestra. And every city seemed to have a great orchestra. Bernstein, Ormandy, Szell, Steinberg, Leinsdorf, Bohm, Reiner...during the golden era of classical recordings (when RCA had "Living Stereo") all the greats were working and competing with each other. They created definitive recordings that could rarely be matched by the mono work of a Furtwangler or even Toscanini. It's truly astonishing that by the time Maazel was recording, there was any market at all for him and his contemporaries, but people who did come to the concert hall wanted a souvenir of the man they saw on the podium, and perhaps also had the fetish for seeing DDD on a CD and knowing it was a completely digital recording.

I don't pretend that a vast proportion of my music-listening time is devoted to classical over rock, but even people who aren't students of "good music" can find a lot of "easy listening" in that noble genre. After all, there's not that much difference between classical and some of the beloved music heard on film soundtracks. Certainly everyone from Alfred Newman to John Williams was influenced by, and had a solid knowledge of the classics. So from time to time, some real classical music does the soul some good. Maazel's catalogue has a lot of greatness waiting for you. Here's a taste of it, with his version of Dvorak...

Maazel Slavonic Dance #8 PRESTO!

No comments: