Saturday, August 16, 2008

Returning to Mount Beethoven

The replacement for my defective Brilliant Classics collection of the complete works of Ludwig van Beethoven has finally arrived, after a long wait, apparently due to the failure of the United States Postal Service (USPS) to process properly the material that Collectors' Choice had provided under their exchange agreement. If I had to make an educated guess (where, in this case, "educated" would honor John Dewey's definition as "informed by experience"), it would be that the package to be returned never made it out of San Francisco. This is, after all, a postal system that managed to lose my property tax bill one year, which is why I now have an Outlook reminder to check the City Web site by a certain date if the bill has not yet shown up in the mail. I gather from my wife that the Postal Service is offering more and more "do it yourself" services (like weighing packages and then allowing you to purchase the required postage, all at a single "work station"); but it is still the case that human hands are required to get an object from here to there. Given that we are obliged to take that word "service" seriously, this is a case of "service pathology" that is far more serious than the situation at my favorite target, the San Francisco Public Library, or my more recent complaints about the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. Presumably the "quality of service" of the USPS falls under the jurisdiction of the Postal Regulatory Committee (PRC); but, if the PRC is paying as much attention to the USPS as they are to maintaining their Web site with timely and useful information, then anyone depending on the USPS for even part of the job of getting anything "from here to there" is likely to be in very deep yogurt! So much for ranting over an inordinately long wait!

Since the entire Beethoven collection had to be replaced due to a single defective disc (due to the decision of Brilliant Classics to avoid direct communication with a customer when this problem arises), I am now faced with the prospect of listening to all of the discs in the replacement package. Needless to say, I do not regard this as a hardship, particularly when this second attempt to ascend "Mount Beethoven" begins with recordings of the nine symphonies by the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under the baton of Kurt Masur. I have a history of listing to "live" Masur performances that probably covers about 25 years and actually began with his leading the San Francisco Symphony in a truly "ear-opening" performance of Beethoven's Opus 60 fourth symphony. These recordings have given me the opportunity to experience the ways in which he can tease subtleties out of all nine of these familiar works and are therefore as important to my learning to listen as are my two collections of these symphonies performed by Wilhelm Furtwängler (along with a variety of individual recordings). I have not always been entirely satisfied with Masur, as was the case a few years ago when he came to San Francisco to conduct Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem;" but my disappointments have been heavily outweighed by performances that have been as informative as they were exciting, such as his performance of the second cello concerto by Alfred Schnittke. Thus, I continue to be more than satisfied that Masur was chosen to "represent the Beethoven symphonies" in this particular collection and have no problems with making another pass through this particular cycle.

No comments: