Friday, June 7, 2013

Revisiting Old Friends

The second volume in the Mercury Living Presence: The Collector's Edition just came out at the beginning of this week. When I saw the announcement of the first volume, I decided to give it a pass as a candidate for my writing. There were several items in that first collection that struck me as having been produced for those addicted to "high fidelity" at the time; and my plate was sufficiently full at the time for me to go after adding things to it. However, the contents of the second volume triggered all sorts of memories of my old vinyl collection; so I decided to go for it.

I have to say that I am glad to discover that the second volume is better organized than the first. More attention seems to have gone into grouping the recordings by conductor, which is probably how I shall end up writing my articles (one for each conductor). I suspect I would have made the same decision with the first volume, doing my own sorting; but at least I was saved the trouble this time. I also realize that I am enjoying thinking back on Antal Dorati. Back when these releases first came out, it was too easy to dismiss him, particularly when you had conductors like Leonard Bernstein and Erich Leinsdorf dominating the middlebrow market from the Columbia and RCA labels. Dorati could be written off for being off in remote Minneapolis or, even when conducting in London, spending too much time on ballet recordings.

The only time I saw him was on Ormandy's "turf." He was visiting the Philadelphia Orchestra to conduct the Mahler sixth. He began with a Haydn symphony, which he conducted from behind a harpsichord. A lot of the "local wise men" made fun of him. These days we expect Haydn to be conducted that way. As far as ballet is concerned, he paid attention scores that others neglected, such as the complete score for Béla Bartók's "The Miraculous Mandarin" (which is one of the items that attracted me to the second volume).

Dorati's problem had nothing to do with his talent. He was simply a victim of "Big Five" brainwashing brought on by Time magazine. It was easier to accept a summary judgment than to engage the mind in some serious listening and decide whether or not a conductor was worthy of attention. If, as I previously suggested, age brings the penalty of having only a limited time left in which to allocate one's attention, it also bring the luxury of recognizing that you can think for yourself more often than choosing to fall back on the judgement of others!

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