Monday, October 3, 2016

RIP Sir Neville Marriner (1924-2016): 25 Great Recordings

The world of classical music has lost one of its giants. Sir Neville Marriner, who passed away this month at the age of 92 was certainly one of the most prolific recording artists of all time with more than 600 recordings to his credit. Well over 400 of those were made with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (ASMF) the ensemble he founded in 1959, and first recorded with in 1962 for the L’Oiseau-Lyre label. The ASMF (which never recorded in the London church for which it is named) would also subsequently make many notable albums for the Argo label beginning in 1963-64 and into the early 1980s, as well as for Philips from about 1970, with Marriner appearing as conductor, leader, or ensemble member. As the founding music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) in 1969, Marriner also forged a fruitful association with EMI in the mid to late 1970s.

In my 2014 review of Decca's 38-disc box set, Neville Marriner: The Argo Years, I indulged a bit of musical nostalgia: 

You could hardly get through an hour of FM classical programming in the ‘70s without hearing something from  Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The opening Sinfonia movement of the ensemble’s ravishingly beautiful 1968 Argo recording of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite was the theme music for the popular Matinée program on public radio, and every classical DJ from New York to San Francisco seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of air time waxing pompously authoritative (mostly quoting liner notes) about the Rossini string sonatas, the Boyce symphonies, the Telemann Don Quichotte Suite, or the Corelli Concerti Grossi Opus 6, or filling up the last five minutes of their shows with Henry Cowell’s lovely Hymn and Fuging Tune Nr. 10 or Paul Creston’s rollickingly sardonic masterpiece, A Rumor, both from the 1976 Argo album of twentieth-century American music.  Indeed, by the latter half of the decade Marriner and the Academy had become such a staple of classical radio that a cartoon appeared in Stereo Review magazine: a man sits in his living room listening to the radio with his pet parrot. The announcer begins “That was the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields . . .” to which the parrot squawks “Neville Marriner conducting!”

I didn't mention in that review that I'd gotten to see and hear Marriner conducting live once back in the early 1980s. It was his first stop on a tour with The Minnesota Orchestra, playing Sibelius and Haydn at the original Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City. Well over six feet tall in tails, Marriner cut an impressive figure on stage, sweeping over to the podium with a kind of brusque grace reminiscent of a cheetah or a tiger. My immediate impression was that of intense focus and precision, a tightly coiled kinetic energy waiting to be released.  Would that the music-making that night had been equal to my anticipation: in truth, all I can recall about Marriner's reading of the Sibelius Fifth (one of my very-favorite works of the standard repertory) is that it was unbelievably dull, offering little sense that the conductor understood or even cared about the spatial aspects of the music. Granted, Hancher was never one of the world's great concert spaces acoustically speaking; but the sort of dry, flat sound that drifted out towards the seats was disillusioning to say the least. On the other hand, Marriner's Haydn (one of the London symphonies) positively sparkled that evening. 

This got my young self to thinking about what makes the difference between an effective live performance and a successful recorded one. Where we might automatically assume that a live reading is more spontaneous and energetic than something done in the studio, this is not necessarily the case. The demands of the studio impose a set of limitations, within which, a thoughtful artist can thrive. And Marriner understood the recording process like few others before or since:  

(On record) one always got the impression of an unstinting perfectionist with acute attention to detail and unfailing musical instincts. Where the notorious fastidiousness of many of the older generation of “tyrant” conductors manifested itself all-too-often in heavy, stiff or stultified playing, Marriner’s interpretations are invariably vibrant, animated with a lyrical buoyancy and lightness of texture, transparent ensemble revealing rich inner detail, agility of articulation, subtlety of ornamentation, shimmering strings, colorful, beautifully blended winds, and overall, an infectious, dazzling sense of élan. These qualities are equally evident in Marriner’s performances of twentieth-century masterpieces by Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bartok as in his readings of Baroque works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, and Boyce, or Romantic music by Bizet and Wagner.  

Here, by way of tribute, are twenty-five of my favorite recordings by Neville Marriner.

LP: Argo ZRG 845 (1976)
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Ives: Symphony #3
Copland: Quiet City
Cowell: Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 10
Creston: A Rumor

LP: Argo ZRG 657 (1970)
Bartok: Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste
Divertimento for Strings

LP: Philips 6500 113 (1971)
Beethoven Symphony # 1 in C Major Op. 21
Symphony #2 in D Major Op. 36

LP: Argo ZRG 719 (1973)
Bizet: Symphony in C
Prokofiev: Symphony #1 in D Op. 25 'Classical'

LP: Philips 9500 566 (1979)
Bizet: Carmen Suites
L'Arlésienne Suites
London Symphony

LP: Argo ZRG 573 (1968)
Elgar: Music for Strings 
Serenade Op. 20; Introduction and Allegro etc.

LP: Philips  9500 424 (1987)
Elgar: 'Enigma' Variations Op. 36
Pomp and Circumstance Marches (3)
Concertgebouw Orchestra

Argo ZRDL 1003 (digital LP); 410-552-2 (CD) (1982)
Fauré Pelleas et Melisande Suite Op. 80; 
Pavane Op. 50; 
Masques et Bergamasques Suite Op. 112

LP: Philips 9500 519 (1978)
Haydn: Symphony #82 in C Major 'The Bear'
Symphony #83 in g minor 'The Hen'

LP: Philips 9500 425 (1978)
Holst: The Planets Op. 32
Concertgebouw Orchestra

LP: Argo ZRG 605 (1970)
Mendelssohn: Concerto in E for two pianos and orchestra
Concerto in a minor for piano and strings
Brenda Lucas/John Ogden/ASMF

LP: Philips 6500 325 (1972)
(also Philips 6707 020  (4 LP box set) (1972) Complete Wind Concertos)
Mozart: The Four Horn Concertos
Alan Civil

LP: Philips 6500 380 (1972)
(also Philips 6707 020  (4 LP box set) (1972) Complete Wind Concertos)
Mozart: Concerto for Flute and Harp in C major K 299
Claude Monteux (flute)/Osian Ellis (harp)

CD: Philips 432-087-2 (1991)
Mozart: Requiem K 626
Sylvia McNair/Carolyn Watkinson
Francisco Araiza/Robert Lloyd

LP: EMI (His Master's Voice) ASD 3188 (1976)
Resphigi: Ancient Airs and Dances (Suites 1-3)

LP: EMI (His Master's Voice) ASD 3327 (1978)
Resphigi: The Birds
Three Boticelli Pictures

LP: Philips 9500 563 (1979)
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Concierto Andaluz
Pepe Romero/ASMF

Hänssler Classics CD 983 53 (2000)
Sibelius: The Tempest Incidental Music Op. 109
Violin Concerto in d minor Op. 47
Dmitri Sitkovestsky/ASMF

Argo ZRG 604 (1969)
R. Strauss: Metamorphosen for twenty-three solo strings
Wagner: Siegfried-Idyll
Baermann: Adagio for Clarinet and Strings (formerly attributed to Wagner)

Argo ZRG 575 (1968)
Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite;
Apollon Musigate ballet

LP: EMI (Angel)
Stravinksy: Danses concertantes
Dumbarton Oaks Concerto; 
Concerto in D for strings

Argo ZRG 680 (1975)
Tippett: Music for String Orchestra

Argo ZRG 696 (1977)
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme of Tallis
The Lark Ascending
Fantasia on Greensleeves
Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

LP: Argo ZRG 654 (1970)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons Op. 8
Alan Loveday/ASMF

CD: Chandos CHAN 8841 (1991)
Walton: Richard III: Shakespeare Scenario (arr. C. Palmer)
MacBeth (suite from the film)
Major Barbara (suite from the film)
Sir John Gielgud (speaker)

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