People frequently ask me, “What’s your favourite piece of music?” Truth is, I don’t have one. I have a bunch and depending on what I feel like listening to, one of them will be my fave at that moment. So, in no particular order, here’s my top 10, sometimes including my preferred rendition.
Brahms Symphony 1 & 2. Berlin Philharmonic, von Karajan conducting. I know some people feel the Berlin Phil doesn’t have the same technical precision as some North American orchestras, and von Karajan doesn’t always do exactly what’s in the score, but the combination with Brahms is really delicious.
Beethoven Symphony 9. No particular preference in performers. Just a fantastic piece of music.
Scheherezade. Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner conducting, Sydney Harth, concertmaster. This particular performance is absolutely riveting. The excellence of the orchestra is incredible, and Sydney Harth was one of the greatest concertmasters ever. I had the opportunity to be in a number of his master classes at the Banff Centre and heard him perform there on a number of occasions. He was a real master, in the top tier of world violinists. (And his down-bow staccato could rival almost anybody’s up-bow!).
Till Eulenspiegel (R. Strauss). Chicago Symphony, George Solti. You have to learn the story behind the music to really appreciate the piece. Whenever I’m feeling gloomy, this is my short-cut to feeling pumped. And whenever it comes to stuff involving a big horn solo, I always turn to Dale Clevenger, the principal horn of the CSO for decades. IMHO, the greatest horn player ever. Couple big horn solos in this piece, and you can actually see and hear a video clip of both of them on youtube (with the great Richard Oldberg playing 3rd).
Schubert E flat mass (#6). First time I heard this I was in my thirties. Don’t know why I hadn’t heard it before. I was absolutely stunned at the power and beauty of this work, which is most the most un-Schubertian music I’ve heard. Some suggest he was thinking of this as being something of his “Requiem”. Atlanta Symphony & Chorus, Robert Shaw.
Dvorak Requiem. Words fail me when I try to describe the impact of this piece. I won’t even try. Many excellent recordings out there.
Rheinberger E flat mass. I’ve conducted this a number of times, and I still get very choked up at a few of the absolutely sublime moments. I’ve heard a few really good recordings.
Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven concertos. I’ve always liked best the early Isaac Stern recordings of the Tchaik and the Brahms and nobody beats David Oistrakh when it comes to the Beethoven.
Lalo Symphony Espanol – It’s just a lively, very happy piece of music. Zukerman does an outstanding interpretation of it.
Hard to say. A lot of the success of a piece depends on the instrument and the space it’s in, the capability of the performer, and the quality of the recording. I’ve heard a piece by Franck that on one recording was absolutely fantastic, but on another was so-so. But, if we’re talking about live music, pretty well anything Ken Cowan plays is my favourite organ piece. In the world of musical virtuosi, he, along with several other organists, are all alone in the stratosphere. I know this is going to be a controversial opinion, but I think there are no greater performers than the virtuoso concert organists. My reasons could be the topic of a different article, I suppose.