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Scottish-born Frederic Lamond lived from 1868 to 1948. That was perfect timing for him to know many of the greats of the late Romantic Era, and yet be able talk about it in recordings. He was a student of Franz Liszt and described meeting him for the first time in 1885, a year before Liszt died. Lamond was seventeen.

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Jeannette Sorrell
Jeannette Sorrell (WKSU)

This year, Apollo’s Fire will present two holiday programs in December. Early in the month they’ll revive their sold-out hit from the past two years, Sacrum Mysterium, in 5 Cleveland area locations. Then, from the 13th to the 16th, longtime favorite Christmas Vespers will return to 4 locations in Cleveland and Akron.

If you’re a WKSU supporting member, your section B or C tickets for Sacrum Mysterium at St Noel Church in Willoughby Hills and for Christmas Vespers at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Akron will be half-price. See apollosfire.org for more ticket information.

Last year, when Apollo’s Fire released Sacrum Mysterium as a CD, one of our classical stream announcers, Julie Amacher, interviewed director Jeannette Sorrell about the program and reviewed the CD. Read and listen here.

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Last month, PBS’s Charlie Rose interviewed James Levine, the world-famous pianist and conductor.

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Teresa Carreño
Teresa Carreño

Maybe you’ve seen Jonathan Goldsmith as "The Most Interesting Man in the World," promoting a certain liquid product on television. It’s sheer fantasy, of course. But how about "The Most Interesting Pianist of the Present Age"?

That title went to a Venezuelan pianist in the late 19th century. The noted critic Hans von Bülow bestowed it. He declared that this pianist "sweeps the floor clean of all piano paraders who, after her arrival, must take themselves elsewhere."

Did you notice that pronoun? In an era dominated by male musicians, von Buelow said "her."

This phenomenon of the piano was Teresa Carreño. Rossini was mesmerized by her. The great American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk called her a genius. Claudio Arrau remembered hearing her in his youth: "I don’t think I ever heard anyone fill the Berlin Philharmonic, the old hall, with such a sound."

As a child, Carreño took a few lessons from Gottschalk. Anton Rubinstein tutored her for a time in London. When she was a teenager, Liszt heard her in Paris and offered her lessons on the spot. Strong-willed even then, she declined his invitation, refusing to follow him to Rome.

Not only was Carreño an accomplished, powerful virtuoso pianist, she was quite attractive and possessed a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice. She even conducted, and, for a time, ran an opera company.

Carreño wowed President Lincoln in a White House performance – but not before expressing her disapproval of the piano! As a virtuoso in Europe, she was just shy of canonization.

But Carreño was rather less than a saint in her private life, which really wasn’t very private at all. One German publication reviewed the "Walküre of the Piano" thus: "Frau Carreño yesterday played, for the first time, the second concerto of her third husband at the fourth Philharmonic concert."

In fact, Carreño eventually married four times. Two of her husbands were brothers. Legend has it that she kept a loaded pistol on her piano to ward off unwelcome guests.

A most unlikely friendship and mutual admiration developed between this enchantress and the staunchly conservative New England-born composer Amy Beach. Beach even dedicated her Piano Concerto in c sharp minor to Carreño.

Teresa Carreño may indeed have been one of the most interesting pianists of all time.

— Sylvia Docking

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String parts from Eroica opening
Opening chords of Beethoven’s Eroica (string parts)
(public domain, via IMSLP)

The producer of the video clip below must really like Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony – and must have quite a record collection. Here we have no fewer than 66 different approaches to the opening chords of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

It’s pretty entertaining in its own way, especially if your idea of humor is (in)variation on a theme! In fact, that may be all that its creator intended. But I wonder if it doesn’t say something, deliberately or not, about changing performance practice, and the way different conductors approach the same work.

You can’t assign a formula to it, of course. Still, as the years have gone by, prevailing ideas about Beethoven’s tempi have changed – mostly toward faster.

This is an issue that musicians have argued over for generations. Johann Maelzel’s metronome dates from 1812, eight years after Beethoven completed the Eroica, but Beethoven later added metronome markings to the score. Many conductors – and scholars – still insist that Beethoven can’t possibly have meant for his works to be played as fast as his markings indicate, that his metronome must have been inaccurate. But in more recent years, some conductors have taken Beethoven at his word, and not just those closely associated with the historically informed performance movement, either. That has resulted in some – shall we say – exciting, even breathtaking, readings.

So, are the more (dare I call them) ponderous deliveries of these chords near the beginning of this 1929 – 2011 chronology? That will be left as an exercise for the reader.

As for overall stylistic trends, those too have evolved, but interpretation remains highly individual with the conductor. Just ask anyone who has heard a work he loved on WKSU and bought a CD of it, only to find – maybe to his chagrin! – that it sounds quite different under a different baton. (I know this experience all too well from my own light-walleted early days of record buying, when I fell victim to the siren song of $2.98 bargain-table LPs.)

This is nowhere more apparent in the immense range of ways these conductors interpret the same two measures. To my ears, at least, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, and Fritz Reiner give Beethoven’s chords something akin to a gravitas. George Szell, Leonard Bernstein, Osmo Vanska, and Andrew Manze pull back the slingshot with these notes, launching the orchestra into the first movement. Rene Liebowitz, Michael Gielen, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt almost breeze past them.

This clip will drive one more contrast home: the pitch difference between modern instrument and period instrument orchestras. The latter play about a half-step lower. Once you’ve heard it this way, you’ll never forget it. The producer of this video clip has no mercy.

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