Explorations in classical music

One of the joys of having access to services such as YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, etc… is that you can listen to and compare multiple recordings of the same classical pieces in an inexpensive way.
I spent some time doing this during the Christmas holidays and have carried on since: some Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Mahler Symphonies, a particular organ piece by Bach - the Adagio from the Toccata, Adagio + Fugue K.564, and plenty of Vaughan-Williams - Tallis Fantasia, Symphony No. 3, etc… It’s all been great fun, and there’s so much more out there to listen to and compare!

When visiting one of our communities in Finistère, Brittany (as I try to do at least a couple of times a year) I always spend a few hours listening to and discussing classical music with a Brother now in his 80s who has been a mentor of mine for many years and who used to be one of our head Brothers in Rome. He’s not one for social media or the internet, so he loves it when I come along and suggest that we listen to and compare recordings of such and such a piece. It was his idea to do this with the aforementioned Bach organ piece… and what a fascinating time we had of it! We both ended up preferring the Jacqueline Du Pré version adapted for ‘Cello.

I am very lucky to also have a friend here in Liverpool (a retired senior teacher from our school here) who is a full-on classical music buff. He recently took me to and old-school record shop that has boxes full of old secondhand classical LPs in very good condition. We gleefully spent a couple of hours wading through the treasures there, eventually coming away with 4 each, planning to return again in the not too distant future. He says I’m the only person he can really discuss classical music with and I’m very glad to be able to do so.

It’s currently Vaughan-Williams’ beautiful, moving Symphony No. 3 (“Pastoral” - a post-WW1 ‘pastoral’) that has been getting much of my attention these past few days. Up until now my loyalties have been split between Handley (RLPO) and Previn (LSO), with versions conducted by Bryden Thomson, Haitink, Davis and Hickox folllowing on behind. But a new kid on the block is challenging their positions: Sir Mark Elder with the Hallé Orch. The touchstone for me is the final movement which is an all-time favourite piece of mine in any genre, certainly a desert island piece. For the moment, it’s still Handley who comes out on top with my local orchestra (Royal Liverpool Phil.) playing with a wonderful sense of unified purpose and mastery of the gently shifting textures. This is one of the very few recordings that still gives me genuine goosebumps at the final climax every time I listen to it (Thomson’s version with the LSO also hitting me in the feels every time).

Here’s Handley with the RLPO. Listen especially from 24 mins. for the glorious final movement’s uplifting lament for those lost in the 1st WW:

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