Tuesday, November 25, 2014

News from Planet Fredericksburg

The move is over but not done. A house full of boxes that grudgingly allow people and cats to make their way by. Complications with Verizon Fios -- they can't decide whether they need to run an optical fiber cable from the street, and since the house is a rental, I told them I would have to get permission from the real estate management. They, in turn, are hard to reach (especially with only a cell phone).

Still driving up to the old house in Falls Church several times a week to collect leftover stuff from the basement and clean up.

Very tedious to be without home Internet (I'm writing this at the library). It will get sorted out at some point. Meanwhile I have little idea what's going on in the world (although a couple of days ago at a wi-fi hot spot I checked Lucianne on my iPad and it seemed like nothing much has changed). The same boring old doom.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On down the line

The long-anticipated time has finally arrived. My wife, the cats, and I will quit our home of 12 years in Falls Church, Virginia (a near-in suburb of Washington) and resettle in Fredericksburg, about halfway between D.C. and Richmond. Not that far in miles; but what a difference in, uh, just about everything. I expect to write several postings about the new locale.

I'll miss the culture available in D.C.; not that much else. It will still be feasible to drive to Washington to visit a Smithsonian Museum or hear a concert, but a right pain to get there and back. It involves a round trip on the Hell Road, otherwise known as Interstate 95, not only choked with cars piloted by demonic drivers, but a 50-mile construction site. Maybe the road work will improve motoring conditions, maybe it's a payoff for unions supporting some troglodyte politician. Probably both.

Those who know the history of The War (in 'Burg, you don't have to specify which) are aware that two ghastly battles took place in and near the town, in 1862 and 1863, respectively. The second was at Salem Church, now in the midst of suburban development; we will be living a couple of miles from there.

For me, besides the usual turmoil of a house move, this has a kind of existential quality about it. Clearly it is a shift from one phase of life to another. I know it will be a major change, to possibly the last place I will inhabit in this lifetime. We'll see how it goes. But for sure, my wife won't have to navigate the 95 anymore to get to her work. Thank God.

Reflecting Light will go "dark" (as they say in the theater) for at least a week, possibly longer, till I get my internet connection set up again. I hope you'll check back. So long for now.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Herbert Blomstedt's Bruckner 8th

To  relieve the tedium and stress of shifting house, I got me a recommended recording of Bruckner's Symphony no. 8. (Even for Bruckner, the piece has an especially complicated history of revisions, including some made long after the composer had passed from the scene; this seems to be the pure Robert Haas edition -- as if I could tell).

The recommendation was by Stephen Chakwin, in the May/June 2008 American Record Guide. To my way of thinking, Mr. Chakwin is the best reviewer of classical music in the business today. (He has another business -- he's a lawyer.)

The recording is of a live concert with Herbert Blomstedt conducting the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. It was his farewell as the music director after several years of leading the orchestra in the '90s. I was in the audience for this same crew in Tucson when they were on tour.

My reaction on hearing it for the first time was a mixture of exhilaration and disappointment. The orchestra is world-class, although many other first-rate ensembles have played the symphony. Blomstedt is a gifted musician who doesn't indulge in eccentricities or exaggerated point-making. Many felicities of the score have been carefully polished. Strings and horns are partners, not adversaries, their colors mixing in extraordinary ways. For once, the harp in the Adagio actually seems to be part of the fabric of the music, not embroidery.

So what was disappointing? Comparisons are odious, but who can avoid them? My favorite versions have been Furtwängler (1944) and Karajan (1988), both -- interestingly -- with the Vienna Philharmonic. God bless Maestro Blomstedt, but he is no Furtwängler and he is no Karajan. Blomstedt's style struck me as stern, with too much stop-and-start even for music that incorporates pauses as a key element.

Of course I often change my mind after a first listen. I was keen to play the recording again after two days, a good sign.

Sure enough, I had a sudden insight that came to me long after it should have, much later than I expect most Bruckner enthusiasts have rumbled it. Bruckner lived and worked in the Romantic period of the late 19th century, but he is not a Romantic composer. (Even Symphony no. 4, nicknamed "Romantic," is at most so only in comparison with Bruckner's others.) The musical landscape at the time was divided into opposing camps, followers of Brahms and followers of Wagner. Bruckner, as I have read many times, practically worshiped Wagner. But the stylistic association somehow always escaped me.

You can play Bruckner in a romantic way, as Karl Böhm (also with Vienna!) and Bruno Walter did, and achieve wonders. But I've finally "gotten it" that Bruckner modeled his expression after Wagner. There is a difference, though: Bruckner absorbed Wagner's brilliant dramatism, but overlaid it with a spiritual dimension that was deeply important to him.

A good deal of Blomstedt's interpretation snapped into place the second time I heard his recording. Still, the great Adagio is too insistent and unloving -- if only he had treated it with the sweet delicacy he brought to the trio (the soft middle section) of the Scherzo! In a performance like this, we need relaxation and gentility in the midst of the rocky climb to beatitude.

The recording is remarkably true, especially considering it was taken in a live performance, probably one performance (many live recordings are patchworks from different nights). As Mr. Chakwin says, "You will have as close to a Bruckner orchestra in your home as your sound equipment can deliver."

The producer has insisted on the typically idiotic practice for live recordings of including applause -- both before and after the concert. At least he had the decency to put it on separate tracks so you can program it out.