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Ya know, I saw the movie and poor Beethoven did need a red-headed Hottie to cue his conducting but these "hey look at me" posts that opine Stravinsky and Copland and others can't take their score from inspiration to realization is KaKa.
Igor has the orchestra convey the eerily religious sense of the individual late in life, on the edge of the Abyss, contained in the Verses he chose. I loved it and listened through twice. Then I played the Ansermet again.
The London FFRR recording really is poor in contrast to the surprisingly excellent Itunes but Ansermet clearly misses the spell Stravinsky casts; his dynamics don't fit the religious feeling of the work.
Speaking of Copland and not forgetting Saint-Saens, I really love the addition of Piano to the orchestra as a rythym instrument.
Actually, in my very humble opinion, Stravinsky eventually became an excellent conductor of his own music. But he wasn't necessarily that great to begin with. Stravinsky didn't begin to conduct his music regularly until he was nearly 40 and got into the business mainly because he needed the money. But he did it a lot for many years and eventually became quite expert.
For example, one of his earliest conducting efforts was his Octet (1923 in Paris), and he then made a recording of it, which I have, in 1932. A rather disorganized mess, I would say. But he recorded the Octet (with l'Histoire du soldat) again in 1955, and again in stereo in 1961, and both of those are superb. Of course, the earliest one was made without the benefit of tape editing.
Copland had a similar situation, but from what I've read wasn't in such desperate financial straits and was able to ease his way into conducting under relatively favorable circumstances. However, in the recently published letters of his close friend Leonard Bernstein, you can read some good-natured but pointed advice and criticism from Bernstein after seeing an early conducting effort from Copland, and apparently noticing some very basic beginner's mistakes. Eventually Copland was pretty successful as a conductor, but I don't think he did it as much as Stravinsky or became quite as effective as Stravinsky. (Of course, Bernstein became a famous and revered conducting teacher.)
"one of his earliest conducting efforts was his Octet (1923 in Paris), and he then made a recording of it, which I have, in 1932. A rather disorganized mess, I would say. But he recorded the Octet (with l'Histoire du soldat) again in 1955, and again in stereo in 1961, and both of those are superb."
But I wonder whether the improvements in '55 and '61 were due to having better players (freelancers and NY Phil members in '55, LA freelancers in '61) or more rehearsal time. Perhaps the octet works fine without a conductor--there are several current recordings that have none, e.g., Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
I first heard the rite of spring in Stravinsky's 1940 recording with NY Phil. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJQ-wAaU7cY
This is still a pretty good performance, from a time when major orchestras could not easily play it in their sleep. I think he knew what he was doing at the podium.
There is also the question of how much credit Stravinsky deserves for his later recordings when Robert Craft did the rehearsals (and conducted some performances that were misattributed for years to the composer).
Those '55 and '61 records did have the very best personnel in New York in those days (and in LA in the case of the '61 Soldier's Tale), as you say. But so did the '32 recording, which was made in Paris. Maybe the piece wasn't yet a thoroughly familiar warhorse to the players in 1932, and they probably did it in one take, with no editing.
Still, hard not to contrast the slightly ragged ensemble work in '32 to the razor-sharp, perfect ensemble, and perfect everything else, in '55 and '61. IMHO, Stravinsky made himself into a great conductor of his own music with a whole lot of hard work and experience. Just take a look at the length of his discography. In old age he certainly had help from Craft, but that's understandable. I don't think Copland had quite the same financial need to do so much conducting, and IMHO that's the main reason he didn't achieve as much as a conductor as Stravinsky.
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