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Friday, March 21, 2014

And so, Mr. Martin, who is your favorite composer?

Sometimes people ask me about classical music since I have made it known I am a big fan and have some strong opinions about what cuts the mustard and what doesn't. One question recently had to do with my favorite composer, if any.

Certainly I have my favorites. But I will say I have more than one. The thing about great composers of great music that has lasted for centuries is that they're all good, if not excellent. In terms of quality, depth, complexity, and emotional content, they are all more or less equal. It is a matter of personal preference.

But even there I have several that I prefer. These are in no particular order. I like them all equally. I have to mention Sergei Rachmaninoff as a big favorite of mine because his music bridged the movement from the 19th century Romantic period to the 20th century modern period. This alone makes his work extremely significant. Plus, I just like the sound of it. It is rich, full, emotional, and surprisingly stunning. The music stuns you because you are not expecting it. He has enough of the Romantic that you are taken unaware when he suddenly moves into the modern. To me, this is sheer genius.

And it certainly didn't hurt for Rachmaninoff to choose Eugene Ormandy as his preferred conductor and the Philadelphia Orchestra as the vehicle through which he would introduce this music. Ormandy was known to make suggestions to Rachmaninoff about his new compositions, and it was well-known that Ormandy had been designated a musical genius by his fellows in his native Hungary, having graduated with a Master's Degree in music from the Budapest Conservatory at the young age of 14.

In addition to Rachmaninoff, I love the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian Romanticist who penned some of the finest music, in my opinion, ever written. His Russian Easter music along with his masterful Sheherazade will simply take your breath away. The same goes for Tchaikovsky, another great Russian composer. And then, of course, I like to listen to Dvorak, Holtz, Wagner, and Strauss.

None of this means I have no regard for the classical icons such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Hayden, Brahams, etc. I love them all. But my favorites are listed above.

Speaking of Rachmaninoff, the finest performance of the composer's Piano Concerto 3 was with the great Vladimir Horowitz on piano, with Eugene Ormandy guest conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. This concert took place in 1978. Ormandy was always in great demand as a guest conductor when his schedule in Philly permitted it. He did some wonderful recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna, Austria, the London Symphony in England, the Chicago Symphony, the Boston Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic.

Some critics and other conductors looked down their conceited noses at Ormandy, which I believe was nothing more than professional jealousy. Leonard Bernstein, for example, would criticize Ormandy but would be quick to sign him on to guest conduct the New York Philharmonic.

There was a reason for this. The buying public loved Ormandy and so did most of the critics at the time. Most of his detractors have come along in the years after his death, though they have very little to stand on. Thankfully I have noticed that of late Ormandy's esteem has risen even among many critics. When they actually listen to his music with an open mind, most of them become aware that the music professors who feel they must get in a dig at Ormandy during every lecture have an obvious ax to grind that has nothing to do with the quality of Ormandy's music.

Here, then, is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, with Eugene Ormandy conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1978. The great Vladimir Horowitz is a major hit on the piano, as evidenced by the cheers he and Ormandy received by the New York audience at the end of the concert. Enjoy. Click here to go directly to the YouTube video.

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