Saturday, April 30, 2016

Water Music for Rainy Weather

We went to daily Mass on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Wichita, then drove to Delano for a delicious lunch at La Galette of quiche, salad, chicken and rice soup, and a shared slice of cake and cup of coffee. Then we checked the classical music bins at Spektrum Muzik and purchased this recording of Handel's Water Music:

I would not immediately associate Pierre Boulez with Handel, but with the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra, he creates a vibrant and spirited modern instrument performance (with harpsichord continuo). You can hear it on youtube but that recording has some pops that our very good plus LP does not. The LP was released in 1966 during the Teresa Sterne years at Nonesuch Records and the cover art design was by William S. Harvey.

Sterne was fired by Warner Communications in 1979; composers and artists protested to no avail. Teresa Sterne died in 2000 of "Lou Gehrig's" Disease; she was 73 years old. May she rest in peace. Her NYT obit notes:

As the director of Nonesuch Records from 1965 through 1979, Ms. Sterne turned a small budget label into one of the most adventurous companies in the recording business. When she was invited to take charge of Nonesuch, the label was a subsidiary of the pop-oriented and profitable Elektra Records. Nonesuch's business had consisted mostly of acquiring the rights to existing recordings of Baroque music by European ensembles and reissuing them at budget prices in the United States. . . .

At Nonesuch she brought attention to areas of music neglected by the major labels, particularly contemporary music and American vernacular music. She championed American composers like George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Morton Subotnick, Charles Wuorinen and Donald Martino, not just recording their works but commissioning them, an unusual move for the leader of a record company. She also issued important recordings of lesser-known works by Schoenberg, Busoni, Stravinsky and other major figures. . . .

She was also in the forefront of the early instrument movement in Baroque and Renaissance repertory. And under her leadership, Nonesuch's Explorer series introduced music from Bali, India, Peru and other countries to a wider audience. Ms. Sterne believed that every record she produced should have a purpose, and she involved herself with everything, from the packaging to the liner notes.

We listened to Handel's Water Music during a rainstorm Friday afternoon, enjoying, as usual, those fine liner notes, this time written by Bernard Jacobson, which included a discussion of "the 'gap' that has allegedly developed between the enormous musical riches available to the 20th-century public and the actual tastes and interests of most that public. A mere five per cent, if so many, they reflect, make any real use of the cultural opportunities before them; and this is interpreted as evidence that public taste has seriously deteriorated. When we contrast the popular acclaim with which great composers of the 18th century like Handel were greeted, the melancholy picture seems complete."

Jacobson then goes on to note that of course, the public to which such riches were available in the 18th century was very small and now many more in the public have access to them: "Today it is within the power of most inhabitants of the Western world to go to an occasional concert, buy as occasional record, or at least hear music now and then on the radio. Certainly there are factors--environmental, educational, and still, regrettably, economic--which militate against the exercise of this power . . ." How often have you read the word "militate" in the liner notes of a record?

Fortunately, Nonesuch honored Teresa Sterne's contributions to Nonesuch in the 1960's and 1970's, and her own career as a concert pianist and prodigy, with a two disc set in 2000 before she died:

At the tender age of four Teresa Sterne declared that Bach was her "sweetheart." Born into a musical family in Brooklyn in 1927, Sterne’s mother, a professional cellist who abandoned her career to devote herself to her daughter’s artistic development, and her uncle, a distinguished violinist, helped guide Sterne to fully realize her natural talents. At the age of 12, Teresa Sterne made a most auspicious performance debut, appearing with the NBC Symphony and the New York Philharmonic Symphony (the two major orchestras in New York at that time) in her first two public appearances. . .

Sterne’s contribution to the field of music, both old and new, while as a performer herself and as a skilled producer and label executive, is evidenced in the release of Teresa Sterne: A Portrait. It is a testament to her personal and professional integrity that such a diverse body of repertoire, all performed at such a high level, could be collected in one place, and ultimately under one name.

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