The Art of Nikolaus Harnoncourt (15CD)

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    The Art of Nikolaus Harnoncourt (15CD)
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    • This 15-CD set pays tribute to Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who died on 5 March 2016. He was described thus in his obituary in The Guardian: “Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who has died aged 86, was one of the most innovative and influential conductors of the second half of the 20th century, bringing the scholarship and sensibility of historical performance to the mainstream repertoire with sometimes controversial, but always illuminating results.”The Art of Harnoncourt draws on the rich and extensive Warner Classics... Ver mais

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    This 15-CD set pays tribute to Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who died on 5 March 2016. He was described thus in his obituary in The Guardian: “Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who has died aged 86, was one of the most innovative and influential conductors of the second half of the 20th century, bringing the scholarship and sensibility of historical performance to the mainstream repertoire with sometimes controversial, but always illuminating results.”

    The Art of Harnoncourt draws on the rich and extensive Warner Classics catalogue that the conductor built up over several decades. It shows him in music that spans eras from the late Renaissance to Romanticism by way of the Baroque and Classical, with works by: Monteverdi (a complete recording of L’Orfeo); Biber; Vivaldi (including The Four Seasons), Bach (several cantatas from the complete cycle entrusted to Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt by the Telefunken label); Handel; Haydn; Mozart; Beethoven; Mendelssohn; Schubert, Schumann; Bruckner, Dvorák and Johann Strauss.

    While Harnoncourt originally established his reputation with the pioneering ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien – dedicated to historically informed performance and founded by Harnoncourt and his violinist wife Alice in the 1950s – the collection also features several of the major modern-instrument orchestras with which he developed a close relationship: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Berliner Philharmoniker. Soloists who appear in the collection include Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer, Alice Harnoncourt, Edita Gruberová, Cathy Berberian, Thomas Hampson and René Pape.

    Nikolaus Harnoncourt was born in 1929 in Berlin into a noble family. He grew up in Graz, Austria, and trained as a cellist in Vienna, also playing the viola da gamba. He spent most of the 1950s and 60s as a member of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, but rebelled against the practice of taking a Romantic approach to music from every era and rejected the idea of the conductor as autocrat. In his own work as a conductor he preferred to treat the orchestral musicians as colleagues.

    His approach to a score can be summed in a comment he made in 1954. He spoke of the need to perform Bach’s masterpieces “as if they had never been interpreted before”. No matter what the era of a score’s genesis, he searched out original manuscripts and orchestral parts in order to gain a deep understanding of the composer’s intentions and the performing style of the composer’s time. His interpretations sometimes challenged the expectations of tradition, but in the 1990s he achieved a new prominence and authority through his regular appearances at one of the world’s powerhouses of classical music, the Salzburg Festival, from which he had been absent over the years in which Herbert von Karajan was its driving force.

    As Sir Nicholas Kenyon of London’s Barbican Centre – a former journalist with a special interest in pre-Classical music – wrote in Gramophone after Harnoncourt’s death: “He wanted to explore why composers made their music sound as it did, to understand what their intentions were, to react to the instruments they used and to their sonorities, and to see how they could best be created anew in our time. He did not believe in ‘authenticity’ as such, and never used the word. Instead he questioned ‘tradition’ as laziness [as] Mahler had before him.”

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