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David Patmore Presents 'Mad Geniuses on Record' at the Sheffield Literary Festival, 17 October 2007

November 1, 2007

By Genevieve Helsby

The A–Z of Conductors, the second release of its kind from Naxos this year (the A–Z of Pianists was released in March) is extraordinary, both in its scale and its value. Its 1,000 pages hold 310 biographies of some of the finest conductors on record, several illustrated by newly remastered recordings on the accompanying four CDs. And there is also access to a dedicated website containing over 200 hours of music, showcasing in complete recordings of symphonies, operas etc. the very best conductors in history.

The author of this biographical feat, David Patmore, can now hold in his hands the fruits of 6 years’ dedicated work. And on Wednesday 17 October, as part of the Sheffield Literary Festival, he and the finished article were in the spotlight as he presented ‘Mad Geniuses – Great Conductors on Record’.

Through anecdotal snippets and musical extracts, he brought to life ten of his ‘mad geniuses’ and gave the best possible promotion of this project.

To get the blood flowing,’ as he said, we started off with ‘the great Diaghilev conductor’ Ernest Ansermet conducting the Can-Can from Rossini’s La Boutique fantasque. This was followed swiftly by ‘B’ for Beecham – of course – a candidate for anecdotal presentation if ever there was one. Albert Coates, perhaps chosen here for his Yorkshire connection, was unusually energetic and devoid of English reserve. Quoting Coates’s teacher Arthur Nikisch (‘Coates, you obviously need a whip instead of a baton!’), Patmore led us into his selected music – the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin – which sounded more like the London to Sheffield express than classic heavyweight Wagner. The fascinating nature of interpretation generally was a highlight of this talk.

It was with Klemperer conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony that Patmore made the interesting point of there being no Mahler ‘tradition’ of performance as there is with Brahms, for example, because all Mahler recordings are distinct. Although Mahler was very fussy about how his works should be performed, he did allow at least two conductors (Fried and Mengelberg) to change markings and dynamics in his scores for performance. In fact, the recordings left to us by five of Mahler’s closest disciples differ greatly, each conductor having a distinct ‘voice’. It is therefore feasible to suggest, as Patmore says, that Mahler was actually interested in performances of intense personal conviction. And in his case, the tradition is that there is no tradition, in the accepted sense, but instead there is difference and individuality.

Following Klemperer was the apparently antagonistic Rodzinski (or ‘Conductor X’!), then the ideal representative of technical prowess Scherchen, and finally Georg Solti giving an extraordinary performance of Suppé’s foot-tapping Light Cavalry.

The A–Z of Conductors is released on November 1st 2007. The A–Z of Pianists is available now.

Listen to a podcast of David Patmore outlining his ‘Mad Geniuses’

A–Z of Conductors

A–Z of Pianists


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