When Muti and Abbado were kings in London

When Muti and Abbado were kings in London


norman lebrecht

April 06, 2018

Stunning interviews from the golden age around 1980.

When Italian TV called London ‘the world capital of music’…


  • Olassus says:

    Muti: “English National Opera produces a type of activity that stylistically I condemn without doubt.”

  • FS60103 says:

    How gloriously Italian that they only recognise musical achievement when it’s Italians conducting.

  • Alexander says:

    Compact discs are almost gone now, so I’m wondering what would it look like “contemporary music medium” in a few years – digital computer file, reserved paid space on a virtual cloud public service or what …. and your blog’s name would also be a kind of anachronism then … I feel I am getting much older watching that interview …. 😉

    • Stephen says:

      Are you sure the CD is “almost gone”? The MDT Classics site lists over 250 issues every month.

      • Sue says:

        I buy a CD about once a fortnight from Amazon and have recently invested a great deal of money in a new hifi system (well, 2016).

        • Alexander says:

          your words give some hope

          • Will says:

            A major record label told me they expect the CD to be dead within 5 years.

          • tomas says:

            The CD was a crap formulation from the start, then the studios got going and made zillions of really crap recordings, because they thought the absence of noise was gonna make everything and the dog acceptable.

            SACD has been no better, all this stuff run by different cartels, making believe that classical music with its miniscule sales was worth the “prestige” and all the marketing hype.
            If “the CD is dead”, it’s just reality kicking in, from 25 years ago.
            Just, it took decades for old fogeys to realise just how much they were being conned by the music industry.

    • Edward says:

      As the owner of a Classical music shop in Vancouver Canada, I can honestly say that we bring in hundreds – if not several thousand – new CDs every year. The CD is far from dead, and the production of large quantities of new titles every month certainly negates any claims of the CD being dead.

      • tomas says:

        big deal, and how many do you sell of one big hit?


        Classical music Cd has been some sort of stupid dead end -if-you don’t-give-it-away-you-won’t-sell-a-bean sort of pointless exercise for nearly 30 years.

        • Stephen says:

          I love the CD: free from the scratches, pops, clicks and warps + deterioration of the LP; free from the inferior sound and sticking of the musicassette. Thank goodness for the CD and long may it reign!

          • tomas says:

            If you are trying to compare the performance of the compact cassette, a tiny little fragile tape with “toy shop” magnetic heads at 1 7/8″ per sec, just about suitable for SPEECH, to the 16 bit audio CD, sorry but we are not even on the same page.
            Why do you bother?

            The vast majority of vinyl records were made from Studer and other (read Swiss REVOX) professional studio machines running at 15-30ips.
            Because of the analogue compression it made a very musical effect.
            The dynamic range was really not bad at all.

            The problem always came from Vinyl, and inherently distorting medium from the start, which is why people like Nimbus revved it up making such stuff as the SAM (super analogue master at 45rpm).
            I have some of these, I’m sure you don’t!

            Despite Nimbus’ recording engineers being actually pretty poor, and their use of the calrec sound field for multi channel being of discutable value, it does illustrate the fact that pure analog recording when done properly rivals, and can surpass the quality of the CD, as well as not truncating the reverb, which is the very well defect of the lack of resolution inherent in the CD standard.

            Go listen on a good system some day with high resolution electrostatic speakers, such as a rebuilt pair of Quad ESL, and I can make you a double blind test where I can show you, you have no idea what you are really talking about.

            The CD was always a disaster, and then it encouraged a whole generation of sound engineers to make disastrously bad recordings which progressively have gone down the toilet since the 1990s, until now we are in the grip of the “loudness wars” and all the other horrors which came with digital compression and codecs.

            Vive le BLU RAY!
            Let’s hope hi res gets more good press, and sends the CD to the junkyard of history as fast as possible!

  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    A marvellous memento of what was indeed a golden age. Just to gild the lily, it was only a year or so after these interviews were made that Klaus Tennstedt took up posts with the LPO (first as principal guest, then as principal conductor).

    It was interesting to hear Abbado lay such stress on the way musical education in Britain in the post-way years had laid the foundations for an engaged and knowledgeable audience. He was surely right about that, which makes one fear for the long-term future of our orchestras now that music teaching in state schools has been so ruthlessly cut back.

  • Rob says:

    And now London has a conductor who won’t touch Tchaikovsky symphonies.

    • Wurtfangler says:

      For which we (and Tchaikovsky) should be very grateful!

    • Bruce says:

      I remember him saying in an interview many years ago (when he was still in Birmingham) something to the effect that Tchaikovsky was doing just fine without him. That still seems to be the case.

      I’d be much more worried about a conductor who wouldn’t touch Brahms.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        The LSO is performing two programmes with Tchaikovsky next season with guest conductors. As long as the LSO is performing Tchaikovsky (and Brahms), why would it matter whether it is conducted by Rattle or by a guest?

    • Bogda says:

      If he believes he cannot play it, why would he. He should do things he has something to say about and feels comfortable with. I find this approach to be quite proper.Theere are others who do know how to play Tchaikovsky, let them do it.

      • PETROS LINARDOS says:

        Agreed. We don’t need jacks of all trades and masters of none at the podium.

      • Rob says:

        And there’s that recording of Nutcracker with the BPO.

        Maybe his Pathetique would be lean and mean.

        • collin says:

          If one actually danced to Rattle’s Nutcracker, one would blow a kneecap and throw out a hip.

          It’d be like someone actually dancing to Pablo Casals’s Gigues and Courrantes in his Bach cello suites.

          Sometimes, music should be played as it was written and intended. Sometimes a waltz is just a waltz; and a properly played waltz is already pretty hard to get right.

    • MacroV says:

      But he did a lovely Nutcracker with the Berlin Phil. In any case, Tchaikovsky probably doesn’t suffer from underexposure in London.

      • casse-noisette says:

        Well, I kinda liked the recording till I got to these whistle thingies in No. 5. That’s just cruel.

  • Matty says:

    And who is that?

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Curiously when mentioning the London orchestras, Muti neglects to mention The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Nor is Neville Marriner mentioned as a significant conductor which England produced.

    Also Menuhin in Bath was not acknowledged.

    • Sue says:

      I always regarded the Academy and Marriner as rather mediocre and have never bought a single recording of theirs.

      • Olassus says:

        Buy the Händel, the Vaughan Williams, and the Suppé. Those are three discs that have never been equaled.

        ASIN: B000004CVN
        ASIN: B000004CVM
        ASIN: B000005GJF

      • Gaffney Feskoe says:

        You have deprived yourself of the Mozart concerti with Brendel at the piano then?

      • Hilary says:

        Try Pulcinella.
        The ever-dependable Penguin Record Guide thought highly of it.

    • David Gray says:

      …Neville was a supreme organizer and had the best players in London waiting for his call. The nucleus of the Academy was very small intially (five string players including Neville) but the players he brought in were top notch (Iona Brown sat in the back of the 1st’s when I was there). The winds and brass knew one another’s playing intimately and so the ensenble would gel in just a run through. The standard of playing hasnot been surpassed to this day imo….hardly mediocre!!

      • MacroV says:

        Probably more with respect to the interpretation than the ensemble quality. But with so many recordings, of course some of them will be great.

        • Olassus says:

          “with so many recordings, of course some of them will be great.”

          Are you kiddin’ me?

          Er, Mehta’s, Maazel’s, others’ entire discographies …

          • Stephen says:

            Mehta produced a great Mahler 2 and “Trovatore”. Maazel’s successes are too numerous to mention.

          • Olassus says:

            Yes, they are good. But I don’t think Mahler needs “interpretation”: he laid everything out. In the case of the 1969 Trovatore, a perfect cast was assembled for Klemperer’s orchestra, and I wouldn’t say the musical phrasing is strongly Italian.

  • simonelvladtepes says:

    Muti comes across as much more articulate than Abbado and his Italian much more elegantly articulated and musical. Abbado almost has a slight German accent. The interviewer addresses Muti as a Neapolitan, not as an Italian.

    If I could choose a single quote from the program: Q: Muti, how would you characterize yourself? A: a normal person.

  • Rob says:

    One of Muti’s party pieces is In The South. There’s a radio performance on YouTube with the Philadelphia. The strings have lovely portamento and a real sweep near the beginning. It’s a knockout interpretation.

  • Player says:

    So Muti here defines London as the epicentre of world classical music because it had the ROH and ENO (which he dislikes due to the English language policy), and four symphony orchestras (LSO, LPO, Philharmonia and RPO) plus chamber orchestras.

    They are all still going, at a high standard, doing the same things as in 1980.

    The record company infrastructure has changed, but then, so it has globally.

    The competition is also the same, in Germany, in the USA and in continental Europe.

    And we have an Italian in charge at Covent Garden!

    Dov’è il problema?

    The only difference is that there are fewer performances now (I suspect); fewer great conductors trained as repetiteurs; and (not unrelated) in opera an inclination to indulge the directors as a power vacuum has been created.

    But don’t tell me Britain is lagging behind.

  • Player says:

    The education post is also well made by these (slightly starry-eyed) Italians. This is something that has been in decline for some while now, sadly. Until there is collective will on this point, regardless of left-right, Brexit-or-no-Brexit, the seedbed of our cultural life will have to be enriched by those from abroad. But this will not cease post March 2019.

    There is another interesting side point to emerge from these pieces: they both thought it slightly odd that only Colin Davis had headed a major symphony orchestra or opera house, as an Englishman (I think we exclude ENO here).

    Plus ca change!