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PlasticIsGood 25th July 2012 05:55 AM

Regional differences in orchestral music
I've only recently got into orchestral music and have acquired a wide but sparse collection of CDs

From this it seems that orchestras have regional characteristics. However, I mostly chose music played by an orchestra in the country of origin. I felt this should add to fidelity. Now I'm questioning this intuition, can't think of a good logical argument, and my data is skewed.

Come to think of it, I'm new a kind of music that separates origin and performance in this way. AFAICS an orchestra has some freedom of expression. I guess in some circles this question is always present and not worth asking but, all the same...

Does an American orchestra play Beethoven in the same way as a German one?

Are regional sounds of music reflected in preferred audio equipment? Are French hi-fis whimsically romantic, and German stern and grand?

How much of the difference is due to recording techniques?

I guess all these things are linked, but I need more data.

Can anyone recommend great examples of music from one region played by an orchestra from another?

kevinkr 25th July 2012 06:10 AM

I think it has a lot more to do with the individual orchestra and its conductor than perhaps anything else. Most good orchestras have very international talent.

Look for information for those orchestras that are highly regarded such as the LSO (London), some US cities like Boston, Dallas, LA, Philadelphia have or had well regarded orchestras that were widely recorded. (Links provided on the theory that knowing the particular orchestra may be helpful)

Anything IMO by Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is going to be worth considering if they have recorded something you like.

Some early Bach and Mozart IMO are better performed by orchestras that are relatively representative of the orchestral conventions at the time the pieces were written.

I have at least five copies of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and I like the one performed by Philadelphia and conducted by Riccardi Muti (Italian) the best of all the versions I have.

I think it is a matter of whether the particular interpretation floats your boat and I don't think the nationality of the individual orchestra is critical to that determination.

kevinkr 25th July 2012 06:19 AM

Recording techniques are a whole 'nother ball of wax. :D

Do you listen to vinyl or CD?

My preferences for sonics run to either very early stereo recordings from the mid 1950s to early 1960s, and then the "audiophile" era. I prefer vinyl in general, but have cds, high res downloads, and some limited open reel tape.

The early stereo recordings from Decca, Mercury and RCA can be extremely convincing.. DG Otoh I have never warmed up to.. (sterile sound in a lot of cases IMLE)

The common thread for me is simple miking technique with high speed tweaked tape recorders and little or no processing.

devilsindetails 25th July 2012 08:03 AM


Originally Posted by kevinkr (
(snip) DG Otoh I have never warmed up to.. (sterile sound in a lot of cases IMLE) (snip)

Nein! :mad:Herr Kevin...many of the early DG's are among the finest analog orchestral recordings extant...ditto Philips Holland, Erato, EMI Angel, etc.while the majority of Mercury Living Presence, and RCA Red Seals among the worst ever recorded IMHO with next to no musical information evident in the grooves below 80hz...I do agree that simple recording techniques with limited engineering meddling are the best and there are a few Red Seals and Mercury recordings that exemplify the very best in vinyl regardless of vintage and recording origin. But again the pressing runs also differed widely. European pressings are often sonically superior to North American pressings on the same labels.

To the OP. There are, in fact, many regional differences in orchestral music often due to subtle differences in the manufacturing origins of the instruments. French Brass sections differ profoundly from British, German and American. An English Boosey and Hawkes Trumpet has a timbral signature quite different from an Amati. Ditto, the reed sections and percussion, not to mention string sections. Then there are the tremendous sonic differences between a Steinway Grand and a Bosendorfer Grand in all those recordings of piano concertos.

Then throw in to the mix, an orchestra's historic reputation and repertoire... size, recording venue and who the conductor at the helm is and the regional differences become much more pronounced.

Herbert Von Karajan at the helm of the Berlin Philarmonic is an entirely different beast than Sir Neville Mariner in front of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields just as the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra has a sound quite dissimilar from the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

In any event, you are going to enjoy discovering these things yourself...Kevin's bang on when he indicates that anything by St.Martin in the Fields will be top notch in terms of artistic quality and sound quality...also keep your eyes open for anything by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (prior to 1988 recordings will simply notate Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips, Columbia and Philips)

Enjoy the journey:D

PlasticIsGood 26th July 2012 06:14 AM

Thanks for the response.

I never got into vinyl beyond the Dansette of my youth. I had four records: Uncle Meat, Blonde on Blonde, Beethoven's Emporer and Tchaichovsy's violin concerto. Then I just had cassette tape, and orchestral music never seemed appropriate. Now I've graduated to CD.

Labelling is extremely confusing, partly because of buyouts and partly due to the change of medium from the original vinyl. Remastering adds another layer of mystery from the point of view of fidelity, too.

I took what I fancied, eventually, from dozens of rating sites, looking most of all for authenticity, but not knowing quite what that means. This seems to have worked well all the same.

My question was first raised by an RCA Red Seal release of Dvorak's New World Symphony, played by the Chicago SO in the mid 50s, remastered for SACD but played as a CD. My first introduction to an American orchestra, and radically different from everything else. It's expansive, clear, brilliant and precise. Brass and kettle drums sound completely different. Very entertaining, but never important. On the same CD there's some earlier Dvorak and a couple of other Eastern European composers doing their more usual folk dance stuff, and the same orchestra sounds like it's lost the plot completely.

So I tried the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bernstein, playing Copland's 3rd symphony and Quiet City, digitally recorded. Same difference. Even the startling brass and kettle drum "fanfare for the common man" has the same cartoon-like quality. Even when it's serious it's not important.

This seems to eliminate the composer from my long simultaneous equation, since one is Czech and the other proper American. The most likely factors are then American music itself, American orchestras, concert halls, and recording techniques.

Berlin and Vienna sound like music is an historic mission. Moscow even more so. Paris is lyrical but pompous and London sounds like it could be anywhere. The same tangled web of factors is present in every case.

I set out to get a sketch of how orchestral music unfolded from Mozart onwards, but it's obvious now I'll only get to see it through frosted glass. I'll have to do some reading too, about music and history and instruments.

Mostly, the music itself is engaging enough so I forget to think :).

Thanks for the advice. I hadn't thought of Holland. What about Finland, I wonder? And China...

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