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Festliches Praeludium, Op. 61

Sony SMK47625. Leonard Bernstein/E. Power Biggs, organ. New York Philharmonic (1962)

One can easily make fun of this occasional work, written to open the new Vienna Konzerthaus. Norman Del Mar, in his essential 3-volume study, manages to point out all its flaws. Chief among them, the work has very little contrast. First, it stays mostly in C major, with one rare look-see at a distant key, for nine minutes. Second, it starts out at a grandiloquent level and not only maintains it, but tries to rise even higher, without having the necessary material, almost entirely through the orchestration (symphonic organ, rather than concertante; six to twelve herald trumpets stationed on either side of the orchestra). Despite all this, it makes a great noise. It may not be profound, but it does provoke a definite "wow." Bernstein tosses it out for all he, Biggs, and the Philharmonic are worth. Unfortunately, most of the counterpoint is buried under the noise, and not even Sony's technical elves can sort it out.

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