Frans Brüggen—Competitor with the Greats

By Sedgwick Clark

Hearing Frans Brüggen’s recording of Mozart’s 40th and Beethoven’s First on Philips was a “eureka” moment: at last, someone from the authentic-performance school who was equally illuminating and individual to stand with Walter’s early-’50s Mozart, Szell’s Beethoven, and selected performances by Toscanini, Furtwängler, Monteux, Klemperer, and others from whom I first learned the classical repertoire. Soon I would be comparing Brüggen’s and Bernstein’s very different but equally joyous Haydn interpretations.

Brüggen, the eminent recorder player and conductor, died on August 13th in Amsterdam. For my money, he stood head and shoulders above all those period-instrument proselytizers who cropped up in the mid-1970s and ’80s—Norrington, Hogwood, Gardiner, et al. Perhaps because he already had a major career as a virtuoso recorder player and entered conducting as a fully formed musician, his style had acquired a freedom and character that eluded many of his fellow authenticists.

I got to know Brüggen and his artistry primarily through his recordings on Philips with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, which he co-founded in 1981. Fortunately, however, he and his players were frequent guests at Lincoln Center, usually at Mostly Mozart. He would walk quickly to the podium, bow nervously, and fire the downbeat at his players as if pursued by the furies. His music-making was electric, unpredictable, and, above all, expressive. Just announced on the Glossa label are his new recordings of Mozart’s last three symphonies, distributed by Naxos. I can’t wait to hear them.

Minnesotans Believe in Their Orchestra

Following mixed news from Atlanta (, August 27)—that the new executive director, Stanley Romanstein, had reduced the $23 million deficit to $5 million but also reduced the size of the orchestra from 95 to 88 players and a 52- to 42-week season—there’s great news from Minnesota. A press release arrived yesterday from the Minnesota Orchestra, announcing a $10 million “leadership gift” from anonymous donors “in order to inspire others with the capacity for leadership gifts to support the Orchestra.” Subsequently, gifts totaling $3.2 million were donated as well.

May we assume, therefore, that after an 18-month lockout the Orchestra is on the road to recovery? With Osmo Vänskä back as music director, there can hardly be any doubt.

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