Cult Conductors: A New Review Series

We live in an era when more recordings of more music by more artists are available than at any time before. In particular, the release of Big Boxes of live performances, radio broadcasts, and even commercial recordings now in the public domain, have given collectors the opportunity to sample extensively the output of conductors whose work was formerly difficult to obtain. Some of these allegedly great men of the podium have amassed a loyal (and vocal) following, despite their relative obscurity. In short, they have acquired a cult following.

Cults are pernicious things in music. They replace thoughtful and openminded engagement in a work with mindless adulation. Many performances, spoken of with hushed reverence among true believers, turn out to be disappointing in the harsh daylight of today’s highly competitive marketplace for recordings. Most readers of ClassicsToday.com will be familiar with the conductors whose work falls into the cult category: Furtwängler perhaps above all, Horenstein, Mravinsky, Celibidache, Golovanov, Scherchen, Rosbaud, Abendroth, de Sabata, and numerous others.

The problem with covering these conductors is that it’s almost impossible to discuss big boxes of discs in any detail—to really dig into the performances and try to describe what makes them special, or not. In order to address this conundrum, we will be running a new series of reviews for ClassicsToday Insiders devoted to individual recordings of specific works by conductors whose work has earned them a cult following. In other words, we’re going to cover them one piece at a time, no matter how large or small, and no matter how it may be packaged and sold at present.

This is less of a problem than it seems. Many performances are now available on multiple labels, through digital downloads, or through other sources. More to the point, we hope that this project will give serious collectors the opportunity to read, sample, and draw their own conclusions about the legitimacy of the cult status that these conductors and their recordings enjoy. You can find the first review in the series here. Happy reading, and happy listening!

Dave Hurwitz, Executive Editor