Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Giuseppe Sinopoli (1946-2001): A Note on a 15th Anniversary

On April 20th 2016, we acknowledge the legacy of the great musician, conductor and composer, Giuseppe Sinopoli, who, at age 54, died, fittingly I suppose, on the podium while conducting Verdi's Aida in Berlin 15 years ago. Some historians note that Sinopoli made his operatic debut with the same work in 1978. He was also an archeologist and physician, a man of intense interests, and a musical interpreter sui generis.

I have made a quasi-formal assessment of the conductor's recorded legacy. Sadly, I never heard him conduct 'live', even when he conducted the NY Philharmonic. Still, I've listened, critically I think, to nearly all his recordings.

To say that Sinopoli's recorded work is spectacular misses the point, the essence of his contribution to reading a musical score and giving it to posterity in digital clarity. This legacy seems to side-step the inevitable 'controversy' of his live performances and rehearsal style. There are reports and reviews of such happenings to satisfy anyone interested in such things.

I will avoid the encyclopedic approach that is more apropos a much deserved rigorous testament, and simply say a few things about Gustav Mahler, or more particularly, about Sinopoli's Mahler. It is very different from other great conductors' Mahler. Suffice it to say that I never 'heard' the Mahler 6th symphony before I heard Sinopoli's rendering on Deutsche Gramophone. That relentless irony that makes the symphony work for me was completely absent in any recording before or since. Sinopoli's attention to detail, especially Mahler's musical textures, bring this ironic element into what for me was sharp relief. Finally, the symphony made 'sense' to me. As I listen to the interpretations of other conductors, I do, now, hear something of that, but little of the dramatic clarity of the musical textures Sinopoli liberates from the score.

I imagine those who also admire his work find this freeing of the text as that which gives such identity to Sinopoli's interpretations of Mahler, or any other composer for that matter. Those who identify an aseptic intellectualism where I hear depth of sonority and living, breathing textures of artistic detail, very likely find Sinopoli 'idiosyncratic' and controversial.

15 years after the death of one of our finest musicians, a legacy remains for posterity. I wanted to remember, in this blog, this musician,  this physician and archeologist, this son of a Sicilian father,  this husband and father whose widow and sons are now 15 years older, before something distracts me, not only because he made a difference to me, but that by any standard, embracing or begrudging, he has made a difference in art, in music, in the world.

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