Hurwitz recommends

June 7, 2020

ClassicsToday.com might be the best — most reliable, most discerning, least willing to write puff — of the classical music review sites. I’ve been reading it for at least 15 years, I believe. The lead critic — sorry, the “Executive Editor” — is David Hurwitz. In the last few weeks David decided to launch a YouTube channel devoted to talking about music, and thus far it has been terrific.

Some of his entries are record reviews, some are interesting “music chats” (on, for example, demented Bach transcriptions or parody music), but my favourites are what he calls “Repertoire” videos, in which he surveys what he takes to be the finest recordings of a particular piece. If, like me, you’ve spent a long time building a music library, you might enjoy seeing where your favourite recording lands in his estimation, and you might appreciate getting tips for new recordings to try.

It has also been fascinating for me to see how another person’s musical world can be so different from my own. The centre of my musical world is Bach, with medieval and renaissance music in close orbit, and an armful of twentieth-century composers further out. From this point of view, Hurwitz’ choices for pieces on which to focus is odd: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition? Ravel’s Piano Concertos? Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat? Does anybody really love this music? Apparently so.

But he has also posted excellent discussions of pieces for which I think most classical music lovers will have an affection: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Schubert’s Ninth, Debussy’s La Mer, Bruckner’s Fifth. He’s opinionated, and his opinions might rankle at times, but he knows the music very well, and he knows the history of recorded music backward and forward, and I’ve been finding him very much worth listening to.

5 Responses to “Hurwitz recommends”

  1. Rob G Says:

    I don’t follow classical music nearly as closely as you do so I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that Pictures at an Exhibition, in its orchestral version at least, is something of a minor warhorse, roughly of the same stature as, say, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. It may be a little odd to have it as a focused-upon piece, but it does appear to be a crowd favorite, even if a relatively obscure one. Maybe that’s what caused Hurwitz’s attention to be drawn to it.

  2. cburrell Says:

    You’re right, of course. I, being more or less indifferent to the romantic warhorses, major and minor, am the odd duck, and Hurwitz is closer in his taste to the average music lover. Actually, I’ve been enjoying listening to him talk about these pieces with such enthusiasm. It’s heartening.

  3. John Says:

    D Hurwitz is well biased. as do others (perhaps more so than average) An X conductor or composer he dislikes will never get a favourable review or fair critics. His despise of many a british critics, is yet another matter. I admit he has a good sense of humor, however. Still, he does make mistakes, has some flaws of his own, at times, and will most likely disregard or insult the critic(s) pointing towards him. Too bad. Some of his reviews are really interesting stuff. But, you know, that doesnt suffice to make a constantly great musical advisor. In fact, most of the time now I come to avoid his so-called recommendations and make my own judgement.

  4. Mark Says:

    Hurwitz is the epitome of a nasty embittered critic who never made it as a real musician. He spends his sad little life being vile about musicians. He needs therapy.

    • cburrell Says:

      There are certain musicians he likes to rag on, that’s true. Teodor Currentzis! Christian Thielemann! I’m on record as disagreeing with him in some of these judgements. But I wouldn’t characterize him as “vile about musicians” in general. I could make a list of fine musicians, and not a short one, whom I’ve discovered because he praised them.

      I’m curious: which music critics would you recommend as more fair and reliable? I enjoy reading commentary on recordings, so I’m genuinely interested in your answer.


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