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Concertgebouw: downloads for Valentine's Day

In anticipation of its D.C. performance on Monday (and its performances at Carnegie Hall the two days after that), the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is making a Valentine's Day gesture to American audiences by offering ten free downloads from its website. And we're talking complete symphonies, not excerpts: the Brahms Second, -- including performances of Brahms' Second Symphony (with Mariss Jansons), the Bruckner 8th (Haitink), the Dvorak 8th (Giulini), the Mahler 1st (Bernstein), and others.

For the orchestra, this is a way to beef up its U.S. mailing list (you have to register and agree to be on that mailing list before you can start downloading), and to advertise what now seems to be an obligatory appurtenance of large orchestras, the in-house label. It's a pretty good trade-off, though: for the sake of what amounts to ten complete CDs, I'll submit to having my name on a mailing list. (The site is not all that well explained, and downloading was a little tricky; on a Mac, I had to let it download via Quicktime before I was able to save it as an mp3. Your results may vary.)

I've made no secret in the past of my admiration for the Concertgebouw, and particularly Jansons, its music director, who conducts four of the ten selections offered here. Is it really the best in the world, as a Gramophone poll crowned it in 2008? And if not, which orchestra is? Post your thoughts. At the very least, the downloads offer a way to stimulate that particular discussion.

By Anne Midgette  |  February 12, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  international , music on the Web  
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Next: Olympics: music for figure skating


Thanks for the heads-up.

I don't know how you can have a good opinion on which is the best orchestra in the world unless you've heard them all play live, which I haven't. Aaaaaand I'm probably not going to see the Concertgebouw do that, but I will download and listen.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | February 12, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I'd have to agree with Lindemann777. A simple poll favors a) an orchestra that is recorded often, b) an orchestra that is newsworthy (already has a reputation - think preseason college football/basketball polls) and c) an orchestra that travels often.

If Gramophone collected data from the pollees of all the orchestras they have seen and how they rank them, then I would feel better about what orchestra is claimed as best. It is entirely possible that people who have seen both the RCO and orchestra B like orchestra B better. But a simple poll would ignore that if significantly fewer people have seen orchestra B than have seen the RCO.

Posted by: prokaryote | February 12, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Naxos' download site, Classicsonline:, has as nifty Valentine's Day offer as well. And, yes, I work for Naxos. Full disclosure.

V-Day is a great excuse to stream, download and dedicate a song to the one(s) you love.

BTW: Thanks for the head's up on the Concertgebouw offer. If you have a PC, it is very easy: you just "Save as target," dump the Mp3 in the folder of your choice, then drag it to the player of your choice. The sound isn't great-- but hey, it's FREE and a terrific group of conductors.

Posted by: paulamlyn | February 12, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Anne for heads-up on the RCO offer. I have downloaded one of the ten and iTunes is saying the MP3 bit rate is 320 Kbps, which I believe is the best MP3 can do.
However, no timings or movement breaks or album art.
But I am still grateful.

Posted by: kashe | February 14, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Somehow my comments got onto the figure skating blog -- I must have slipped!

Here is my offering, assuming the figure skating enthusiasts are elsewhere:

For all my right-thinking friends who use Macs: right click (or control click on trackpads) and choose "Open in iTunes". It takes a long time for the files to download, but then they appear in your music library as a number and "KCO". When you click on the "Download pdf information sheet," what really appears is another web page with the recording data that you can then enter by hand (it won't let you cut and paste) by going to the iTunes information panels. Not the world's most user-friendly deal, but it works.The quality is so-so, even on really good Bose stereo speakers.

As for the best orchestra, I guess it also depends very much on when and where you hear them. It is probably very different to hear the orchestra in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam or at the Kennedy Center, in the 1990s or in the 20 10s. I'm planning to hear them tonight and I am determined to enjoy the concert, world's best orchestra or not!

Posted by: gauthier310 | February 15, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Correction: instead of "Open with iTunes", use "Download linked file" (works in Safari, don't know about other browsers). Then just drag the downloaded mp3 file to your open iTunes music window.

Posted by: gauthier310 | February 15, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I think that it's difficult to rank the orchestras, especially at the very top. Having said that, as far as the Gramophone article is concerned, there is no way the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra belongs in the top 20, Gergiev notwithstanding, or that the London Symphony or the Bavarian Radio Orchestras are, on a day-to-day basis, better than the top 10 or so American orchestra.

I love the Concertgebouw Orchestra as well and for me it's indeed one of the very best. And yes, Jansons made a big difference; under him it does sound like the old Concertgebouw again. Whenever the orchestra came under Riccardo Chailly, I always left under the impression of having listened to just another top orchestra. Not so with Jansons - and one should note that Chailly did not conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra since he left the post of chief conductor almost 6 years ago! Six years - and this clown is now destroying the Gewandhaus Orchestra as well, who may not be as lucky as the Concertgebouw to find someone to restore the old sound! (I do however give Chailly credit for performing and, especially, recording Bach with a modern orchestra; if only more conductors would follow his lead! - as I see no reason why this repertoire should *only* be played with period instruments.)

But back to Concertgebouw: yesterday's concert was somewhat of a disappointment. I heard a group of great instrumentists at the top of their game giving a solid, professional performance under a conductor unwilling to take chances. Or maybe it is because I don't like Rachmaninov, and the performance of the second symphony did little to change my opinion.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | February 16, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I missed hearing the Concertgebouw during the Chailly years, but last night was no disappointment to me. Although I've never been a fan of either Sibelius or Rachmaninoff, the Concertgebouw made their music come alive for me with I-want-to-hear-this-again enthusiasm.

One of the best indicators of an orchestra's quality is their winds. Last night's were perfect: not a hint of raspiness, not a hint of roughness or wheezing, not a hint of a delay attacking any notes or leaving them, just rich, smooth sound. For that matter, the timing of the whole Concertgebouw was magical -- they could pass a theme around from section to section with holographic precision, until the theme could be seen, sparkling as a cloud above the orchestra. I'm a believer: if they aren't the world's best orchestra, there can't be any that are better.

Normally, I despise the Washington audiences' penchant for standing ovulations, but last night the Concertgebouw really did deserve every bit of the enthusiastic applause they got. I even stood up myself.

Posted by: gauthier310 | February 16, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

I totally agree with gauthier310. The Rachmaninov 2nd in the wrong hands can sound overblown and bombastic. The symphony is far from perfect, but the perfrormance last night was magnificent. Jansons led the orchestra with complete control of sound and balance; yet allowed the players the freedom to express themselves as individual artists. And the sounds they produced were uniformily gorgeous. This orchestra is truly a magnificent instrument and plays with a unity of purpose missing from lesser groups. As a serious amateur orchestral player, I was just overwhelmed by this performance. Jansons took an unwieldy and at times overblown work and gave it structure and shape; the wonderful players did the rest!

Posted by: commenter4 | February 16, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

No doubt the orchestral execution was marvelous. Indeed, the Concertgebouw woodwind section is one of my three favorites right now (the other ones are those of the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras.) I should also mention the timpanist, especially in the Sibelius concerto (Marinus Komst; loved how assertive he was without being too aggresive - though Nick Woud, who played in Rachmaninov, was no slouch either; here's his web site:

But I wanted a darker, more taught sound in Sibelius and the Rachmaninov, for all the lushness in the sound, was too polite for my taste. Yes, Jansons whiped the orchestra in the coda, but for the rest of the evening I was simply listening to a great orchestra at the top of its game. This is indeed, no small thing.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | February 16, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

With so much great symphonic music in the Western (including Russian and Soviet) symphonic canon, and also the need for orchestras, conductors, and programmers to conscientiously and slowly make room for the newly budding 21st century ‘non-alternative classical' symphonic tradition, I was disappointed to see the RCO, Mariss Jansons, and WPAS program locally the fairly weak Rachmaninoff Symphony #2 in E Minor. (I have no problem, of course, with the great Sibelius violin concerto; nor the great Mahler Symphony #3, programmed by the RCO for NYC.)

I am pleased to know that two of my favorite Western classical musicians – Alfred Brendel and Maurizio Pollini –have both concluded -- after long lifetimes’ of classical music experience -- that life is just too short to play Rachmaninoff. (Quotes available upon request.)

Shame on the RCO, Jansons, and WPAS for the poor use of our Western symphonic orchestral resources!!

Wouldn’t actually living Washington, D.C. audiences have preferred to have heard – instead of the Rachmaninoff #2 – the regional premiere of a work such as Esa-Pekka Salonen’s "Five Images After Sappho" – a new 21st century ‘non-alternative classical' work about love and marriage which San Francisco’s superb music critic Joshua Kosman called a “crowning splendor”?

I am also pleased to see that the exciting young conductor Joana Carneiro has just commissioned new 'non-alternative classical' works from Enrico Chapela and Du Yun, and will also include in her conducting repertoire next season 'non-alternative classical' works by John Adams, Peter Lieberson ("Neruda Songs" -- also about love and marriage), and James MacMillan ("Seven Last Words From the Cross"). ('Non-alternative classical' composer Jörg Widmann will also be featured in the same season.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | February 17, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

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