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Dead German Conductors, Hydrophones, and Happenings


Amid the firecracker-sized pops of an ancient LP, a fatherly voice corrects the iconic beginning of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. "Sometimes it's played pum, pum, pum, pum," says (long-dead) legendary conductor Bruno Walter. "But zet's absolutely wrong! It's pah-pah-pah-pah!" So begins my favorite specimen of the most obscure genre in classical music: the conductor's bonus disc.

Once or twice a decade, record companies burnish a new release with an extra disc of a star conductor rehearsing, answering interview questions, or otherwise holding forth. Yet unless you want the proper pronunciation of "Beethovenian" from John Eliot Gardiner (say "bay-toe-VEE-nee-in") or yearn to eavesdrop on Sergiu Celibidache grunting his way through Bruckner, most bonus discs remain curios, of interest only to aspiring conductors and composers.

By contrast, the bonus CD accompanying Benjamin Zander's splendid recording Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 (Telarc) is a winner. Charming and earnest, Zander calls the massive piece of music "a vast and serious journey" and explains how to hear it as "a cathedral in sound." The album's additional mini-poster helps you follow Zander's hypothesis and defangs terms such as "recapitulation" and "scherzo." Renowned for his sumptuous Mahler recordings, Zander is an engaging guide who fulfills the mission of the bonus disc: to help you listen in a new way.

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