Several of my favorite records/CDs are recordings by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner conducting. Marriner died today, age 92. From the Washington Post's obituary:
The ensemble began as a group of 13 friends, playing baroque music for strings in Mr. Marriner’s living room, but quickly grew larger and more ambitious. Its first public concert took place at its namesake church in London’s Trafalgar Square in 1958, and shortly thereafter the group was invited to make its first recording.
It would turn out to be the first of several hundred albums credited to “St. Martin’s,” as it was customarily abbreviated. At least 200 of these were led by Mr. Marriner, initially with nods and gestures as he played the leading violin part and later from the podium. ....
“It’s the sound of the Academy that made it celebrated around the world,” Mr. Marriner reflected in an interview he gave to the London Guardian for his 90th birthday in 2014. “We wanted some clarity in the texture and vitality in the tempi. Early music at that time had been slow, thick, cloudy and taken very seriously, like an ancient relic.”
Indeed, Mr. Marriner and his group were part of a huge revival of scholarly and popular interest in music of the 18th and early 19th centuries that began in the 1960s and has continued to this day.
Washington Post arts critic Philip Kennicott once described the original appeal of the St. Martin’s performances and its interpretation of classics. “The Academy played them like chamber music,” he wrote in 2001, “with reduced forces and an emphasis on clarity; it also played them fast, which produced a broad architectural overview. This was revelatory in an age when conductors often got bogged down milking each phrase for its maximum romantic yield.” ....
For a conductor, Mr. Marriner was unusually self-effacing, a trait that endeared him to his colleagues. Asked once for his proudest claim about the orchestra, he gave a simple answer: “We decided always to have good players and never to go on the platform under-rehearsed.” ....
The decision to name the ensemble the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields was a practical one.
“It was the place where we gave our first ever concert back in 1958, so there’s significance in that,” Mr. Marriner told the London Daily Telegraph in 2014. “But the real reason we took the name was that the vicar let us rehearse there for free so long as we publicized the church. That was the deal. .... [more]
Neville Marriner, who led renowned Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, dies at 92 - The Washington Post