Monday, 30 December 2002

Overwhelmed, as often in the past 40 years or so, by Delius’s Sea Drift (Beecham, Bruce Boyce, 1954). This is a piece, and a performance, that have so often left me deeply moved. Beecham knew instinctively the need to keep music such as Delius’s moving. Left me feeling quite moist of eye.
Preceded Sea Drift with more Beecham: Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt (sparked by a telephone query from my daughter Tabitha). The period 1880 to 1910 was so rich in music! Grieg and much of Delius; and also Strauss, Brahms, Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner, Debussy, Elgar, Chausson … This may even be my favourite musical period (despite all my Bach listening over Christmas).
Resisted the temptation to follow the Grieg and Delius with Chausson’s Poèmes de l’Amour et de la Mer, or with Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Elgar’s cello concerto. But they will surely follow …

Friday, 27 December 2002

Christmas Eve saw a great meal of pâté de foie gras, langoustines, cheese and dessert, all washed down with champagne, the incredible Australian Nobel One dessert wine, and a good pinot noir d’Alsace. The langoustines (from William’s Kitchen) were excellent – Tabitha and I consumed 2 kilos of them between us.
Music over Christmas was overwhelmingly Bach. I was surprised just how much I still enjoyed Karl Richter’s 1958 Matthew Passion – and how much I enjoyed Fischer-Dieskau’s singing therein (for a change). Just goes to show one can never generalise. In fact I suspect this may still be my favourite recording of the Matthew Passion; one I have known for over forty years.
Then, on to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I have seriously underestimated this in the past. It is, in fact, a cycle of six high-grade cantatas. I knew the first two from an old DGG recording I had in the 1950s, and the final four cantatas sort of passed me by ever after. My loss! And also, in this reversal of ancient prejudices, I greatly enjoyed John Eliot Gardiner’s performance of the Oratorio. He usually comes over as the Toscanini of the baroque orchestra. But in this recording (mid 1980s) one cannot really fault him and he doesn’t “hector” the music as he is wont to do in Bach.

Saturday, 21 December 2002

An oddly assorted violin trio enabled me to sort out some of my likes and dislikes (aka prejudices).
I responded with coolness to Jerrold Rubenstein and Dalia Ouziel (1997) playing the three Brahms sonatas. I enjoyed Emil Telmanyi and Georg Vasarhelyi (Berlin, 1939) in the first two Brahms sonatas. And, very surprised, I thoroughly enjoyed Joan Berkhemer and Kyoko Hashimoto in the Mendelssohn F major sonata.
Why? Rubenstein played beautifully; too beautifully, and usually too slowly. Telmanyi, very much in the early last century Central European tradition, took 8:31 and 7:05 respectively over the first movements of the first two Brahms sonatas, and this felt about right. Rubenstein took 11:19 and 8:57 respectively, and this dragged.
Every violinist should understand why there are not too many sonatas and concertos for solo clarinets, oboes or flutes; it’s not that these three woodwind instruments don’t sound beautiful. It’s just that beautiful sound begins to pall after five minutes or so. The best violinists vary the colour and dynamics constantly (Heifetz was a master of this). Beautiful-sound violinists such as Mischa Elman broke up the stream of sound with varied bowing and a lot of right arm articulation. Alas, Rubenstein (ex Julliard) has a lovely Joseph Guarneri violin with a particularly beautiful rich sound on the lower strings. And don’t we know it! In the end, the beautiful slow, rich sound with the seamless son filé from the immaculately smooth bowing arm have the same effect as eating an entire kilo of high-grade pâté de foie gras. Frank Almond in the same three sonatas eventually had a similar effect on me.
Which is why Joan Berkhemer was like a refreshing glass of sparkling water. He (I think Joan, like Ana, is male name in Dutch, for some odd reason) plays the violin with zest and spirit. And it’s infectious. I am not a Mendelssohn fan, but enjoyed the contrast with the over-precious Rubenstein. Berkhemer sounded like a violinist; Rubenstein reminded me of a clarinettist.
Telmanyi in Brahms is no model; but he kept things moving and was consistently interesting. I’ll go back to his two performances (not surprisingly, his playing reminded me of Jeno Léner and the Budapest of the late nineteenth century).
Insight or prejudice? I don’t know. Just keep me away from violinists who play consistently beautifully!

Friday, 20 December 2002

Well, after well nigh 45 years, Paul Kletzki’s performance of Mahler 4th Symphony (1957 with the Philharmonia and Emmy Loose) has been dethroned in my affections. By the 1967 public performance in Prague (3 January) by John Barbirolli and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with Heather Harper in the finale.
Beside the 1957 Philharmonia, the BBC orchestra sounds a bit rustic. But it’s suave, northern playing versus rustic southern playing, and Barbirolli and the BBC orchestra win hands down. To my mind, Barbirolli masters the ebb and flow of the music magnificently. The structure holds together and nothing seems too long – especially not the 20 minute adagio. After so long a time, it is increasingly rare that a “newcomer” ousts an old favourite. The Barbirolli was broadcast on 19 December 2002 and, I must say, the sound transfers beautifully to CD. A new confirmed favourite. Probably unlikely to be supplanted in my affections from now on? I even prefer Heather Harper to Emmy Loose. There’s a volte face!

Tuesday, 17 December 2002

A lot of pleasure yesterday evening from my new (EMI Great Recordings of the Century) 2-CD set of Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia in Wagner bits and pieces (1960-61). Wagner fitted my mood very well, and the Tannhäuser Overture makes good listening. The sound is fine, and well balanced. Interesting to note how the stock of Klemperer (and Furtwängler, Weingartner and Mengelberg) keeps rising -- and that of Toscanini, for example, drifts downwards. Partly to do with the awful sound Toscanini used to like. But partly due, one feels, to his brutal way with so much music. Whatever: the two Klemperer CDs will give me as much pleasure as does the similar 2-CD set of Furtwängler conducting Wagner bits.

Friday, 13 December 2002

Somewhat disturbed evening, and nothing I listened to seemed to “speak” to me. But around 10.15 I found (by accident when looking for something else) the DG re-issue of Clara Haskil and Ferenc Fricsay in the mid-1950s playing Mozart (mono). Put on the piano concerto No.27 (K 595) and was immediately entranced, both by Mozart and by Haskil. It sounded as if Mozart himself were playing, and the music certainly “spoke”. At such times, Mozart truly joins the great triumvirate (with Bach and Beethoven). And what a good recording! No apologies needed for 1955 mono sound. The disc also contains the 19th concerto (K 459) so I must dip into that when I get back next week.
There is, after all, a point in having a back collection of CDs about which one has forgotten!