Sunday, 24 December 2006

As is becoming traditional for me during the Christmas period, it was again Bach's Mass in B minor. This just has to be the greatest of all musical works! And in the performance conducted by Klemperer I now find everything I want: balance, beauty of playing and of singing, clarity of texture, grandeur of overall concept. Two and a quarter hours of sheer bliss.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Very admiring of a new CD (received this morning) with James Ehnes. The Korngold, Barber and Walton violin concertos. Listened to Korngold and Walton both, of course, Heifetz warhorses. Ehnes is truly excellent; violin playing, and intelligent musicianship, that cannot really be faulted in these two works. To cap it all, the recording (Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under Bramwell Tovey, Onyx recording) really makes me believe that recording technology has improved since the 1960s and that, after twenty years of digital recording, good engineers can at last capture violin tone accurately. A major new CD for the collection.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Most impressed with Claude and Pamela Frank in the complete Beethoven violin & piano sonatas this weekend (Music & Arts). First-class piano playing, first-class violin playing, an ideal balance between the two instruments, and partnership music-making with no dominance and no competition. I cannot think why Pamela Frank hasn't had greater success.

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Typical music, this evening. I started with the first CD in the 10-CD box of Leonid Kogan's Russian performances. Kogan was one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century though, much like Arthur Grumiaux, he occasions little hyperbole. Then on with Handel: his opera Radamisto. The singing is glorious, with Joyce DiDonato, Patrizia Ciofi and -- a new discovery -- Maite Beaumont. One cannot help feeling that much of the opera was written on autopilot, and Handel brings fewer "hits" out of the hat than often. Still, an enjoyable way to pass three hours of an evening.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

A very big Huzzah! for Sergey Khachatryan playing the Shostakovich first violin concerto (with the Orchestre National de France under Kurt Masur). This concerto has known many fine performers, starting with Oistrakh and Kogan and including, recently, Vengerov, Repin, Sarah Chang and -- especially -- Leila Josefowicz. But, I suspect, Khachatryan is the greatest recorded performance yet. The fluency of his playing recalls Milstein; the purity of his double stops recall Vasa Prihoda. At 20 years old, he plays with an accuracy and a passion that sweep all before him. A really notable new recording; makes buying multiple, multiple versions of the same work somehow worthwhile.

Day completed by my greatest ox tongue yet; I fell asleep while it was cooking, so it boiled for a full six hours before I woke. But no matter; it absorbed the various herbs even better and it is now an ox tongue to die for. Ox tongue and Sergey Khachatryan; what a weekend!

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Back after a long absence. Just to record how much I continue to enjoy the playing of Janine Jansen. Recorded her off-air in the Brahms third sonata and Dvorak F minor romance (with hard-hitting Itamar Golan a bit less overbearing than usual). An editing gaff meant I lost the accompanying Grieg second sonata. One has to admire the energy Jansen puts into her playing; she always sounds on the edge, ever relaxed and laid-back. Good to listen to. And, of course, she plays incredibly well and sounds good, too.

Monday, 2 October 2006

Bad back and leg (sciatica) mean I have had to spend much time lounging on my couch. A good opportunity to reduce the listening and re-listening backlogs! Highly impressed again yesterday evening with Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic in Bruckner's 9th Symphony (1944). Suddenly, listening to -- or even keeping -- alternative versions really does seem pointless. And, for the time (62 years ago) the sound is perfectly accceptable, and only in the big climaxes is one aware of the constriction that was necessary. This recording is certainly one of the major classics of the 20th century. And hearing a Mahler movement (first movement of the 6th Symphony) on BBC radio on Saturday morning reminded me that I really am not partial to Mahler. Bruckner inhabits a more exhalted world!

Saturday, 23 September 2006

  Posted by Picasa

For Bach, you need a) the composer in good form b) singers who are accurate and have attractive voices c) instrumentalits who are accurate and sound good d) a conductor or director with a sense of the music, tempi and balance and e) a warm, intimate acoustic. All of these are found on the Ricercar Consort disc I have mentioned before (Philippe Pierlot conducting Katherine Fuge, Carlos Mena, Jan Kobow and Stephan MacLeod). In particular, Katherine Fuge has a highly pleasing soprano voice. A gold CD.

Before this, I marvelled again at Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Bruckner's 9th Symphony (Berlin, 1944). With the Red Army only a few months away from the Berlin suburbs, the mood is understandably grim. But what music! And what playing! And what conducting! And what a marvellous recording! Another gold CD.

During the afternoon, I twice listened to Guillaume Lekeu's unfinished string quartet. The first six minutes are fine, but each time I fell asleep after that, so a more considered verdict with have to wait.

Picture shows the ox tongue turned out by me this morning. Should go well with more Bruckner.

Monday, 18 September 2006

I was a bit harsh with Roberta Invernizzi in my previous Handel comment. I spent much of the weekend re-listening to her in the four cantatas on the CD, and enjoyed everything very much indeed. Yes, she does sound more mezzo than young-voiced soprano. But the music is great, the playing is great, and the singing pleases immensely. Handel brightens up any weekend! I'll be waiting for the next discs from this ensemble (La Risonanza).

Monday, 4 September 2006

Large new box of CDs from MDT today, mostly vocal. Interesting evening with Handel's Tra le fiamme sung by a) Nuria Rial and b) Roberta Invernizzi. Nuria (Catalan) is with Philippe Pierlot and the Ricerca Consort (Mirare) and Roberta (Italian) with La Risonanza and Fabio Bonizzoni.

Nuria Rial wins, easily. The sound is more focused, and the singer sounds young and agile. A quick look at Google shows that Invernizzi is 40 years old and, sadly, she sounds a bit matronly (touch of the Gladys Ripley). Good, but overshadowed by the Mirare disc. This is my second Ricerca Consort CD, bought entirely on trust. It is a winner and I'm in the market for yet more! In addition, it has an attractive mixed programme of concertos and cantatas by Bach and by Handel. The Mirare recording is bright and natural; the Glossa (Bonizzoni) a bit distant and murky. No contest, alas.

Monday, 14 August 2006

Wonder of wonders. Or never say never. Despite my prejudices against church choral music (and most choral music in general) I enjoyed the Officium Defunctorum of Tomás Luis de Victoria when I heard it last month with one of my sisters in Chichester cathedral. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen were broadcast doing the same work at the Ludlow Festival, so I captured it on CD. Glorious music! Fancy 16 unaccompanied voices singing a requiem mass of 1605 being fascinating music. Never say never. I especially enjoy the passages in plainsong.

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Not often I listen to a major piece of music twice in a day with great enjoyment. But I really loved my two listenings of Leila Josefowicz in the first violin concerto of Shostakovich (with Birmingham SO, Sakari Oramo, January 2006). Outside the Russians such as Repin and Vengerov, too many Western violinists fail to plumb the heights and depths of this marvellous music, and I was disappointed in Hilary Hahn's failure to make of the Passacaglia anything other than a mournful slow movement. Josefowicz plays with passion and intelligence. This has become one of my (rare) three star recordings. I'll have to take more notice of Josefowicz in future; she is obviously a babe-violinist plus.

Thursday, 3 August 2006

Listened with great pleasure to Nathan Milstein playing unaccompanied Bach (Salzburg, August 1957). Apart from Bach's music, and Milstein's playing, pleasure comes from the fact that Milstein knows how to keep the music moving, and he also doesn't automatically make every repeat. Slowing things down (particularly in the slow movements) spoiled for me the incredible playing of such diverse violinists as Julia Fischer and Bronislaw Gimpel. And when you add making all repeats to slowing down, these works can often drag on for a long time (especially the first Partita). Bravo Nathan for, even now, holding my attention for 60 minutes non-stop.
Finished off my listening with Lise de la Salle playing Bach. The impression of spontaneity and improvisation that she gives is quite remarkable. I really look forward to more recordings from her.

Monday, 31 July 2006

Lots of praise for Philippe Graffin. His recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto (Liverpool Philharmonic, Vernon Handley) is up there with the best in this lucky-on-record concerto. I must do a retrospective of my Graffin recordings. He doesn't get the exposure of Hilary Hahn, Maxim Vengerov, Joshua Bell et al. But he is easily their equal.

Thursday, 20 July 2006

A nice thing about buying CDs serendipitously is that occasionally one gets a pleasant surprise. And a good thing about Naxos is that low prices encourage experimentation. I picked up the Elgar CD of 21 year old Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma without any particular expectations. But her playing in this music is a real pleasure. I am not particularly fond of Elgar's sonata for violin & piano (23 minutes without any real inspiration in sight) but I loved Lamsma's playing so much I forgave Elgar. And in the eleven salon pieces that complete the CD, Lamsma shows a real feeling for style, and excellent variation in dynamics and tone colour, and an intelligent appreciation of the need to keep things moving. Even an old warhorse such as La Capricieuse comes up freshly painted.
Yet another really talented young violinist. I'll watch out for her.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

Really fallen in love with Sandrine Piau's new CD of Vivaldi cantatas. Old Mr Four Seasons is not normally my cup of tea, but the two cantatas (Laudate pueri, and In furore iustissimae irae) are 100% delight. And what a singer! She takes her place in my current personal pantheon with Carolyn Sampson and Natalie Dessay.

Idyllic concert yesterday in a small church in a lovely Cotsworld village. The violinist played an all-bravura programme that pleased the audience immensely (Vitali, Debussy, Sarasate and Kreisler). And how good to find someone with the courage to present a politically and musically incorrect programme! He was a crowd pleaser and drew warm and enthusiastic applause. Too many fluffs for my liking, however, and too many intonation problems. Double stops brought out his real weaknesses in intonation; Heifetz would prescribe six months of playing scales. Still, the setting, the violinist's enthusiasm, and the programme made the occasion an enjoyable one.

Friday, 30 June 2006

Yesterday evening I actually listened with pleasure to Busoni's second sonata for violin & piano (all 38 minutes of it). First time I've stayed awake and have enjoyed the journey. It was probably helped by the fact that the violinist was Leonidas Kavakos (pianist Denes Varjon). Recorded via streaming audio from the BBC website (concert in Wigmore Hall in mid-June 2006).

I have always been an admirer of Kavakos. In some ways, he often comes over as a 21st century equivalent of Adolf Busch, or Szigeti. He focuses your attention on the music rather than on his playing, which is perhaps one reason I enjoyed the Busoni at last. Also a similar experience with Leila Josefowicz and her new recording that includes the Shostakovich sonata for violin & piano. This sonata's sparse textures have usually seemed somewhat barren to me (as played by Oistrakh and Richter, no less). But it comes off in Josefowicz's hands. The coupling, the first Shostakovich violin concerto, needs another audition, though I did admire the orchestra under Sakari Oramo. To complete an excellent evening, a truly delicious crab (from Fishworks in Bath).

Monday, 12 June 2006

It's an unusual experience to find myself listening to the Beethoven violin concerto with continuing pleasure. To all intents and purposes, it's one of those works I have simply heard too often. However, the new Music & Arts discovery of the 1942 public performance (Carnegie Hall) of the Beethoven with Adolf and Fritz Busch (New York Philharmonic-Symphony) really is a new instant classic. I've always liked the 1942 studio performance by the same team, but this live performance from a few days earlier is far superior (more relaxed and more integrated).
As usual, Busch impresses and entrances by his sheer musicianship rather than by any spectacular feats of fiddling. When Busch is playing, you just listen to the music, and there are no distractions. This must be in the top five recordings of this somewhat difficult concerto over the past 80 years. No mean achievement!

Sunday, 4 June 2006

It can be an interesting experience, putting on a new Bach cantata recording for the first time. In the case of one of the CDs I brought back from Paris, the experience was great, and a new "classic recording" was born. Selected pretty well at random from the shelves of the FNAC (St-Lazare), the three cantatas conducted by Philippe Pierlot with the Ricercar Consort give enormous pleasure. For Bach, you need a) the composer at his best b) expert singing c) expert instrumental playing d) good recording and e) good overall direction. This CD (Mirare) has them all. The cantatas concerned are Gleichwie der Regen and Schnee vom Himmel fällt (BWV 18), Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (BWV 106) and Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (BWV 150). I plan to establish a "top 10" rack, since recordings such as these all too often become buried in the collection and forgotten.

A second CD, part of Sigiswald Kuijken's new programme to record all the Bach cantatas, still awaits a listening. It will have to work hard to equal Pierlot's forces!

Sunday, 21 May 2006

A last listen before shelving to Irina Muresanu (violin) and Dana Ciocarlie (piano) playing the sonatas of Lekeu and Magnard. 70 minutes of lovely music and gentle melancholy. Pretty bad that these two sonatas aren't aired more often, instead of hour after hour of the sonatas of Franck, Ravel, Beethoven, Brahms and a few others.

The performances are not ideal and no way displace Ferras (Lekeu) or Dumay (Magnard). There is more than a touch of Emanuel Bay to the playing of the pianist, and one's ear stays pretty much with the violinist all the time. It would be good to hear these works played by Berezovzky and Repin, or Akiko Suwanai and Paul Crossley, for example. However, the two works make an ideal coupling here.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Much pleasure from a CD from de Haas: Steven Staryk (solo violin) playing études-caprices by Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Dont, Paganini, Wieniawski, Sevcik, Mazas, Dancla, Rode, Locatelli, et al. 34 pieces on the CD, and not much lasts longer than two minutes. But a veritable feast of attractive music (and violin playing) for violin lovers. Much enjoyment.

Also recorded Leonidas Kavakos playing the Brahms Violin Concerto (Andrew Davies and BBC SO). Predictably good, but I am really played out with the Brahms concerto, after 50 years of frequent listening (starting with Oistrakh and Saxon orchestra under Konwitschny in around 1956). Kavakos is a very fine violinist; I just wish these very fine violinists would be allowed to play something else, from time to time (such as, the études-caprices of Wieniawski, Fiorillo, Dont, etc).

All was not lost; at the market in Tetbury on Wednesday I bought what was probably the best crab of my life. What a magnificent beast! Hopefully, the first of many from the same source.

Monday, 15 May 2006

Evergreens. I enjoyed Rachmaninov's second piano concerto played by Boris Berezovsky (Urals Philharmonic). Boris's playing has always appealed to me; it's strong and fluent, but also sensitive and intelligent. He doesn't storm the barn in Rach 2, but lets the music speak for itself (never a bad thing to do in emotion-charged Russian pieces). It comes over similar to Rachmaninov's own performance. No higher praise.

I also much enjoyed Philippe Graffin's recording of the Elgar violin concerto (coupled, very appositely, with Chausson's Poème). Again, no nonsense from Graffin, no wallowing, no meandering; the Elgar concerto doesn't need it. A lucky concerto on disc, and Graffin's is one of the best. Nice to find so many younger violinists keeping the piece in the repertoire (Isabelle van Keulen and Hilary Hahn, recently).

Monday, 17 April 2006

Bravo Isabelle Faust! Her Schubert recital disc really is exceptional (Fantasie D 934, Duo Sonata D 574, Rondo Brilliant). Like Adolf Busch or Joseph Szigeti, she draws attention to the music, not to her playing. Alexander Melnikov (piano) provides real, virtuoso partnership. An exemplary CD.

Sunday, 16 April 2006

Sviatislav Richter in Schubert; that Brilliant Classics box (Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt) was quite an acquisition. I really enjoyed two Schubert sonatas this evening, and am beginning to conclude that Handel and Schubert are my two principal choices when it comes to music listening.

And, on the same subject (?), the improvisation on cooking squid this evening was also a major success!
Very taken with three CDs featuring Ion Voicu. Lovely to hear the classic, pre-war Central European sound (with a Romanian flavour to it). And great to hear real trills played as they should be. Voicu was a major violinist, but it must have been tough for someone from the East to become internationally known in the 1940s and 50s. He did get to make an LP (Mendelssohn and Bruch) with the LSO in London in 1963, however. And his Paganini first concerto is quite impeccable. I'll have to have a Voicu hunt and get some more recordings by him.

Sunday, 9 April 2006

Stressful days. Fortunately, I took delivery of a CD of Handel duets sung by Carolyn Sampson (hurrah!) and Robin Blaze. The singing is perfection, as is the recording (very well done, BIS). Yet another Handel disc to listen to over and over again. I am beginning to think that Georg Friedrich may well be my favourite composer; his music is inexhaustible and constantly enchanting.

I was also pleasantly surprised by a "Heifetz Transcriptions" CD (Naxos) from 16-year old Su Yeon Lee. The 18 tracks are a real pleasure. Lee may not have too much experience, but she brings freshness and enthusiasm to these pieces. If only someone would tell her to listen to Heifetz, Kogan and Milstein and learn not to play slower pieces too slowly (a bad modern trend). But most of the pieces on this super CD are not slow, fortunately. To be replayed many times.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Excellent concert in Portsmouth last week. James Ehnes played the first Shostakovich violin concerto (Marin Alsop) then Alsop conducted Elgar's second symphony.
Technically, there has probably never been a finer performance of the Shostakovich. Ehnes really is a master violinist. In particular, the scherzo and the burleska sounded quite superb. Perhaps the notturno and the passagalia could have done with a little less head and a little more heart. But it was a very fine performance. I do, however, prefer the Sarah Chang / Simon Rattle performance; Chang also has an impressive technique, but she also has more heart, which this concerto certainly needs.
Alsop's conducting of the Elgar impressed me; speeds were swift and the music had plenty of backbone (which Elgar -- like Delius -- really needs in performance). It was all a glorious 55 minutes of Edwardian colour and didn't sound a minute too long. The audience really enjoyed it (and also listened to Ehnes's pianissimo passages and pauses in the Shostakovich concerto in rapt silence).

Sunday, 19 March 2006

My first (all alone) Tom Yum soup (Thai bouillabaisse). Excellent! The 800 gms of baby squid were hard work, but it was all worthwhile. I forsee this becoming one of my staple dishes (as long as the supplies of fresh squid, mussels, scallops and clams hold up). Paste supplier secured via the Internet (Wing Supplies, a Chinese outfit).
Otherwise, it was Bach today; 77 minutes of contrapuntal arrangements played by Fretwork (consort of viols). Sadly, apart from my sister Iris, I cannot think of anyone who could possibly share my love of this esoteric, cerebral music. If ever I am exiled to Mars, I shall take with me a) the complete works of Bach b) the complete works of Handel and c) many, many cases of Crémant de Loire.

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Very much Back to Bach, the last few days. Specifically, I bought Volume 19 in John Eliot Gardiner's Soli Deo Gloria series of Bach cantatas. Somewhat hesitantly, I admit, since I have never really enjoyed JEG in Bach or Handel in the past; too hectoring, to my taste.
But, with the two hours on these two CDs, all is forgiven. The music is Bach at his best (although somewhat lacrimose, in the wrong mood). The playing and singing are exemplary. And the recording is how such things should be, but rarely are. All in all, a rave success. As someone with over 170 Bach cantata recordings on his shelves, I am not easily impressed. But I certainly am, this time round. And Gardiner seems to have improved with age.

Sunday, 19 February 2006

Janet Baker and John Barbirolli in Mahler; a happy coupling. I have had enormous pleasure from the "Great Recording of the Century" reissue of the Kindertotenlieder, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and the Fünf Rückert Lieder. A really beautiful CD; three stars all the way (despite the slow tempi in the Kindertotenlieder). I am not an uncritical admirer of Mahler. But this is music to live with.

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

My curiousity aroused by a review, I bought a CD of Joyce Hatto. Her playing of Schubert's B flat major sonata D 960 really is something. Reminds me of the phrase "velvet paw". I am not usually conscious of a pianist's touch, but I certainly am here. Since she has made 116 CDs (it is said) I may have a lot of listening to do. The Schubert CD I bought also contained a sampler, so this will be interesting.

Monday, 6 February 2006

For the first time in ages, I actually enjoyed listening to a Beethoven symphony: the Pastoral, played by Klemperer in Vienna (1951 - Vox original). I really like Klemperer in Beethoven, with the forward woodwind and the divided first and second violins. He sounds "right". The 1951 recording is not, of course, of the highest fi. But it is perfectly adequate, except in loud climaxes that become a bit dim (in this transfer).

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Yesterday evening, I really enjoyed listening to Korngold: the Much Ado about Nothing suite, and Gesang der Heliane (David Frühwirth) and Suite for Two Violins, Cello & Piano (led by Benjamin Schmid). Somehow, Korngold attuned perfectly with my mood. His bitter-sweet harmonies are so fin de siècle!

It also confirmed my growing suspicion that "big names" don't always mean best, or most appropriate, performances. This all-Austrian cast seemed to take to Korngold like ducks to water. Admittedly, major figures such as Kreisler, Heifetz, Furtwängler, Richter can make quite a difference in music that suits them. But I'm not too sure now about the second and third division players. Difficult to imagine Korngold being played more idiomatically than by Früwirth and Schmid – even when Seidel and Heifetz are taken into account.

Tuesday, 31 January 2006

I had forgotten about Joseph Szigeti. A new Biddulph re-issue of him playing baroque works in the 1950s (plus a Bach third solo sonata from 1949) made me realise why he was always classed as a great player. Not, perhaps, a great violinist; but certainly a very great musician and one whose playing remains in the mind after more flashy performances have long been forgotten. I must start a Szigeti listening retrospective.

Monday, 30 January 2006

Bad day, for usual reasons: work, wine and woman (without the wine). Sought catharsis, as often, in Russian music (Rachmaninov's second symphony – Pletnev) and this was so soothing (?) that I followed it with Furtwängler conducting orchestral excerpts from Götterdämmerung (1950, Lucerne). [Why doesn't Google/Blogger permit an "o" with an umlaut? I had to import this one from another file] All through headphones at high volume. Lovely! My spaghetti al sugo ed ai funghi was as good as usual. But life is stressful. Perhaps tomorrow evening it will be Tchaikovsky's Pathétique (no doubt Pletnev, again).

Sunday, 1 January 2006

Great success with transfers to three CDs; the first transfers I have done for a long time. Old Alfredo comes up well in Saint-Saens and Bruch, as do Heifetz and Piatigorsky in Dvorak and Stravinsky. And there is also the Hotter 1954 recording of the Schwanengesang. Most welcome of all is a reincarnation after nearly 50 years of the Todesverkündigung with Flagstad. Welcome back! The hum and surface filters in Waverepair really work well. Excellent transfers, and a few more LPs can bite the dust at long last.
The year 2005 ended peacefully, with Sviatoslav Richter playing late Beethoven sonatas. Richter is my kind of artist; his concentration is phenomenal, and nothing he plays is done simply for effect or to draw attention to himself.