Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Glorious John! I replaced my faithful old CD of Barbirolli conducting Elgar and Vaughan Williams pieces (including Tallis and Greensleeves, plus Sospiri, etc) with a new GROC version. Fine new sound; and what playing, and what music! This CD has to be one of the great immortal classics of all time.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Greatly astonished when settling down to listen to twelve pieces played by David Nadien (kindly sent to me by Lee). Here was a violinist who, in these pieces, was fully the equal of Milstein, Elman, Gingold, Hassid, etc! And I had never heard of him until Lee practically forced him on me. Seamless technique, plus the art of varying tone and approach so that each of the short pieces lives its own life. A quite unbelievable discovery.

Monday, 12 November 2007

After a second bite, big round of applause for Fanny Clamagirand. I picked up her CD of the complete solo violin sonatas of Ysaye purely by accident in the FNAC in Paris. It goes to the top of the pile for performances of these multi-faceted works. Like anyone under 25 years old, Clamagirand has no technical problems. But the variety and chameleon colouring she brings to the 15 movements rival that of Heifetz (if only he had recorded them). Top of the class. Whatever Ms Clamagirand records next, I'll be there! Proves the wisdom of serendipity when record buying.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

A fortuitous acquisition (FNAC, in Paris) was Fanny Clamagirand playing the six Ysaÿe sonatas. Intelligent playing; over the fifteen movements of the sonatas there is plenty of room for alternative views, tempi, dynamics, etc and there are many good versions of the sonata. But Miss Clamagirand pleases.
Turning to more well-known names, I was again impressed with Lisa Batiashvili playing the Beethoven violin concerto, this time with the New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel (October 2007). Batiashvili is always impressive in this piece and, despite her very broad tempo for the opening allegro, I tend to go along with her. She has a remarkable power of concentration that really draws you into the music.
A final disc of note is another Handel disc from Magdalena Kozena – arias from the operas and oratorios. Sung with much fire and fury (where required) and, as always with Georg Frideric, entrancing music.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Bit disappointed with Lisa Batiashvili's first mainline commercial CD. She plays marvellously, of course. But the balance in the Sibelius concerto (live) has a rather dim orchestra for most of the time, and the violinist too forward. If you adjust the balance so you can hear the start of the work, you are blown out of your seat later on! I now have 52 (!) recordings of this over-recorded work, and the shelves are just too competitive for flawed versions.
The coupling, Magnus Lindberg's much-praised concerto, just left me cold, I'm afraid. Kept looking at my watch. Ridiculous booklet treats Batiashvili like a pop star, with nine posed photos of her! Admittedly, she is pretty; but why no photo of Sibelius, who is just a little more important?

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Excellent "easy listening" CD (Naxos) entitled Opera Fantasies for Violin. Excellent, melodious, musical violinist is Livia Sohn -- quite new, to me. No great music; not even any great, extrovert playing. Just a very pleasant way to spend 66 minutes with the music of Hubay, Raff, Stravinsky, Paganini, et al. I even enjoyed the 7 minute piece by Golijov and the 16 minute piece by Stephen Prutsman.

Monday, 1 October 2007

This Saturday I was at the Théâtre de Poissy to hear Handel's Alcina. Lovely evening! Il Complesso Barocco was conducted by Alan Curtis. I love Handel! It is simply a great evening's entertainment.
Joyce Di Donato was superb. Maïté Beaumont does not have a particularly attractive voice, but she can certainly sing, and act! Karina Gauvin was excellent (as long as you close your eyes). Sonia Prina sang well. I very much liked the baritone voice of Vito Priante, and Kobie van Rensburg has a good tenor voice. A word of praise for Nils Wieboldt who played the important cello part with immense skill.
It's an attractive theatre, and of an ideal size for baroque music. Poissy isn't much of a town, however, especially if you are hungry!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Very taken with Ivry Gitlis's 1977 traversal of the Paganini caprices. Caprices, one feels, suit Gitlis's nature. I don't think I'd like to hear him in unaccompanied Bach, or in Mozart, or in the Beethoven violin concerto. But in quirky music Gitlis is supreme. An odd violinist; but a great technician and one who comes into his own in the right music, at the right time. Paganini's caprices certainly come alive in this recording. Thank goodness Gitlis at last consented to its release.

Gitlis was preceded by an excellent foie de veau, courtesy of Marks & Spencer's new shop in Cirencester; an establishment that threatens to revolutionise my eating habits (and my bank account).

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Good evening, thanks to 1.2 kilos of moules marinières, plus Henry Purcell. Listened to the fantasias (Phantasm) plus three Queen Mary odes (Gustav Leonhardt). Purcell must be the least well-known great composer; it is incredible how his harmonic contortions and constant changes of mood and pace add up to great works. I must get out the six CDs of the theatre works and give them a new work-over.

Sudden renewal of interest in Purcell inspired by some posts on the Music Forum. Superb mussels courtesy of Morrison's!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Downloaded (from her website) Alina Ibragimova's 2006 performance of the Bach second partita for solo violin (BWV 1004). Seriously good. To begin with, the performance can sound a bit sedate and studied. But on a second listening, you find that Ibragimova is very much playing the music as she feels it. Her playing here is neither classical nor romantic; it's her view of the music and I like it very much indeed.
Ibragimova is turning out to be excellent; I admired her off-air performance of the Shostakovich first violin concerto very much indeed (and still do). What a plethora of interesting young violinists there is at the moment!

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Change of season this evening. No violins; no duos; not baroque. My instincts demanded Canteloube (Chants d'Auvergne -- sung, of course, by Véronique Gens) and then the Sibelius sixth symphony (or the Vaughan Williams Pastoral would have done, instead). Colin Davis (LSO Live) is really very good in the Sibelius 6 and may even have supplanted von Karajan (Philharmonia, 1950s) in my fickle affections. Sometimes, having too many records to choose from does help, when one's head demands something out of the ordinary.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Bit of a surprise weekend. Shows that, after over 50 years, there are still interesting discoveries to be made. First discovery was Michèle Auclair (in Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos). An "old-fashioned" violinist (and none the worse for that). A bit like a French Mischa Elman in her spurning of "fashion"; the most un-Russian Tchaikovsky violin concerto I have ever heard. Very French playing, very deliberate, some good portamento, very dedicated. Only pity is the second-rate orchestras and conductors, and the so-so recorded sound from 1958-62. But a violinist to remember, and one with an instantly recognisable style.

Second surprise was Vivaldi arias, sung by Philippe Jaroussky. It is a CD I bought for Jean Girard but didn't listen to. This copy arrived (with the three Auclair CDs) from Zhao in China. Lovely music! I must investigate Vivaldi's vocal music; quite as good as Handel (on the strength of this CD and one by Sandrine Piau).

Weekend was completed with a bottle of Monsieur Bachelet's Saint-Aubin premier cru "Les Cortons" 1998. That is some wine!

Friday, 17 August 2007

Surprised to find I liked Lola Bobescu's performance of the fifth Vieuxtemps concerto (1963, with Karl Böhm in Cologne). After hearing the Heifetz reincarnation last week, I thought that was it and that no one else could ever be listened to again in this work. But Lola does it good.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

At last I have heard Schnabel in the Beethoven Diabelli variations (Mark Obert-Thorn transfer for Naxos). Truly excellent, and my kind of playing ... same sort of school as Backhaus, my réfèrence since the 1950s. No nonsense; just Beethoven as written. What weird music this is, in places! Quite mad, in some respects (particularly for the 1820s).

Also, thanks to David Gomberg, I caught up again with Lisa Batiashvili in 2007 (off-air). Shostakovich first violin concerto (with Sakari Oramo, in New York) and the Prokofiev second concerto (with a rather flat-footed Charles Dutoit in Dresden). Lots of portamento for someone of her generation. Her sound reminds me of Michael Rabin; her rapt concentration -- always a trait of her playing -- of Sviatislav Richter. Very fine performances of both works; she obviously hasn't lost form over the past few years. A good coupling for a fine off-air CD.

Fishy weekend: two excellent plaice, plus a moderate shellfish platter of prawns (frozen), crab (OK) and lobster (very good). Plus a really excellent Pont L'Evèque, a Camembert and a real Cheddar. Ah, le frommage!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Sunday evening I basked once again in the comfortable arms of Handel's Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (Emmanuelle Haïm, Natalie Dessay, et al). Undemanding music, uncomplicated, and quite entrancing. A good way to spend 2 1/2 hours! And I also enjoyed Handel's contemporary, Johann Sebastian in the Trauer-Ode cantata (BWV 198) in Pierre Pierlot's excellent new recording with the Ricercar Consort. While I am going off one-per-part Bach choruses, it does work well in some of the cantatas, as here.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Having a bit of a Julia Fischer season at the moment. Polished off the two Brahms concerti again, then embarked on the Tchaikovsky disc. Next up will be the trio of Russian concertos, then I'll have another go at the Bach solo sonatas and partitas (that did not impress me too much first time round). Miss Fischer is pretty remarkable; cool, poised, classical, controlled. Reminds me often of Nathan Milstein. She is not an impulsive player, nor does she wear her heart on her sleeve. But when the music demands agitation, she agitates. She is due to play the Elgar concerto (in Poole and Reading) next year, and I shall certainly try to make a pilgrimage to hear her. Enjoying her playing is greatly aided by the superb Pentatone engineering of the CDs – very well balanced, to boot.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

David Gomberg sent me a broadcast of Akiko Suwanai playing the second Prokofiev violin concerto (Luxembourg Philharmonic, Emmanuel Krevine, July 2007). Totally admirable, as is pretty well everything this violinist does. Strange that she is not better known, since she plays with intelligence, extraordinary ability, and a real concentration on the music rather than on drawing attention to herself and her great violin. Pretty well everything Akiko does is OK by me; real musical intelligence, and a real mastery of the violin. It's an unfair world. Of the 49 pieces of music I have her playing, I would guess 47 are totally admirable -- I only hesitate over her Bruch G minor concerto, and Scottish Fantasy; but maybe this is also because Neville Marriner is accompanying.

Friday, 6 July 2007

New CDs continue to pour in. Nice, on occasions, to receive a real "find". Such a CD is that featuring Liza Ferschtman and Inon Barnatan playing the Beethoven Op 96 sonata, plus Schubert's Fantasia; pretty short measure, but never mind. This is a true partnership, with a well-balanced piano and violin. Both players know how to play piano and pianissimo, which has the advantage of making forte and fortissimo passages really stand out. Too many violinists, in particular, play at a constant mezzoforte.

Nice programme; excellent playing (by both); excellent balance; excellent choice of works. It's a CD I shall come back to regularly.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Listened with great admiration to the Todesverkündigung from Act II of Die Walküre. What music! It is truly remarkable how, as the text and the mood swing through friendliness, anxiety, anger, sorrow, affection -- so the music mirrors the action. I have now been listening to this 1957 recording for fifty years (Solti, Flagstad, Svanholm, VPO). And it is still as moving and as seminal as ever. It was a lucky day when I bought the original mono LPs (which included Act III of Die Walküre).

Monday, 28 May 2007

Back home after a cold, wet English Bank Holiday weekend in Cornwall. Welcomed by Sandrine Piau singing Vivaldi and Handel. Perhaps my musical vision is tunnelling, but I now really feel at home in music composed between around 1705 and 1745. With Bach, Handel and Vivaldi there is a freshness, and a feeling of music flexing its muscles and bursting its bonds. Exiled to a desert island, I sense more and more that it is the vocal music of Bach and Handel that would be selected to accompany me.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The Japanese, thank goodness, refuse to be fashionable when it comes to classical music, so I was able to obtain the 1960 recording of the Bach Brandenburgs from Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia (from HMV in Tokyo, an EMI-Japan release). The recording seems to be banned in pretty well every other country, a reason for being deeply aggrieved at the dictatorship of the Harpsichord Band.
What does one want from a recording of the Brandenburgs? a) clarity of texture -- we need to hear all the parts b) balance of sound c) top-of-the-range playing in both solos and tuttis d) a sense of overall structure e) a sense of depth and perspective in the recording.
Well, so far I have only listened to Brandenburgs 1-3 of this set. But, so far, the Klemperer set has all of these qualities. I am delightfully amazed. Perhaps at last -- after much hunting, trial and error, it has to be said -- I have found my ideal set of Bach's Brandenburg concerti. And not a plucking harpsichord in sight (except for the fifth Brandenburg).

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Inspired by a review, I took off the shelf the CD of Leopold Stokowski's last London concert (May 1974, with the Philharmonia). Vaughan William's Tallis Fantasy, Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole and last, but here certainly not least, Brahms' fourth symphony. The orchestral playing is truly superb throughout, and Stokowski's conducting without a blemish (at the age of 92). The Brahms brings heartfelt cheers from the audience (which even wishes to applaud after the end of the first movement -- quite understandably). The is a CD I must put on more often (the concert opens with Klemperer's Merry Waltz, in tribute to Otto who had died a few months previously).

Friday, 18 May 2007

At last I have enjoyed the Brahms Concerto for Violin & Cello! It is usually played as a Major Romantic Bravura Concerto for two instruments, and I find the whole thing overblown -- and usually with poor balance. But yesterday evening I put on the new recording from Pentatone featuring Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott (conductor Jakov Kreizberg) and was pleasantly surprised. It is played -- and recorded -- as a chamber music piece for violin, cello and orchestra. The balance is excellent and the music makes its points through the interventions of all three protagonists. The two soloists from Munich do good. I have yet to hear the companion piece on the CD .. Fischer playing the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Listened to Katharine Gowers' new CD (Somm) of 14 salon pieces. She is an extraordinarily accurate violinist, with a nice sense of style. It is difficult, however, to play 14 short pieces and hold attention unless one has a broader sense of colour, articulation, style and characterisation than Miss Gowers possesses. A sameness creeps in. But, taken individually, the pieces are well played and one marvels at the accuracy of the intonation -- particularly during double stopping.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Downloading broadcasts from the Internet is revolutionising music collection. I now have a pretty considerable body of off-air recordings and, thank goodness; if one waits for most new violinists etc to be recorded "officially" we'd all become quite old. This week I captured the complete Beethoven violin & piano sonatas by Christian Tetzlaff and Alexander Lonquich, followed by a truly excellent recital by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien (Tzigane, Debussy sonata, and Ravel sonata). I have so far only sampled the Tetzlaff, but it looks good. The Alina recital I listened to yesterday and am full of admiration; she is not only an excellent musician, but also a formidable violinist. This is a nice little CD to add to my collection.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Alas, a long pause in adding to my diary. Life a bit complicated. However, gastronomically I had one of the 4-5 best meals of my life in Senigallia last Thursday evening: a menu de dégustation of around seven courses at Al Cuoco di Bordo. All fish or shellfish. Truly delicious, with everything local, even the excellent wine.

I then spent yesterday evening quite entranced with two and a half hours of Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (Handel). My favourite line up of Emmanuelle Haïm, Natalie Dessay, and friends. What music! A new hit every six minutes. Probably one of my top 10 CDs of all time.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

I continue my acquisition of the newer releases in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series, since the transfers are now seriously excellent, taken from the original masters. Latest purchase is the Busch Quartet in Schubert's Death and the Maiden (1936) and G major quartets (1938). What playing! It is just: right. And I think the last Schubert quartet (G major) is among the greatest music ever written. It's all there: laughter, tears, anger, sorrow, resignation, defiance .. This is now one of my Top Five CDs; probabaly have it buried with me.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Old warhorses come back to life! I never thought I'd enjoy an evening listening again to such hackneyed works as Bruch's G minor violin concerto, and Mendelssohn's violin concerto. But in the hands of Janine Jansen on her new CD the works came over as fresh and spirited, and were both most enjoyable to listen to. Jansen's playing pleases me greatly; she is lithe, spirited and almost improvisatory. Her tone doesn't suffer from the high cholesterol dosage of many of her competitors.
Really, with the recent CDs of James Ehnes (Korngold, Barber and Walton), Julia Fischer (Glazunov, Khachaturian and Prokofiev), Leila Josefowicz (Shostakovich), Sergei Khachatryan (Shostakovich and Sibelius) and now Janine Jansen (Bruch and Mendelssohn) we live in great violinistic times. And, of course, there are others ...

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

I really thought my days of enjoying a performance of Beethoven's violin concerto were well and truly over; it has become just too familiar. But a performance by Igor Bezrodny (1963) had me listening to it twice. He plays too slowly in the opening movement, for my taste, and the work comes over as a high romantic composition from around 1850 rather than something from not much more than a decade after the death of Mozart. But Bezrodny (rather like Lisa Batiashvili) makes you accept his leisurely, lyrical view. The return of the main theme after the cadenza (played pianissimo) is exactly as I have always thought it should be. And what incredible, relaxed violin playing (a bit like Milstein). Goes into my top five Beethoven violin concertos.
Someone sent me a CD "French Violinists" (homemade concoction) with various salon pieces played by Yvonne Astruc, René Benedetti, Jules Boucherit, Gabriel Bouillon, Miguel Candela, William Cantrelle , Jean Champeil, Roland Charmy, Renée Chemet, Yvonne Curti, Jeanne Gautier, Henri Merckel, Ginette Neveu, Denise Soriano, Jacques Thibaud. Sheer delight! Obviously the standard of playing varies but, what is important, is the way things vary. Nothing is predictable. A huge range of styles, colour, attack and sound palette. Obviously, in the days before tape and tape splicing one rarely achieved the pinpoint accuracy that is now prevalent in recordings. But I really enjoyed the variety on this CD; not the sort of variety of sound and approach you would achieve with, say, a compilation of Hilary Hahn, James Ehnes, Julia Fischer, et al.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Marvelled yet again at Cortot, Thibaud and Casals in Schubert (1926) and Beethoven (1928) as I took delivery of a new EMI GROC transfer. The sound is perfectly acceptable! And the playing is, arguably, what chamber music should be about: talented friends enjoying playing and enjoying the music. In 2126 music lovers will still be marvelling.

Eat a kilo of moules marinière for dinner. Excellent beasts, except sauce was compromised because my sister June phoned just as I was cooking the shallots and garlic, and both burned. Moules marinière à la sauce brulée.

Monday, 1 January 2007

New Year's Eve was given over to Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. The 1944 performance by Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic is little short of miraculous, both in performance and in sound. A good way to end 2006 that hasn't been a great year.