Sunday, 30 March 2008

Lise de la Salle is my kind of pianist: objective, technically adroit, with an admirable balance between left and right hands and a total adsorption in what she is playing. A Norman equivalent to Leif Ove Andsnes, another pianist I admire greatly. I listened to de la Salle this evening in Shostakovich (first concerto), Liszt (first concerto) and Prokofiev (first concerto). Re-discovered yet again that Liszt does absolutely nothing for me whatsoever; 50 years of perseverance have taken me no nearer to liking the man nor his E flat piano concerto.
Next week I'll be passing through Cherbourg, de la Salle's home town, and I'll think of her fondly. I look forward to her next ten CDs; it would be good to hear her in person some time.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Good weekend for important discoveries. Simone Kermes has already been mentioned, but her voice really is addictive. The other discovery was the cellist, Jamie Walton in the Elgar and Myaskovsky cello concertos (a very sensible coupling). As I have mentioned before, I am not very partial to cellists; but you would never know Jamie Walton was playing a cello! It sounds like a big viola. His performance of the Elgar is very fine indeed and brings out to the full the pessimism that permeats the work, without underlining it and wallowing in it as I find Jacqueline du Pré did. If Simone Kermes is the Heifetz of the baroque sopranos, then Jamie Walton is the Heifetz of the cello; a truly remarkable sound and technique. The recording quality in the Elgar and Myaskovsky is excellent, and the Philharmonia plays well.


The weekend Thai soup was well up to standard and would probably have won a silver medal in a Bangkok Tom Yum contest. If I could only find fresh galangal, I might even win the gold medal! Have to re-try galangal's cousin, fresh root ginger. And I also discovered bocconcini con prosciutto; quite delicious, but very expensive from Quayle's.


Sunday, 23 March 2008

I risk being unfaithful to Sandrine Piau, having now discovered Simone Hermes. In mottetti by Vivaldi, Hermes sings with incredible accuracy, perfect style, and with a soprano voice that is tinted with gold (whereas Ms Piau is tinted with silver). And I have now discovered Vivaldi's cantatas, duetti and mottetti, so there is no stopping me! I have already ordered Ms Hermes' second Vivaldi CD. The playing of the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon is exemplary. If I become a Mormon or a Moslem, I could live with both Sandrine Piau and Simone Hermes.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Worked at this weekend's Thai shellfish soup; preparation took 75 minutes today (mainly because of the quantity of smallish squid). We shall see what it turns out like tomorrow evening when I start eating it, but my heart was set on Thai soup this weekend.

In music, as in food, it's usually best to follow one's instincts. My musical instincts this evening demanded the Schubert B flat major sonata D 960 (played by Leif Ove Andsnes) and, yet again, the second Rachmaninov symphony conducted by Mikhail Pletnev. This time, though, I did toy with the Previn, Fischer and Litton versions; a glance at their timings, however, (slower) sent me back to Pletnev. Rachmaninov must not drag, and this is true of all the post Romantics. It is highly instructive listening to Rachmaninov and to Elgar in their own music; very pre- Herbert von Karajan.

A bit ridiculous listening yet again to two old faithfuls given the number of "awaiting listening" CDs in my pile (with two new CDs due for delivery tomorrow). But if that is what one's body demands at the time ...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Three Russian violin concertos, courtesy of Daniel in Brussels. Rakov first concerto. Kabalevsky Op 48 concerto. Shebalin Op 21 concerto. None of the three made any real impression on me. The 1995 performances by Andrew Hardy were unremarkable, with an "all-occasions" vibrato; no wonder I had never heard of Mr Hardy before, nor since. Not the musical find of the decade. The Russians during the Soviet regime produced some remarkable violin concerti -- Prokofiev (x2) and Shostakovitch (x1), plus Khachaturian, Myaskovsky and Taktakishvili. But not, alas, the three conceri on this Oympia CD.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Black, black, black Saturday. Fittingly, it ended with Rachmaninov's second symphony, and then Tchaikovsky's sixth. For black days, Russian music. Both works conducted, of course, by Mikhail Pletnev with the Russian National Symphony Orchestra. I really could throw away all competing versions.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Beethoven is not normally one of my preferred composers. But I will always make an exception for his late string quartets; timeless classics that are part of the Bible of the highest ranges of music. Especially, one might think, when played by the Busch Quartet. Listening this evening to the E flat quartet (Op 127) one marvels yet again about how right Busch was in this music. Other quartets may be more brilliant, more virtuoso and with better recorded sound. But Busch is right; he appears to have an uncanny knack of always finding the right tempo. Busch seems to start by identifying the pulse of the music, then fixing the tempo, then the dynamics, in a way that you never have any doubts or questionings as to whether things could be done differently. This pulse and tempo sense holds through to his Schubert playing (the quartets, and the fantasia) and also his performances of the Beethoven and Brahms violin concertos. Finally, in his quartet playing there is absolutely no cult of personality; the four members play as they should, weaving in and out of each others' space. Quite and completely admirable.

Monday, 10 March 2008

A Medici Arts reissue of Michael Rabin warhorses prompts a short reappraisal of this meteorite of the 1950s. In the first Paganini concerto, his 1960 recording (with Goossens and the Philharmonia) is still one of the very top – though his original 1954 recording is perhaps fresher. And in both versions it really is a pity about the cuts and truncations; during the same period, both Menuhin and Kogan were showing that the uncut concerto works better. In the second Wieniawski concerto one can admire his violin playing, whilst pining for the characterisation that Heifetz and Elman brought to this piece; a great pity the Medici Arts people didn't choose Rabin's 1957 recording of the first Wieniawski concerto, where he is seen at his considerable best, and with little recorded competition. The refurbished sound of the 1960 Abbey Road recordings here is excellent (though it was not bad to begin with).

The 1959 "Hollywood" recordings (with Felix Slatkin and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) illustrate something of the Rabin tragedy. Recordings in which the soloist is over spotlit, poorly balanced and with "virtuoso" violin playing taking precedence over the music. The sound in these pieces is maybe actually worse here than in the Capitol originals. One admires the fluency, the ease – and the trills! – in Rabin's playing of Saint-Saëns' Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso, Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, Dinicu's Hora Staccato, and Paganini's Moto Perpetuo. Technically he is superb, but the music doesn't come from within and we end up admiring the astonishing violin playing rather than the musical feeling.

As the 1967 Chicago recording of the Brahms concerto revealed all-too fleetingly, Rabin was capable of real musical intuition once away from the Hollywood circus. His life really was a tragedy and a condemnation of our culture's propensity to prefer instant exploitation to long-term growth and pleasure.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

A very enjoyable CD of viola concertos by Hoffmeister, Hummel, Joseph Schubert and Weber makes me growl anew at the stereotyping of repertoire. Viola players are supposed to limit themselves to the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, plus Berlioz's Harold in Italy. But the 58 minutes of playing by Gérard Caussé (with the Soloistes de Montpellier-Moscou) is really delightful. The 20+ minute concerto by Joseph Schubert (1757-1837) is much better than anything written by Franz Schubert when he was very young. CD courtesy of Lee.

Rounded off the evening with mélodies (Chausson) and Lieder (Strauss) sung beautifully by Sandrine Piau. She really does have a lovely voice.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Ilya Gringolts is quite something in his traversal of the music of Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst – including all six of the Sechs mehrstimmige Etüden. Maybe a bit a short on charm, but no shortage of technique. Ernst's music can be a bit embarrassing in the hands of anyone who is not completely top-notch. But Gringolts copes supremely well.

Darius Milhaud was a contemporary of Dmitri Shostakovich, and also shared a superficially similar musical idiom But Arabella Steinbacher's immaculate survey of his violin and orchestra music (including the two concertos) shows that Milhaud was mainly froth and lacked the inner iron core of his Russian contemporary. Attractive froth it may be, but not music of substance, despite the best endeavours of the talented Ms Steinbacher.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Bravo Marina Chiche, with Vahan Mardirossian at the piano. The duo played all eleven movements of the three Brahms violin & piano sonatas (plus the F.A.E. scherzo) without rousing my ire or my eyebrows once. Good, passionate, committed performances by two young artists (Marseille for her, Armenia for him). Often these young performers give more pleasure than "big name" performances, particularly when it comes to balance and true duo playing. A nice CD, though my collection is a bit saturated with Brahms violin & piano sonatas; those who select repertoire are so lemming-like in their choices.