Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Back from France and from Eisenach. The city of Bach was really enjoyable -- calm, serious and newly prosperous. The Hotel Kaiserhof just by the city gate was an extremely pleasant place to stay; I must go back there.

To celebrate my return, I listened to the Stratton String Quartet and Harriet Cohen in a 1933 recording of Elgar's Piano Quintet. Since I encountered this music around ten years ago (at a concert in Boxgrove Priory) it has become something that touches me deeply -- more than anything else by Elgar. This "authentic" recording also astonished me by the fidelity of the sound: well balanced, and with beautiful burnished string tone. Three stars in my catalogue.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

After feeling somewhat bored recently listening to four short violin & piano pieces by Medtner, it made a pleasant change to be thoroughly entertained listening to a whole CD of violin & piano pieces by Antonio Bazzini. The music is light, tuneful and holds the attention; almost Handelian, in fact.

The CD was very ably played by Chloe Hanslip, who had all the necessary virtuosity for this technically challenging music, as well as a lightness of touch that suits Bazzini well; a change from Power Violinists such as Alexander Markov. Miss Hanslip is doing well (and is also, commendably, avoiding the hackneyed bye-ways of everlasting Beethoven, Kreisler, Ravel and Brahms). The only silly feature was an annoying outer sleeve (why, Naxos?) with a colour photo of Miss Hanslip staring at the camera, a bit like a rabbit caught in car headlamps. However, the outer sleeve is easily jettisoned and all the information, minus the photo, is on the jewel case. Presumably someone thought young men would queue up to buy a Bazzini CD if a pretty girl were on the cover. Some classical recording promotion personnnel have even less intellectual acumen than derivative investment bankers. I'll keep this Bazzini CD handy; a good disc to put on when one wants to be dazzled and entertained. Her Ronde des lutins is, however, too rushed for my taste (comes in under 5 minutes). Fast playing can be exhilarating; but we do need to hear the notes and the music cleanly and clearly, and speed for speed's sake is not a good idea.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Prom performance this summer of Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending by Akiko Suwanai (with the Philharmonia under Susanna Mälkki) is pretty well ideal in terms of balance, recording quality and performance. One of those rare occasions when everything comes together.

Earlier, I plunged into Handel's Athalia. I am usually a bit wary of Handel's oratorios, with all those Old Testament Israelites. But the music of Athalia (written for and first performed in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford) is completely and utterly first class. The Drabinghaus & Grimm recording (directed by Peter Neumann) is also excellent, although I do have doubts about Simone Kermes here; when drama or emotions run high, any concept of bel canto appears to fly out of the window with Ms Kermes.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Sunday, and another three and a half hours of George Frideric Handel, this time the 1725 opera Rodelinda. Over three  hours of exquisite music, and Handel at his best. Il Complesso Barocco was directed by Alan Curtis -- a reliable Handelian -- and Simone Kermes headed the caste.  Along with Schubert and Mozart, Handel was the greatest consistent melody writer of all time.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I have never come across the Norwegian Henning Kraggerud before, but his new CD of the six solo sonatas by Eugène Ysaÿe is most impressive. Kraggerud does not differentiate the individual works quite as remarkably as did Fanny Clamargirand in her recent traversal, but his Guarneri del Gesù makes a lovely gritty sound and his playing is spot-on accurate and quite up to Ysaÿe's severe violinistic demands.

It's attractive music and has been lucky on CD. At around 67 minutes it is tailor-made for CD, of course, and record companies also love the fact they only have one artist to pay. Apart from Kraggerud and Clamargirand, there are Shumsky and Kavakos, plus a number of other excellent recordings. I like all six sonatas ... as long as I am not required to play them.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Recently, I listened with enjoyment to Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos played by members of the Philharmonia orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer. Going back even more years, I now really liked the six concerti as played in 1935 by Adolf Busch and the Busch Chamber Players. What Bach needs to be convincing is love, a sense of rhythm, a sense of style, and musical intelligence. Harpsichords v pianos, flutes v recorders, baroque violins v modern violins really do not matter, since Johann Sebastian rarely wrote with precise sounds in mind (unlike, say, Debussy or Mahler). Busch is great and fully  deserves his high reputation over 70 years on. EMI has done well to reissue the Brandenburgs (plus the four Suites) in new transfers in its Great Recordings of the Century series. Three classic CDs for all time and all ages ... pace the Baroque Brigade.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Back from France, well full of various shellfish. L'Ecailler in Boulogne-sur-Mer is truly terrific: not just a great selection of all sorts of ocean fodder, but all fresh, fresh, fresh and at very reasonable prices. I returned to England with a magnificent 1 kg crab (just €6.18). With deep regrets I turned aside from the 1 kg plaice (carrelet). Almost opposite L'Ecailler is an excellent boucherie with a vast range of first-class pâtés, terrines and rillettes; I bought a couple of specimens, including a truly excellent frommage de tête. And, of course, I was accompanied home by 48 bottles of Le Chevalier Collier (2005 St. Emilion).

Awaiting me were numerous CDs, including a two-CD pack of Frank Peter Zimmermann and Enrico Pace in the six Bach duo sonatas for violin and keyboard. Exemplary performances; tasteful, well recorded and well balanced. No "baroque" stuff from Zimmermann, thank the Lord, and no harpsichord as per Mullova's recent ill-judged sortie into these pieces. I know the sonatas well, both from playing them and from listening. The quality varies from movement to movement, but the works are never less than interesting, especially when played as well as they are here.