Friday, 27 February 2009

Evening listening thanks to two Grand Old Men of the CD era: a Naxos disc of Rachmaninov, and a Harmonia Mundi disc of Bach.

The Rachmaninov was played by the suave Benno Moiseiwitsch and once again had me marvelling at the current state-of-the-art with transfers from 78s of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Ward Marston is a kind of genius, once again. And Rachmaninov satisfies.

The Bach cantatas, again, had me pleased with modern recording technology (when it is good). Bach cantatas are tricky to balance, and all too often the solo voices are given microphones of their own which cause them to float, disembodied, somewhere apart from the accompanying instruments. Harmonia Mundi's latest disc, sung by the ever-reliable Bernarda Fink, is an object lesson in just how things should be balanced, with the voice well integrated with the baroque band The Freiburger Barockorchester is directed by its leader, Petra Müllejans. The three cantatas for alto voice — BWV 32 Geist und Seele, BWV 169 Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, and BWV 170 Vergnügte Ruh — are high-class Bach, particularly BWV 169. Ms Fink is no spring chicken; my first recording of her voice dates from 1989. But she is intelligent, accurate and a pleasure to listen to. All three cantatas feature a prominent organ part; as played here, it is far from the noisy beast that normally has me fleeing for the nearest exit; in fact, it is quite pleasant to listen to.

This evening's spaghetti al sugo, al modo di Bologna was truly excellent in its third warm-up.


Sunday, 22 February 2009

There is no shortage of hot-shot violinists in the 21st century, but Mengla Huang is a pretty remarkable virtuoso never the less. On a CD sent to me by Lee he makes even Paganini's "Moses" variations sound like something to be tossed off casually on a Sunday afternoon. Remarkable violin playing, with a slightly husky, dry sound that becomes oddly attractive and distinctive after a while. I must dig out from the archives another CD of his that I have somewhere.

Bought entirely on a whim (thanks to some reviewer) I nevertheless find myself greatly enjoying a CD of the orchestral music of Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941). Strains of Vaughan Williams, Chausson, Wagner, Korngold, et al. Well written, easy to listen to, and most enjoyable. It is ridiculous that such music languishes pretty well unknown. All praise to the Timpani label for the recordings with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

In the wrong hands, the first partita for solo violin by Bach (BWV 1002, in B minor) can sound interminable. Even in good hands, it can often sound too long. High praise, therefore, to Alina Ibragimova in her recent Wigmore Hall recital for keeping my wrapt attention for each of the 29 minutes. Ibragimova has a beautiful control of ever-varying dynamics, and a subtle and varied bowing arm.  A first class recital. Fancy listening to the B minor partita without my attention wandering once! Chalk it up.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Following a suggestion by David in New Zealand, I re-visited Leonid Kogan's 1954 public performance of Bach's Chaconne. It is indeed an amazing performance, and an incredible example of fine violin playing. Kogan often ventured into unaccompanied Bach (unlike David Oistrakh who, probably wisely, appears to have pretty well avoided it). The worst unaccompanied Bach I ever listened to was by Alfredo Campoli; at a concert I attended long ago in Blenheim Palace around 1969 when he stood-in for an indisposed Menuhin, and also from some private recordings from the Campoli family archives. Big, fat, throbbing Bach: sounded like Max Bruch's twin brother.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Once again – it's becoming a recent habit – I enjoyed a performance of Brahms' concerto for violin and cello. A mellow, autumnal reading by Georg Kulenkampff and Enrico Mainardi, recorded in July 1947. The benign orchestral part (Suisse Romande orchestra) was conducted by Carl Schuricht.

I shall always recall a concert I attended on Good Friday sometime during the period 1955-58 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris where Schuricht was conducting the Orchestre des Concerts Colonne. On the programme was Wagner's Good Friday music from Parsifal, and also the adagio from Bruckner's 7th symphony (in those days –luckily – it was still acceptable to do isolated symphonic movements, otherwise I might never have fallen in love with Bruckner). The mellow Kulenkampff-Mainardi-Schuricht Brahms performance from 1947 appeals greatly, as does the transfer by Michael Dutton.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The violin concertos of Pierre Rode (1774-1830) are pretty well unknown. In the "golden age" of recording you would have had a long, long wait to hear one. All praise, once again, to Naxos and St Klaus for recording numbers 7, 10 and 13. It is good to hear them, at last; the 7th concerto, in particular, strikes me as being a small gem -- even Paganini, no fan of other people's violin music -- played it.

The performances by Friedemann Eichhorn are highly efficient, rather than entrancing. Still, it must have been difficult to find a violinist who knew three of the Rode concertos. Maybe one day a Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen or Lisa Batiashvili will also take them on.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The five CDs issued by Cembal d'Amour featuring David Nadien are an essential purchase for any lover of violin playing. For once, the sleeve design's "The Legendary Violinist" is pretty accurate. The latest CD has Nadien in the Beethoven violin concerto in 1952, and the Mendelssohn violin concerto in 1975. As with all Nadien recordings, these are amateur recordings made during concerts, though the sound is surprisingly good, given the sources. The Beethoven comes over as a concerto for violin, orchestra and coughers and is a somewhat conventional 1952 reading, with the G minor section in the first movement converted into an andante. For about the first time in my life, I have found someone who takes the andante movement of the Mendelssohn concerto too fast for my taste; most violinists now play it un poco adagio, but with Nadien it's allegretto and sounds rushed. What counts, however, is Nadien's playing. Whether Nadien be playing the Mendelssohn too quickly, or Pop Goes the Weasel too slowly, he is always a pleasure to listen to.

Usual two kilos of mussels this weekend, in addition to 300 gms of scallops and a duck which I am about to spit roast and consume with a green salad and a bottle of St Emilion.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

When I die and go to heaven (?) the pearly gates will open ... and there waiting for me will be Sara Mingardo and Sandrine Piau singing Handel opera duets. They were both on my latest CD which arrived this morning and provide unalloyed pleasure from Minute1 through to Minute 70. Handel, Mozart and Schubert were the three composers who could write melodies at the drop of a hat. On this new CD, Mingardo and Piau are perfectly matched, violin and viola, both with an attractive maturity of voice and expression. The Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini gives perfect backing. Yet another Handel classic disc.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Like Mozart, like Strauss, I seem to be enamoured of the soprano voice. The weekend started with a re-listen to Diana Damrau in Mozart, and ended with Carolyn Sampson in Purcell songs. Both first class; Purcell may be the world's most under-estimated composer.

Welcome visit from elder daughter, plus husband. Excellent lunch (though I say it myself) of charcuterie, Thai soup and cheeses. Good champagne, and the usual good Chevalier Collier 2005 St. Emilion. No fresh squid available, so two octupi had to deputise in the Thai soup; squid is better.