Monday, 29 November 2010

Why do we not hear ... many works that, for no apparent reason, are seldom if never played? More specifically, this evening, why does no one play the violin concerto in G minor of Reinhold Gliere? Almost finished in 1956, it's a lovely, autumnal work with echoes of Glazunov and Rachmaninov. Lush melodies, well written, enjoyable to listen to. But pretty well never played. I cannot discover an easily available modern recording of the work. The one I have and listened to this evening was played (very well indeed) by Boris Goldstein in an old Russian recording with a Moscow orchestra (LP transfer). The compositional style is pretty unfashionable for 1956 but, after well over half a century, should fashion matter?

Food this evening was a three-egg omelette stuffed with girolles. Absolutely delicious.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

10th November 1910 was the premier of Elgar's violin concerto in London (soloist was Fritz Kreisler). Ten days later, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra played the concerto in Bournemouth. 10th November 2010 the orchestra played it yet again, with Simone Lamsma as soloist and David Hill (who is he?) as conductor.

It's been a lucky concerto in recordings, right from 1928 with Albert Sammons. I really enjoyed the Simone Lamsma performance; she plays with deep commitment and puts her heart into it. Lamsma has already well earned her Elgar credentials with a CD of Elgar salon pieces (plus the violin and piano sonata). On 10th November 2010 in Poole she really carries you along. Helped by the orchestra that really knows this music; this is not an occasion when you need Leonard Bernstein conducting the Israel Philharmonic. I now have to add this recording to my favourite four or five (and the second by a Dutch girl, since I much liked the off-air recording by Isabelle van Keulen a few years ago). A lucky concerto when it comes to recordings. As I have remarked (when talking of Thomas Zehetmair's performance) this is one of those concertos where the orchestra and conductor also play a vital role. Lucky 10th November.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Lovers of violin playing owe much to the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Hungarians and the Romanians. Returning back home, it made for a very pleasant evening listening to Antal Szalai and Joszef Balog playing 15 pieces arranged by Leopold Auer (another Hungarian). All of the pieces are well-known (apart perhaps from Auer's own Rhapsodie Hongroise Op 2) and all are attractive. Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Chopin, Wieniawski, Rubinstein, Achron, Paganini et al. all ripple happily past us, and Szalai has plenty of opportunity to show off a very fine ability to play a true cantabile. A happy musical evening with a strong Hungarian flavour. Szalai impresses as someone who just puts his violin under his chin and plays. No posturing, no striving for effect, no histrionics. And he and Balog certainly sound as if they have that music in their veins.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A pretty astonishing new CD from Simone Kermes, in excellent partnership with Claudio Osele and Le Musiche Nove. What amazes is the fact that a) so much of the music is outstanding and b) so much of the music is "first recording". Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara and Giovanni Bononcini predominate, though we also come across people such as Antonio Maria Bononcini. What an incredible period for musical compositions was that of 1690-1740! Especially by the Italians (not to forget J.S. Bach and Handel). Kermes sings with her usual verve and aplomb; the music sounds as if it were written especially for her.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

"You get what you pay for" is not always true, at least not in the case of CDs. Brilliant Classics' CD of three sonatas for violin and piano by George Enescu contains thoroughly idiomatic playing by Antal Szalai (violin) and Jozsef Balog. The recording, and the recording balance, are exemplary (the engineers of the recent Wigmore Hall Live CD of Ibragimova and Tiberghien should take careful note and strive to emulate). At Brilliant Classics' £5 price, this CD is an excellent buy.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

It is becoming a little disconcerting to realise just how much better many things were done during the first half of the twentieth century in so far as the Central European music repertoire is concerned (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner and Bruckner). After 1950, things progressed in leaps and bounds in terms of recording technique and, in particular, instrumental technique. But the ability to play music naturally? For this, all too often, we have to go back to the archives.

A thought prompted by my recent re-listenings to Furtwängler conducting Bruckner and Scubert in the 1940s and 50s, and now with my acquisition of a CD box in which Edwin Fischer plays 14.5 hours of Bach, Schubert, Mozart and Brahms. When it came to piano technique, Fischer was no Vladimir Horowitz. But then, when it came to playing Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, Horowitz was no Fischer. In the piano world, Edwin Fischer, Elly Ney and Arthur Schnabel were at the summit in this repertoire, just as Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Willem Mengelberg, Hans Knappersbusch and Wilhelm Furtwängler dominate the orchestral scene. Since then, things have become slicker, technically more reliable, more widely promoted. But better performances of much of Bach, Beethoven, Scbubert and Mozart? In my view: rarely. About time Adolf Busch recordings were re-jigged in good sound. Advances in sound restoration by the likes of Michael Dutton, Ward Marston, Mark Obert-Thorn, Andrew Rose, et al promise to open up this veiled promised land for everyday listening. More Fischer (EMI transfers are so-so at the best). More Adolf Busch. More Elly Ney. More Alfed Cortot. More Georg Kulenkampff!

The recording industry created expectations of complete technical perfection by instrumentalists, singers and orchestras. Thus those "take 180" tracks, and recordings of one concerto that took 2-3 days work for a 35 minute piece. Modern musicians are petrified of any error -- encouraged by reviewers such as the BBC critic recently who eliminated Janine Jansen's superb performance of Britten's Violin Concerto because it appears Jansen miscalculated one (ONE)note towards the end of the first movement. So goodbye Janine! And I can't even hear the miscalculated note, unlike Herr Beckmesser. We have talked ourselves into a ridiculous situation.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The duo partnership between Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien is a very fine one, and their second Wigmore Hall Live disc of Beethoven violin & piano sonatas contains some world-beating playing. The recording, however, has a bad balance between piano and violin; when the piano is playing softly, it can always be heard. But when Ibragimova plays softly (which she often does) you have to strain your ears. We need 15% more violin, and 15% less piano. The violin sound, on the higher strings, is a little bright and steely. A great shame. The duo should hire some better sound engineers.

Friday, 5 November 2010

This blog is rapidly becoming a fan club for Pristine Audio, Andrew Rose, and Wilhelm Furtwängler. So here we go again. I downloaded the new transfer of Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic playing Bruckner's 4th Symphony (broadcast tapes, October 1951, Stuttgart). The sound is little short of incredible, with most of the coughs and splutterings cleared up, into the bargain. Now, for probably the first time, one can just sit back and enjoy the music and the performance without having to make many allowances. Good times are here. I now sit and wait for comparable transfers of Furtwängler in Bruckner's 7th and 8th Symphonies. And then, quite frankly, one can throw away all other versions.