Sunday, 29 May 2011

I have probably heard young Mozart's violin concertos too often, so I was surprised to have been enthralled by a May 2011 off-air recording by Alina Ibragimova (with a truly excellent Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vasily Petrenko). The violin part of the D major concerto K 218 is fascinating in Ibragimova's hands, with a wide variety of colours and nuances, played fast and straight. This is the 27th recording in my collection of this concerto; and I suspect it is the best of the bunch. Three stars. Miss Ibragimova is becoming The Girl Who Can Do No Wrong. I'll be interested to hear her in person next Saturday in Bath.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Clever of Brahms to have designed his three sonatas for violin & piano so they fit comfortably on to one CD (and, in the case of the present recording by Arabella Steinbacher and Robert Kulek, with room for the FAE scherzo as well).

Steinbacher adopts leisurely tempi, as is the wont nowadays. I still worry that her violin sounds better in its lower registers than in the upper, though the Pentatone recording is exemplary, as so often with this company. Kulek accompanies loyally (although he thumps from time to time) but no one is going to buy this CD to listen to Kulek's pianism.

A worthy CD, with attractive sounds. Steinbacher is an intelligent violinist and always sounds good. Perhaps, however, someone could persuade artists and recording companies to give Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms a rest, for a few decades; there are innumerable fine CDs of Brahms' three sonatas and it would be good to hear a violinist of Steinbacher' stature in Hubay, Myaskovsky, Vieuxtemps, Spohr, et al.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A note in praise of: Les Caves du Bouteiller (24340 Mareuil sur Belle, France - A pleasant, enthusiastic and knowledgeable owner, a superb range of wines on which the owner can expound for hours: and a range of 250 whiskies (going up to around 300 towards Christmas, Monsieur Thierry Lannier claims). And all this in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere! An address to keep.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

I had half forgotten about Julian Sitkovetky, until Andrew Rose and Pristine Audio released his Sibelius violin concerto (1953) and Paganini second concerto (1955). Sitkovetsky was quite a violinist, with an incredible technique combined with a patrician musicality and an impassioned, noble sound. Distinctive and unforgettable. He had a short life and a truncated recording career, but these two concertos really enthralled me this evening (hard to do, at this stage, with the Sibelius concerto; and even harder with Paganini's second concerto to which I have never really taken). But Sitkovetsky gripped me for nearly an hour.

The transfers are certainly a big improvement on the old Russian Disc / Arlecchino attempts (no great feat, but welcome, nevertheless). Let us hope and pray that Andrew Rose now turns his attention to Sitkovetsky's Romanian Radio performance of the Khachaturian violin concerto (conducted by Niyazi); that is one of the most coruscating, searing performances of a violin concerto ever recorded.
Back from France, my car laden with red wine, rosé wine, foie gras, saucissons, ham, pâtés, J&B whisky, and rillettes. Found a CD of Arabella Steinbacher playing the three Brahms violin & piano sonatas waiting for me. I'll listen the them in gaps between eating and drinking.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

I kept the new CD of Arabella Steinbacher playing the Brahms violin concerto for a few weeks before listening to it, partly because I was somewhat surfeited with the work, and partly because I was disappointed with Steinbacher's languid performance of the first movement of the Beethoven violin concerto. But this evening I plucked up courage and played the CD and was surprised and happy to enjoy the performance immensely. This was a public performance in Vienna in December 2007 (Steinbacher's Vienna début). The tempi for all three movements were fine (no repetition of Isabelle Faust's inexplicable race against time in the finale). More importantly, Miss Steinbacher kept my interest throughout the 42.5 minutes of the concerto, with varied tone, attack, bowing, dynamics and rubato. None of the “stream of golden sound” too favoured by many of the Russian-Israeli-American violin school that soon invokes drowsiness. This was a warm, romantic view of a warm, romantic concerto and felt right.

Any “buts”? Only a couple. Steinbacher was playing a Strad from 1716; to me, it sounded somewhat undernourished in the upper echelons. Old Antonio Stradivarius churned out the instruments (over 500 still survive today, some 300 years later, so heaven only knows how many his workshop shovelled through during his lifetime). Ms Steinbacher might be advised to try out the 1741 del Gesù of the leader of the Wiener Symphoniker, or the modern German violin of Christian Tetzlaff, or the modern French violin of Tedi Papavrami.

And I don't see why we need quite so many photos of the attractive Arabella on the sleeve and in the notes. Surely the main market for recordings of the Brahms violin concerto cannot be testosterone-charged young men? Maybe Orfeo's market intelligence is a bit askew. Miss Steinbacher deserves to be presented and promoted on her merits as a major violinist.
We are fortunate in that Hagai Shaham (and Hyperion) were interested enough in the music of Jenö Hubay to record several CDs of his music. Once again, we find we are living in a golden age when it comes to recordings; imagine hunting for Hubay's concertos during the period 1930-80.

Hubay did not write “great” music. But his music is well written for the violin and contains tunes and themes of interest. To my mind Hubay was a much better composer than his violinist compatriot, Joseph Joachim – Hubay's Variations sur un thème hongrois are so much richer than Joachim's Variations in E minor "In Ungarischer Weise".

Lovers of the violin and of violin music owe a great debt to the broad Hungarian-Czech-Bohemian-Romanian region that, together with the Russian territories and the Franco-Belgian school, have given us so many violinists and so much violin culture.
I had not come across Vadim Gluzman before (except in one short piece). But I enjoyed listening to him playing the Glazunov and Korngold violin concertos – helped by a BIS recording that meant even I could hear the violin when it was playing pianissimo. Gluzman, who hails from the Ukraine, is a romantic player with a full tone and impeccable technique. How he is ever hoping to stand out from his current 30-40 rivals, all of whom also have impressive techniques and make lovely sounds, I cannot imagine.

The Gluzman CD also contains two works by Balys Dvarionas, a 20th century Lithuanian composer who wrote pleasant music that is agreeable to listen to in a Soviet people's music sort of way. More interesting, certainly, than yet another version of the Beethoven Romances for violin and orchestra with which I have been deluged recently.