Monday, 28 October 2013

Jan Sibelius

Sometimes, after the Angst of late Mozart, Schubert or Shostakovich, it is good to drink a glass of cool, clear water. Such as the cool, clear water provided by the music of Jan Sibelius. I am old enough to have grown up with Sibelius and to have digested his music over the decades. This evening, my mind demanded something un-fraught, so I turned to Sibelius and his fifth symphony. My trusty companion, as so often in Sibelius's music, was Colin Davis conducting the LSO (the late vintage LSO recordings). Vocal contributions from Sir Colin and all, this is 24 carat Sibelius playing and I treasure these recordings, just as I treasure this music from the north.

Havng plugged Czech and Hungarian musicians for a while, I might also get in a word of praise for Domaine Fenouillet (JeanJean, Faugéres 2010). One of those not-expensive French table wines from the Hérault region that simply complements meal after meal at a very modest price -- around €5.25 a bottle at a Super U supermarket in France. Goes well with practically anything, especially, this evening, with the music of Sibelius.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Pavel Sporcl

It seems to be Pavel Week. No sooner had I finished praising the Pavel Haas Quartet playing Schubert, than I find myself greatly admiring Pavel Sporcl playing an admirable selection of Czech salon pieces by well-known Czech violinists: Frantisek Drdla, Jaroslav Kocian, Jan Kubelik, Ferdinand Laub, Frantisek Ondricek, Vasa Prihoda, Otakar Sevcik, and Pavel Sporcl himself (a piece entitled Bohemian Nostalgia). Fourteen highly attractive pieces of Czech music, most of them familiar from previous Czech players such as Josef Suk, Jan Kubelik, Vaclav Hudecek and Vaclav Snitil.

Sporcl is my kind of violinist. He has a casual way of tossing off the most difficult violinistic passages – much as Jascha Heifetz used to do. His playing is of the no-nonsense variety, much in the Czech tradition, and he saves his exteriorising to his pony tail, clothing and blue violin (a Czech violin made in 2006 that sounds superb in Sporcl's hands). The lands of the Czech-Slovaks, Romanians, Hungarians and Ukrainians have produced more top-class violinists than America has produced lawyers. Sporcl is another auto-buy for lovers of fine violin playing. It is also refreshing to have fourteen salon pieces without the inevitable Kreisler, Hora Staccato or Banjo & Fiddle. The recording, and all-important balance between violin and piano, are excellent (Supraphon).

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Pavel Haas Quartet plays Schubert

After 60 years of serious music listening I am hesitant about awarding three stars for musical performances. However, the Schubert CD containing the Death and the Maiden quartet, and the C major string quintet, played by the young Pavel Haas Quartet deserves three stars for the playing, three stars for the recording and (of course) three stars for the music. There is little music that is greater or more profound than the 92 minutes of Schubert on this CD; I am always amazed at the utter simplicity (and profundity) of the principal melody in the quintet's slow movement.

String quartets must be a challenge to record; too often the first violin -- or the cello -- are over-prominent. Not so here, and all praise to Supraphon. All praise as well to the Pavel Haas Quartet who play with an intensity that is riveting, as well as showing a complete empathy with the music; Schubert is not romanticised here, and we are a long way in this music -- and in the playing -- from Herr Song-Writer. Not since the Busch Quartet have I enjoyed string quartet playing so much and I await, money in hand, for the Pavel Haas to record Beethoven, Shostakovich, or more Schubert.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich - again

Well, I am back after a long excursion to the Paris area, Corsica, Vienna, then back to Paris. Awaiting me when I arrived home was yet another recording of a Shostakovich symphony -- the eighth, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra.

I've probably written enough about my new-found love for Shostakovich. Also about my conviction that Russian orchestras play Russian music as if they really understand the language. So we can take it for granted that this evening's performance pleased me greatly. Some critics may winge a little; Gergiev is no polite little conductor with his head buried in the score and his metronome ticking away, but this performance of Shostakovich's eighth symphony really grabs me. There are many pointless exposulations concerning “best” and “greatest”; I recall some piffling little journalist once attempting to compile a list of the seven (why seven?) greatest composers of the twentieth century. A bit like sterile arguments concerning the “greatest” French composer (or Swiss composer). My personal opinion is that if one has to nominate just one “greatest” composer of the twentieth century, it has to be Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich; amongst his 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets and 24 preludes and fugues, there is some great music that speaks from the heart, to the heart. Time will confirm all -- though I am unlikely to be around in five decades time, or whatever. This evening I really enjoyed Shostakovich's eighth symphony. Tomorrow the postgirl is scheduled to bring a new recording (Petrenko) of Shostakovich's fourth symphony, a work I have never heard before in my entire life. To be continued ...