Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Translation of the month

Translation of the month from a website:

"Tchaikovsky: Souvenir of an expensive place, Opus 42".
[Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42].

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Re-Listening to the Beethoven String Quartets

I have always had a fondness for the music of string quartets (I once, long ago, played the viola in an amateur string quartet). In some ways, the combination of two violins, a viola and a cello, is an ideal platform for music. Throughout my life I have had a great affection for the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert … and lately, Shostakovich. By chance, I have just discovered on my shelves that I have no less than four complete sets of the sixteen Beethoven string quartets; there used to be five, but I ditched the set by the Hungarian String Quartet some years ago.

The remaining maestri are the Léner Quartet (recorded circa 1928), the Vegh Quartet (circa 1952), the Talich Quartet (1980s) and the Juilliard Quartet (1964-70). I cannot now remember why I invested in the Talich or the Juilliard sets, but I bought the Léner set (from Japan) because I liked the olde worlde sound of the quartet, with its distinctive Hungarian style and large doses of portamenti. I bought the Vegh, since the Vegh recordings of opus 59 no.1 and opus 95 were the first Beethoven quartet recordings I acquired (on an old French LP, when I was around fifteen years old). I replaced the LP with the complete set by the Vegh, many years ago.

So I seized the Juilliard set off the shelves, and have embarked on a retrospect of all sixteen Beethoven string quartets. I know the late quartets extremely well, and the middle opus 59 quartets quite well. But it has been interesting and rewarding over the past few days becoming re-acquainted with the six opus 18 quartets, that I know less well. Interesting, enjoyable, and with a recorded sound and style of playing that I find greatly pleasing, even though there is evidence of a certain American brashness in some of the playing. I still greatly regret that the Busch Quartet never recorded the complete Beethoven string quartets; Adolf Busch, in particular, always brought a remarkable authority to the first violin part. Still, the Juilliard players are worthy stand-ins for the absent Buschs, and I am enjoying my listening marathon. One day, I'll have to get out the old set led by Jenö Léner, with his distinctive old world style and sound.

Saturday, 19 August 2017


I very much enjoyed a CD from the super-talented Nazrin Rashidova accompanied on the guitar by Stanislav Hvartchilkov; believe it or not, I come somewhat new to the sound of the classical guitar. Spurred on by my discovery, I invested in a Naxos disc of prize-winning Xianji Liu playing a selection of solo guitar pieces. I did not enjoy it much. No fault of Mr Liu, I suspect; it is just that 60 minutes of solo guitar becomes extremely monotonous, with the guitar's limited range of colour. A bit like listening to 60 minutes of violin music, all played pizzicato.

Guitars, I have decided, are excellent accompanying instruments, whether vocal or instrumental. But not instruments for dedicated listening to for long periods.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Nazrin Rashidova, and Emile Sauret

I knew little of Emile Sauret (1852-1920) apart from the fact he wrote a famous cadenza for the first movement of Paganini's first violin concerto, so I was most grateful when a good friend gave me a birthday present of the first seven of Sauret's 24 études-caprices. How would he stand up against similar works by Paganini, Ernst, Rode, and others?

The short answer is: very well. Sauret's works on this CD are really tough on the violinist, but tough in demanding every variety of bowing, and every possible combination of fingering. Unlike others, Sauret does not demand chimpanzee-like dexterity with melodies in harmonics, or double stopped in harmonics; Sauret's pyrotechnics are subtle and violinistic, not attempts at showmanship. The 61 minutes on this CD pass by very agreeably – probably more so for lovers of violin playing rather than general music lovers. But lovers of fine violin playing will have a veritable feast.

Thanks to Monsieur Sauret, but also thanks to the CD's violinist, Nazrin Rashidova. She copes with the fiendish bowing demands, she copes with swooping from the bottom of the G string to the highest echelons of the E string, she ensures that the music always sounds good, with a highly admirable variation of dynamics. Frankly, it is difficult to think of these pieces being better played. Or sounding better; I imagined Ms Rashidova was playing on some ancient, multi-million dollar Italian violin. But it transpires that her violin is one made by David Rattray, London, in 2009. So well done Emile Sauret, Ms Rashidova's right arm, Ms Rashidova's left hand, Mr Rattray's violin, and Joseph Lamy's bow (1890). This CD (from St Naxos, patron saint of lovers of violin music and playing) is labelled as Volume 1. I await the following volumes with impatience. The excellent and informative liner notes were written by: Ms Rashidova. Obviously a young woman of talent.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Corey Cerovsek: Beethoven

Eight of Beethoven's ten sonatas for violin and piano were written when he was in his late 20s or very early thirties. The Kreutzer Op 47 was an exception, as was the late, lonely sonata in G major Op 96. Being first-class Beethoven, the music is sophisticated but not especially profound at this early age. All ten works are first class, though I am not a fan of the Kreutzer, finding it over-long and somewhat belligerent at times.

A generous friend presented me with a box of the ten sonatas recorded in 2006 by the Canadian Corey Cerovsek and the Finn Paavali Jumppanen. This joins numerous complete sets on my shelves, including Grumiaux-Haskil, Barati-Würtz, Kreisler-Rupp, Faust-Melnikov, Dumay-Pires, Capuçon-Braley, Ferras-Barbizet, Ibragimova-Tiberghien, Kavakos-Pace, Suk-Panenka, Tetzlaff-Longuich. A few sets, including Pamela Frank, and Joseph Szigeti, are long gone. No lack of first-class choices when it comes to the Beethoven violin and piano sonatas.

Cerovsek and Jumppanen were around the age when Beethoven wrote these sonatas when they made the recording in 2006. Cerovsek reveals himself as a pupil of Joseph Gingold – who was a pupil of Eugène Ysaÿe. Many of Gingold's pupils seem to have learned a sweet tone, viz also Nai-Yuan Hu, also a Gingold pupil. Cerovsek here reminds me of Arthur Grumiaux, and maybe Renaud Capuçon. It's a nice set of the sonatas, with the two young men forming an excellent duo partnership, with constant attention to dynamics and detail. Balance is OK, though balancing a violin and a piano must rival balancing a duet for trumpet and flute, for difficulty. After a marathon listening, it is probably the piano playing that stays foremost in my mind, though that may also be down to Beethoven's intentions. If I ever record the ten Beethoven violin and piano sonatas, I will contact Paavali Jumppanen. Forced to grab a set of the Beethoven sonatas before exile to a desert island, I am not sure what set I would grasp, though it would be no great loss if it turned out to be Cerovsek-Jumppanen.