Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Otar Taktakishvili

I have always liked the Concerto No.1 in F minor for violin, written in 1976 by Otar Taktakishvili (1924-89). I have a recording of it played by Taktakishvili's fellow Georgian, Liana Isakadze with a Moscow orchestra conducted by the composer. The work is memorable, with haunting themes and the prevailing mood is melancholy. The violin spends a lot of time on the lower strings. Has anyone except Isakadze ever played it? I find its total neglect to be little short of extraordinary. Maybe no orchestra can obtain the parts? Maybe no conductor has ever even heard of it? Maybe violinists baulk at the key of F minor that among its four flats has A, D and E flat, thus making three of the four open strings out of bounds? Whatever the reason, I can find no currently available recording of this lovely work, though there is an old Russian film on YouTube of Isakadze and the composer playing the work, or part of the work.

The only reason I have a copy is from a good friend in South America some time ago. The CD copy also contains Taktakishvili's concerto No.2 for violin & chamber orchestra (1986) with Isakadze and the Georgian Chamber Orchestra. Another genial work, a lot shorter than the first concerto. I also have the concertino for violin & small orchestra (1956) played by David Oistrakh with Taktakishvili and a Moscow orchestra. This one sounds like an early piece from circa 1890 written by a 32 year old Georgian. Oistrakh is bland and efficient and this work suffers from a lethal dose of socialist realism.

I am amazed at the neglect of the two mature Taktakishvili concertos. I once messaged Lisa Batiashvili asking her to consider the first concerto, but nothing happened. Taktakishvili seems known now only for his works with flute. Musical fashion, political correctness and musical correctness aside: would you not rather listen to one of Taktakishvili's violin concertos than to those by Schönberg, or Berg? During the twentieth century, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khatchaturian, and, of course, Otar Taktakishvili (who?) all wrote excellent violin concertos. Let us hear them all.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and Leonidas Kavakos

Until a few days ago, I had 90 recordings of Beethoven's violin concerto on my shelves. Then a good friend sent me another, so I now have 91. This 91st is played and conducted by Leonidas Kavakos, a violinist I have liked for a couple of decades now. This 91st is well played by orchestra (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) and soloist, and the recording (Sony) is very satisfactory.

So far, so good. One notices immediately, however, that the concerto is going to last for over 49 minutes (from memory, Heifetz and Toscanini raced through the same work in 39 minutes). Beethoven and Elgar thus tie for longest violin concertos! With Kavakos, the first movement alone takes over 27 minutes, of which at least five are occupied by a somewhat grotesque cadenza adapted by Kavakos from one Beethoven wrote for a piano version of the concerto. The first movement is marked allegro ma non troppo and it certainly is not troppo here; whether it is allegro is another matter -- during the G minor interlude in the first movement the music becomes almost static.

There are many cadenzas available for this concerto; Ruggiero Ricci once recorded those by David, Joachim, Laub, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Saint-Saëns, Auer, Ysaÿe, Busoni, Kreisler, Milstein, and Schnittke. I like short, brilliant cadenzas that do not hold up the progress of the music for too long. Why anyone would want to adapt Beethoven's piano version cadenza for a violin is beyond my comprehension (as is the view of the original instrument brigade that the sound world of the original has to be respected and re-created, when composers such as Bach and Beethoven had no scruples about adapting their music to accommodate quite different sounds and instruments).

Of the other 90 versions of the concerto on my shelves, my favourites in alphabetical order remain Batiashvili (2007), Busch (1949), Grumiaux (1966), Kreisler (1926), Kulenkampff (1936), Neveu (1949), Röhn (1944), Schneiderhan (1962), and Suk (1965). Enough! We need a 20 year moratorium on recordings of the Beethoven violin concerto.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

More from Vilde Frang

A good friend sent me a new CD from Vilde Frang, a violinist I much admire. The CD is a somewhat unhappy mixture of violin pyrotechnics, and solid music. So Paganini variations mixed with Schubert's Fantasie in C major, and Rondo brillant in B minor.

When it comes to pyrotechnics, I can happily skip Paganini's Paisiello variations with which Ms Frang chooses to open her CD. We all know that for a violinist, playing extended passages in harmonics is a real challenge, and that playing extended passages in double-stopped harmonics is a supreme challenge, as is extensive pizzicato with the fingers of the left hand. Supreme challenges even for a virtuoso: yes. But of real musical interest? Rarely. As a retired violinist, and a lover of the violin, I am somewhat exasperated by violinistic circus tricks with little musical content.

I greatly admire Ms Frang, but I am not really convinced by her pianist, Michail Lifits who is no Rudolf Serkin, or Clara Haskil. Ms Frang is not always lucky with her partners -- I still resent her Mozart concertos with Jonathan Cohen and his group of “authentic” scrapers and blowers in ye olde style. On this new CD, Mr Lifits is better when accompanying, as in the Paganini pieces, rather than as an equal partner, as in the Schubert works.

It's difficult to pinpoint what I don't like about much of the recorded sound. Is it that the pianist often plays too loudly and is apt to thump a bit? Or did the engineers miscalculate the dynamic range? Or did the balance engineer not reckon on the difference between a piano, and a violin playing pianissimo? All I know is that if I adjust the volume so that the piano playing does not occasionally blow my socks off, then a lot of the softer violin playing is hard to hear. And that is listening through headphones; listening via loudspeakers, that always tend to favour the bass and thus the piano, things would have been even more unsatisfactory. The worst affected is Schubert's lovely C major Fantasie for violin & piano which is nowhere near as enjoyable to listen to here compared with the all-time classic recording by Adolf Busch with Rudolf Serkin (1931). The piano (as recorded) just hogs the limelight too much of the time. And Lifits does bang a bit, on occasions.

To my surprise, I quite took to Ms Frang's rendition of Heinrich Ernst's take on Schubert's Erlkönig. Not a piece I like normally, but here the different voices are brought out admirably, and the pyrotechnics coped with effortlessly. The piece lasts for under four and a half minutes, but never outstays its welcome (unlike the two Paganini variations included on this CD).

So a bit of a curate's egg. Ms Frang would have been better to stick with a lot less Paganini, or with more Schubert. She remains, however, an excellent violinist.

Igor Markevitch and the LSO in vintage Rimsky-Korsakov

I have often praised the Czech Supraphon record label; this time round I am praising the Australian Eloquence label from a company that remasters and reissues important recordings from the 1950s and 60s Universal International back-catalogue. The recordings come mainly from Decca and Philips. This time round I was listening to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, an original Decca release from 1962, with the LSO conducted by Igor Markevitch.

The sound from nearly 60 years ago is pretty amazing, and well balanced. The LSO was in good form during that period. Altogether, a highly welcome re-incarnation of the original. The Eloquence CD also sees the same forces in Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Vilde Frang, Vasily Petrenko, and Edward Elgar

It's not often I listen intently to every bar of Elgar's violin concerto from the beginning until the end 50 minutes thereafter. But this evening I did, deeply moved by an August 2019 broadcast from Oslo where Vasily Petrenko conducted the Oslo Philharmonic, with Vilde Frang as the soloist. Elgar's concerto is deeply passionate and romantic, and that is what came over with Frang and Petrenko.

Vilde Frang makes a lovely sound, and one notices here Elgar's love of the lower reaches of the violin (he should have written a viola concerto, as well as those for cello and violin). Frang and Petrenko (who work hand-in-glove in this work) are not afraid of extensive rubato, and the music benefits. The off-air sound is excellent, marred only slightly by a somewhat recessed contribution from the string section during forte moments. I have 22 recordings of this concerto (including another one by Frang in San Francisco earlier this year). But this combination of Frang and Petrenko in Elgar gets my gold medal. It's warm, passionate and loving. It would be good to hear Frang and Petrenko collaborating in Shostakovich and Glazunov.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Diana Tishchenko

I often buy recordings by unknown young violinists, just to take them for a test drive. My shelves are full of past violinists of whom I now have only a hazy memory. The latest serendipitous purchase was a CD by the young Ukrainian violinist, Diana Tishchenko -- her début recording, unless I am mistaken. I was attracted by the CD contents: the sonatas for violin and piano by Ravel, Enescu (number 3) and Prokofiev (number 1), plus the third sonata for solo violin by Ysaÿe. Why does everyone always present Ysaÿe's third sonata? I much prefer the first, second, and fourth.

Ms Tishchenko is my kind of girl, and her playing reminds me of Alina Ibragimova, with a superb range of pianissimos and fortissimos and first-rate sensitivity to the music. Her style of playing smacks more of Franco-Belgian than the Russian bear. All four works on the CD score highly for the violin playing, no mean achievement in four works all from the opening decades of the past century. The pianist, Zoltan Fejervari, is school of Gerald Moore rather than Yuja Wang or Alfred Cortot, but these three violin and piano sonatas are weighted towards the violin part, in any case.

I'm in the market for future recordings by Ms Tishchenko (providing they do not feature yet another rendition of the Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky or Bruch concertos). It's a tough world out there for violinists and pianists, even for those as supremely talented as Ms Tishchenko. Her début record is issued by Warner, not a company noted for interesting repertoire a little off the beaten path. I'll keep my antennae alert, since Diana Tishchenko's playing impressed me greatly.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Paul Godwin aka Pinchas Goldfein

I am currently weeding out my severely over-weight collection of CDs. In so doing, I come across recordings I had long forgotten, and it gives me a chance to re-rehabilitate them and to take them out for a hearing. Serendipity decreed that my hand alighted on a double CD album of the violin playing of Paul Godwin. He was born Pinchas Goldfein in Poland (1902) and moved to Germany, becoming an extremely famous dance band leader in the 1920s. In 1933 he fled to Holland, clutching his Stradivarius and managed to survive the German occupation of Holland. After the end of the second world war, he re-started his career as a violin soloist and chamber music player when dance band orchestras fell out of fashion (cf. Alfredo Campoli in England). He died in Holland in 1982.

My set contains probably the most passionate performance of Bloch's Nigun on record. Godwin had a luscious sound, with lots of vibrato, typical of that era in Central Europe (viz Mischa Elman, Fritz Kreisler, and Toscha Seidel). Right and left arm technique was rock solid; tempi almost all vivace. He excels in the Kreisler pieces here and, for a change one can clearly differentiate between love's joy, and love's sorrow (Liebesfreud, and Liebesleid).

Paul Godwin reminds us of how much we have lost with the post- 1945 generation of violinists from the conservatoires of Europe / America / Asia when playing salon pieces. Paul Godwin, like Kreisler and Heifetz, should be compulsory listening for all aspiring violinists who venture into the world of “encore pieces”. I can listen happily to Godwin playing short pieces for 90 minutes without wilting or growing bored. They don't play like that now.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Pavel Haas Quartet plays Shostakovich

About 100 years ago, composers of “serious” music stopped worrying about performing musicians, and about audiences. They worried about themselves and their academic reputations. As a result, I for one have little taste for most music written after 1920 -- with some notable exceptions, including the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. Forbidden by the draconian communist régime from writing any form of esoteric or intellectual music, Shostakovich wrote music that could get by the censors of the time. Luckily for his then, and subsequent, audiences.

I like Shostakovich's music. I like the Pavel Haas Quartet. I like the Supraphon recording engineers, so I snapped up a new recording of the Quartet playing the second (1944) seventh (1960) and eighth (1960) string quartets. Music of my lifetime, and music that speaks to me; most unusual. Shostakovich's music, like that of Sibelius, has bags of personality; one cannot say the same of the semi-contemporary cerebral music of people such as Stockhausen, Nono, Dallapicolla, Boulez, or Ferneyhough. One rejoices with Shostakovich, one weeps with him, one contemplates with him, one trembles with him, one laughs with him, one panics with him.

Shostakovich came to the string quartet medium somewhat later in his career but, once there, he took to the medium like a duck to water, with fifteen string quartets. He appears to have regarded the four voices as equals, and this is good news for the Pavel Haas that integrates its four members without overt favouritism. The playing is exemplary. The recording is truly excellent. The music is of eternal value. I am extremely happy with my purchase and am on my starting blocks for future recordings of Shostakovich by the Pavel Haas Quartet.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Pierre Amoyal, Yuval Yaron, and Virtuosos

Pity today's top virtuosos of the violin or the piano. They will all be able to play faster and louder than their predecessors. They will all have drawers full of gold, silver and bronze medals from various competitions; I read there are currently more than 300 piano competitions handing out medals on a regular basis. They will all make a few recordings, strive for international fame, then end up as violin or piano teachers in some minor college somewhere. It was always thus; in the violin world, think only of the considerable stature of violinists such as Sascha Jacobsen, David Nadien, Oscar Shumsky, Joseph Gingold and many, many others. For many, of course, a high-profile international career entails too many sacrifices – think of Albert Sammons, the superb self-taught British violinist who refused to travel outside Britain. Arthur Grumiaux, after an initial start, also declined to travel, but he still found fame because of his strong links with one of the world's great recording companies of the time, Philips.

But for all their medals and star technique, it is extremely rare that pianists reach the musical level of their illustrious predecessors such as Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Clara Haskil, Maria Pires, et al., and rare that violinists come anywhere near Kreisler, Heifetz, Grumiaux, Elman, et al. Jascha Heifetz had a number of pupils who found temporary fame at one time or another, including Yuval Yaron, Rudolf Koelman, Pierre Amoyal, and Erick Friedman. I have always had an affection for the playing of Rudolf Koelman (and admiration for someone who recorded the 24 Paganini caprices live). Thanks to a generous friend, I listened today to two ex- Heifetz pupils, Pierre Amoyal in Fauré (1993) and Yuval Yaron in the Sibelius concerto (1978).

I listened first to Heifetz pupil Pierre Amoyal playing Fauré (1993 recording). Fauré's first violin & piano sonata is one of my favourites, though the much later second sonata has always appeared to me as mainly note-spinning. Amoyal was a superb player, with Heifetz's emphasis on beauty of sound and stringent avoidance of any “ugly” sounds, but without the passion and commitment Heifetz brought to his playing. There are better options around for Fauré fans of the first sonata, including Dumay-Collard, Grumiaux-Hajdu, Heifetz-Smith, and Thibaud-Cortot (1927).

Next on the turntable came the Israeli Yuval Yaron. Yaron was mainly a Gingold pupil, though he also attended Heifetz classes. Currently I have 51 recordings of the Sibelius violin concerto and this is definitely one of the better ones. This unknown violinist (to me) gets my rare three stars for his passionate performance (no wonder he won the Sibelius competition a couple of years earlier). His performance does not eclipse the passionate advocacy that Ginette Neveu brought to this much-recorded work, but it does win a place in my Sibelius pantheon. The Bavarian orchestra under Klaus Tennstedt sounds here more Teutonic than Nordic as reproduced on my equipment, and there are a few minor fluffs from Yaron in what is presumably a live recording from a radio studio concert. Yaron sounds more school of Gingold than school of Heifetz, but that is no bad thing, even if the Sibelius was one of Heifetz's favourite concertos for concerts. Those wishing to dip into samples of Yaron's playing will have a hard time; the former echt virtuoso has mainly vanished from view, like so many others, and is now teaching in a college in California. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Haydn, Mozart. And the Eighteenth Century

As I have remarked previously, there is something eternally appealing about much of the music written during the 18th century in Europe. I sit here surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of CDs, yet almost all my listening at the moment is to music of the 18th century (Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart). By pure chance, I took down an old CD recorded by Vilde Frang and Michail Lifits (London, December 2013, off-air) in Mozart K 376, K 379 and K 481. Lovely playing by two young people (Frang was 27 at the time) and really superb music, especially 379 and 481.

This listening supplemented my on-going daily bread: the six Haydn Op 76 string quartets, and the three Op 71 quartets, played by the Takacs Quartet. Warm, affectionate playing far removed from “period instrument” playing. In these somewhat troubled times, Haydn and Mozart, supplemented with Bach and Handel from time to time, are really all one needs.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Ning Feng in Paganini

Paganini's first violin concerto is a virtuoso work, but with many lovely themes and many highly lyrical moments. For anyone who loves violin playing, it's a must (when played by a truly expert violinist). My three-star list (out of the 45 recordings I possess) comprises: Leonid Kogan, Francesca Dego, Philippe Hirschhorn, Viktoria Mullova, Michael Rabin, Nemanja Radulovic, Akiko Suwanai (Moscow, July 1990). Kogan, Mullova and Rabin are very full-blooded Russian performances, very macho. Rabin loses points for a too-close recording, and for savage cuts in both the first and final movements (though not as savage as the versions by Kreisler or Wilhelmj both of whom re-orchestrated the orchestral parts and amputated the second and third movements of the concerto). Radulovic has a bit too much Radulovic and not enough Paganini, for my taste.

The latest CD to arrive on my player is one by Ning Feng, with the Asturian Symphony Orchestra. Very well recorded (listened through headphones, since the violinist often plays pianissimo and is not recorded prominently). The Asturian orchestra sounds as if the players are thoroughly enjoying themselves, playing with the kind of gusto of an Italian opera orchestra and brass band that Paganini was obviously expecting. Ning Feng's contribution is remarkable, and he gets my three stars. He is a true virtuoso, but also a highly elegant virtuoso -- much as Paganini may have been (Niccolò was neither German, nor Russian, nor even Israeli). At the end of his traversal of Paganini's concerto, I wanted to cheer. Ning Feng's performance on this CD is now my “if you only have one version” choice.

Ning Feng started in my estimation a couple of years ago as “a good virtuoso violinist”. His recording of the Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas then had him soaring high in my estimation, and with this Paganini recording, he soars even higher. One day he may even beat his fellow Chinese violinist, Tianwa Yang, in Sarasate's music. With his elegant and intelligent playing, Feng may well go on to superb Mozart and Beethoven (he lives in Berlin, so is obviously in a good position to also imbibe the German musical tradition).

Monday, 21 October 2019

Julius Röntgen

In my recent round-up of sonatas for violin and piano that are all too rarely heard, I forgot about Julius Röntgen (1855-1932). Born a German, died a Dutchman, Röntgen wrote and wrote and wrote – over 600 compositions. I know of him mainly through his works for violin and piano, being the proud owner of two CDs devoted to his various violin and piano works. One CD features the violinist Christoph Schickedanz. The other Atsuko Sahara. Both offer Röntgen's attractive E major sonata opus 40. Sahara gets the better recording and pianist (John Lenehan). Röntgen was one of the few composers at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th who could write memorable themes. I am very fond of my two Röntgen CDs of violin and piano music.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Medtner, Catoire - and David Oistrakh

Concert programmes by violinists and pianists have become pretty stereotyped, with the same old two dozen or so sonatas being paraded, particularly Beethoven's “Spring” sonata, the Ravel sonata, the César Franck, the Brahms sonatas .... and a small score of other warhorses. Less frequently heard are the admirable violin and piano sonatas by George Enescu, Guillaume Lekeu, Leos Janacek; and the third sonata of Nikolai Medtner who was born in Moscow in 1880 and died in London in 1951. I first met Medtner's genial sonata in a 1996 recording by Vadim Repin, and I went on to collect four other performances of the work. This time round I re-sampled it played by David Oistrakh, with Alexander Goldenweiser playing the piano part.

I have never been too enthusiastic about Oistrakh as a violinist. He had a fantastic technique, but his warm, rich, Russian sound always sounded somewhat foreign to me in the German and, particularly, French repertoire. However, his sound and approach take to Russian music like a duck to water and I greatly enjoyed his playing of the Medtner. The two-CD set is completed with Oistrakh and Goldenweiser tackling sonatas and a couple of short pieces by another Russian, Georgy Catoire who was born in Moscow in 1861 and died there in 1926 and, again, Oistrakh sounds quite at home in the melancholy sonorities of Catoire's music. My CD set also includes an excellent performance of Catoire's trio in F minor, recorded in 1949 by Goldenweiser with Kogan and Rostropovich, another thoroughly Russian occasion and another opportunity to sample Kogan and Rostropovich playing together.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Yuja

I have a great admiration for the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang. She combines an extraordinary piano technique with a variety of touch and expression, playing the music from inside, as it were, and responding to the mood of every bar and phrase. A pianist to whom I can listen even when I am not too keen on the music she is playing.

Her latest CD features her usual repertoire preferences: Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Ligeti and Prokofiev. To these favourites her programmes also frequently embrace Liszt, Scarlatti and Ravel. Rachmaninov, Scarlatti and Ravel wrote my kind of music. Does anyone other than pianists really like the music of Alexander Scriabin? It usually belongs to a musical class that I deem “I ain't going nowhere”. The first movement of Prokofiev's piano sonata no.8 on this CD belongs to the same somewhat shapeless form, though things pick up in the second and third movements. Yuja's pianism is extraordinary here. Scriabin's 10th sonata wanders on, but only for just under twelve minutes; I know that however many times I listen to it, it will always be totally unfamiliar. The three very short Ligeti pieces on the disc are attractive, and show off Yuja's technique. The four Rachmaninov pieces are familiar territory for me, and the pianist.

Yuja Wang in her chosen repertoire is a real phenomenon; a virtuoso pianist plus. I have no idea as to whether she plays Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert, but it would be interesting to hear her take on a work such as Bach's Goldberg Variations (just as Beatrice Rana impressed me greatly in the same work). In the meantime: Viva Yuja !

As an addendum: why is the CD called "THE Berlin Recital"? Had she never played there before, and never will again? If not, it should be "A Berlin Recital". And do we really need eight photos of Yuja (though, of course, none of Rachmaninov or Prokofiev).  DG ain't what it used to be.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Music Therapy


“Art thou troubled? Music shall calm thee” said an aria by Handel from Rodelinda, sung in English by Kathleen Ferrier on a 78 rpm record of my long-distant youth.

Well, up to a point. Depends on the music. Feeling a bit troubled of late, I turned to Schubert (fourth symphony) and Brahms (second symphony) and felt even more troubled. Luckily, to calm me, I did not turn to Shostakovich, Prokofiev or Rachmaninov. Instead, I alighted on Handel sung by Véronique Gens and all my troubles and cares vanished. One can generalise; but the music of the 18th century is usually a lot more calming than the troubled music of much of the 19th century, not to mention the stress and turmoil of the 20th. As if Véronique Gens were not enough, I then alighted on the wonderful Simone Kermes singing Handel, with a band conducted by the late highly-lamented Alan Curtis.

“Art thou troubled? Handel shall calm thee”. Handel's (or Mozart's) music should be freely available in any national health therapy programme.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Beethoven Re-visited


In my young years, I somewhat overdosed on Beethoven symphonies, particularly the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th. As a result, I rarely turn to them now, though yesterday I took out the 7th symphony for an airing. The conductor was Otto Klemperer, and the orchestra in 1960 the Philharmonia. The sound is still excellent for its time. Klemperer is my Beethoven conductor; his somewhat grim character seems to chime well with the temperamental Beethoven. With Klemperer you get a first-rate sense of form and balance, you hear all the parts of the music, you get a conductor immersed in the music rather than in self-promotion. With the Philharmonia in 1960 you get fine orchestral playing, though without the distinctive sound of that era in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Leningrad or Philadelphia.

In my peak Beethoven years in the 1950s, it was Karajan, Furtwängler and Toscanini who led the field. Furtwängler and Toscanini never made it into the stereo era, when recorded orchestral sound really became a lot better. Karajan was always a bit too concerned with Karajan and beautiful sound for my liking, and frantic Italian Toscanini much too concerned with being Toscanini, the fastest conductor on Earth. So for the Beethoven symphonies I am happy with my EMI Klemperer box, apart from the 9th symphony for which one needs Furtwängler.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien in Brahms

Alina Ibragimova. Arabella Steinbacher. Tianwa Yang. Vilde Frang. Ning Feng. Janine Jansen. Sueye Park. Nazrin Rashidova. Renaud Capuçon. Simone Lamsma. Julia Fischer. Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Lisa Batiashvili. James Ehnes. Akiko Suwanai. Katrin Scholz . . . . The list of eminent violinists of the younger generation goes on and on, heavily oriented nowadays to young women.

For very many works with violin, Alina Ibragimova and Lisa Batiashvili are usually among my top three, four or five for choice of recording. I have been faithful to both for going on a couple of decades now, and they have rarely disappointed (apart from Ibragimova in Bach's works for violin and orchestra, where she has always been let down in recordings by the choice of accompanying band). A gift from a friend of Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien playing the three violin and piano sonatas of Brahms gives me an opportunity for a quick re-appraisal of Ibragimova, and her favourite duo partner.

She reminds me of Arthur Grumiaux who, for his recordings of 50 or 60 years ago, is always an excellent choice for any of the German classics, or the Franco-Belgian repertoire. Like Grumiaux, Ibragimova is a sensitive musician who sees the artist as a medium for the music, rather than the music as a vehicle to showcase the player. Her violin, a Bellosio of circa 1775, suits her playing like a glove. Her partnership with Tiberghien is as sympathetic as was the partnership of Grumiaux and Clara Haskil. The tempi adopted by Ibragimova and Tiberghien in the Brahms sonatas are entirely uncontroversial. We sit back and enjoy the music, and the playing. Like Grumiaux, Ibragimova appears to play almost everything but, like Grumiaux, I note her especially for her playing of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and the Franco-Belgian repertoire. I have scores of recordings of the three Brahms violin and piano sonatas, but this new one from Ibragimova and Tiberghien goes straight into the top four or five.

Monday, 2 September 2019

David Fray plays Bach


I first heard the piano playing of David Fray a couple of months ago when he played the keyboard part to Renaud Capuçon's rendition of some of Bach's sonatas for violin and keyboard. I loved the CD, but also remarked highly favourably on Fray's playing of the keyboard parts. I therefore snapped up a new (recorded 2012) CD where Fray plays Bach's second and sixth keyboard partitas, plus the C minor Toccata BWV 911.

This is my kind of Bach playing. Fray brings out Bach's counterpoint and part-writing with real professional talent. The sound is bright; the rhythms are pointed, the tempi are well chosen. More !