Saturday, 23 June 2018

Boris Giltburg plays Rachmaninov's Third Concerto

For over 100 years now, the music of Sergei Rachmaninov has stood the test of time and remains highly popular with musicians and the public. For much of the previous century, the critics and “experts” were a bit sniffy about Rachmaninov's music; it was popular, and people loved it. Quelle Horreur ! But Sergei has seen off pretty well all contenders for music written in the 20th century, including that of his erstwhile rival Igor Stravinsky whose popularity now seems to rest mainly on his earlier ballet music. Judging by the world's concert programmes, and by issued recordings, Rachmaninov goes from strength to strength.

I caught up with the melancholy Russian again in a new (Naxos) recording of his third piano concerto played by my current favourite pianist for the Romantic Russian repertoire: Boris Giltburg. The work is well recorded; the orchestra the Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto. Giltburg projects the music magnificently guided, one suspects, by the composer's own recording. This is all about Rachmaninov, not Giltburg. Boris is not in the line of self-projecting pianists such as Lang Lang, Horowitz, Martha Argerich (and many others). He plays the music magnificently, with an incredible technique in the big first movement cadenza.

Igor Levit and Boris Giltburg are currently my favourite Russian-born pianists, with Igor anchored firmly in Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and Boris in Rachmaninov and Shostakovitch. This is a good era for first-class piano playing. There are few things more agreeable in life than sitting back in a comfortable chair with a glass of good wine and letting the music of Sergei Rachmaninov wash over you.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Simone Lamsma in Britten's Violin Concerto

I was very pleased indeed to be able to plug into a performance by Simone Lamsma of Benjamin Britten's violin concerto (11th June 2018 in the Concertgebouw, with the Netherlands Philharmonic under Edward Gardner). The performance is passionate and committed; the off-air sound exemplary; the hall audience extremely well-behaved. Lamsma has for a long time been identified with this concerto, and her commitment is contagious. Interestingly, Lamsma — like Theo Olof in his pioneering 1948 recording — plays the 1939 original version of the work. Perhaps it's a Dutch thing; pretty well everyone else, including Britten in his recording, plays the revised version. Off-hand, I can't tell the difference, from memory.

Britten's violin concerto has only recently come into its own. Writing an intensely melodic concerto in D minor was not something calculated to enthuse the young critics of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, geared up as they were to extol the latest fashion of the avant-garde (a bit like today's critics slobbering over “gut strings” and “original instruments”.) Ah, fashion. Nearly 80 years on, Britten's concerto is moving and impressive; well written for the violin and for the orchestra. When I was young, BBC commentators used to introduce the works of Shostakovich, Britten, Khachaturian, and others, slightly apologetically. “I know it's not really music of our times, but it has its place”. Well, Messrs Shostakovich, Britten and Khachaturian are having the last laugh. I have never been a fan of Benjamin Britten's music, but I do have a soft spot for his violin concerto as do, it appears, many modern violinists. The link to the Lamsma performance is available for some time at:

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Grumiaux and Primrose in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante

Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola K 364 is one of the great works in Mozart's output, and a favourite of string players. Often it is surprisingly difficult to bring off with violinist and violist well matched and balanced. I listened to it today in a 1955 off-air recording from West German Radio, with the Cologne orchestra conducted by Otto Ackermann, courtesy of a very good Dutch friend. Violinist was the superb Arthur Grumiaux, for me probably the greatest violinist of the previous century in terms of combined violin playing and musicianship. Viola player was the technically superb William Primrose, a controversial figure with me since he all too often sounds like a jumped-up violinist playing a violin tuned a fifth lower. Here, however, Cologne and Grumiaux appear to have had a benign influence on Primrose, who matches Grumiaux beautifully throughout. The sound is “big Mozart” of the 1950s. Sadly, they don't play like this no more.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Handel again, and Shostakovich

Many decades ago, back in the 1980s, I heard Handel's cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo for the first time. The venue was the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford (where Handel once gave a series of concerts). The singers at that time were Emma Kirkby and David Thomas (I cannot remember who the third one was). Ever since that far-off event, this cantata has remained one of my favourite works, and the sheer musical invention of this work composed in Naples in 1708 by the 23 year old Saxon continues to amaze. Sheer genius. I listened to it yesterday performed by a stellar line-up of Sandrine Piau, Sara Mingardo and Laurent Naouri, with Emmanuelle Haïm directing the Concert d'Astrée. Bliss.

The only conceivable connection between Handel's Cantata a tre and Shostakovich's G minor piano quintet is that both works are among my personal favourites. I have known the Shostakovich work for many years, ever since I heard a 1949 recording by Shostakovich at the piano with the Beethoven Quartet. The quintet was written in 1940 and shows that, even in the unstable musical environment of the 20th century, great music with real feeling could still be written. The work followed my listening to Handel's cantata — what a contrast! — and was given by the Talich Quartet with Yakov Kasman as pianist. Very moving, as always.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Valery Gergiev in Rachmaninov

These days we are not blessed with many top conductors. The towering figures of the past recede year by year. Of the present crop, when it comes to 19th and 20th century orchestral music, we have to face the fact there are no conductors of Bruckner, Wagner or Beethoven who can compare with the likes of Furtwängler or Klemperer. We do, however, have three top Russians: Valery Gergiev, Vasily Petrenko, and Kirill Petrenko. All three are thoroughly worthy of note, especially in the Russian repertoire. I have long had a great deal of respect for Vasily for his recordings of Elgar and Shostakovich, in particular. Kirill is less easy to sum up, since he is rarely heard in any recordings, but I did hear him conducting Elgar's second symphony — a difficult work to bring off — and he did bring it off spectacularly well (as did Vasily).

I have just been listening to Valery Gergiev conducting the Kirov Orchestra in Rachmaninov's second symphony, a key work in my personal pantheon. The recording dates from 1993 and features a Russian orchestra playing its heart out in an important work in the Russian orchestral repertoire. I have seven different recordings of this work, but this Gergiev performance is by far the best. I have many recordings with Gergiev conducting, mainly in Russian or French repertoire. He almost never disappoints.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Igor Levit, Akiko Suwanai, play Beethoven concertos.

One of the advantages of living in the Internet age is the ability to tap into sites such as Orchestra on Demand and listen to orchestral performances from all over the world. (If only there were also a website doing the same for chamber and instrumental music). Recently I tapped into Igor Levit in Vienna (Radio Austria) and Akiko Suwanai (Hungarian website).

Igor Levit played Beethoven's E flat piano concerto with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. The Radio Austria recording (from May this year) was clear and well-balanced. The Viennese orchestra played Beethoven to the manor born. Levit in Beethoven (as in Bach and Mozart) is always a clear winner; he invariably mirrors the form and emotions of the music he is playing and the result here is a three star performance of the piano concerto following every twist and turn of Beethoven's music.

I was pleased to hear Akiko Suwanai again; a major presence in the violin world up until a few years ago, she has always been a violinist well worth hearing. Her playing in Beethoven's violin concerto (at a concert in 2016) is typical of her; excellent musicianship, impeccable technique, flowing tempos (the concerto comes in at a whisker over 40 minutes rather than the more usual 43-44 minutes). The Korean orchestra (KBS Symphony Orchestra) was recorded somewhat dimly, with up-front woodwind and soloist and everyone else relegated to the background. The audience in Seoul was supremely bronchial throughout. A performance for lovers of Akiko Suwanai's violin playing, rather than for lovers of Beethoven's violin concerto. Recording and balancing orchestras and soloists is a demanding art, and not everyone succeeds.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Goerne and Brendel in Die Winterreise

Frequently, there are advantages to live recordings: the added frisson of playing before a real audience can add that extra 10% over even a good studio recording, with its many re-takes. The main disadvantage of live recordings is audience noise: clapping, coughing, mobile phone sounds, whatever. I settled back to listen to Matthias Goerne and Alfred Brendel in Schubert's Die Winterreise song cycle. For some inexplicable reason, the work started with audience applause — not even on a separate track. So every time you wished to enter the world of Die Winterreise, you had to have a burst of audience applause to set the atmosphere. Even worse: the sound engineers had miscalculated the dynamics. In order to hear the recorded pianissimos, you had to turn the volume up. When the next song featured a fortissimo, you were blasted out of your socks. After the fourth or fifth song in the cycle, I gave up. The CD is on the pile destined for a charity shop.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Emmanuelle Haïm in Bach and Handel

In his interesting study of J.S. Bach and his music, Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner makes an interesting case for respecting the dance-like rhythms in Bach's music, even the church music such as the cantatas. He frowns at the tendency in much of northern Europe to imbue Bach's church music with a Protestant reverent piousness. Gardiner would approve of the recording of Bach's Magnificat directed by the ever-talented Emmanuelle Haïm with her Concert D'Astrée. Under Haïm's direction, the music is alive, just as Bach surely intended in this work where he appears to be showing off his prodigious talents. I seem to have nine different recordings of the Magnificat, about the only Bach work apart from the Mass in B minor that uses the Latin language. I love Haïm's recording, and even love the singing of Philippe Jaroussky, the counter-tenor for whom I always make an exception.

On the same CD is one of the few works by Handel in the Latin language, the Dixit Dominus dating from 1707 when Handel was just 22 years old and living in Rome. The work is a veritable tour de force, with the young Handel showing off his prodigious talents. On this CD, Bach and Handel go head-to-head; Bach's music takes just over 25 minutes, Handel's 30 minutes (both as directed by Haïm). Predictably, neither composer is the outright winner, since their music is always as different as chalk and cheese. So ironic that despite being born only six weeks apart in the same region of Germany, the two never met. Anyway, some 300 years later, the music of both composers is still going strong. Oddly enough, I have only one other recording of Dixit Dominus and that is also French, conducted by Marc Minkowski. But Ms Haïm is going to be a hard act to follow, since her performance is a tour de force of Handel's tour de force. And a recording of both works that features Natalie Dessay, Philippe Jaroussky and Laurent Naouri (amongst others) really assembles a lot of first-class talent. The recording was made in Paris in 2006 and is of excellent quality. Ms Haïm, of whom I almost always approve highly, is no follower of the north European pious approach to the church music of Bach, Handel or Vivaldi. I like her L'Orfeo (Monteverdi), Messiah (Handel), La Resurrezione (Handel) and Dido and Aeneas (Purcell) plus many of her other Handel recordings.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Handel Opera Duets

Handel's operas and oratorios are a goldmine of good tunes and memorable arias. Wandering through my collection of recordings this evening, happy chance saw me taking out a CD of operatic duets from Handel's operas, recorded 15 years ago by Patrizia Ciofi (soprano) and Joyce DiDonato (mezzo). The late Alan Curtis directs Il Complesso Barocco, and Virgin turns out a first-class recording. Which is really just what you need for Handel: first-class singers, a first-class band, expert direction, and a well-balanced recording. The music does the rest.

The two singers are superb, and a mezzo-soprano such as DiDonato spares us the embarrassment of a counter-tenor or a castrato. 73 minutes of pure gold. Handel never fails.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Christian Gerhaher sings Schubert's Die Winterreise

Back in the 1950s when I was a teenager, I assiduously copied out and learned the texts of the twenty-four songs that comprise Schubert's Die Winterreise; all of which stood me in good stead for the rest of my life, since I can now sit back and listen to the songs without having recourse to the texts or translations.

It is difficult to imagine what Schubert's small audience back in 1828 would have made of this cycle of songs, where pessimism rules, and where the harmonies of the songs often modulate every few bars (the modulations of Die Krähe always fascinated me). I knew this greatest of all song cycles from my early LPs of Hans Hotter (three LP sides, with the fourth side blank). I then, inevitably, went on to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; since then, there have been many candidates for favourite version, the latest being Jonas Kaufman (tenor). This evening it was back to Christian Gerhaher (baritone) with Gerold Huber at the piano, recorded back in 2001. The pianist is excellent. Gerhaher sings with welcome emotion and really enters into the spirit of this evergreen work; Winterreise is an emotional work — with often quite violent emotions. Thanks to my teenage hard work, I can sit back and enjoy the songs and the words, greatly helped by Gerhaher's clear diction and enunciation. Gerhaher, Goerne, or Kaufman (I never took to Fischer-Dieskau)? Spoilt for choice, but I greatly enjoyed Gerhaher this evening and was completely gripped for 78 minutes.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Renaud Capuçon

Renaud Capuçon is hardly a household name, even among lovers of violin playing, yet whatever he does is pretty well always of the highest quality and stands up to all and any comparisons with other modern violinists. At 42 years old, Capuçon is hardly a wunderkind, nor is he an attractive young woman; a lot of publicity therefore passes him by. Like the late Arthur Grumiaux (with whom he has much in common) he is a versatile musician and often heard at his very best in chamber music and duo sonatas, often in the company of his brother Gautier (cello), Frank Braley (piano) and Gérard Caussé (viola). Renaud Capuçon and his distinguished friends always seem to me to be making real chamber music: friends playing together and enjoying the music.

I like his recording of he two Brahms string sextets, and of the two Schubert piano trios, and of Schubert's Trout Quintet, and of the three Brahms piano trios (with Nicholas Angelich). Capuçon has recorded most things (though I cannot find him in my collection playing Mozart, Paganini, or Bach). His Beethoven and Brahms concertos are very fine, as is his Brahms double concerto (with Gautier). I also admire his set of the complete Beethoven violin and piano sonatas (with Frank Braley). The two Brahms string sextets were recorded live, and here the clarity of the ensemble, the fine balance, and the atmosphere of six friends playing together, makes this Brahms to live with. There are other violinists at the same level as Capuçon — James Ehnes, for example — but Renaud Capuçon always has that special “Arthur Grumiaux” edge to his playing. And like Grumiaux (and Adolf Busch) he really excels in chamber music.

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Pavel Haas Quartet, and Schubert's String Quintet

There are probably only a few hundred musical works at the very top of the tree. We have to come up with a better term for great music other than the somewhat ambiguous classical music. Perhaps eternal music, or evergreen music, or ever-lasting music. Schubert's string quintet in C major, D 956, was among the works Schubert finished in the last few weeks of his life. He never heard it played, nor saw it in print. Listening to it 190 years after it was written, it still sounds as fresh and as alive as music written recently. I can recall a surprising number of people over the years who have nominated the adagio of the string quintet as being music they would choose to die to. It is music I have known and loved for most of my lifetime; but then, I really love Schubert's music, especially the late piano and chamber works.

I have several recordings of the quintet, including the famous 1951 one with Casals, Tortelier, Isaac Stern, et al, and the 1952 recording by the Amadeus Quartet and William Pleeth, the recording I grew up with. But now the only recording I want to listen to is the 2013 version with the Pavel Haas Quartet (with Danjulo Ishizaka, cello). Everything that is in Schubert's last chamber work comes over with the Pavel Haas team. The playing is all about Schubert, and not about lovely instruments or lovely playing. The recording and balance are excellent (Supraphon) as is the coupling (the Death and the Maiden Quartet D 810). Three gold stars. The Pavel Haas is a wonderful string quartet.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Vasily Petrenko conducts in Vienna

In the old days, I would couple a radio tuner to a tape cassette recorder via an amplifier and record music off-air. The results were ... adequate. I was again surprised listening (on the web) to a concert given on 11th March in the  Konzerthaus Großer Saal in Vienna where Vasily Petrenko — a conductor for whom I have an enormous respect — was conducting the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The sound in Beethoven' violin concerto, and in Rimsky-Korsakov's evergreen Scheherazade, was astonishingly excellent; well-balanced and well recorded. My only gripe was that the engineers had turned up the soloist's microphone in the Beethoven concerto when it came to the cadenzas, so we suddenly heard a sound out of all proportion to what had gone before, or what followed.

Petrenko is a known quantity in Russian music (and in Elgar) so I was not surprised to enjoy and admire the performance of Scheherazade. I have never heard Petrenko in Beethoven, and was pleased at the solid and positive support he gave to the solo violin. In my view, the Beethoven violin concerto needs a positive contribution from the orchestra, in order to contrast with the lyrical solo violin.

The soloist in the Beethoven concerto was 22 year old Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, born in Vienna. He came over here as a gentle soul, with expert lyrical playing, and the result was an admirable contrast between the strong orchestra and the filigree arabesques of the solo violin. An enjoyable performance. Tjeknavorian came up with cadenzas I had never heard before; the first movement cadenza was fine, the second movement one far less so, and the one in the finale OK. There are many fine cadenzas written for the Beethoven concerto, but every violinist nowadays seems to find a need to come up with something new; new is not always better than old.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Cantatas

I have over 30 Bach cantatas in the series conducted by Masaaki Suzuki with his Bach Collegium Japan. Mr Suzuki is not a director with a big ego. Tempi are uncontroversial. The small choir sounds (to me) just the right size for Bach's many choral passages and is, in any case, preferable to the one-per-part brigade. The instrumental band plays well, and is expertly balanced. The recordings, over several decades now, are either satisfactory, or excellent. The soloists are usually from a small pool of German, Flemish, British and Dutch. Stalwarts over the years have been Peter Kooij (bass), Gerd Türk (tenor), Hanna Blazikova (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), and Carolyn Sampson (soprano). The Japanese solo singers in the earliest recordings were later abandoned.

Inevitably, a few cantatas are routine (but even routine Bach is always well worth listening to). Many give evidence of special care, no doubt for special occasions. There are many jewels such as BWV 21 “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis”. Whenever I want to listen to something, but cannot decide what, I know I'll be happy with a couple of Bach cantatas. For the Suzuki set, all praise also to the Swedish BIS company, that has kept the faith with Suzuki and Bach over many decades (unlike DG that chickened out of the John Eliot Gardiner series, presumably, as the Americans would say, because the recordings “did not make the numbers”). Bach would have said: “There are more important things than numbers, where my music is concerned”.

No criticisms? Well, I am not keen on counter-tenors. I like my sopranos, altos and contraltos to be women, just as I like my tenors, baritones and basses to be men. Mr Suzuki and I disagree on this. On the face of it, Kobe in western Japan is an unlikely source for top-notch Bach. All praise to Masaaki Suzuki for enriching our access to well-performed Bach cantatas. These 30 or so cantatas are ones I shall always keep to hand, counter-tenors notwithstanding. I seem to have around 50 Bach cantatas directed by Philippe Herreweghe, so that will be a new report sometime in the future.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Jean Sibelius

On my return home after a spell in hospital, I have embarked on a mini- Sibelius festival. Which is a bit odd, since Jean Sibelius has rarely featured in my listening repertoire for many years (apart from the violin concerto), and equally odd in that my listening had recently moved away from orchestral music in favour of chamber music, and solo instruments. Whatever: it's wall to wall Sibelius at the moment, with all seven symphonies receiving a well-deserved airing. The second, fifth, sixth and seventh symphonies are familiar fare, the other three less so. My current listening is confined to LSO Live recordings made by Colin Davis more than a decade or so ago. The LSO knows the music backwards, the recorded sound is not bad at all, and Davis's conducting is right for Sibelius (even if we have him singing along with the orchestra in the fifth symphony).

In England, Thomas Beecham espoused the cause of Sibelius early on; in the 1950s and 60s, Herbert von Karajan continued the cause, somewhat unusually for a German; Sibelius was popular in Scandinavia, in Russia and in Britain – perhaps also in America – but had made little impact in Germany, and pretty well none at all in France or Italy. Sibelius's music is music of the North, with icy winds and freezing frost. The second and fifth symphonies have become almost popular (a Frenchman, Pierre Monteux, made a very fine recording of the second symphony back in 1958, again with the LSO). I grew up in my distant teens with the sixth and seventh symphonies (Philharmonia under von Karajan) and still have a soft spot for these two; like a long draft of pure, cool, spring water. The earlier Sibelius symphonies still show his debt to Tchaikovsky and the Russians; the later symphonies are pure Nordic Sibelius. Many Beecham Sibelius recordings are still available, as are the recordings made by von Karajan, first with the Philharmonia, then with the Berlin Philharmonic — I prefer the earlier Philharmonia recordings, where von Karajan was less obsessed with pure, silky sound, and the Philharmonia was at its peak in the 1950s with Klemperer and von Karajan in and out of the recording studios and concert halls, all presided over by Walter Legge. I even have a recording conducted by Furtwängler of En Saga (1943, Berlin Philharmonic) and, in the same year, he conducted Georg Kulenkampff in the violin concerto. Praga Digital is currently re-issuing re-vamped transfers of the Karajan-Philharmonia symphonies five, six, and seven. I have my name down.

And for the violin concerto? I have 56 different recordings, the classics being the Heifetz and the Neveu recordings from earlier in the last century. Pretty well every violinist that ever drew a bow has recorded the work, which has joined the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos at the top of the A-list. My modern choice would probably be one of the two recordings with Lisa Batiashvili playing. Or maybe Vadim Repin (I have no less than six different recordings of Repin playing this work).

Sibelius avoided the gigantism and long-windedness that characterised much of the music at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth; Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler and Elgar all wrote music that, arguably, often goes on just too long. Most of Sibelius's symphonies come in comfortably at around 30 minutes each; a good listening span. In self-imposed musical exile after his seventh symphony, he shunned the sterile cul-de-sac of the serialists such as Schönberg, Berg and their acolytes, fortunately for his music and his future reputation. My mini- Sibelius festival over, I'll nevertheless not re-shelve the CDs but will keep them by me. I value all seven Sibelius symphonies, even the fourth that proves that the Russians do not have a monopoly on musical pessimism and gloom.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Sandrine Piau in Handel

Yesterday, the temperature where I live was plus 14 degrees. Today it is minus 2. I struggled to find music that would calm my frustration, and tried many options. At last, by trial and error, I found just the right 60 minutes; the honeyed soprano voice of Sandrine Piau singing Handel excerpts (mainly in English). With the title “Between Heaven and Earth” the CD also features the Accademia Bizantina directed by Stefano Montanari. From first note to last, it is a ray of sunshine, with Piau's wonderful singing complementing Handel's inventive music, and the highly talented band filling in the rest. Montanari is first violin, conductor and musical director and his enthusiastic Italians make a pleasant change from the often somewhat dour North Europeans in this music. A CD I shall never regret having bought.

This blog is called Musicke & Food; there is, indeed, a relationship between the two, in that the "right" music for the session in hand can vary enormously, just as the "right" food can be unpredictable. A fridge full of fish; I yearn for meat. A fridge full of meat; I yearn for fish. A pile of string quartets; I yearn for the symphonies of Sibelius. However, Ms Piau and Georg Frederike Händel filled the bill this evening. Danke, merci ... et grazie. And a bowl of soupe de poissons from Brittany fulfilled the food part. Merci.

The Naxos Company, and Nazrin Rashidova

The Naxos company started in 1987 in Hong Kong at the inspiration of Klaus Heymann, a German resident in Hong Kong. Later, his Japanese wife, Takako Nishizaki, a violinist, also took part in the company (and was probably one reason why Naxos has always had a prominent violin repertoire). For the past 31 years, during which most rivals and competitors have disappeared as organised recording companies, Naxos has continued its policy of low prices, repertoire that avoids the over-recorded, artists and instrumental groups that are not on the normal All Star circuit, and never (or rarely) deleting any issues. Naxos explores the 80 percent of the classical music repertoire that the big commercial enterprises rarely touch, and it often achieves excellent artistic results with its ranks of “B list” artists and orchestras. In classical music, being a well-known name is not always a guarantee of first-rate quality (and we all remember the revelation that Britain's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was caught out giving concerts simultaneously in two different cities; the RPO name had become a mere franchise operation).

The latest release from Naxos typifies the company, with Nazrin Rashidova playing Volume 2 of her planned traversal of the 24 études-caprices opus 64 by Emile Sauret (all six of the new études on the CD are labelled as “world première recordings”.) Music of a specialist interest maybe, but well worth recording and listening to. For this second volume Rashidova puts aside her modern British violin that sounded so well in Volume 1 and plays on a Stradivarius from 1685. The Strad also sounds well, with a good tone on the lower strings. There is some wonderful violin playing on this CD. In the liner notes, Rashidova writes extensively about the quality of the "Sauret" Strad. Finally, as usual with the good-quality Naxos, liner notes (by Rashidova) are excellent and, although Rashidova is a fine-looking woman, the front cover quite rightly gives Emile Sauret star billing in a large typeface, with a photo of the composer dominating half of the front. A bit more class at Naxos compared with the likes of DG, Decca and Warner.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Sviatoslav Richter frustrates in Schubert

Sviatoslav Richter was no “legend”; he was a real person, and I once had a ticket to hear him at a concert near me. Unfortunately, when the great day came, I found I had mistakenly thrown away the ticket, so I never heard him live. But he was a very great and very famous pianist, with a special love for the music of Franz Schubert.

I settled down to listen to Richter in 1979 in Tokyo playing Schubert piano sonatas; B major D 575, F minor D 625, A major D 664, and A minor D 784. The pianism was wonderful. The audience was ecstatic (some applause was maintained). Three of the sonatas have slow movements marked “andante”, but Richter's concept of andante in Tokyo was more akin to molto adagio. Richter being Richter, his tempi were never based on a desire for affect, nor to please the crowd. And Richter being Richter with his superb ability to concentrate, the andantes never sagged. However, the three andantes were all so slow they often nearly stopped, and I just could not take it any more. Click on the following movements.