Saturday, 20 December 2003

Spent around two hours transferring (with the new Terratec interface and software) and then listening to, Gioconda de Vito's 1952 performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto (Furtwängler conducting the Turin Radio Orchestra, public concert). Well, the sound wasn't too bad (though there is a lot of stage and audience noise). But the orchestral playing sounds amateur and under-rehearsed, and de Vito sounds technically below par. Bit of a disappointment. It was a relief to turn to Sergei Khachatryan playing the Sibelius violon concerto (Emmanuel Krivine and the Sinfonia Varsovia). Good to hear things in tune again !

With time, I have become very partial to Janacek's violin and piano sonata. It is both lyrical and passionate, tender and vivacious. A very fine new recording comes from the -- previously unknown to me -- Kai Gleusteen and Catherine Ordronneau. I like the music (which also includes around 20 of the Shostakovitch preludes arranged by Tziganov and the Prokofiev first violin & piano sonata). The playing is exemplary by both parties. The balance is exactly how it should be. And the recording quality is excellent. A thoroughly enjoyable CD (Avie). But I am a little shocked by my rejection of my "historic" Brahms violin concerto.

Friday, 28 November 2003

I have become somewhat hooked on the two CDs of Benno Rabinof, with excerpts from his New York radio broadcasts 1943-44. Having had Rabinof's "Gypsy" LP transfer for some time, I always thought he was somewhat "yesterday's virtuoso". However, as so often, live comes out so much better than studio. Rabinof, almost entirely in the virtuoso repertoire as befits American radio in the 1940s, really thrills. I particularly like the longer pieces: Ernst's "Otello" fantasy (11 minutes) and Hungarian Airs (8 minutes), plus Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian pot-pourri (11 minutes) and the Paganini-Kreisler "Le Streghe" (12 minutes). In particular, Ernst's Otello fantasy appeals to me greatly (I know it from Kavakos's performance). Certainly Rabinof is slick; but he is also thrilling to listen to (though I doubt I'd like his Bach or Mozart).

And, speaking of Kavakos: his new CD (with Peter Nagy) makes an excellent impression; I think he certainly joins Batiashvili, Suwanai and Repin in my quartet of younger violin players who give me a lot of pleasure. Kavakos does not go for slow tempi and oh-so-rich sound; he just plays the music with a wide variety of dynamics, colour and expression. On the new CD, I particularly like the Enescu third sonata, a work that falls to bits if taken too slowly.

Monday, 17 November 2003

This was really Arkady Volodos weekend. Played two recital discs (Miami, 2000 and Amsterdam 2003). There is an infectious enthusiasm about Volodos's playing; he radiates enjoyment and exhilaration. I very much enjoyed these two recitals of Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and various virtuoso pieces.
Less keen on Milstein, recorded 1983 in Berkely, California. For a start, the sound capture was bad (sounds as if it is a hand-held job from within the audience). A shame, since Milstein plays the Franck sonata that he never recorded commercially. The piano sound dominates in this recording, and the violin sounds distant (recorder was probably on the right hand side, facing the stage). From what one can hear, Milstein doesn't seem to be too enthralled by the Franck sonata; tempi are fast (same overall timing as Heifetz) with not much sign of love. Probably why it wasn't among Milstein's chosen 30 or 40 pieces that he kept recording and re-recording most of his life.

Sunday, 2 November 2003

Took Hilary Hahn off the shelf, playing the Elgar concerto (Colin Davis, Bavarian Orchestra). It is a nice performance – partly due to Davis, who knows that Elgar must keep going and must never wallow. I am usually a bit disappointed in Hilary Hahn; when I heard her in the Wigmore Hall, she came over as too loud and powerful for a small recital hall. In Portsmouth (Guildhall) she played the Shostakovitch concerto immaculately, but missed the “blood on the fingers” trauma of the Passacaglia; Shostakovitch demands emotions that a girl from Baltimore has never experienced. And her Beethoven concerto recording was too slow. But she is a highly talented violinist and, for some reason, I think Elgar is on her wavelength in a way Shostakovitch is not.
Earlier, spurred by a review in Le Monde de la Musique, I took off the shelf my “Talents of Russia” CD of Marina Yashvili. She, also was quite a violinist! A beautiful performance of the De Falla siete cancones and a performance of the Paganini Cantabile just as I would like to play it.
The evening showed the advantages of having an extensive CD collection ! None of the listening was remotely pre-planned.

Wednesday, 8 October 2003

Sat back yesterday evening and listened to the new CD of Felicity Lott singing Chausson, Ravel and Duparc (Poème de l'Amour et de la Mer, Shéhérazade, and three of Duparc's Mélodies). Didn't get to the Ravel, but the Chausson and Duparc were truly superb (Armin Jordan and Suisse Romande Orchestra, recorded in 2000 and 2002). I have a soft spot for the French post-Romantics. And, I must say, Lott's French language comes over very well indeed – unusually well for a non-French native. I think this is a CD that is going to be spinning regularly for me, rather like that of Lisa della Casa singing the Vier Letzte Lieder.

Sunday, 5 October 2003

This weekend, re-discovered Milstein from the latest Naxos re-issue (Obert-Thorn transfers). An incredible Mendelssohn violin concerto (1945, New York), Bruch violin concerto (1942, New York) and Tchaikovsky violin concerto ((1940, Chicago). The Mendelssohn is fleet of foot and entirely admirable. The violin tone in these recordings is really extremely lifelike and “undigital”. Orchestras are a bit dim, and soloist a bit too far forward, but otherwise one can just sit back and listen with enjoyment. Milstein is a violinist I have usually respected rather than admired. But these three concertos show very clearly why he is always considered to be one of the last century’s great violinists. And the sound is so much better than on the EMI / Capitol American re-issues of a few years ago. A great re-discovery.

Saturday, 30 August 2003

Big listening day today: Repin, plus Bella Davidovich and cellist in the Tchaikovsky piano trio (1992 broadcast, and super); Repin in the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole (brilliantly played, but I think I am played out with the Lalo); Bronislaw Gimpel in the second Wieniawski concerto (radio, late 1940s) plus some bits – what a virtuoso he was! Also played most of the new Naxos Nathan Milstein re-issues from 1949-50 recordings (particularly good violin playing in the Glazounov concerto). Then finally the newly-purchased DG of Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Wagner: Tannhäuser Overture, Tristan Prelude & Liebestod, plus nearly 40 minutes of Parsifal, including the Act I Prelude, Good Friday music, and music and final chorus from Act III. A stream of beautiful, golden sound! I take back any suspicions concerning my new amplifier; the sound was excellent from the 2000 DG recording. I really like Wagner!
I shall round off the evening with Klemperer playing Mozart (1950).

Friday, 29 August 2003

Enforced Alkolfrei few days (antibiotic for an infected gum). Amazing how much more I can accomplish in an evening! Listened to the 28 August Prom performance of Vadim Repin playing the Brahms Violin Concerto (and made copies for Dave, Akiko and De Haas). Repin's concept is lyrical and relaxed; a valid concept, even if I still hanker after Heifetz after Repin has finished. He played the Auer cadenzas, which made a nice change. A good performance (and it recorded well). I’ll come back to it from time to time. His tone, particularly in the adagio, seems to be becoming “plummier”. By popular demand? A pity (viz Samaroff, below).
Then off into 25 tracks and 74 minutes of Toscha Samaroff, about whom I know nothing … except that he’s my kind of violinist. Despite his name, he sounds Hungarian, and his playing makes me think of Szigeti, Dinicu and the Léner Quartet. Exemplary articulation with the right arm. Clean sound with lots of colouring (not just the überall caffè con latte of the modern brigade). No idea when the 25 tracks were first recorded; but from the sound and the clicks, we are back in the 1920s and '30s. Can’t even think of declicking these recordings; it would take ten years. However, the unknown Samaroff joins the small band of violinists of whom I approve. Even Mr Google hasn't heard of Samaroff (or Samarov; who knows how it is even spelled?)

Sunday, 24 August 2003

A long time since my last entry. Two weeks of this were spent in Kentucky / Georgia / Indiana, with no great musical or gastronomic experiences to recount. However, yesterday I re-listened to Handel’s Saul (John Eliot Gardiner, 1989). I really like Handel! Most refreshing. I find Gardiner somewhat inclined to be hectoring as a conductor, and he is not my favourite in this (or any other) repertoire. Weekend was spent eating langoustines and mussels. No complaints on that front. I then re-embarked on Klemperer’s Eroica (Danish performance of the early 1950s). As I have remarked before on this blog, my respect for Otto Klemperer grows stronger every year. Rounded off the evening with Barbirolli's superb performance of Mahler's 4th symphony. This is now my official favourite. A pity about the horns of the Halle Orchestra. But what a warm, affectionate performance! Makes one realise how cool Kletzki is (Philharmonia).

Wednesday, 16 July 2003

With time, I find I like Otto Klemperer's work more and more. The twentieth century probably saw two absolutely paramount conductors: Furtwängler, and Klemperer. This view was sparked after the receipt from Ronald de Haas of Danish Radio broadcasts of the 1950s. Der grosser Otto conducting perfomances of Beethoven's Eroica, Brahms Fourth, and Mozart 29 (also including Beethoven's Leonore III). All works, and performances, are Klemperer classics. Scrupulous care over dynamics, balance and tempi. Indifference towards mere beauty of sound. The works, in their 1950s mono, really do sound "rugged". And nothing wrong with that, even in the Mozart symphony. Klemperer's Mozart used to disturb me a little. But now I find that I appreciate "Mozart without make-up". And no one does the Eroica or the Brahms fourth better than Otto! The sound in all the works is absolutely fine.

Sunday, 13 July 2003

Satisfying evening of violin & piano duos. Started with Michiko Kamiya (with Ian Brown) playing the first Saint-Saëns violin and piano sonata. Very passionate, very satisfying.
Next were Vadim Repin and Boris Berezovsky in the Strauss sonata. Magnificent, as usual.
Finally, Elisabeth Batiashvili and Stephen Osborne in the first Prokofiev violin & piano sonata, with Debussy’s La plus que lente as encore.
Great trio of performances. The Kamiya unexpectedly so. I upped her stars from one, to two!

Saturday, 12 July 2003

Another good evening, thanks to Handel. Replaced my old LP with a new Hyperion re-issue (1984 recording) of Patrizia Kwella, Gillian Fisher and Catherine Denley in a collection of “favourites of the 1980s” – O come chiare e belle; Clori, mia bella Clori, and the Duello Amoroso. Lots of familiar tunes! And brought back good memories of the Music at Oxford concerts in the Sheldonian during that same period.
Handel really is most uplifting. Evening helped along by my first home-pressed ox tongue of the season. Delicious!

Friday, 11 July 2003

I seem to have become hung-up on Vaughan Williams' third symphony (André Previn and the LSO). A wonderful work, with echoes of Ravel, Debussy, Butterworth and Holst. There are three other Vaughan Williams symphonies in the 2-CD collection. But I am always faithful to the third (Pastoral).

Absolutely delicious pressed tongue yesterday evening; my first of the season. On the violin front, I greatly admire Rachel Barton's new recording of the Joachim concerto (Chicago SO, with the Brahms concerto as an "encore"). I didn't enjoy Barton's 1992 recital of Sarasate pieces. But the Joachim is excellently played (and superlatively recorded, especially when you consider Cedille is an American company). Played uncut (47 minutes) it comes over as a piece that should be played much more often.
Finally, still in love with Batiashvili's playing. Her concert of the Debussy, Prokofiev I and Brahms III sonatas (La plus que lente as encore) is an absolute three-star classic. Very able pianist partner is Stephen Osborne.

Monday, 2 June 2003

Off to Bath on Saturday morning. Found -- at long last -- a butcher who sells veal chops! Had a big veal weekend. Also bought the new Emmanuelle Haïm recording of Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. Wonderful trio of vocalists -- Sandrine Piau, Sara Mingardo and Laurent Naouri -- and quite wonderful music. The whole thing played with plenty of spirit and colour. Baroque performances have moved on from the 1980s. The singers sound more at ease, the instrumentalists less amateur. Sara Mingardo, in particular, really shines in the new issue. Strange how English groups and singers appear to have faded somewhat in the baroque repertoire, after their pioneering efforts in the 1980s. Now it's Emmanuelle Haïm, Marc Minkowski, Philippe Herreweghe and René Jacobs. Baroque headquarters is now France and Belgium, with the Italians making headway.
So pleased with Aci that I restarted on Jacobs' Rinaldo. Decided I am not too keen on Vivica Genaux's voice (Rinaldo).

Monday, 26 May 2003

Bank Holiday weekend, and Wagner’s Parsifal, the old 1951 Decca public performance recording transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn for Naxos. A mere £19 for a first-class Parsifal on four CDs! Wonders will never cease.
Astonishingly, the 1951 recording is perfectly “acceptable” – ie, no allowances have to be made while listening. Balance between orchestra and voices is how it should be. And with pretty well all the singers (except, sometimes, the Kundry of Martha Mödl), you can really hear every word. Hans Knappertsbusch conducts the work as one suspects it should be conducted. Five hours of bliss! But I’m glad I had a big-print libretto, left over from the Goodall LP set.

Friday, 16 May 2003

Down to Portsmouth yesterday for the last concert of this season. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (excellent) conducted by Alexander Polianichko. Highly enjoyable Lieutenant Kijé Suite, followed by second piano concerto (with Nikolai Demidenko as the demonic, very Russian, soloist). I greatly enjoyed watching the soloist in action – a real Russian bear, with an expressionless counternance but with immense power and, on the few occasions permitted by Prokofiev, a warm tone. The concerto was exciting, but not really something I'd care to listen to regularly. A lot of steel, a lot of brutality.
After the interval, it was back to Prokofiev, and the fifth symphony. Enjoyable, but rather a lot of Prokofiev in one dose. Might have been wiser to switch to Vaughan Williams, or Sibelius, for the final work? The orchestra played very well indeed. Polianichko looked every inch a real haunted Russian conductor, albeit with a Simon Rattle haircut.

Thursday, 15 May 2003

I listened to Schubert's B flat major piano sonata D 960 yesterday evening (it's one of my favourite works). Maria Judina's performance is quite fascinating. I think Schubert would have loved it, although asking himself who wrote the music. Does one want a marvellous performance of a piano work? Or a great performance of Schubert's last sonata? I don't think one gets the latter, but one certainly gets the former. It is, of course, one of the dividing lines of critics. I certainly would never wish to be without Richter's or Judina's performances of D 960, although I recognise they are almost certainly not what Schubert had in mind, exactly. I must invest in one or two more performances of this fascinating and difficult-to-read sonata.

Friday, 2 May 2003

My latest craze appears to be Handel's Duetti, sparked by buying Emanuelle Haïm's CD of the Arcadian Duets, and La Venexiana's CD of "The Ten Italian Duets" (with Rossana Bertini and Claudio Cavina). It seems to me that anyone liking Purcell and Bach just has to be sold on the duetti ! Intensely lyrical, but also highly contrapuntal. The slow movement of the Bach D minor concerto for two violins (or almost any baroque sonata or concerto for two violins) could be taken as a model. Lots of variety, lots of changes of mood and nothing lasting more than three minutes. Keeps the singers on their toes, and listeners wide awake. Adding these two CDs to my collection, I must have the world's biggest collection of Handel's duetti (with Kirkby and Nelson, plus Fischer and Bowman, plus Nelson and Jacobs, plus Zadori and Esswood ... )

Tuesday, 1 April 2003

Recent recordings by Hana Kotkova (Ysaye) and Susanne Stanzeleit (Enescu) have set me thinking about what makes a good, worthwhile violin performance. With both Kotkova and Stanzeleit, you find yourself concentrating on the music, rather than admiring how beautiful their violins sound. Kotkova's Ysaye pleases me more than did her Enescu / Janacek disc, which I found a bit too soft-centred and laid back. Stanzeleit I have always admired, though I've mainly had to listen to her in Bartok, which is not really my cup of tea (after nearly 50 years of listening to him!)
Well, the PR people can push Josefowicz, and Bell, and Hahn, and Shaham, and Znyder ... But I think current generation violinists such as Repin, Suwanai, Batiashvili, Kotkova and Stanzeleit are just fine for me.

Sunday, 16 March 2003

At last, a day worth writing about. Dover sole, plus Monsieur Bachelet’s wine for lunch. Haggis for dinner. Handel’s marvellous La Resurrezione (Koopman recording). Plus Vadim Repin – Miaskovsky violin concerto (French recording) plus January 1999 Louvre recordings. Good food. Good wine. Good music. Good performances. The weekend ends happily!

Wednesday, 26 February 2003

Changing my mind about the 1935-36 set of Beethoven violin & piano sonatas with Kreisler and Franz Rupp (Naxos, Ward Marston transfer). I have usually thought it a shame Kreisler was not partnered with someone a little more worthy (Rachmaninov, Cortot, Arrau, etc). However, listening to the pieces in their new transfers, it is apparent that Rupp (and the careful balance instigated by Fred Gaisberg) does an excellent job. Of course, Kreisler was 60 years old when these recordings were made, but it is still a classic set to put beside Szigeti and Arrau, or Grumiaux and Haskil. As usual, around 3 minutes into listening one adapts to the new sound world and it doesn't really matter whether things are stereo or mono, digital or analogue; just so long as the sound is good and true (and not over-shrill, over-clean, etc). Marston seems to me to have done an excellent job here. And the entire set was only £9.99 (£1.00 per sonata!)

Monday, 24 February 2003

Ah, Werner Güra singing Schumann! The new CD contains the Op 39 Liederkreis, plus the Dichterliebe. I grew up with DFD singing these, but Güra gave me much pleasure. A lovely voice, and highly intelligent singing without DFD's occasional blustering. I have always been a great fan of the Op 39 Liederkreis.
As part of a good weekend, I also recorded off-air Hilary Hahn playing the Spohr 8th violin concerto (Gesangsszene). I am not an uncritical admirer of Miss Kahn, but I liked the Spohr as much as I liked her Elgar. Some beautiful playing, and she seems to be learning to play softly, on occasions. You still notice, however, the modern tendancy not to articulate with the bow; emphasis is still too much on a long stream of beautiful sound. Still, it is good to have a fine modern recording of the Spohr, though Heifetz is still well nigh unbeatable in this music.
Finally, for £10 I bought the three Naxos CDs of Kreisler and Rupp doing the complete Beethoven violin & piano sonatas. When I was a teenager, holiday jobs working on the local farms used to see me earning enough money to buy 2 LPs (roughly 80 minutes worth of recorded music). A week's work for 80 minutes! Times have certainly changed.

Thursday, 6 February 2003

Six new Michael Rabin CDs! Great joy (though I only have three at the moment; the rest are following). The six discs cover Rabin's Bell Telephone Hour appearances (Donald Voorhees and the Bell Orchestra). Hearing Rabin is like meeting a good old friend again. His playing really was flawless, and his "slushy" style quite genuine and distinctive. Nothing on the Bell Hour is allowed to last more than 4 minutes or so (American radio audiences obviously were thought to have low attention spans) so everything is played fast, and isolated movements are played from concertos. The Voorhees accompaniments are slushy and Hollywood-inspired. The announcer makes mundane comments and manages to mispronounce almost everything. Still, Rabin is great! The appearances start from 1950 when he was 14 years old. And, unlike his studio recordings, the balance is less diabolical -- how one could throttle the recording producer who nodded through Rabin's incredible recording of the complete Paganini caprices, recorded so near the mike it makes listening a strident experience.
Six hours of Rabin! One of the great things about the CD-R revolution (and the copyright expiration for so many older performances) is that it makes it possible to hear many more hours of an artist than would have been permitted by just the authorised commercially-released recordings.

Tuesday, 14 January 2003

Listened to the two new James Ehnes CDs I brought back from Paris. Why did I buy them? I don't usually enjoy Ehnes, who is a very fine violinist indeed, but can be a little unimaginative.
Well, the CD of James Ehnes playing Kreisler was thoroughly enjoyable. Somehow, faced with just playing the fiddle superbly in lighter music, Ehnes takes wing. A super performance of the Tartini-Kreisler Devil's Trill. Ehnes sounds as if he is enjoying himself.
The CD of Bruch (second violin concerto, and Scottish Fantasy) introduces a conundrum. The second violin concerto is really rather a dull work. Ehnes plays the Scottish Fantasy beautifully. But anyone who remembers Heifetz in this piece will realise that Ehnes is heavily influenced by Heifetz. Phrasing, bowing, fingering, expressive gestures and tempi all sound so similar as to be downright imitation rather than "influenced by". Only in the finale does Ehnes depart from His Master's Voice, with a slower tempo. A bit puzzling. I enjoyed the performance greatly; but it really was Heifetz in good modern sound!

Sunday, 5 January 2003

Evening of duo sonatas. Hanna Kotkova in the Janacek sonata didn’t please me too much. A bit limp, and the balance favours the piano, with her playing away in the background. Turned to Akiko Suwanai and Boris Berezovsky in the Janacek (and in the Dvorak Four Pieces); and what a difference! Ended up with Vadim Repin and the omnipresent Boris Berezovsky in the Strauss sonata. A magnificent performance; quite as good as the classic Heifetz performance (and that is saying a lot). It has to be said that Berezovsky contributes as much to the Suwanai and Repin discs as do the violinists themselves.