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.