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.