Thursday, 29 January 2004

For about the first time, I was unable to listen to something to which I wanted to listen, because I couldn't find it! The multiple-disc Karajan set from the 1950s proved impossible to track down. I wanted to listen to Sibelius's 6th Symphony. But couldn't, because I couldn't find it. The time has come to do something about my CD collection and its chaotic organisation (for rarely listened-to works).

But, by fortunate chance, I picked up Furtwängler and Erich Röhn in the Beethoven Violin Concerto (1944, Berlin). This really is probably the greatest recorded performance ever of this work, not the least because it is a true duo partnership, with Furtwängler playing the Berlin Philharmonic. The performance has muscle and vigour; after all, it is around 1803 and very soon after the 18th century. Would that the likes of Nikolaj Znaider or Hilary Hahn would listen and take note! But you do also need a conductor of genius.

Monday, 19 January 2004

Sunday evening (basking after "The Return of the King" on Saturday) listened with great pleasure to Michael Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. This is a work I really like. Tried to follow it with Mahler's 9th (Haitink) but this just didn't work; Mahler sounded all noise and not much substance, after Tchaikovsky. Turned instead to Chausson and the Poème de l'Amour et de la Mer. Chose the new version with Felicity Lott; this really is very good indeed.

A question mark under all these different versions; when I want to listen to the Pathétique, I always turn to the Pletnev recordings. And when I want the Chausson, I think I'll always turn to Felicity Lott. So what am I going to do with all these alternative versions? Mahler's 4th will always be Barbirolli from now on (with perhaps just occasional excursions into the old Kletzki). I think that one of these days I am going to have a truly massive throw-out !

Tuesday, 13 January 2004

Audition round-up (2)

Nicolaj Znaider's recital CD was fairly typical. Exemplary technique, lovely sound (followed by lovely sound, followed by lovely sound ... ) with slow tempi in slower places that borded on the ludicrous. Why did he not listen to Heifetz and Achron playing the Hebrew Melody before embarking on his adagio molto rendition? These marvellous salon pieces simply do not have the content or the stature to be dragged out endlessly.

Enjoyed Isabelle van Keulen playing the Elgar concerto (BBC, with Halle and Mark Elder). Following the unfortunate example of Menuhin with Elgar, she kept slamming on the brakes in the first movement, despite a promising allegro for the first movement overall. But the andante was andante, and the final allegro molto was allegro molto. An unfortunate passage in the finale, and an unfortunate chord in the same movement. But, taken altogether, the performance was full of energy. Good partnership with the Halle. She has come on as a violinist; I recall being unimpressed with her debut LP (Saint-Saens third concerto, plus Vieuxtemps 5th, back in 1986). But her Mozart in 1991 was better. And this Elgar was very fine; fully the equal of the impressive Hilary Hahn performance (2002, with Colin Davis).

Audition round-up:

Highly impressed with 13-year old Chinese Tian-Wa Yang playing the Paganini caprices. She plays many of them deliberately rather than rapidly, but this enables you to hear that she is playing every single note. Incredible intonation in double-stops (it probably helps if you have the slender fingers of a 13 year old Chinese female). And a truly incredible right arm.

A bit angry with "Chloe", Chloe Hanslip's debut CD. Seems to me everything is wrong except her playing:

1. I don't know why a CD presenting a new violinist is covered in posed photos of a 14 year old girl. Is the disc aimed mainly at the paedophile market?

2. She should not have made her debut in a variety of salon pieces with orchestral backing. The main point of a debut CD is to feature the playing of the young artist. The orchestral backing is a distraction from listening to Hanslip's playing (viz, Sarasate's Romanza Andaluza, with its castanets and trumpets). She should have stuck to a good pianist so her playing really stood out.

3. Most of the pieces are somewhat slushy. She should have chosen more carefully. The Paganini "Campanella" at the beginning is really good; after that: too much slush (not even thinking of Williams' mawkish film theme).

4. I am always advocating "natural" balance between violin and orchestra in duo music. However, in this kind of repertoire, where the only real interest is in how well the violinist measures up to her predecessors and competitors, a balance between violinist and orchestra more like that given to Rabin or Heifetz would, for once, have been useful. Miss Hanslip plays a del Gesu violin; we do not really have a chance to appreciate it.

5. The liner notes have too many gushing adjectives: thrilling, great, magnificent, acclaimed. Do they not teach the English language at Warner?

I am very impressed with Chloe Hanslip's playing. But I don't know that I think much of her artistic management, her (ex) record company nor, probably, her pushy family. Let the girl play!