Tuesday, 29 June 2004

A truly three star performance of the Shostakovich first violin concerto from Vadim Repin, with the Orchestre National de France under Kurt Masur (broadcast from Paris, 8 April 2004). CD thanks to Akiko.

In this concerto, he just gets better and better. This is only the third I have of him playing the work, but everything has been re-thought, honed and perfected while leaving plenty of room for improvisation and spontaneity. A marvellous performance (well appreciated by the audience). Masur must not be forgotten; he gives a solid Central European bass-line to the music, all aided by an exemplary recording. This really does put in question the value of "official" studio recordings of such things. Bravo, Vadim Repin !

Friday, 25 June 2004

My dislike of slow performances has been much trumpeted. But there are exceptions: Richter in the first movement of Schubert's B flat major sonata; Furtwängler in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony; Elisabeth Batiashvili in the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And now a new recruit to the exceptions: Michael Erxleben in Shostakovich's first violin concerto (sent by Sidoze).

Erxleben takes 47 minutes over the concerto - 21 minutes over the Passacaglia and cadenza! Normally this would be death. But he has the requisite control and concentration to bring it off, and to keep you with him. His sound is quite extraordinary, and somewhat unique; it sounds as if he is playing a large viola. Added to which, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra under Claus Peter Flor plays well and all is immaculately recorded. A real serendipitous find -- I only asked Sidoze to send it so I could jeer at the length of the slow movement.

The Shostakovich first violin concerto is very lucky on record. And I still have yet another version from Vadim Repin to listen to (from Japan).

Thursday, 24 June 2004

Settled down yesterday evening to enjoy a 2-CD set of a Vadim Repin concert given in Paris this February (CDs courtesy of Japanese friend). Repin is still a truly excellent violinist (third Grieg sonata) but the recital is, as usual, spoiled by the banging Itamar Golan. I remember disliking him at a Vengerov recital in London, and on a couple of Vengerov CDs. The man just bangs the piano and is too loud. What possessed Repin to give him the job I cannot imagine; Boris Berezovsky must have been indisposed.
Same package contained Repin performing the Mendelssohn concerto (Brugges, April 2004) with the Philharmonia under Christoph von Dohnanyi. Some exciting fiddle playing, especially in the first movement, but it sounds a bit too under-rehearsed to become a great classic. One can fault Repin on his choice of piano partner, but never on his tempi; to my mind, Repin is one of the few modern players who does not fall into the so-slowwwlly trap.

Tuesday, 22 June 2004

Plus ça change ... I have found myself listening with great pleasure to Furtwängler (Beethoven symphonies in the early 1950s on CPO) and Klemperer (Hamburg concerts of Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner from 1955 and 1966). After all the conductors have come and gone, Wilhelm Furwängler and Otto Klemperer are left standing taller than ever. I even enjoy Klemperer's Mozart recordings; his typical wind-forward orchestral balance, and his concentration on tempo, balance and phrasing have come to mean that his performances come over as timeless classics. It is extremely fortunate that both recorded in Germany and in Europe, and late enough so that not too many allowances need to be made for inferior sound. Klemperer's Bruckner seventh, to which I listened yesterday evening (Hamburg, 1966) seems to me much better than his studio version with the Philharmonia. But, there again, I am coming to the conclusion after fifty years of listening that almost all live recordings are to be preferred to studio versions.

Friday, 11 June 2004

By a very happy chance, I bought the debut CD of Ayako Uehara, the first Japanese, and the first woman, to win the Tchaikovsky prize in Moscow (2002). Quite simply: she convinces. She has technique to spare (sometimes she sounds like Horowitz on steroids) but, more importantly, she has that all-important way of making whatever she plays sound just right. You cannot imagine things otherwise. The music she plays is not that enthralling (seven short Tchaikovsky pieces, plus the Op 37 piano sonata). But her playing is quite entrancing. One of those lucky, spontaneous purchases.
I also listened to the 1941 recording by Gioconda de Vito of the Brahms violin concerto (Berlin, with Paul van Kempen conducting). What an amazing viola-like sound she had! The performance is superb -- much better technically than her poor effort with Furtwängler in Turin -- but I find the finale a bit sedate.

Thursday, 10 June 2004

A very useful CD from a contact in Argentina; Gioconda de Vito playing the Brahms concerto (1941) and Vasa Prihoda playing the Dvorak concerto (1943). Both with Paul van Kempen conducting in Berlin. The sound of the Dvorak is really extraordinarily good. This is reputed to be the best of the Prihoda versions, and I certainly liked it. His accuracy when playing was extraordinary; spot-on intonation at all times. Haven't yet heard the de Vito. I also enjoyed the new Colin Davis / LSO release of Sibelius's sixth symphony; definitely my favourite symphony, of the Sibelius seven. The performance is fine, but maybe a bit impersonal. I miss the old 1955 Karajan version with the Philharmonia. And although the 2003 sound from the Barbican is perfectly acceptable, it is not too great an advance on Walter Legge's 1955 recording for Karajan !

Thursday, 3 June 2004

Concert in Portsmouth yesterday evening. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducted the Philharmonia (Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture, plus Scottish Symphony). Sarah Chang played the Dvorak violin concerto. Chang played with much brio and much passion, and deadly accuracy. I didn't think her violin sounded that great (perhaps she was trying out a spare one?) The E and G strings sounded OK, but the middle range lacked power and sounded a bit rasping on occasions. And the orchestra was allowed to play too loudly, so Chang had to turn up the dial just to be heard, even in quieter passages.
I thought the orchestra was too big for the hall; they just didn't need all those violins, cellos and six double basses, especially for the Mendelssohn ! And I really would have liked the first and second violins to have been divided; as balanced by Ashkenazy, we only really heard the first violins and the cellos. Everything else, stuck away behind, just didn't get a look in. Woodwind was usually swamped. I don't think Ashkenazy is a very good conductor.