Monday, 30 August 2004

This evening was Akiko Suwanai evening. She really is a very fine violinist -- perhaps the current violinist I would take to a desert island with me. Impeccable technique, of course, but also a passionate and highly intelligent player. I listened to her in three Wieniawski pieces, in Rachmaninov's Vocalise, in Walton's violin concerto, and in Prokofiev's second concerto (the latter two with Sakari Oramo).

Confirmed my view that I don't really like the Walton concerto (the Britten concerto of the same year is turning out to be very much superior). Walton is clever, with great craftmanship. But it's not a work of passion, feeling or expression. A bit like a violinistic Fa├žade.

Started the evening with Sibelius (first symphony in 1952 with Anthony Collins, with my father in the LSO's double bass section). Also took in the fifth symphony (Colin Davis). But the evening belonged to Akiko.

Tuesday, 24 August 2004

Thoroughly enjoyable performance of Britten's violin concerto from Theo Olof and John Barbirolli (1948, and first recording of the work before it was revised in 1950). For some peculiar reason, Britten seems to have vetoed its issue, so it didn't hit the streets until over 50 years later. An excellent performance (and a perfectly decent recording rescued from 78 rpm test pressing by EMI). Olof was a considerable violinist. Another mystery; why did he not achieve worldwide fame?

Monday, 23 August 2004

Not a good Sunday evening. I listened to Leila Josefowicz playing the Bach B minor sonata (with piano) and found it somewhat skimmed over. The performance of Bach's violin works appears to be undergoing something of a crisis, as classical violinists abandon one school of practice and haven't yet found another that does justice to this music. Too fast, too superficial, no love. From the Josefowicz disc (off-air of a Wigmore Hall concert in April of this year) I found myself preferring John Adams' Road Movies piece.
Then on to Herbert von Karajan in 1949 with Brahms' German Requiem. I don't think I have ever really liked this piece (except for the alle Fleisch movement). And I didn't like it much here, either, though Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sings beautifully during her small amount of music. Most of the stuff is choral, however.
Then Shostakovich's fifth symphony (Rostropovich conducting the LSO in a recent off-air recording). I love so much of Shostakovich's music. But I really struggle with the symphonies. I think that I like him best in more intimate music -- the second piano trio, the piano quintet, the string quartets, the first violin concerto. I didn't enjoy the fifth symphony and suspect it will now remain on the shelf for a good long time.

Sunday, 15 August 2004

After my recent disappointment with Nina Beilina, it was good to be able to wax lyrical about a new (2004) Arte Nova solo CD from Mirijam Contzen. Contzen's playing holds the interest, with a truly excellent dynamic range, a lightness of bowing and a quite extraordinary accuracy of intonation that shows itself in some exemplary double stopping. She plays Bach (E major sonata), Bartok solo sonata, and the fourth Ysaye sonata. In Bach, the Beilina disc showed some of the drawbacks of the "Russian" school, with its high coefficient of solidity and sonority. Contzen is a product of Tibor Varga, and her sensitivity and tonal variety show one of the strengths of the "Central European" school. An excellent CD (and cheap, too!)

Thursday, 12 August 2004

Listened to Nina Beilina playing Bach (public performances from 1989). She was Russian -- Moscow Conservatory -- but now seems to be based in New York. Russians appear rarely to be successful in Bach (Milstein was one exception). Beilina sounds goods and plays accurately, of course. But for 63 minutes everything appears to be played mezzoforte; I have rarely heard so little in the way of varied dynamics. Not a CD I shall be spinning often. The largo of the D minor concerto for two violins is taken as andante con moto, and this is a pity. In general, "historically informed performance" style has ruined so much Bach playing by mainstream violinists who sacrifice classical violin playing without gaining some of the advantages of the baroque violin. Disc came to me from the US in exchange for a copy of my much-in-demand Boris Goldstein CD of the three Brahms violin & piano sonatas.

Monday, 9 August 2004

A thoroughly enjoyable recital by the exhilarating Magdalena Kozena (Radio 3, Wigmore Hall) made a good pair of CDs (86 minutes). I am not normally a fan of particular singers, but I will always make an exception for Kozena. She has a lovely voice but, more importantly, her singing sounds both intelligent and natural. Her recital embraced Kozeluch, Schumann, Moussorgsky, Janacek, Debussy, Novak and Mahler. Well worth recording and listening to.

Friday, 6 August 2004

I am becoming increasingly fond of the violin concerto by Benjamin Britten. I really cannot understand why it is not played or recorded more often. The 2004 off-air performance by Janine Jansen (BBC Orchestra, Gianandrea Nosada) seems to me exemplary: suptle, melodic, passionate and played with zest and conviction. It's a complex concerto and needs concentrated and frequent hearings. But it repays the effort. As the saying goes: it is rarely off my turntable at the moment. I also have a 1961 recording by Bronislaw Gimpel that I must hear again. But it didn't seem to leave much impression the first time I heard it. Jansen, however, is something else.