Thursday, 29 December 2005

Christmas listening has been dominated by Bach's Mass in B minor. With this, I seem to have come full circle, having started life in the 1950s with Karajan, then going via Joshua Rifkin in the 1980s to Parrot, Kuijken, etc. The performance that entranced me this Christmas was the 1966 one by .. Otto Klemperer. Magisterial, monumental, "old-fashioned"; but quite addictive listening. I probably wouldn't take to Klemperer playing, say, the cantatas. But the Mass sounded right.

Akiko Suwanai in the Bach concertos also made me think (A minor, E major, double, and violin & oboe). Played like this, the music really does not need soloists of the stature of Suwanai or Mullova. A bit like taking a Ferrari to drive the children to school 3 kms away. The disc does, however, contain my four favourite Bach concertos.

Friday, 9 December 2005

Concert yesterday evening (Bournemouth) with Yan Pascal Tortelier conducting the BSO (Vaughan Williams fourth symphony -- very good).

Hagai Shaham played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. A work I've heard before ... many times. I've never rated Hagai particularly highly before, but he went for broke in the Tchaikovsky, and it really worked. No seeking out the mysterious depths, or highlighting intellectual profundities. He just swept into, and through, the music like a mini tornado. British audiences never, never applaud between movements. But the audience (with me in the vanguard) broke into spontaneous applause after the first movement, and it really would have been criminal not to.

In my view, the only way to play this barnstorming, echt-romantic concerto. Hagai has gone right up in my rating system.

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Re-listened to the solo violin CD from Baiba Skride. Despite David Gomberg's less than enthusiastic reaction to her Baltimore concert, I now find the CD highly impressive. First of all, she can really handle a violin and bow! Secondly, she uses an impressive range of dynamics and knows how to play softly when the music needs it. Her Ysaye first sonata is excellent, and this is possibly the first time I have really enjoyed the Bartok solo sonata (to my surprise). Skride's shading of the dynamics brings out fully the melancholy at the heart of this music.
The Bach (second partita) is well played from the violin point-of-view but, like so many violinists from the East, it is not at the same level of interpretation as the Ysaye or the Bartok. Too interventionist; Bach doesn't need all this care and carressing. The sarabande comes over as adagio molto con espressione; a long way from a dance movement. If Skride has a drawback, it is the (familiar) one of wallowing in slower music and concentrating too hard on always sounding beautiful.
Anyway, I am certainly in the market for more Baiba Skride. As long as it is not, yet again, the concerti of Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Bruch or Prokofiev.

Monday, 28 November 2005

I haven't paid much attention to Philippe Graffin in the past, but his new CD really is extremely well-played, enjoyable, and well-planned. Enescu's Impressions d'enfance, Ravel's Sonate posthume and Tzigane, Debussy's sonata plus four arrangements. Excellent partner is Claire Désert (who plays the lutheral in the Tzigane).
What is nice is that Graffin does not strive for effect, or to impress. He just plays the music with skill and enjoyment. Even the oh-so hackneyed Tzigane is enjoyable. His sweet tone reminds me of Arthur Grumiaux. A good CD.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Another Sunday with Handel; this time three hours of Ramadisto with my current favoured combination of Patrizia Ciofi and Joyce DiDonato. What a pleasant way to spend three hours! Handel never fails (at least when this kind of music is sung like this and recorded so well). Happy afternoon !

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Nice to find a new favourite work. I have been listening often to Albéric Magnard's sonata for violin and piano (played by Augustin Dumay and Jean-Philippe Collard). Weighing in at 43 minutes, it's not a work that yields its fascination quickly or easily. But it certainly repays repeated hearings (unlike, say, the wretched Berg Violin Concerto!) The more I hear it, the more I discover and enjoy.
The performance by Dumay and Collard strikes me as pretty well ideal; it can't be an easy work to play, since to keep interest flowing over the 43 minutes requires a wide range of subtle sound gradations and of colouring.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Two hours yesterday evening spent listening to Mela Tenenbaum playing 40 short pieces. Ms Tenenbaum plays adroitly, swiftly and highly efficiently. The 40 pieces could almost all have come from Elman or Heifetz recitals in the 1930s. But why did violinists such as Kreisler, Elman, Heifetz and Szigeti play them so much better? I suspect the answer is: love. Either they really loved the music they were playing (think of Kreisler), or they really loved the violin (think of Kogan digging deep into Paganini's Cantabile and obviously relishing the sound of his violin; Ms Tenenbaum dispatches the same piece swiftly, beautifully and efficiently).
Remarkably efficient playing from Ms Tenenbaum. But not much love or charm. Sounds a bit as if someone told her: "We'll pay you $100 a-piece for 40 pieces. And don't hang about, Mela; time is money".

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Work has impeded additions to this journal. However, life resumes. Strange to be very impressed at this stage with performances of the Brahms and Mendelssohn violin concertos. Strange, also, that the violinist concerned should be Johanna Martzy, always a superb violinist but often, in the studio, somewhat straight-laced and severe. But her live performances of the Mendelssohn concerto (in The Hague, 1954 with Klemperer conducting) and Brahms (Stuttgart, 1964 with Günter Wand conducting) are fast, fiery and dashing. The Mendelssohn has to be one of the fastest performances on record (and ditto the finale of the Brahms concerto). Both performances get lots of stars in my listing -- and the recording of the Brahms is especially acceptable. Martzy's studio recordings showed she was an excellent violinist; her live recordings show she could have been fully the equal of all but Kreisler and Heifetz.

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Tried yet again with Shostakovich's sonata for violin & piano (Oistrakh playing, with Yampolsky). Yet again, I found it a work without talent and utterly unmemorable. Shostakovich was so uneven!

On the bright side, a large oxtail stew awaits me tomorrow evening. It's already looking good.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Five hours this weekend listening to ... Mozart; the complete sonatas and variations for piano & violin, from K 296 to K 547. A very enjoyable way to spend five hours! Players were Vaclav Snitil and Jan Panenka; Panenka surprised me, since I had always considered him a kind of Czech Emmanuel Bay but, on this CD set, he plays with verve and sparkle. This is my third complete set of the Mozart sonatas (all sent to me by others). There is Joseph Silverstein and Derek Han, and Oscar Shumsky and Artur Balsam. From recollection, both are as good as the Snitil / Panenka set. Three fine sets!

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Seized once again by Georg Friderik Haendel; this time by Saul in the new vigorous recording by René Jacobs. Very fine music indeed. The performance and recording are great, but one suspects that the desire to get all the 150 minutes on to just two CDs means that some of the pieces are brisker than might be thought desirable. Still, glorious music well performed. Handel is definitely up with my front runners when it comes to listening for enjoyment.

Sunday, 11 September 2005

My first internet-download CD: Philippe Koch playing morceaux de salon by Vieuxtemps. CD created with no problems, and music is most enjoyable in the background.

Monday, 29 August 2005

Viola Day. Listened to Lars Tomter (with Andsnes) playing the two Brahms sonatas, plus Schumann's Märchenbilder: very good, with a fine, gruff viola sound. Then to Katz and Shteinberg playing Hindemith (dull), Bach and Mozart (K 378, arranged). The two Israeli's sounded like an agreeable chamber music concert in Bad Godesberg on a wet Wednesday: polite, well-mannered, smooth. But not memorable, and the viola sound was "pseudo-violin".
Refreshed myself by listening again to Lise de la Salle. It really does sound as though she is improvising, so surely does the music come from inside of her. Most enjoyable.

Saturday, 27 August 2005

Well, spent another 27 minutes of my life listening to the Berg violin concerto (this time in a performance by Leonidas Kavakos at the Proms; very well recorded). That has to be around the twelfth time I have listened to this concerto and, I have to confess, it does absolutely nothing for me. That is the last time I waste another 27 minutes on it. Life is too short. I haven't a clue as to whether Kavakos played it brilliantly, or whether he lost his place after the first few minutes and improvised thereafter. Bah!
I also revisited Des Knaben Wunderhorn before shelving it. I like the music. I really do not like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (at least, not in this music). She too arch; he too gusty. And Szell isn't terribly gemütlich, either.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Once again, I was able to make an excellent CD of the (Edinburgh Festival) recital by Magdalena Kozena (Ravel, Britten, Debussy, Strauss and Shostakovich). Very much my kind of singer: a lovely voice, extreme intelligence, excellent linguistic skills.
This weekend I also enjoyed Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn -- despite the participation of Mr and Mrs Legge plus Mr Fischer-Dieskau, none of whom warms my heart. But the music (Szell conducting the LSO) is attractive and I did not know it very well.

Sunday, 31 July 2005

After two hearings, I am highly impressed with Sergei Khachatryan playing the first Shostakovich violin concerto (Prom, 29 July). Yet another phenomenal violinist! Of course, the playing is impeccable. But there is an extraordinary absence of striving for effect or of point making, a total immersion in the music, a wide variety of vibrato, a dynamic range from pp to ff based on musical sense, a willingness to observe rests (viz, the cadenza to the Shostakovich concerto). The huge Albert Hall is pretty silent as if the audience were mesmerised (which it probably was). The control (and audience lack of even breathing) is also really noticeable in the Andante from the Bach second unaccompanied sonata played as an encore.
I was alerted to Khachatryan being something special by the off-air recording of the Beethoven violin concerto (sent to me by Akiko). But this Shostakovich really suggest that we have a violinist even "better" than Jansen, Fischer, Batiashvili, Repin ... or all the others. Superb! This really is a golden age of young violinists.

Sunday, 24 July 2005

Sunday, and the day of The Crab. Bought yesterday at Fishworks, and truly superb -- despite the price. A large crab is one of my favourite things ... as is Handel. Had a second Handel evening in a row, basking first in Patrizia Ciofi and Joyce di Donato in opera duets, ending up with Magdalena Kozena in two Italian cantatas. What is it about Handel? I just know that, along with the Beethoven string quartets, Handel's vocal music is something I shall always have to have within arm's length. Marvellous listening. And The Crab was marvellous eating.

Saturday, 23 July 2005

My birthday. Celebrated it by buying and eating a large Cornish brill (Fishworks, Bath). Actually, it was not outstanding, and no patch on plaice, lemon sole or Dover sole. Adequate, but not more. The cheese (Bath) was a lot better.
For music, as is becoming traditional for special occasions, it was George Frediric Haendel (opera arias, sung by Sandrine Piau). That, at least, was excellent.

Wednesday, 6 July 2005

Not often that, after 50 years of listening, one discovers a "new" composer. But (thanks to Carlos) I have been very attracted to the two violin and piano sonatas of Leo Weiner. And the two violin concertos are on their way to me, via Kentucky. Weiner writes well, and has some good tunes; a sort of Hungarian Vaughan Williams. Why his chamber works (along with those of Alkan) are not better known defies the imagination. It would make a good duo change from endless Brahms, Ravel and Debussy!
Like the CD of Lise de la Salle, my Weiner CD is one that I am reluctant to shelve in the main collection.

Saturday, 2 July 2005

Ye gods; yet another fine young violinist. A double CD featuring Liza Ferschtman reveals a young Dutch violinist in the same mould as Janine Jansen or Julia Fischer. Lithe, fleet of foot, technically on the ball, with an excellent palette of tone colours. The CDs feature sonatas by Franck, Debussy and Poulenc, plus pieces by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. A fine collection of Franco-Russian music played by an excellent Dutch violinist. Good pianist is Bas Verheijden and the Brilliant Classics recording features a good balance.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Listened to the new CD from Lise de la Salle. This 16 year old from Cherbourg certainly sparkles and sounds as fresh as the dew. And what dexterity! The opening Bach has the same effect as opening a bottle of good champagne. The disc contains Bach, Bach-Busoni, Bach-Liszt, and Liszt. A really delightful CD that I'll keep near my player for some time.

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Weepy evening; Chausson's Poème de l'Amour et de la Mer (Felicity Lott) and Delius's Sea Drift (Beecham). Interval was Lott singing three songs by Duparc. Highly satisfactory, and I particularly enjoyed the Chausson. Another Chausson on its way to me this week (Susan Graham) and it will be interesting to hear how it compares.

Saturday, 4 June 2005

Listened again to Isabelle van Keulen playing the Elgar violin concerto (just a few days after listening to the Hilary Hahn studio recording with Colin Davis). Van Keulen is a bit rough at places in her attack, and there are several unfortunate lapses in the finale. But she plays with spirit and one hears clearly that her heart is in what she is playing. Hilary Hahn is technically more secure and immaculate; but one does not get the same impression that she is really feeling the music. Van Keulen wins on points, but it's a pity about the intonation lapses, and also a pity that the violin is balanced a little too closely to the microphone. I must re-listen to Hahn's live performance (also with Davis, but with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra).

Friday, 3 June 2005

Evening spent with Sergei Khachatryan and Hilary Hahn. Quite bowled over by the 17 year old Khachatryan in the Beethoven violin concerto. Maybe conventional wisdom that says you need to be an experienced, mature artist to tackle a work such as this is not necessarily correct? K. plays beautifully, and frequently with an extraordinarily absorbing pianissimo. This is certainly the best Beethoven concerto since Batiashvili in August 2000, and I was very surprised by just how much I enjoyed it, since it is no longer a concerto I enjoy automatically. The recording made off-air with the NHK orchestra in Tokyo is a model of its kind, with exemplary balance and real dedication from the orchestra (with "old" horns in the Russian style). The encore, the andante from Bach's second sonata, is quite stunning and technically the best since Heifetz. Three stars all round! And thanks to Akiko for the copy.

Hilary Hahn really shows off in the first Paganini concerto (off-air in California in September of last year). She does not quite have the élan of Kogan or Mullova, nor the vulgar panache of Michael Rabin. But, technically, she is anyone's equal. Let down, however, by the recorded balance (very much in the American style, with the "star" well to the fore; why could the engineers not have recruited Khachatryan's Japanese?) Also let down by Hahn's habit of slamming on the brakes every time a lyrical passage turns up. Paganini's concerto was contemporary with Beethoven and Rossini and he simply would not have expected such a degree or frequency of rallentandi to interrupt the flow of the music. However, a thoroughly enjoyable romp through Paganini's evergreen music, and a quite terrifying rendition of the Sauret cadenza.

Thursday, 19 May 2005

I have had a lot of pleasure out of the new Viktoria Mullova disc (Bach BWV 1002, Bartok solo sonata, Paganini Nel cor più non mi sento). Just think that it was recorded some 18 years ago and I never bought it or listened to it! None of the three works is a favourite of mine, yet I enjoy all three of them on this CD because of the playing: lots of variety of sound, lots of spirit, no languishing, no wallowing in beautiful sound. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Difficult to imagine a better performance of Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending than that of Hilary Hahn, Colin Davis and the LSO (a fill-up to the Elgar violin concerto). Critics often claim that the Lark is for "violin within the orchestra" as opposed, say, to Chausson's Poème that is for violin and orchestra.
Well, Ms Hahn and Sir Colin (like Sarah Chang and Bernard Haitink before them) point up the parallels with Chausson's near-contemporaneous work. Played like this, with Hilary Hahn earning brownie points with nearly every phrase, Vaughan Williams' piece is fully Chausson's equal. A well-deserved three stars.

The evening began with Viktoria Mullova playing Bach's B minor partita for unaccompanied violin (the one I usually don't like too much) and Paganini's variations on Nel cor più non mi sento. Mullova, like Kavakos, is highly under-estimated. The Paganini is breathtaking instead of, as all too often with other players, nail-biting. And Julia Fischer should have listened to Mullova's BWV 1002 before embarking on her own long-winded rendition. Mullova is fleet of foot, and makes repeats when it makes sense to make repeats.

Tuesday, 17 May 2005

The Elgar violin concerto has been lucky on record, with many successes and few turkeys. The recording by Hilary Hahn with Colin Davis and the LSO continues the concerto's run of good luck. The performance feels swift but, compared with Sammons or Heifetz, it is not that fast. But both Hahn and Davis know that it is fatal to wallow in Elgar. Hilary plays entrancingly; I have not been an uncritical admirer of hers, but she certainly wins a lot more than she loses. A pretty admirable modern violinist. This recording has been criticised by some as being "heartless". Well, not criticised by me; I add it to the file of Sammons, Kang, Heifetz, Van Keulen, Chung et al as yet another really good Elgar violin concerto.

In the same evening, I listened to Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes in the first Bartok violin & piano sonata. I bought my first recording of this piece in 1959 (Menuhin) and have been listening to it and buying it ever since. I still don't like it and hardly recognise a phrase or a passage, even after nearly 50 years of listening. It's either Bartok or I who is at fault; I suspect Bartok.

Sunday, 1 May 2005

Listened to the second CD of Julia Fischer's complete journey through the Bach unaccompanied works, and this confirmed my view from the first CD. Interesting to read Rob Cowan compare Fischer's recordings with those of Johanna Martzy of fifty years ago; I must confess, the same parallel had also occurred to me. Beautiful playing, immaculate musicianship, superb control, lovely sound.
Like the Bach recordings of Heifetz, Fischer's can be enjoyed as a example of superb violin playing but, like the Bach recordings of Heifetz, Bach seems to come second. In the faster movements, and in the dance movements, Fischer is excellent. But show her a marking of andante, adagio or sarabande, and she stamps on the brakes and engages first gear. And since she also takes every single repeat, life can go on for rather a long time in the slow pieces (the opening Allemande from the first suite, for example, wanders on for six and a half minutes. Kavakos, whose recording I really like, takes just under five minutes -- exactly the same as Heifetz. Batiashvili takes five minutes). The Chaconne is an exemplary example of great violin playing, but it lacks structure and is far too episodic. For a true archicture in the Chaconne, we have to go back to Heifetz and Milstein.
But, to end on a positive note, her playing of the Preludium to the third suite is really stunning and interesting.

Friday, 29 April 2005

Older and wiser. I had not even one recording from Christian Tetzlaff until I recorded a Wigmore Hall recital that took place a few days ago with Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes. Quite outstanding and, given the presence of the entirely admirable Andsnes, a true duo recital. They played Beethoven's Op 30 No.1, Mozart's K 306, Grieg's third sonata, and the Shostakovich sonata. An excellent recital with both artists firing on all cylinders.
It is interesting that Tetzlaff's nice sounds came from a three-year old German violin; he apparently believes that modern instruments are fully equal to most older ones, and puts his beliefs into practice. Convincingly.

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

Halfway through the complete Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas by Julia Fischer. So far I have heard first and second sonatas, plus the first partita. I must admit to some disappointment, and listening is heavy-going -- partly because anything marked "adagio" or "andante" is taken very slowly indeed; the marvellous andante of the second sonata seems to go on for ever, as do the first movements of both sonatas. The violin playing is, of course, breathtaking. But as previous violinists such as Johanna Martzy and Alfredo Campoli have shown, beautiful playing and beautiful tone are simply not enough. The music needs to come alive, dances need to be rhythmic, the music should never be allowed to drag (the first partita goes on and on even longer than usual). When listening to Fischer, I pine for the versions of Kavakos, of Milstein, of Mullova -- or even the underestimated Lara St John.

Sunday, 24 April 2005

Once again, most impressed with Frank Peter Zimmermann, in a broadcast from the 2005 Schwetzingen Festival (with Enrico Pace on the piano). Two Bach duo sonatas, the second Busoni sonata, and the third Brahms sonata make up an excellent, classical 79 minute programme. Zimmermann (now aged 40) turns out to be an excellent classical violinist of the Central European school.
Less impressed with a CD devoted to Manuel Quiroga (from Carlos). Puzzling to find that many of the "giants" of the past had distinct technical failings. Quiroga had a lovely tone; but his technique was fallible which makes for some uncomfortable listening.

Saturday, 9 April 2005

On 7th April (concert from Manchester) I recorded a very fine Brahms violin concerto by Victoria Mullova (with Hallé Orchestra under Mark Elder). Straightforward, fiery, no wallowing, immaculate playing; just the kind of violin playing I like. I think that Mullova and Kavakos are probably two of the most under-rated violinists playing today. Fortunately, the BBC seems to like them. The Mullova Brahms makes a fine coupling with last year's excellent Proms performance of the Sibelius concerto. A good CD !

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

Well, another wonder of wonders: having discovered Alfred Cortot playing the first book of Debussy's Preludes, unlistened to in a pile, I dutifully listened to the two fill-ups. These were two substantial preludes, chorals and fugues by César Franck. Quite bowled over, and the two pieces have been spinning on my turntable ever since. Immensely attractive music. The sound and surfaces (from 1929 and 1931) are not great. But the playing is. And the music is. We live and learn

Friday, 25 March 2005

Well, wonder of wonders. I spent the evening listening with great enjoyment to ... David Oistrakh. Normally, I find him somewhat bland and over-exposed (a bit like Milstein). But this evening he was playing live: a collection of pieces from the mid-1950s in Moscow, plus the Chausson concerto for violin, piano and string quartet (Moscow, 1960). A bit like Heifetz; Oistrakh caught live and on the wing is a different animal. For almost the first time, I really warmed to him this evening. I must investigate more live Oistrakh.

Saturday, 19 March 2005

Ah, a fine new CD from Joanna Madroszkiewicz playing arrangements of Chopin waltzes and nocturnes (mainly arranged by Huberman or Sarasate). I like Chopin violin and piano arrangements! The music on the disc is varied and interesting and makes a big change from the tired old selection of Banjo & Fiddle, etc. Madroszkiewicz is at the opposite extreme from being a bland player; maybe somewhat gusty, maybe somewhat over-sentimental in the more romantic pieces. But always interesting. Good listening; it will join my "re-listen" pile. I must pull her Wieniawski disc off my racks and re-listen. Finished up the fine Thai soup for lunch, then out with the veal chops from Bath this evening!

Friday, 11 March 2005

Yesterday evening it was the Op 74 quartet by Beethoven (Takacs Quartet). I really think that the later 10 Beethoven string quartets (plus the Grosse Fuga) should always be beside my CD player. The music in the quartets is so varied, so full of light and shade, so daring, so vibrant. The 10 quartets may only occupy six hours or so of music; but they are most certainly among the greatest music ever written.

Sunday, 6 March 2005

To Portsmouth on Friday to hear Simon Trpceski playing the third Prokofiev piano concerto. A highly impressive pianist. So good, I ordered his second CD yesterday (Rachmaninov). Only 25 years old, but can he play! The hall erupted after the performance.
Recorded Julia Fischer off-air playing the Sibelius violin concerto (from San Francisco). She really is an impressive violinist.
It will be good to hear her (if only ... ) in somewhat less hackneyed repertoire. Yet another Sibelius violin concerto ... or Tchaikovsky, or Mendelssohn, or Bruch G minor. I messed up the recording (forgot to turn the tuner to stereo). So the recording is passable rather than good. But the playing is passionate and musical. I await her Bach unaccompanieds (on order).

Saturday, 19 February 2005

A real case of serendipity was recording off-air Dvorak's Op 81 piano quintet (Verbier Festival, 2004). Distinguished line-up was Vadim Repin and Laurent Korcia, with Yuri Bashmet and Alexander Kniazev, and Evgeny Kissin on the piano. One of those memorable occasions when five top-class musicians get together and enjoy themselves playing music they obviously love. A marvellous treat of great playing and great music making. Not to be forgotten either is the "fill up": Alexander Kniazev and Kissin playing the Rachmaninov duo sonata. I had not come across Kniazev before, but he is obviously very much a player to be reckoned with. In some ways, in the 5-star line-up for the quintet, he is the primus inter pares. Some achivement.

Wednesday, 9 February 2005

Bach to Beethoven. I purchased the new 3-CD set of the Takacs Quartet and listened to the A minor quartet (Op 132). Along with some of Bach and some of the later piano sonatas, this has to be the greatest music around. Red wine, roast duck, crab and camembert are, along with a set of the late Beethoven string quartets, some of life's essential elements. The highly mercurial sound of the Takacs' playing exactly matches the mercurial and ever-changing nature of the music in these quartets. Essential music.

Saturday, 29 January 2005

I have always had a special fondness for Schubert's last piano sonata (D 960) so I was very pleased indeed to find that Leif Ove Andsnes's new recording really is an instant classic. In this sonata, I always think of Richter, But there are also Schnabel, Yudina, Curzon and Paul Lewis. Andsnes, however, integrates improvisation with a well- thought-out overall concept and I am entirely convinced. Nice to meet a new "instant classic".

Monday, 24 January 2005

A thoroughly enjoyable recital (from the Wigmore Hall) of Leonidas Kavakos and Denes Varjon. Bach E major BWV 1016, Bartok Rhapsody No.1, Schumann first violin & piano sonata, and Enescu third sonata. Beautiful and well-contrasting encore is Ravel's Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré. All really well played by a well-balanced duo -- Varjon is especially good in the Enescu sonata that really demands the best violin playing coupled with the best piano playing. Kavakos has always been my kind of violinist: stylistically impeccable, technically without problems, and with a wide dynamic and colour range from his 1694 Strad. The Enescu sonata in this recital really merits three stars; interesting that Kavakos's grandfather and father both played the folk violin which, as Kavokos explained in an introduction, relies more on bowing and the right hand more than fingering and vibrato.

Listened to a copy of the 1960s Schubert recordings by Johanna Martzy (with Jean Antonietti at the piano), sent to me by Carlos. In her favour, it has to be said that she always sounds quite lovely and that her playing is always 100% accurate and stylistically impeccable. Her sound is also completely distinctive. Against, there is too much prior deliberation in her playing, absolutely no spontaneity, and little variety of tone colouring. Enjoyable, but dated.

Wednesday, 12 January 2005

Thank goodness for Handel! He seems increasingly to form a significant part of my listening (and of my collection of recordings). This evening it was Sandrine Piau (with Les Talens Lyriques and Christophe Rousset). Soprano arias from a dozen Handel operas. Piau has a lovely voice and is as technically adroit as Jascha Heifetz. A beautiful CD.

Recorded a concert (10 January, Wigmore Hall) in which Janine Jansen and Kathryn Stott -- billed as Jansen's "permanent partner" -- played Janacek, Messiaen and Elgar. Jansen really is an excellent, no-nonsense violinist who digs into the music quite selflessly. In the Janacek sonata, I feel that Stott erred in trying to smooth out Janecek's somewhat brusque and rugged writing. The Elgar violin & piano sonata was exellently played by both, but it is not really a work to which I warm. The recital confirms Jansen as one of "my" violinists.

Friday, 7 January 2005

Carolyn Sampson really has a most lovely soprano voice. I first met her in a new Hyperion release (Handel's Ode to St Cecilia, and cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo). Then in a lovely BIS disc of two of Bach's best secular cantatas conducted by Suzuki and his Japanese consort: the "Coffee" cantata, and the ever-incredible O Holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit (where Sampson is so much better than Dorothea Röschman or Christine Schäfer).

Lovely sound, intelligent musicianship, vocal dexterity in abundance (and she certainly needs it in the Bach Wedding cantata). Only real drawback is she suffers from what I term the Joan Sutherland school of diction; it takes a good 30 minutes to work out what language she is singing in, let alone identifying individual words. Still, we can't expect everything.
Oh incredible Cavalleria rusticana! On a Friday evening after many large glasses of whisky, many bowls of moules marinières and half a bottle of pinot noir d'Alsace, it is probably the only music that could keep me both awake and wet of eye. Glorious emotional outlet (conducted by Muti in 1979, with Montserrat Caballé, José Carreras, et al). Difficult the find music to follow this!

Sunday, 2 January 2005

At last, a big round of applause for Ida Haendel. Her 1965 account of the second Wieniawski concerto (Supraphon, with the Prague Symphony Orchestra) is impeccable and note-perfect. She does not have the imperial charisma of Heifetz, but she plays the Wieniawski in a manner that would have Carl Flesch showing rare enthusiasm.