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.