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.