Friday, 29 February 2008

A big standing ovation for Lara St John, having just finished listening to the second CD of her complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin (AR 132, 2007). The liner notes are long, learned and exemplary. The recording is exactly how such things should be: naturally reverberant, not too close.
Technically, the violin playing is extraordinary; Lara can play faster than most, more accurately than most, louder than most, softer than most. A dazzling display of violin bow strokes, tempi, dynamics and finger dexterity. Every movement on the two CDs comes up sounding fresh. What shines through all of this, however, is Lara's love of, and feeling for, the music. The approach is not classical; it's not HIP. It's just right.
I won't throw away my complete sets of Heifetz, Martzy, Milstein, Kuijken, Fischer, et al. But I know that any time from now on I want to hear the Bach unaccompanied pieces ... I'll reach for Lara St John. Nice to hear music played by a master player who obviously loves what she is playing.
Anything negative to counter all this gush? I have no idea why this exemplary production is festooned throughout with Lara in model-like poses (around five different dresses). Having seen her, we all know she's no oil painting. So why the harping on the desirable female angle? The playing is more than enough to stand by itself.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Listened to the 2nd, 4th and 7th concertos of Charles-Auguste de Bériot and was strangely impressed with the music. Much of the 19th century concerto output is musical vapourware, but Bériot obviously had a stronger composing streak than, say, Godard, Ernst or Hubay -- or the concertos of Paganini, come to that. Not bad pieces at all.

That said; like all second or third rate music, it needs love, care and attention such as conductors like Beecham or violinists such as Heifetz, Elman, Kreisler or Rabin used to lavish lovingly on minor works. With the best will in the world, Laurent Albrecht Breuninger (violin) with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie under Frank Beermann are not in the Heifetz-Beecham class. And the recording is "acceptable" rather than demonstration class.

The music is played professionally and accurately. Who could do it properly amongst today's plethora of efficient whizz-kids? Perhaps Janine Jansen, Sarah Chang, Hilary Hahn or Lisa Batiashvili -- or even Maxim Vengerov. But some hope; we are lucky to have Breuninger and his helpers so at least we can hear the notes played accurately and in the proper order .. while waiting for these three concertos played by Heifetz, conducted by Beecham.

Found a kilo of fresh langoustines today. I suspect I have overcooked them, again. I must develop a better langoustine cooking calcuation method.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony never, ever fails to please me (if I'm in the right mood). No other symphony has such unity of emotion (gloom) nor such an incredible balance between its four movements -- there is not one movement of the Pathétique one can skip over. Far better, to my mind, than any symphony by Gustav Mahler or Robert Schumann. And Brahms? Well I'll take the Pathétique with me any day.
One of these days I must listen to one of the other excellent versions I have: Toscanini, Furtwängler, Cantelli ... But I always stick on the recording of Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra. Quite good enough for me.
The day also featured an excellent leg of young New Zealand lamb, perfectly cooked, for a change. Happy to bed.
Downloaded and listened to Berl Senofsky playing the Brahms violin concerto (1956). A very fine performance, with an especially lyrical slow movement and a fiery finale; for a (pleasant) change, the first movement cadenza was not the usual Joachim one. There are so many cadenzas for the Brahms and Beethoven concertos that it is a pity when performers are so conservative (although I do remember one critic complaining about someone in the Beethoven concerto that "it is a shame he did not play the usual Kreisler cadenza").
Now that recordings are appearing from a plethora of different sources, we are beginning to see that great players who did not, or would not, make the sacrifices involved in becoming media and recording stars were very numerous. Just in Senofsky's generation in America, for example there were Senofsky, David Nadien, Oscar Shumsky and Joseph Gingold -- all first rate violinists who eschewed international careers. Of course, this was compounded for those in America by the fact that the USA during those years only had two main recording companies, RCA and CBS. Both were conservative. RCA had Heifetz as its "house violinist" and did not see any need to dilute its market by recording artists such as Elman and Seidel. And CBS had Isaac Stern, God help them. Europeans were luckier, and companies such as EMI happily recorded Gioconda de Vito, Johanna Martzy, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Christian Ferras ... all in competition with each other. Much more enlightened.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Gastric flu over after 48 bad hours (mainly in bed) I could this evening tuck into my classic Thai Soup (with mussels, squid and scallops). I now seem to have this off to a fine art, and this evening's edition was well up to standard. More for tomorrow! Thank goodness I can now count on a ready supply of Tom Yum paste; even the new Malmesbury shop sells it.
And Schubert seems to have become one of my very small collection of personal composers (along with Handel and Bach). The two-CD set of his late piano sonatas played by Leif Ove Andsnes is the kind of music and performance I'll always keep near to me. With Andsnes you find yourself listening enraptured to ... Schubert. And you never, ever feel you might like the music played a little more quickly, or slowly, or loudly, or softly. Thai Soup and Schubert! A good evening after the bad weekend.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Three Bach unaccompanied works in a row, and I enjoyed them right to the end (first sonata, first partita, second sonata). The violinist was Lara St. John in a new 2007 recording of the six works. Lara in Bach has impeccable rhythmic sense, an assured technique, a very welcome broad palette of sound and dynamics, and a real sense of enjoyment. One feels JSB would nod his approval and tap his feet.
Well, for classical poise and impeccable taste, there is Milstein. But for an enjoyable traversal, there is now also Lara. An excellent set (though I have not yet reached the second disc).

Sunday, 10 February 2008

It is amazing how neglected is the music of Charles-Valentin Alkan. I spent an enjoyable hour or so listening to the "Trio Alkan" playing the violin sonata, the cello sonata, and the piano trio. Rainer Klass (piano), Kolja Lessing (violin) and Bernhard Schwarz (cello) play well, but the recording is "early Naxos" (1991) and lacks the impact of my favourite CD with Tedi Papavrami and Huseyn Sermet (plus Christoph Henkel in the cello sonata).

Sad that this wonderful music is so neglected; the cello sonata may be the only one of its genre that I can listen to with enjoyment, and I have always held the Grand duo Concertant for violin and piano in high esteem since making its acquaintance years ago (thanks to Nicholas Grandjean). Papavrami played it; Dong-Suk Kang played it (not very well, I have to say). But no other violinist of note has adopted it -- neither Grumiaux, Thibaud, Francescatti, Ferras, Dumay ... to mention only some French maestri. How nice if it suddenly burst into fame!

Finished the evening with Philippe Hirschhorn's 1967 (Brussels) performance of Paganini's first concerto. I had forgotten how good this was, but it is right up there with Kogan, Rabin and Mullova. Perhaps even better? Anyway, three stars for this classic (public) performance.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Bliss, listening to Philippe Hirschhorn playing Bach (second unaccompanied sonata) in a public recording from 1967. The playing was highly intelligent and most interesting; but the sound was glorious! Such a relief to hear this music played by a "proper" violinist rather than some sour "authentic" attempt. I look forward to hearing the Lara St. John re-make of all six Bach s&p unaccompanieds (on their way to me). Lara always seems to have a way with Bach.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Very good dinner this evening: frommage de tête, cornichons, Spanish tomatoes, côte de veau, small leaf salad, Livarot and vieux Cantal cheeses, bread from Quayles in Tetbury, fresh mango, 2005 St Emilion ("Chevaler Collier"). Very contented.
Then Philippe Jaroussky singing Vivaldi; I could listen to him for hours – and you can hear every consonant and vowel of every word he sings.
Finally, the new CD of Janine Jansen. Her performance of the second unaccompanied partita is exemplary. For the two-part inventions, she is joined by Maxim Rysanov (viola) and, for the three-part inventions ("sinfonias") they are joined by Torleif Thedeen (cello). To my mind: Bach as he should be played, with intelligence, feeling and subtlety. A great relief to hear Bach without "authentic" string playing. It just sounds so much better!
Definitely a CD to keep beside me to play whenever the world becomes too much. Bravo Janine and colleagues!