Wednesday, 28 May 2008

An unusual evening (musically) in that it was devoted with pleasure to orchestral music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Snow Maiden were followed by Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, and Elgar's Enigma Variations, both the latter very ably performed by the Philharmonia under Malcolm Sargent around 1958 -- and very well recorded. Never thought I'd be enjoying Flash Harry conducting; but both the Vaughan Williams and the Elgar were exemplary, without any over-egging of the cake.

Then on to Sibelius's Sixth symphony -- still my only real favourite among Sibelius's seven. The LSO performance under Colin Davis (2002) at last supplants my von Karajan favourite from the mid-1950s. A highly civilised evening.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Georg Friderick Händel was born on the 23 February 1685 in Halle. About four weeks later, around 150 kms to the south west in Eisenenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was born. The two giant composers never met and led completely parallel lives, Bach never leaving Germany, and Handel roaming over Germany, Italy and then England.

At the age of just 22, Handel wrote -- among many other things -- the 2 1/2 hour oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. What a work! Jewel after jewel, smash hit after smash hit. No 22 year old in musical history (except maybe Bach) has written so much, so early, at such an exalted level; certainly not Schubert, Mozart or Mendelssohn all of whom wrote attractive early works. The performance I listened to this evening (Emmanuelle Haïm, with Natalie Dessay) is completely perfect, right down to the violin playing ("Corelli's part") of Stéphanie-Marie Degand.

Evening completed by half an excellent duck. To bed happily.
On a second hearing, I quite took to the Op 22 string trio by Sergei Taneyev (Borodin Trio, courtesy of Carlos). I shall persevere with this (long) work. There is a new recording by Repin, Pletnev et al, and I might invest in that also, since the Borodin can be a bit over-powering (closely miked, with not too much air around the sound -- sounds as if one is sitting right in the first row of the auditorium, next to the piano).

A work with which I shall definitely not persevere is the second sonata for violin & piano by Furtwängler; even more mediocre than his piano concerto! It sounds as if, in 1890, a violinist and a pianist engaged together in a meandering improvisation for 45 minutes. On the shelf with it! Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Wilhelm Furtwängler were giant conductors, but pygmy composers.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Two lots of Bruch's first violin concerto: Vadim Repin with the Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle (Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire -- a video performance) and Sergey Khachatryan with the Cleveland Orchestra under Kurt Masur. Repin was better; he sounded involved with the music and played for all he was worth under the critical eyes of the Moscow audience.

Khachatryan sounded more involved with his violin than with the music, and concentrated on producing a beautiful sound at very broad tempi (the work seemed to go on for ever). Bruch does not have the depth to survive a long-drawn-out traversal. In addition, Khachatryan was given an "American" balance, with the violin too forward and the orchestra a little dim in the background. Khachatryan is a very fine violinist indeed, and I just hope he is not going to go down the modern slow-slow-slow path that so many confuse with deep feeling and profundity.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

In Brussels, my friend Daniel extols the virtues of Severin von Eckardstein (piano) and Michel Tabachnik (conductor) in an orchestral concert there.

Meanwhile, I spend a highly enjoyable few hours listening to Handel's Amadigi sung by Maria Riccarda Wesseling, Elena de la Merced, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir and Jordi Domènich. Al Ayre Español directed by Eduardo López Banzo. And what do they all have in common? The fact I have never come across any of them before! The recording of Amadigi must be one of the very few orchestral or operatic recordings in my collection performed by a group of Spaniards -- apart from one or two -- (excluding Jordi Savall in Monteverdi). And very fine it is, too. For Handel (as for Bach) you need singers with attractive voices and a fluent technique, a well-rehearsed and capable band of instrumentalists, and a director who concentrates on balance and tempo without imposing his (Eliot Gardiner) or her (Emmanuelle Haïm) ideas on the piece. I prefer this new Amadigi to that by Minkowski. And Jordi
Domènich is one of the few counter-tenors to whom I can listen with real pleasure.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Shostakovich again this evening (third string quartet). But I was really too sleepy to take it in properly. Evening began well with cappelletti, followed by a kilo of mussels from Michael in Tetbury; extraordinary quality, and I must make this a regular purchase. Much better than the supermarket mussels, and not really more expensive. Followed by an excellent camembert and a brie de Meaux (Quayle's in Tetbury), with half a bottle of St Emili0n (Le Chevalier Collier). Tomorrow will be Amadigi di Gaula (new Spanish recording).
Revelling in my new pile of 11 CDs awaiting listening, I plumbed for: the Shostakovich piano quintet, played by Richter and the Borodin Quartet (1966), a CD kindly sent to me by Carlos. Since I first began finding my way with different composers in the 1950s, Shostakovich's stock has risen and risen. Back in the 1950s and 60s he was treated condescendingly as a "socialist realist" and stooge of the Soviet régime and musically no better than Arnold Bax. But since then, the favourites of the 50s and 60s have faded, and Shostakovich has risen (quite rightly, in my view). I like the piano quintet very much. One day I really must listen seriously a few times to my collection of the 15 string quartets, but their number is daunting even though their quality seems to be high. I must also persevere with the symphonies -- especially the 10th that everyone admires but has never greatly appealed to me. There is so much great or interesting music still to be listened to!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Wonders will never cease. This evening I found myself enjoying, for the first time in quite a while, a performance of ... the Brahms Violin Concerto! The pleasure was due to the playing of Christian Tetzlaff who played in "the old way", bringing back memories of Szigeti, Morini, Sevcik, Schneiderhan, et al. His tempi were similar to those of Szigeti and Heifetz in the 1930s: no wallowing, no dragging things out. Makes you realise how Oistrakh, Menuhin et al changed ones perceptions of the Brahms concerto.

The admirable Tetzlaff performance (courtesy of Akiko Kose) came from 28 January 2006 with the NHK Symphony Orchestra under Herbert Blomstedt. If I ever played the Brahms violin concerto, this is how I would like to play it. I must investigate Tetzlaff further.
Downloading a 1928 recording of Beethoven's "Ghost" piano trio (Op 70 No.1) recently, I was amazed to find I didn't already have a recording of it (though I do have a handful of "Archdukes"). Listening to the Ghost yesterday evening (Concertgebouw Trio), I concluded that -- as well as writing some of the greatest music ever written -- Beethoven did churn out a number of pot-boilers. His trios -- string or piano -- do not strike me as particularly imbued with genius. It is not surprising that I have not bought a Ghost in 50 years, nor that the trios seem, on the whole, to be somewhat neglected by the record companies. Compared with the piano trios of Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Ravel, et al, Beethoven here comes in very much as second best.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Back in England, at last. And the sun is shining and it's around 25 degrees! Desperate for cheese and fish after my American trip; but Quayles had no camembert, and neither Morrisons nor Sainsburys could come up with plaice, squid or mussels. Gastronomic gloom.

However, I greatly enjoyed a CD I plucked serendipitously from my shelves: Irina Muresanu playing the violin & piano sonatas of Guillaume Lekeu and of Albéric Magnard. 70 minutes and 28 seconds of gentle, fin de siècle music, and well played.

Listening to my latest Music & Arts acquisition (Furtwängler in Lucerne in 1947 and 1953) it was brought home to me just what a difference a major conductor can make in concertos. The first Beethoven piano concerto (Adrian Aeschbacher) and the Brahms double concerto (Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Enrico Mainardi) come over much stronger with a firm conductor at the helm. A pity the Brahms double suffers from inferior recording, since it's a very fine performance indeed.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Ordered five new CDs that should be waiting for me when I reach home next Friday: Bach, Bach, Handel (Amadigi), Bach and Vivaldi. Shows where my musical tastes are now leaning!

Friday, 2 May 2008

In America for two weeks, so not a good period for Musicke (or Food). But the load was lightened by hearing and watching on YouTube Sandrine Piau singing Vivaldi's In furore iustissimae irae. A voice of civilisation! It's a lovely piece of music; I have come to Vivaldi very late, having thought he was just a Four Seasons composer.