Sunday, 29 June 2008

Ended a good Sunday with Bruckner's eighth symphony (2 June 1957 with Otto Klemperer in Cologne with the Radio Symphony Orchestra). Excellent sound and transfer (Medici Masters). The Germans of the old school - Klemperer, Wand, Knappertsbusch, Walter, Furtwängler, Böhm, Jochum, Kabasta -- plus the non-German Horenstein -- understood Bruckner's ebb and flow, his internal structural logic and his internal pacing. The German orchestras of that era had the music in their bones. Not much advance in Bruckner (or Wagner) performances over the past 50 years; it seems to be music of a byegone era. We are lucky to have some excellent souvenir performances (including the present one, newly discovered and issued from radio archives).
Good food Sunday. The day started well with a breakfast of lambs' kidneys and bacon. Continued with an excellent lunch of fillets of John Dory (St Pierre) cooked to perfection with butter and chives, followed by a fully ripe Livarot cheese and a first-class bottle of Beaune Premier Cru 2000 (Bouchard). Ended with cherries. This evening will be devoted to langoustines (courtesy of Morrison's). All accompanied by the music of de Bériot.
Listened with great enjoyment to three violin concertos by Charles-Auguste de Bériot. It is a complete mystery to me why concertos such as these, plus the Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski concertos, are not played routinely. Some unplayed violin concertos (Godard, Milhaud) deserve their neglect. Concertos such as those by de Bériot certainly do not; they are well written and full of catchy tunes, themes and melodies. The second concerto, in particular, made a good impression on me at this first hearing.

The performances of concertos 2, 3 and 5 on the new CD (kindly supplied by Lee) are good (Philippe Quint) but the recording (2006) is a bit dim and the soloist struggles to stay in the forefront. This is a pity. It would be nice, but probably quite unrealistic, to imagine that this is the start of a de Bériot revival and that we can soon expect rival performances from Leonidas Kavakos, Alina Ibragimova, Sergey Khachatryan, Janine Jansen, Alexandra Soumm, Hilary Hahn, et al.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Re-listened to the young folk. Alina Ibragimova's Prokofiev stands up well (not least because of the superb balance between violin and orchestra that, for once, lets you hear the important orchestral part). Gets my three stars.

As does, on a re-hear, Alexandra Soumm. She is not afraid to dig into the violin when called for, nor is she afraid to play piano when she should; no one has yet ironed out her dynamics, and I hope no one ever does. The Bruch was excellent -- though a tendency to linger shows up at times, unlike Ibragimova (or Janine Jansen) who have not given in to that post-1950s temptation. In the days of 4'45" takes on a 78 rpm recording, artists were not encouraged to linger, and the performances (usually) benefited from this.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Evening of young girls. I began with an off-air recording of Alina Ibragimova (born 1985) in a superb performance of Prokofiev's first violin concerto. Well accompanied (BBC Symphony Orchestra) and in good off-web sound (256kbps).

Then on to Alexandra Soumm (Viennese) born in 1989 and playing the first Paganini violin concerto. Absolutely stunning! All the requisite schmaltz, showing-off and exhibitionism that this concerto requires (plus, of course, complete technical command). Again, the orchestra joins in with gusto. A performance to rival Kogan, Mullova and Rabin; perhaps even to top them. Miss Soumm is quite a girl and has appeared from nowhere. Also on the CD is Bruch's G minor concerto. That awaits me tomorrow.

In complete contrast, finished the evening happily with Julie Hassler and La Rêveuse (Mirare label) in Purcell songs and instrumental pieces. Purcell, Bach and Handel are my daily bread, butter and jam. The CD was a lucky find in the Harmonia Mundi shop in La Rochelle yesterday morning.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

I seem to spend a lot of my time listening dutifully to music I really do not like. This evening ended with Darius Milhaud's second violin concerto (in a 1971 recording by André Gertler). If something has not been accepted into the popular corpus of music after 60 years, there is (usually) a good reason. Milhaud's concerto is just note-spinning, and I really do not like it.

The two dishes I eat today today were pre-packaged meals. I don't know why I buy these things; the meals I prepare and cook myself are invariably superior. To bed this evening feeling disgruntled, not helped by an unwelcome phone call. Maybe tomorrow will dawn bright and clear.
Hopefully Robert Schumann wrote better for the piano than he did for the violin. Listening to 60 minutes of his music for violin and piano, I am all too conscious of the fact that he rarely writes for the violin above "C" on the stave. It's music for the violin's G, D and A strings only.

The saving grace of this new CD is the violin playing of Stéphanie-Marie Degand, plus the excellent sound of the newly restored 1883 Steinway piano, plus the demonstration recorded sound and the balance between violin and piano (Olivier Peyrbrune plays the Steinway). The first sonata is its usual welcome self; the three Op 94 Romances are mildly enjoyable. The second sonata never inspires me, mainly because of its vast and nondescript first movement (over 13 minutes in length). But bravo Stéphanie-Marie -- she is one of the very few violinists who is equally convincing as a "baroque" violinist or a modern one -- and bravo the recording company (Ligia). Most unfair that the French currently have so many very fine violinists, pianists and cellists.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Saturday afternoon, and Handel's Tolomeo. In a baroque opera, the composer is vital, and Handel is on good form here, with satisfying music following satisfying music for nearly three hours. Second to the composer are the performers, above all the singers. In the current recording, Ann Hallenberg, Karina Gauvin, Anna Bonitatibus, Pietro Spagnoli and Romina Basso are all well balanced as a team, and each is on top of his or her (challenging) vocal music. Ann Hallenberg has a lovely way with her "rrrrs" when she is angry. Il Complesso Barocco is on its usual fine form in the "orchestra pit".

Baroque music needs an informed, talented and inspirational music director, and Alan Curtis is just what is needed. No Furtwängler or Toscanini is needed in Handel (nor in Bach or Vivaldi). Music directors need to be people who impose order and balance and dictate the tempo giusto (which, in turn, is dictated by the music, the words and the context). Handel doesn't leave you troubled, perplexed, ecstatic or plunged in gloom; he just leaves you happy and satisfied.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Soirée gastronomique (as the French would say). First, the wine:
Chassagne-Montrachet 1998 (Domaine Bachelet) from near Beaune. I bought it in the year 2000 from Monsieur Bachelet when it was still only around £9 per bottle. It is beyond superb.
Then the meat: Gambas (uncooked, but frozen) from Jesse Smith (500 gm).
Then the tomatoes (Dutch, cheap) bought 6 days before from Sainsbury's.
Then the herbs and spices: garlic, rosemary, basil, black pepper, salt, olive oil, butter.
It all took a long time, especially the "tomato sauce"; removing the skins is a major chore.
But what a dish! All preceded by an excellent pâté de foie gras. The good news is that there is more than enough sauce left for the second pack of Jesse Smith's frozen gambas. The weekend promises Handel, Bruckner .. and gambas. Followed the above meal with Act 1 of Tolemeo (Alan Curtis directing). Good Friday.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Ein Bachabend -- perhaps anticipating my projected pilgrimage to Eisenach (and Halle) later this year. Seven Bach cantatas in one evening! A record. The first three were directed by Sigiswald Kuijken, the last four by Philippe Herreweghe. Of the two, Herreweghe pleased me more, with a more solid approach, more solid sound, and superior soloists. Kuijken favours a "Bach-Lite" approach, and I really do not approve of "choirs" with just the four soloists -- and I'm sure Bach wouldn't like it, either. And Kuijken's energy can sound a bit frantic on occasions.

Bach's music is endlessly fascinating; and pretty difficult, too, for the singers on many occasions. Kuijken's soprano, Siri Thornhill, doesn't impress too much, with a thin, reedy voice. And his tenor, Marcus Ullmann, struggles on occasions. Herreweghe's team fairs better, but the tenor, again (Hans Jörg Mammel) often makes the difficult music sound difficult. Prompts the reflection that the extraordinary high technical standards now taken for granted in instrumental playing have not, for some reason or another, carried over into the vocal part of the music schools.