Saturday, 29 November 2008

Nine times out of ten, it is wise to have alternative recordings of major works. One learns more about the music from different approaches by different musicians. There are exceptions: and Bruckner's 9th symphony is one such exception. The public broadcast performance on 7th October 1944 in Berlin by Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic is one such exception. The performance is simply glorious, inevitable and hors concours. I no longer see any point in listening to the same work conducted by the likes of Horenstein (very good), Giulini (very good) and Knappertsbusch (very good) all of which I have. The 7th October 1944 Furtwängler performance is simply it, for this work. And the recording quality is quite good ! And thank you, DG, for the superb transfer from the original tapes.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

I think I have mentioned Stephanie-Marie Degand before, in this diary. Now,  a web download of Paganini caprices, the Ysaÿe third solo sonata, plus the Bach chaconne from the second partita, have given me enormous pleasure. Degand is one of those artists who simply pick up their instruments and play. No posturing, no preening, no attention-seeking, no artifice. Ms Degand makes music. And we listeners are privileged to enjoy it.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

It was interesting, this evening,  listening to Charles Mackerras's old (1969) recording of Purcell's sublime Ode to St Cecilia: "Hail, bright Cecilia". Mackerras, of course, is highly "historically informed",  as the saying goes. But the performance does illustrate the pluses and minuses of prevaling fashion. Forty years ago, women were frowned upon in performances of Purcell or Bach (the Taleban mullahs would have been happy). So here, in 1969, we have an assortment of boy tenor, counter tenors, and tenors, basses. They all cope well with the technical challenges without always sounding at ease in the vocal dextrity often demanded by Purcell.

The orchestra (English Chamber Orchestra) is a great treat, and it's nice to be rid of sour baroque bands ... for the moment.  The chorus, however, is sung by the Ambrosian Choir supplemented by the Tiffin Choir (presumably to stop any women appearing). It sounds massive and dwarfs orchestra, soloists and music; quite in the English choral tradition I have grown to dread -- along with my neighbours, I suspect, who must be blown out of their armchairs when these choirs sing at full, enthusiastic blast.

One day, there will be an ideal "Hail, Bright Cecilia" with superb, professsional soloists, a band of virtuoso instrumentalists, and a light, compact choir. I hope I shall be around to see it, since the music is superb.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The 1952 recording of the performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio by Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich has to be one of music's top 100 recorded performances. It is like four minds (including Tchaikovsky) singing the same song. I know, I have said it before. But this is a recording I keep near my CD player, since I often want to come back to it and, when I do, I always enjoy it. Well done the four Russkies ! And the new transfer by Jakob Harnoy just completes the excellent job.

Dvorak's String Quintet

Dvorak's Op 97 string quintet left me pretty cold, despite the 1968 efforts of the Budapest String Quartet. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Haydn, Dvorak and Liszt are a lost cause in so far as I am concerned. Odd, and personal, that I can love Handel but be bored by Haydn, like Mendelssohn and love Schubert, yet yawn at Liszt, and love Janacek yet always fall asleep in Dvorak. Mais c'est comme ça. Dvorak ain't for me.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Thanks to my good friend Carlos, I have a most interesting set of "Belgian Violin School" four CDs (transferred from four HMV LPs of recordings from the 1960s and 70s). The violinists featured are Rudolf Werthen, Carlo van Neste, Marcel Debot and Maurice Raskin (I have so far listened to all except Raskin). The music played is by Vieuxtemps, de Bériot, Léonard and Ysaÿe thus, an all-Belgian affair.
I am not a fan of Walloon Belgium ... but happily make an exception when it comes to the violin. Following on from my satisfaction with the French Philippe Graffin the other day, it is pleasant to re-encounter the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing with its sophistication, good taste and dedicated artistry. The Russo-Israeli-DeLay school of power playing may be appropriate for Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich; but not for Ysaÿe. Interestingly, the other day I switched on my car radio to catch the end of someone playing Chausson's Poème. Wonderful full-blooded romantic playing, I thought; but hardly suitable for Chausson. When the performance ended, I learned that it had been David Oistrakh, Charles Münch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Enough said. Take me back to the Franco-Belgians in that kind of music.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

I bought and have listened to the Hyperion CD of Nikolay Roslavets' two violin concertos (the first early in his life, the second much later). The first concerto (1925) strikes me as interesting and expertly written. Let down, as so often with so many composers, by the lack of any melodic or thematic gifts; the first two movements last nearly 30 minutes but cannot summon a theme between them. The third movement is more attactive -- a sort of Ukrainian saltarella -- and at last produces a couple of worthy themes. The second concerto (1936) strikes me as Soviet People's Music at its uninspired worst. Throughly admirable soloist in both works in Alina Ibragimova: the thinking man's violinist.

An excellent CD comes from Philippe Graffin. Under the vague heading Hungarian Dances he assembles 26 short bits. "Hungarian" is to be interpreted broadly: the selection includes Debussy's La plus que lente, Vecsey's Valse Triste, and Liszt's Romance Oubliée. But an attractive and varied selection, really well presented by Graffin who may not have the PR clout of Janine Jansen or Joshua Bell, but who is a violinist to be listened to with interest.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The evening started well with one of my favourite steak koftas (lots of garlic and coriander). We continued with Joyce DiDonato's new CD of Handel arias (with Christophe Rousset): Furore. DiDonato is an excellent singer for this music: passionate, involved, dexterous. A bit like the younger Fischer-Dieskau, she is sometimes just a little too involved for comfort and almost seems to be "hamming" it. But no great matter; it's a most enjoyable 75 minutes listening to her in Handel's varied and inventive music.

Then on to "Laureates", a CD from Russia consisting of excerpts from the public recitals of violinist winners of the Tchaikovsky Prize in Moscow. Six violinists: Ruben Agaronyan, Sergei Stadler, Rafael Oleg, Viktoria Mullova, Ilya Kaler .. and Akiko Suwanai who really takes the biscuit with a scintillating and devil-inspired rendition of Sarasate's Carmen Fantasia. The Russian audience (quite properly) goes wild. Quite difficult to listen to anyone else in this piece after this public performance by Ms Suwanai.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Handel's 1707 cantata (written when he was 22 years old) Aminta e Fillide must be one of the loveliest musical works ever written. Hit follows hit, broken by short recitatives. The new recording from La Risonanza (directed by Fabio Bonizzoni) is near ideal, as so often in this series from the Glossa label. The singers, Maria Grazia Schiavo and Nuria Rial, are exemplary and it is nice to hear Italian sung by Italians, for a change (though Rial is Catelan, of course but doesn't sound it here).