Wednesday, 28 January 2009

There are violinists obviously in hot pursuit of a distinguished career, and pots of money; one thinks of people such as Nikolaj Znaider or Chloe Hanslip, trailing a team of advisers, backers, sponsors, trainers, parents and PR gurus. Then there are violinists such as Alina Ibragimova who gives the impression of playing the violin because she likes it, and playing music that she likes. Having just listened to her in 60 minutes of unaccompanied Bach, I think she is absolutely terrific. All modern women under 30 have a stupendous violin technique, of course. And Ibragimova has that, effortlessly and in spades. But she also has enthusiasm and sincerity that hoists her head and shoulders above most of the (formidable) competition. She is still only 23, or thereabouts! Let us hope she lasts the course.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

An evening with Mozart opera arias and the phenomenal Diana Damrau. My main impulse for buying the CD -- which is somewhat off the beaten track for me -- was the number of rave reviews. For once, I agree with the reviews. I was particularly struck by the resemblance here between Mozart and Handel (or, probably more accurately, between Mozart and late baroque). The same glorious melodic gift as Handel; the same voice-hugging accompaniments. It makes you realise just how far Johann Sebastian Bach was from the mainstream, with his complex counterpoint and polyphony.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

A weekend's music devoted to Anton Bruckner. First, the 7th Symphony with Eduard van Beinum (1952); then the 8th Symphony with Bernard Haitink (2005) -- the orchestra being the magnificent Concertgebouw Orchestra in both cases. Haitink is, for the moment, the last in the line of Bruckner conductors that includes Furtwängler, Klemperer, Horenstein, Knappertsbusch, Jochum and Wand. Conducting Bruckner is becoming a lost art. I enjoyed my Bruckner sessions. Unlike Brahms' orchestral music, Bruckner knows when to relax during his long journeys.  And Haitink is a much under-rated conductor. Both recordings courtesy of Ronald. Eat my usual weekend two kilos of moules marinières; they go well with Bruckner.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A rare excursion for me into Brahms, yesterday evening with the 2nd piano concerto and Solomon's famous 1947 recording for EMI. Alas, I think my Brahms days are over. I find his music too noisy and turgid, and the unceasing bursts of energy debilitating. It was a relief to return to Spohr and Wieniawski! With many exceptions (particularly for Bruckner and Wagner) I am less and less keen on the German Romantics; even Beethoven now gets in only because of some of his string quartets and piano sonatas. The Brahms symphones (cf Mahler) yield for me only isolated movements: the first and last movement of the fourth symphony, the third movement of the third symphony, etc.

This weekend again features two kilos of moules marinières, thanks to Wm Morrison's supermarket. Truly excellent.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The violin concertos of Ludwig Spohr are well worth a detour to listen to. Melodious, agreeable, unchallenging and "hummable". The new Naxos CD with Simone Lamsma and the Sinfonia Finlandia is an excellent disc, with Lamsma not interposing herself between Spohr's music and the listeners' ears. Praise also to the Sinfonia Finlandia which is just the right size for this pleasant music; we do not need a full-blown Bruckner-type symphony orchestra.

Once again, thanks to St Klaus Heymann; thank goodness he married a violinist! It was a lucky day for lovers of violin music.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

A very pleasant violin CD from the unknown (to me) Corey Cerovsek, which I bought mainly because of the repertoire (Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps). Cerovsek plays the second Wieniawski violin concerto (why not the less-recorded first?) and the fifth Vieuxtemps violin concerto (why not the fourth?) He also adds Wieniawski's Faust Fantasia. Truly excellent recording (Claves) and good support from the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra under Hannu Lintu.

It is strange that Cerovsek's playing on this CD made me think immediately of Nai-Yuan Hu, who has a very similar sound. Interesting that both Cervsek and Hu are Josef Gingold pupils; he obviously made an indelible impression on them  Both Cerovsek's disc, and an excellent Bruch-Goldmark disc from Hu, are dedicated to Josef Gingold. In this repertoire -- and also in Kreisler pieces -- there could be no better model. 

Saturday, 10 January 2009

This evening belongs to William Morrison (Morrison's Supermarkets) and Klaus Heymann (Naxos). Mr Morrison's shop furnished me with about the best mussels I have ever eaten (and on special offer, to boot!) I bought two kilos and had to reject just one mussel during preparation. Really, really top class. Thank you William Morrison. I'll be back. And back.

During the 1950s when I started collecting recordings, it was an expensive hobby, and choice was limited to mainstream repertoire with, typically,  a realistic choice of around four competitive recordings. This evening I listened to Emil Gilels playing short pieces on a new Naxos CD. Wonderful playing,  of course.  But what was even more remarkable was the transfers (Ward Marston) of these 1935-50 Russian recordings. The Soviet Union may have produced more top-class violinists and pianists than the whole of the Western world put together; but it was not noted for its state-of-the-art recording technology (unlike the Germans during the same period). But this £5 Naxos CD really is top-class, with truly excellent transfers at a truly excellent price. Where would we be without Klaus Heymann? And why was he not churning out desirable recordings in the 1950s when I was impoverished? Nowadays, I lose count of  the number of Naxos CDs I have in my collection (and the number grows every month). Naxos, and Harmonia Mundi; both the products of two driven individuals who have made such a difference to the world of recorded music.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The first day of 2009. And, fittingly, I celebrated it by listening to Bach's St Matthew Passion -- all nearly four hours of it. This really is the pinnacle work of classical music (closely followed, as per my last post, by the Mass in B minor and Beethoven's C sharp minor string quartet). The recording I listened to for the first time today was recorded in 1960 and conducted by Otto Klemperer. Many now term Klemperer's Bach "slow" or "old fashioned". Well, so it is, especially in the chorales. But "slow" can also be termed considered, or majestic, or magisterial, or full of gravitas. Whatever; Klemperer and his excellent choir, orchestra and soloists make a convincing case that this is how Bach should be performed; unhurried, with clear textures and a supreme overall sense of structure and design. We are a long way from Rachel Podger or Jaap Schröder and their ilk, thank goodness. The St Matthew Passion means something to Klemperer, and had done for decades. Maybe one day the wheel will come full circle and we will stop this ridiculous quest of historical reconstructions of how Bach's music may have sounded in 1725 at the first performance of the St Matthew Passion; as if Bach were famed for calculating nuances of sound and colouring, anyway -- he who swapped violins for flutes and harpsichords for violins depending on who was less drunk that morning, and what good instrumentalist was in town at the moment. The refusal to let the music breathe properly, that I noted in Suzuki's recording of the Mass in B Minor, is not present with Klemperer. The score of the Passion breathes, in its own time, and every dynamic and tempo has its righful place in the scheme of things. 10/10, and three stars. And a good start to 2009.