Tuesday, 31 March 2009

An Elgar evening, for a change. First the Maggini Quartet with Peter Donohue in the piano quintet. I love the first two movements,  but the finale hectors a bit and, to my mind, is not at the same level of inspiration. Then on to Simone Lamsma playing Elgar salon pieces. Very appealing music and playing; Lamsma keeps things moving and actually sounds as though she likes what she is playing. The pieces are technically undemanding but, like all recitals of a series of short pieces, call for a broad palette of bowing and sound. Ms Lamsma does well. Both discs come from the mighty Naxos company. What would we do without Naxos?

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Back from a good trip to France (Nice and Nîmes). Celebrated my return with more Rachmaninov, the second symphony again; this is a work I really like and one that really speaks to me. The recording chosen this time was that conducted by Ivan Fischer (Budapest Festival Orchestra), and really well recorded (Channel Classics). In this symphony I like Pletnev, and the Sanderling 1956 recording. But, just maybe, it is for the Fischer recording I'll reach for in the future.

Otherwise, more Bach cantatas, that are becoming my daily bread (along with Handel). The latest very fine CD sees Herreweghe back in action. And although I have eaten shoals of sea bream in my life, today was the first time ever I actually bought and cooked one. Truly excellent. I think the sea bream will now join Bach and Handel as part of my staple diet.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Interesting, and enjoyable, today listening to early recordings of short pieces played by Fritz Kreisler. The first batch dates from 1904 (when Kreisler was 29) and the second batch from 1911 (aged 36). We can admire Kreisler's seductive tone (even through the swish and pops of the early acoutic recordings) but it is sense of rubato, his style, his incredibly versatile bowing, and his extraordinary trills that really make their mark. Not to mention his legendary double stops, where each voice is given its due and the intonation is always exactly precise. One understands why Kreisler was hailed as the Emperor of the Violin (and why Heifetz was so fascinated by his playing). What a contrast the sound of Kreisler must have been to audiences accustomed to the drier and less lascivious sound of the 19th century violinists (and compare, for example, Jan Kubelik). Kreisler's sound is 100% unique, and also 100% Viennese. They don't make violinists like this any more, alas. And listening to Kreisler playing Kreisler back in 1911, one understands why Heifetz, who recorded pratically anything that was good for the violin, went somewhat light when it came to recording Kreisler pieces. Fritz Kreisler was simply sans pareil.

Continuing with the golden oldies, my current reading of a biography of Sergei Rachmaninov had me listening to his piano playing. Rachmaninov was one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, along with Cortot, Fischer and Richter. A shame that, because of the times and his unsettled abode, he was not able to record more. Ended the evening with Rachmaninov's second symphony; the1955 mono recording by Kurt Sanderling and the Leningrad Philharmonic (kindly supplied by Lee) is indeed a classic of the twentieth century. And I love the music.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A most pleasant 3 1/2 hours today spent listening to my new purchase of Handel's Alcina, with the same caste I heard in Poissy in September 2007 (the recording was made in Italy at around the same time). Time goes by pleasantly with Handel. Joyce DiDonato is magnificent as Alcina – she's a fine vocal actress as well as singer – and Maïte Beaumont is as appealing as she was on stage in Poissy as Ruggiero. A fortunate purchase and a good addition to my (pretty large) collection of Handel operas.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

I became very familiar indeed with Beethoven's Diabelli Variations Op 120 when I bought an LP of the work played by Wilhelm Backhaus back in the 1950s. In those days of few recordings, the LP was played over and over and over again. I still like Backhaus playing it; he has a no-nonsense approach to playing that reminds me of Beethoven (not that I ever heard Beethoven play).

Since those Backhaus days I have tried numerous other performances including, a few weeks ago, the new recording by Stephen Kovacevich much admired by the critics. Somehow, after listening to that admirable new recording, I concluded the Diabelli had had their day with me. Just too familiar. Then this evening I listened to Sviatolav Richter in a 1988 public performance in Russia; and fell in love with the work all over again. What an incredible encyclopaedia of musical wisdom! Richter's playing is pure fascination. Once again, his concentration on the work takes the listener beyond all thoughts of striving for effect, or beautiful pianism. A recording for the top 50 of of all recordings, or whatever. That particular CD is rounded off with a truly classic performance of Mozart's K 379 sonata for piano and violin where Richter is joined by Oleg Kagan, one of his preferred partners.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Back from a two day "holiday" in Ouistreham, clutching various wines and food. Greeted this morning by the arrival of a four CD pack of public performances by Sviatislav Richter, one of my top half dozen pianists. Interspersed with samplings of pâté de tête, museau de porc, côtes de veau, premières côtes de Blaye and other delicacies brought back in triumph from the shores of Normandy, I indulged in Richter playing Rachmaninov and Schubert (the Beethoven - Diabelli - disc and Tchaikovsky still await listening). It is quite ridiculous, and an indication of one of the many things wrong with Western society in 2009, that the four Richter CDs (Regis) cost me slightly less than one supermarket chicken.

Richter is my kind of musician. You sense strongly that he is playing what he wants to play, what he loves, and is playing the pieces in the way he thinks they ought to sound. The sixth Schubert moment musical lasts for nearly 12 minutes with Richter — something of an heure musicale; around five minutes longer than with anyone else. But when Richter is playing: you believe.

So a good Saturday, thanks to Normandy and Richter. The Normandie Wines shop in Ouistreham was quite a find, as was the Relais Routiers restaurant just a few metres from the port.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Very large crab this weekend; quite enough for three meals! Also managed to buy some John Dory fillets in Cirencester; quite delicious.

For music, there was Henryk Wieniawski, whom I like very much since he is melodic, elegant and sophisticated. Admired once again the violin sound of Corey Cerovsek (accompanied on this Wieniawski recital CD kindly supplied by Lee, by Katja Cerovsek -- presumably a sister). Cerovsek does not have a broad palette of colours -- it's all very beautiful -- but he does play elegantly and makes a nice sound.

Cerovsek's counterpart in the vocal world is Carolyn Sampson. Her recital of airs and songs by Purcell is a CD that I do not file away under "P" but keep next to my player. It is always a breath of fresh (musical) air, sung by a very atractive voice.