Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bought two good crabs from the Tetbury Market fish man yesterday, and these provided me with two excellent meals yesterday and today. Music was Handel: duets. I dug out an old Hungaraton double-CD pack from the early 1980s with Maria Zadori (very good) and Paul Esswood (not so good). I think I much prefer female altos à la Sara Mingardo to the somewhat hooting sound of male altos such as Esswood. A pity, since the music of Handel's duetti is superb, effervescent and full of invention. Off to Boston tomorrow. Handel and fresh crabs are fitting send-offs.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Lunch was at the Brasserie Roux in the Sofitel at Terminal 5, Heathrow. A good quenelles de brochet; a good aile de raie (but the chef had forgotten to seaon it with salt and pepper). Wine by the glass was a surprisingly excellent Château Neuf du Pape. Dinner was my very own moules marinière (excellent). Music supplied by Diana Damrau singing Mozart arias; she is quite superb, and Mozart is quite a rival to Handel in operatic arias. No higher praise.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Sad how, when it comes to sonatas for violin & piano (of which there are so many) record companies and concert promoters insist on the same hackneyed handful: Beethoven Spring and Kreutzer, Brahms 1, 2 or 3, Franck, Debussy, Ravel. For the really daring, there is Schumann or Fauré. A shame, just having listened to the 43 minutes of Nikolai Medtner's third sonata for violin & piano; a magnificent work that, despite its length, does not outstay its welcome for its four movements.

This evening's performance, by Boris Berezovsky and Vadim Repin, is well-nigh perfect. Both are first class instrumentalists and musicians. They play the sonata as a true duo, with 100% commitment and acute intelligence. It also strikes me how important recording balance and perspective are in such works; very often, the violin -- or the piano -- are too close. Often they are balanced unnaturally. In the Berezovsky-Repin recording, the perspective is natural, and the balance admirable. All praise to Erato for recording and issuing the CD (briefly) before the company was swallowed into the Philistine maw of Warner Music, and Repin, Berezovsky and Medtner were never heard of again in that company.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

I have a known allergy to churches and church choirs, so I was surprised to hear myself enjoying Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil ("Vespers"). But there is something mystical and other-worldly about Russian Orthodox choral singing that I find most attractive.

My mood was maybe enhanced from having eaten half an excellent crab, followed by three giant langoustines cooked on my new electric plancha. Like Russian Orthodox choirs, these three langoustines were simply out of this world.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Dmitri Shostakovich seems to have been a tortured soul, and growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s cannot have been all roses and fountains. However, had he been born and raised in Switzerland during the same period, he might have been a less impressive artist. I have no idea whether or not Leila Josefowicz is another tortured soul, but her "Shostakovich" CD of the first violin concerto, and violin & piano sonata, seems to live right under Shostakovich's skin. Every (varied) note of the violin parts sounds like the real thing. One of those (very rare) recodings that suggests you might as well throw away all competitors. Praise in the concerto for Sakari Oramo, and in the violin and piano sonata for John Novacek; both make major contributions to Josefowics's quite masterly recordings of this anguished music. Astonishinly, I have 37 different recordings of Shostakovich's first violin concerto ( a measure of its modern classic status). But, really and truly, I could throw 36 of them away and just keep Josefowicz.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Good Friday, so I took the day off from the office, apart from a trip to Bristol Airport and back. Lunch was a truly excellent pâté de foie gras, followed by a crab. Tomato salad with David Quayle's excellent tomatoes. The thoroughly appropriate wine was an Alsatian Gewürztraminer (Edmond Rentz). In the evening, a purée of aubergines followed by a superb gilt-head sea bream. Evening music supplied by G F Handel: opera arias and duets sung by Sandrine Piau and Sara Mingardo. Who could ask for more?

As a complete and utter contrast, I finished the evening with Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony. To borrow and adapt Stravinsky's quip (applied originally to the person of Rachmaninov): 45 minutes of Russian misery. I love it it, and it stays after all this time as one of my very favourite symphonies. For a start, it is one of the few works where I welcome and enjoy all four movements. I cannot say that of too many symphonies, apart from Schubert's Unfinished and Bruckner's Ninth.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

We will never know how Paganini played his 24 caprices. Looking at them dispassionately, they are 24 studies in different bowing techniques, different sonorities of the violin, and exactitude in intonation, especially in double-stopping passages. Paganini exhalts in cross-string bowing and in highlighting the difference between the violin's sonorous G string and brilliant E string. Too often nowadays the capricci are played in race-track style, like Formula One drivers trying to clip 1.2 seconds off the previous contestant. This may have been what Paganini envisaged, but the abundance of tempo markings such as andante, moderato, maestoso, lento and posato suggests that sheer speed was not the aim of all the parts of all the capricci. A pity we have no recordings of him.

I suspect that he may have played the 24 much like Tanja Becker-Bender, on a new CD from Hyperion. One is conscious with Miss B-B of the fact that the caprices were studies in violin sound and technique. Unless the music calls for it, Miss B-B plays accurately, deliberately and with an admirable intelligence. 'Some of her playing is almost a master class in different bowing techniques (much as Paganini had in mind for much of the time, one suspects). I enjoyed this thoughtful, intelligent and technically immaculate CD.

A pity Hyperion did not think more about the recording. We stand around three metres from Miss B-B; too close, the same common defect with solo violin recordings. And either the microphone favoured Miss B-B's rght hand side (G string) or the recording was too bass-heavy, since the G strng sound predominates for much of the time. This is, of course, frequently in line with Paganini's intentions; but too much so.