Sunday, 30 May 2010

At last, I have found the perfect way to cook squid, for me. A sauce of tomatoes (with fresh tomatoes). Olives, garlic, salt, pepper, birds-eye chilli peppers. Olive oil, and cayenne pepper (on the squid, prior to adding to the sauce). Delicious! Eat with rice.

Visited the French Market in Tetbury this morning and came away armed with Livarot, Camembert, Pont L'évêque, many saucissons, Bayonne hams, rabbit pâté, and a hot baguette. Food for a few months! This French market is a very fine institution. I must find a fool-proof way of getting its advance itinerary.

Music mainly provided by Franco Gulli; my musings on him, and nationality in music performance, in due course.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

After all, there are advantages to being a compulsive collector of this year's favourite violinist. True, it has given me immense collections of Oistrakh, Milstein, Gil Shaham, Maxim Vengerov and others (now considerably weeded out). But it also means that when I pass an enjoyable evening listening to Hagai Shaham playing the 21 Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dances, I am able to reach out and listen to ... all 21 again.

Hagai Shaham is a first class violinist. But I was dissatisfied. There was a sameness about the 21 dances that was a bit illogical. Not too much variation in dynamics, attack or tempo. I have felt this same mixed admiration before about Hagai Shaham. So I turned to ... Oscar Shumsky (an advantage of being a compulsive collector of the violinist du jour). 42 Hungarian Dances in one evening! But it was well worth it: the music was the same, but Shumsky provided everything that Shaham lacked, especially dynanimcs and variety.

I have a lot of Shumsky recordings: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Kreisler .. and Pierre Rode, and Glazunov. Thank goodness. As time passes and as my Gil Shaham and Maxim Vengerov CDs vanish off to charity shops, and Oistrakh and Milstein languish unplayed, there will always be Shumsky to retrieve affectionately off the shelf. Like Heifetz, I only heard Shumsky in person once (Beethoven violin concerto, Festival Hall, London). But the impression is indelible.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Just enjoyed a three hour Phillippe Hirschhorn festival, courtesy of Ronald and Doremi. Hirschhorn belonged to that enormous band of supremely talented violinists who, for one reason or another, never recorded for a major company so remained comparatively unknown: one thinks of David Nadien, Oscar Shumsky (before 1980), Joseph Gingold and a horde of Germans, Austrians, Russians, Czechs, Hungarians and Romanians. In the late 1960s and the 1970s, when Hirschhorn was young and ambitious, recording companies were devoting their violin repertoire to the Korean Kyung-Wha Chung, to the Israelis Pinchas Zuckerman and Izhak Perlman, and to the Latvian Gidon Kremer (somewhat ironically). No room for yet more supreme violinists, and not yet the horde of smaller recording labels that would bring hope and exposure to more violinists.

Hirschhorn favours deliberate tempi in pretty well everything he plays; just as Heifetz seemed to have a rapid internal tempo clock, so Hirschhorn has a slow one, which has the advantage of allowing us to hear all the subtle bowings and notes that are usually glossed over in more rapid traversals. We hear intense concentration from this violinist, and a very sharp focus on his violin and the notes he is playing. The playing is highly committed. His vibrato belongs to the "odd" school along with that of Tossy Spivakovsky, Zino Francescatti and Ivry Gitlis. Often, in his intensity, Hirschhorn reminds me of Ginette Neveu. Janine Jansen was a Hirschhorn pupil, and it shows in her intensity.

An excellent way to spend three hours. Hirschhorn made no commercial recordings, and all the recordings we have of him come from radio or festival archives. My guess is he was one of those people who were best heard live, and that in a studio he might have lost much of the élan that permeates these performances.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Philippe Hirschhorn's live 1967 recording of Paganini's first violin concerto is one of the classics of the recording corpus. Yes, it's live and, yes, it's a young man's competition bravura performance. But it's not only live; it's also ALIVE! Just like the audience at the end of the first movement and at the end of the concerto. At the 1967 competition Hirschhorn beat Stoika Milanova into second place (and Gidon Kremer into third). With playing like this, you can certainly see why. A tonic in an age of over-careful, edited, polished, studio performances. For a change, Doremi's transfer is exemplary.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Unforgettable classics: Heifetz playing Saint-Saëns Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso in the 1930s. Maria Callas declaiming Mori! Mori! Mori! in Tosca in the 1950s. And, and, and .. And also Patricia Petitbon singing Ah! mio cor, schernito sei! from Handel's Alcina in 2009. A lovely voice; incredible music; an interpretation at one with the notes; and George Frideric Händel's superb empathy with the outpourings of a spurned woman.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The recital that David Nadien gave on 17th January 1973 in the Town Hall of New York City makes a truly memorable CD. Most remarkable, perhaps, are the Vieuxtemps 5th concerto (with a piano accompaniment, but this does not detract greatly from the work) and the Chaconne from the second partita for solo violin by Bach. I know Jascha Heifetz also recorded the Vieuxtemps and Bach works; he was fully the equal of David Nadien in both.

Three excellent encores (Wieniawski, Veracini and Kreisler). The only work that shows the age of the recording is Beethoven's duo sonata Op 12 No.1 given, as often in those days, with an obsequious piano accompaniment; not even Samuel Sanders' mother would buy this CD to admire the piano contribution. But I'll play the CD again and again as an example of great violin playing.

Monday, 10 May 2010

A new love: Patricia Petitbon. A really entrancing CD of early 18th century Italian opera arias. Petitbon has a lovely, expressive and versatile voice. As Maria Callas was to 19th century Italian opera arias, so Petitbon is to their 18th century equivalents. A CD I am very happy to have bought.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

I greatly admired Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov in the Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin. I now have to start admiring the new set (first disc just out) featuring Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien (Wigmore Hall Live). These live performances from 2009 are in the same class. German and Russian v Russian and French. Maybe the latter gain with their sense of a live performance? Whatever; we are in better days than when the sonatas were played by Heifetz and Emanuel Bay. Anyway, good times for the Beethoven duo sonatas.

Monday, 3 May 2010

As I thought, my squid with a sauce made by me was far superior to any squid soaked in something concocted by the laboratories of Kraft or Unilever. My sauce was fresh tomatoes, garlic, black olives and fresh chilies.

Too much chili; I bought four, but two would have been quite enough. The sauce would have caused Thais and the inhabitants of Madras to flee in terror from the fiery Sauce de Malmesbury. But it was good! Not more bottled sauces for me. The remainder of the sauce can decorate an exceptionally nondescript chicken remains in due course.
I enjoyed the new Hyperion CD of Vieuxtemps music for violin and orchestra (fourth and fifth violin concertos, and the 18 minute Fantasia Appassionata which is practically another concerto). You would never have found such a recording issued by RCA, Columbia, HMV, Decca or DGG in the old days!

Viviane Hagner is the excellent soloist. The recording is well balanced. An unexpected pleasure was the contribution from the Royal Flemish Philharmonic conducted by Martyn Brabbins; all too often the orchestral part in these kinds of virtuoso works is somewhat perfunctory, but one advantage of having a "provincial" orchestra is that often the players more than make up in enthusiasm and dedication for what they lack in ultimate polish.

Hagner does not efface memories of Heifetz in these works (who could?) But she does very well, and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic certainly leaves Heifetz's various accompanists standing at the gate. Vieuxtemps gains in stature. I'll return to this disc.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

I really must cut down my rate of CD purchases. For every surprise triumph, there are many one-listen disappointments. The two CD set of Oscar Shumsky playing unaccompanied Bach was a major and unexpected success. But the new Nikolaus Harnoncourt CD of three Bach cantatas really added nothing to my (vast) collection. I bought David Nadien playing the Brahms violin concerto not to listen to the Seattle Youth Orchestra, nor to the Brahms concerto that I know so well. I wanted to listen to David Nadien playing, but he is balanced so far back you can hardly hear him, so it's all a bit of a dead loss and the CD will go into the "unheard" rack.

Still, the CD of Yevgeny Sudbin playing Scarlatti was a great and unexpected success. The Volume II of Naxos transfers of Fritz Kreisler's acoustic recordings from 1911 and 1912 is a model of transfer technology; the 90 year old recordings come up nearly as good as new, and Kreisler's inimitable tone is preserved, merely at the expense of a bit of background hiss from the 78s. But the sound is of a quality I missed in the over-scrubbed, squeaky-clean Pristine Audio transfers of the Busch Quartet recently. With these old Kreisler recordings, you forget about the music -- which is mainly frightfully light-weight -- and just wallow in the sound of Kreisler in his prime.