Thursday, 24 June 2010

It is difficult to hold the attention of a listener for a solid hour of "salon pieces" for violin and piano. Even if the composer is Sarasate. But, I have to say that Tianwa Yang managed it this evening. Many, many violinists have recorded a selection of Sarasate's Danses Espagnoles: Heifetz, Hassid and Kogan spring immediately to mind as benchmarks. But Ms Yang is a virtuoso in the true sense of the word and, moreover, she has a sure instinct for Sarasate's style and for the colour palette of the violin. St Klaus of Naxos has signed her up to record all Sarasate's music and I shall buy the complete collection with alacrity as and when the CDs are release. Playing like this is not to be missed.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Not often these days I am found listening to the music of Johannes Brahms. I find his thick textures unpalatable, and I suffer from indigestion. But I have been greatly taken with a CD on which Alexander Rabinowitsch (piano), Philippe Hirschhorn (violin) and David Geringas (cello) play the string sextets Op 18 and Op 36. Arranged by whom, I know not. But the two works make very digestible piano trios, and all three musicians are excellent (especially Hirschhorn, of course). An unexpected pleasure.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

It may be time to reconsider my doubts about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He could be "gusty" in his singing. But a giant box of him singing over 400 Schubert Lieder on 21 CDs lasting 24 hours recorded 1966-72 with Gerald Moore suggests much of the gustiness of the 1950s has gone (or has been tamed by a new team of DG engineers). Whatever; I can now admire his beautiful light baritone voice and, most particularly and most welcome, his exemplary diction and articulation. With some singers it can be difficult to ascertain in what language they are singing; with DFD, you hear every word and fluent German speakers have no need of a copy of the libretto (which can be downloaded from the Internet if required, nearly 200 A4 pages thereof).

The songs on the CDs are in chronological order, starting with Eine Leichenphantasie D 7 -- which will probably turn out to have been written when Schubert was only two years old -- and ending with the so-called Schwanengesang D 957 assembled from unpublished songs left over after Scbubert's untimely death in 1828. Pretty well every song for male voice is in the mammoth set; some of the "songs" are more like substantial Gesangszenen, or operatic scenes, than traditional Lieder: thus Eine Leichenphantasie weighs in at 19 minutes, Der Taucher at a record-breaking 24 minutes, Lodas Gespenst at 12 minutes, Die Erwartung at 11 minutes, Der Liedler at 13 minutes, Einsamkeit at 18 minutes and Viola at 13 minutes. But pretty well everything else follows the 1-5 minute pattern where Schubert seems to have been at his best (in so far as Lieder were concerned). A veritable feast of listening. Gerald Moore, as always, is a very welcome partner in Lieder recordings, taking over when the music demands it, and staying back when appropriate. The CDs cost me around £2 each, which has to be the bargain of the century.

Friday, 18 June 2010

There can be something exhilarating in witnessing a talented young musician trying to make his or her mark on the over-crowded musical world. It would have been interesting to have heard the young Vladimir Horowitz or Nathan Milstein back in the early 1920s, long before laurels were rested on and a certain inevitable sense of routine took over. I found the new CD by Chinese pianist Yuja Wang a superb experience. Here is a real keyboard athlete, but with excellent musicality to boot, trying hard to impress us: and impress us, she does. Has anyone played the Three Movements from Petrushka as stunningly as this? And Brahms' Paganini Variations whiz by.

True, Ms Yang is 24 years old and very pretty (seemingly a prerequisite for any modern musical artist). But all that is forgotten once Stravinsky's music whistles past and Ms Yang can be considered simply as a remarkable pianist. I shall add her to my list of "consider all her CDs carefully and probably buy". The Chinese are turning out some formidable instrumentalists; Yuja Wang joins the violinist Tianwa Yang in my Chinese musical pantheon.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Listening to Yevgeny Sudbin playing sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so. Sudbin convinces. And the "shuffle play" facility on my CD player really comes into its own; the problem with a CD containing 18 sonatas is that numbers 1-10 tend to be listened to often, and numbers 15-18 remain relatively unknown. Shuffle playing resolves the problem.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Must have been a Black Saturday, since I slept all the afternoon and, in the evening, listened to Rachmaninov's second symphony, followed by Tchaikovsky's sixth, followed by Elgar's first. A late romantic, gloomy, symphonic evening. However, many thoughts for my one-day treatise on ethnicity, race and nationality in the performance of music (in the order of the above works, LSO-Gergiev, Philharmnonia-Cantelli, and Philharmonia-Barbirolli).

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Happily, as a teenager, I learned the texts of many German lieder, so I can now sit back and listen to the music without having to simultaneously read a translation. Yesterday evening I really enjoyed listening again to Schumann's Liederkreis Opus 39. Schumann is not normally one of my preferred composers, and our paths rarely meet. But the Opus 39, plus the Dichterliebe (plus Schubert's Winterreise) were the staple diet of my teenage years and I still love those lieder cycles very much.

Yesterday's recording by Werner Güra (with Jan Schultsz, piano) was less than ideal. The voice is balanced back from the piano; not good. And Güra's diction and articulation are also less than ideal, with a result that many of the words are inaudible, especially in soft passages. I have three other Liederkreis recordings (including Fischer-Dieskau from the 1950s, the recording with which I grew up). But maybe I'd better be in the market for a new version (I also have Bostridge and Partridge, but German lieder really need native singers -- as do French or Russian).