Sunday, 31 October 2010

The three violin concertos of Camille Saint-Saëns make an attractive CD (72 minutes) and I enjoyed the new Naxos on which Fanny Clamagirand plays the three works. Here, she is a gentle violinist, a little hesitant in places, and does not have the sheer charisma of Tedi Papavrami on his recent disc of Saint-Saëns, Chausson and Ysaÿe where so much of the playing was quite magical. And Papavrami's 2005 Christian Bayon violin does sound so much sweeter and more powerful than Clamagirand's 1700 Matteo Goffriller (as recorded here). Good to hear 72 minutes of old Camille again, and a pleasant change from yet more Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn or Sibelius. The second Saint-Saëns concerto is rarely heard, but I have always liked it ever since an old Ivry Gitlis recording (with some very weird vibrato in the second movement; weird even for Gitlis).
The Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler must surely have been the greatest orchestra/conductor combination of all time. I have just been listening to Pristine Audio's miraculous reconstructions of Schubert's 8th Symphony (Titania Palast, Berlin, 15 September 1953) and 9th Symphony (Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 8 December 1942). The playing is simply stupendous, and the conducting miraculous. Add to that Pristine Audio's €9 price for the FLAC download, and it is clear we live in a golden age for those who enjoy great performances of great music. It is tempting to acquire the Pristine transfer of the 1942 Beethoven 9th with Furtwängler, but I really cannot take the finale of that work; a great pity Beethoven didn't have second thoughts and write an alternative.

Friday, 29 October 2010

No listening to music for me. I spent the week in Vienna. The city is wall-to-wall Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You would never think that composers such as Schubert, Beethoven, Mahler, Strauss and Korngold also lived there for long periods. Alles ist Mozart. I like Mozart, but regret the obsession that the Vienna Tourist Board appears to have with the only Viennese composer. There is even a chain of Mozart shops (managed by Constance?) including a branch at the airport. Gurr!

Friday, 22 October 2010

I have been a bit negative recently. Here are two positive entries:

1. My oxtail stew was world-class. Tail of an ox; good red wine; onions; beef consommé; parsnips; carrots; herbes de Provence; bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaves); salt; pepper. Cook for two hours. Leave for 48 hours. Re-cook for one hour and eat some; leave for a further 48 hours; eat some more; leave for ... etc. By the end, the whole thing when cold is just solid jelly.

2. Saint-Saëns' third violin concerto, and Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso; plus Chausson's Poème -- have not wanted for superb recordings over the past 80 years. But these three works, plus Eugène Ysaÿe's Poème Elégiaque, are truly superb on a 2009 CD from Tedi Papavrami (Aeon). The Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège is conducted by François-Xavier Roth. I have enthused over this disc before, and I enthuse again. Because:

* Of the four works on the CD, it is difficult to think off-hand of better versions.
* The playing is idiomatic, accurate and excellent.
* The recording is first class.
* Papavrami's bow (2008) and violin (2006) illustrate that the claim only "old" instruments are really good is simply not true.

Throughout the 57 minutes of this CD I found myself (unusually) admiring the sheer sound of Papavrami's instrument. A CD I keep by my player, since I love the music, the playing and the sound.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The performance of Bruckner's 9th symphony conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin on 7th October 1944 has always been very special. With the Red Army and Götterdämmerung only six months away from Berlin, there is an air of intense focus in both the conducting and the playing. And, it must be said, the broadcast tapes of that era are of exceptional quality.

I have collected this performance in its various incarnations (the last being on DG). But Andrew Rose's new effort for Pristine Audio in "ambient stereo" is truly excellent. I downloaded the FLAC files today and wrote them to a CD. One of recording history's great masterpieces lives again in truly exceptional sound (for its age). I am only sad to think I won't be around in 30 years time to hear the ultimate in sound restoration of performances such as this.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

After vowing "no more CDs of the Brahms violin & piano sonatas" (since I have so many) I bought another one, urged on by my enjoyment of Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien in the first sonata. The new candidate is Jack Liebeck, whose début CD I much admired some years ago. Liebeck plays attractively and sensitively on the new disc, but his pianist, Katya Apekisheva, is a bit of a Russian tank ... and balanced forward, in addition. I'll wait for more Ibragimova.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

I did not like Arabella Steinbacher's recent recording of the Beethoven violin concerto, finding it too slow and sentimentalised -- sort of Beethoven / Bruch. But I do like her performance of the second violin concerto of Shostakovich and here, with a better balance, the orchestra plays a much more important part than in the recent Czech performance with Bohumil Kotmel (which I may have over-praised at the time).

No danger of over-praising Elly Ney. Ronald kindly donated two CDs of her playing, and I am highly impressed. Has the adagio molto semplice of Beethoven's Op 111 ever been better played, with more understanding? I suspect not. The recordings (German, mainly from the mid-1930s) are quite extraordinarily good.

And while I am in a praising mood: Marks & Spencer's lamb Rogan Josh is far better than any Indian dish from any other British supermarket. Succulent, tasty, delicious.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

I have 38 recordings of Shostakovich's first violin concerto, but only 8 of the second, which is some indication of their relative popularity. Listening to the second concerto today, I feel that the low esteem in which it is held is undeserved. Shostakovich's first violin concerto grips you with its raw emotions; the second exudes a kind of numb pessimism (above all in the first two movements) with sparse textures and little drama. It's an old person's music, and not the kind of thing with which you would inaugurate a new concert hall. But I enjoyed it today, on a very good Supraphon recording from a public concert in Prague on 15 and 16 February 1996. Excellent soloist is Bohumil Kotmel (who?) which just goes to show that because a soloist is unknown does not necessarily mean he or she is not top rank. Mr Kotmel empathises with Shostakovich's bleak music, and can also play the violin very well, which is all one should ask for. The Czech Philharmonic gives excellent backing (though the full orchestra plays little part in this music). I especially liked the ripe sound of the Czech horn section.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

French evening. The French market is in town, with superb cheeses, the world-winning baguette and the miserable old sod with his charcuterie stall with whom I spend £58 without him even offering me a free saucisson.

But the cheeses this evening were really three star Michelin: Pont L'Evêque, Camembert, and Livarot. All non-pasteurised and in perfect condition. No one this evening eat better cheeses than I. Nowhere.

On to a new CD of Ravel played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, with Pierre Boulez conducting the orchestra in the two piano concertos. I have long had a soft spot for the music of Maurice Ravel. Aimard and Boulez do the two concertos magnificently (with Aimard all alone in the Miroirs). Deutche Grammophon recording; that company is still streets ahead of anyone else when it comes to recording quality. Aimard is an exemplary pianist in Ravel. Boulez is a much better conductor than he ever was composer; let us hope he turns next to accompanying violinists in Vieuxtemps, Ysaye, Rhode, Joachim, Hubay, et alii.