Monday, 18 November 2013

Shostakovich, and the Hammerklavier

I did not much like Shostakovich's fourth symphony on a first hearing, so yesterday I gave it a second hearing – and still did not like it much. It did not seem to have much depth to it – a lot of posturing and clever writing. Almost certainly not the fault of the talented Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpool Philharmonic. A disappointment. Still, Shostakovich wrote fifteen symphonies and some of them I like very much indeed; you can't win them all.

So on to Ludwig van Beethoven and his Hammerklavier sonata, a work I have struggled to enjoy for many decades as played by Pollini, Gilels, Yudina, Solomon, Schnabel .. and now Igor Levit. The first two movements are fine, but the long, long, long adagio finds my concentration wandering, and the finale sounds pretty bizarre in places, even played by the supreme pianistic gallery above. In his final years Beethoven seems to have wandered off frequently into obscure pastures: the Große Fuge is a wonderfully strange work, but Beethoven's friends were certainly right in persuading him to detach it from the B flat major quartet – if only someone could have persuaded him to abandon the inflated finale of the ninth symphony, an ending that always spoils the fine first three movements for me.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Mattieu Arama, and Igor Levit

Vaguely alarming, this immense deluge of highly talented young pianists and violinists. Every day seems to bring a handful of great new violinists, mainly from France, Germany, Hungary, Czech & Slovakia, Russia, Japan, Korea and China -- with a good dash of Canadians. Were there always such numbers in the past, but it was just that they never had a chance to make their names before the advent of several hundred record companies, YouTube and music downloads? Yesterday saw me listening to Matthieu Arama's début CD on which he offers a number of attractive virtuoso works by Wieniawski, Paganini, Sarasate et al, interspersed with welcome morsels from Elgar and Tchaikovsky. His technique is exemplary; the musicianship impeccable; the recording excellent. Most enjoyable. Arama is French, and hails from Bordeaux. As with pretty well all these modern virtuosi, one does not get the individuality of a Kreisler, Szigeti or Heifetz. But then, one also does not get the peculiarities of Jan Kubelik or Bronislaw Huberman, or the later precarious technique of Ruggiero Ricci.

Then on to Igor Levit, a Russian who grew up in Germany and who has now reached the advanced age of 26 years old and has been heralded as a genuine great pianist by pretty well everyone in the universe. Swayed by the crowd, I bought his début recording -- the last five piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven. Some début. Beethoven's later works - sonatas and string quartets - are the works of an individual who was no longer too concerned about wowing audiences, nor about catering to the foibles of sundry pianists or string players. The works are ideally interpreted by someone who eschews all posturing and external effects, and who forgets about the 18th century, critics, and audiences. Levit here is such an interpreter. I admire his concentration, his refusal to play to any gallery, his immaculate technique (of course) and his total immersion in these difficult works. I know the last sonata, Opus 111, extremely well having first acquired it in the 1950s played by Julius Katchen. Suffice it to say that, as played here by Igor Levit, all other versions I possess are quite blown away by this latest one. Marvellous playing, and marvellous musicianship. I long to hear Levit next in late Schubert.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Ah, I see ....

The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin -- Luca Fanfoni

This disc is a compendium of Bach’s violin artistry, where 18th-century stylistic connotations are set aside in favour of a musical invention that appears free from any marked temporal designation."