Saturday, 21 March 2015

Ion Voicu

The Australian Eloquence label is doing good work re-issuing Decca recordings from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In that way, major artists who had almost vanished from view can return to the sonic stage. The latest Eloquence pair of CDs to join my collection is highly welcome, since it brings back Ion Voicu in excellent sound in recordings from the 1960s and early 1970s. Superb playing and a good selection of music, with the concertos of Mendelssohn and Bruch (G minor) plus duo works by Ravel, Enescu, Debussy and Milhaud.

Born in Romania in 1923, Voicu was another major musician born at the wrong time and in the wrong place as regards being able to have a major career. He was a marvellous violinist; dead accurate intonation, impeccable bowing, excellent musicianship and with that soft almost crooning violin sound typical of many who grew up in Hungary or Romania during the first half of the last century. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of the Mendelssohn concerto, played “straight” with no indulgence in the over-inflation that plagues so many performances of this agreeable work. In particular, it's good to hear the andante played as an andante, and not at the speed of a 96 year old walking up a steep slope. Voicu, like others such as Heifetz and Tianwa Yang, keeps “walking” in this second movement and the music is all the better for it. There are a few more Voicu recordings hiding away in the shadows; let us hope that someone gets hold of them and re-issues them in good sound.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Vasily Petrenko in Elgar

Like so many post-Wagnerian composers at the end of the nineteenth century and the very beginning of the twentieth, Edward Elgar often wrote music that was a bit too long. I have always loved (most of) Elgar's music, but have often wished it would get a move on in a performance.

Not the least admirable aspect of the new recording of Elgar's first symphony by the extraordinarily talented Vasily Petrenko is that the music really does get a move on in all four movements, to great benefit of the work as a whole. Elgar's music does not take to wallowing, and I really enjoyed this recording. Apart from Petrenko, the Liverpool Philharmonic also covers itself in glory, and the recording team (Onyx) does credit to the whole. When I next want to listen to Elgar's first symphony, this is the recording, of the six I possess, that I'll reach for. I'm just hoping Petrenko goes on to record the second symphony, and to accompany a top soloist in the violin concerto.

The Russians may be a bit fallible when it comes to politics and economics, but when it comes to music they are formidable, as witnessed by the number of Russian pianists, violinists and conductors who keep coming forth. Two of my favourite modern conductors (a small band) are Valery Gergiev and Vasily Petrenko, both from well within the Russian orbit. This is the first time I have heard Petrenko in non-Russian repertoire, apart from an off-air recording of him accompanying Alina Ibragimova (another Russian) in a Mozart concerto. Count me as a fan.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Akiko Suwanai

The commercial world has usually been unkind to top-class musicians. In the old days, there were only a handful of recording companies, so if you were not one of the chosen few, you languished in all-but obscurity with your violin, piano, or whatever. Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and there are many, many more recording companies around, plus media such as YouTube but most are small and usually national in their base. Most unfortunate were those who sprang to fame in the 1970s, 80s and 90s with contracts with the big recording companies; the big companies suddenly vanished, hoovered up into big international conglomerates like Warner Music or Universal Music. Some artists with a well-known brand live on, so we can still find Brand Furtwängler, Brand Menuhin, Brand Rubinstein, etc. But many other artists just disappeared from view, their recordings no longer available, the copyright in them still to run for 30 years or so, which means that specialist re-issue companies cannot prolong the artists' lives.

One such seems to be Akiko Suwanai, a superb violinist whose recordings I have always enjoyed and treasured. I only heard her once in person (playing the Bartok violin concerto in Washington in 2001) but my eight or nine CDs of her are never far away for long. She is notable for a superb technique and a welcome absence of showmanship, as well as for a thoroughly musical attitude to what she is playing. Alas, Brand Akiko recorded for Philips – it probably seemed a great idea at the time – which was swallowed by Universal which is owned, I think, by a French water company. Hopefully the water company will re-discover her one day and her top-notch recordings will begin to be available again. A pity Akiko did not begin her recording life with companies such as Naxos or Hyperion, who appear to work on long time scales and to take long-term views of artists and repertoire.