Sunday, 12 April 2015

Elias String Quartet: Beethoven's Op 130

I bought a new recording of Beethoven's Op 130 string quartet in B flat major mainly because the recording re-instates the Grosse Fuge as the quartet's finale, rather than the routine finale Beethoven was persuaded to substitute by publisher and players. After the profound opening adagio-allegro, Beethoven follows with three intermediate movements, then the sublime cavatina (adagio molto espressivo) and then: we need the Grosse Fuge!

I had never heard of the Elias String Quartet prior to buying this CD. The performance of Op 130 strikes me as exemplary, and I'll return to it often. Is the danza tedesca taken too quickly? But it's marked allegro assai, so maybe not, even though no one could dance at the speed taken here. Anyway, for me a good performance of Op 130 integrating the unjustly abandoned Grosse Fuge is highly welcome. The recording (Wigmore Hall Live) is excellent and well balanced.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Paganini's Violin Concerto No.1

Paganini's Violin Concerto No.1 in D major is a superb exhibition of pretty well everything of which the violin is capable, from lyrical, tender passages to fiery brilliance; from grave G string to silvery high E string. It's a mistake to try to play it as great music; it shines best when played by a violinist who enjoys showing off, which is one reason why the work has often thrived at the hands of young violinists: the young Menuhin, the young Leonid Kogan, the young Michael Rabin, the young Viktoria Mullova.

I've just added the 18 year old Akiko Suwanai to this list, playing the concerto at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow – which she won. For once, I was happy that the ecstatic roar of applause from the Russian audience was left in at the end of the concerto; this is a truly magnificent version of the old war-horse, and the extended cadenza by Emile Sauret receives playing that is quite stunning. Akiko plays the concerto for all it's worth and bowls us all over in the process. I have no less than 45 different recorded performances of Paganini's Opus 6, but this is the one I'll reach for in future when I want to be truly amazed.