Friday, 23 December 2016

David Nadien

Re-mastering a CD of violin music is a delicate task. All too often, cleaning up and brightening an "old" sound results in the higher reaches of the violin sounding over-bright, with a steely sheen to the sound. It was therefore greatly to my delight when sampling a re-mastering of David Nadien playing twelve encore pieces to discover that the violin sound was impeccable, despite the new CD being labelled "Stereo. Super Audio CD. SACD" and all the other buzzwords that too often portend something inferior to the original. Not having a SACD player, the advantages of that technology pass me by, but I do like a good violin sound, especially when David Nadien is playing.

Being a super-top violinist in America in most of the twentieth century was no automatic passport to a top career. For a start, to all intents and purposes there were only two companies making classical recordings: RCA and CBS. Both companies were conservative, and both frowned on duplicating key repertoire. For violinists, there was the Heifetz hurdle, then the Isaac Stern hurdle. Some American violinists such as Milstein (naturalised) or Menuhin escaped the RCA and CBS limitations by recording in Europe where there was a much wider choice of recording companies. Other American violinists such as Oscar Shumsky, Joseph Gingold and David Nadien dodged the problem by embarking on alternative careers. Nadien became big in the world of commercial recording for films, advertising, etc. Luckily his playing was preserved (mainly by friends) so we can still enjoy his suave, impeccable sound. I greatly enjoyed this recital CD, re-mastered by a good friend of mine.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Ginette Neveu

Baden-Baden in 1949. Ludwig van Beethoven's violin concerto played by Ginette Neveu, with Hans Rosbaud conducting the SWR Sinfonieorchester, and German engineers recording the event. The tapes re-mastered in Germany and the performance re-released on the SWR Music label. This is a high point of European civilisation; Neveu's performance is a classic, with total absorption in the music (especially the slow movement), a complete absence of showmanship or dumbing down of classical music (as is so prevalent today). If I could play the Beethoven violin concerto, this is how I would want to play it. I have three different transfers of this performance, but I have not compared them. Anyone desiring to listen to this all-time classic performance need not worry about the quality of the 68 year old sound in the SWR re-mastering from the original tapes.

The second CD in this pack contains a performance of the Brahms violin concerto (same Baden-Baden studio) in 1948. The Brahms concerto's combination of vivacity and lyricism suits Neveu's playing admirably, and this is the fourth recording of the work I have from her (1946 in London with Dobrowen, 1948 in Hamburg with Schmidt-Isserstedt, 1949 in The Hague with Dorati). It was obviously her kind of concerto. The performance here is with the French Radio orchestra under Roger Désormière; hardly first choice in 1948, one feels, and the orchestra is often somewhat somnolent, especially at the opening of the work. But Ginette livens things up. The recording quality – particularly of the violin – is really excellent for 1948.The twentieth century boasted many, many superb violinists, but only a few really great ones. In my opinion, Ginette Neveu was one of the great ones.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Breast Meat Recipe

Breast of guinea fowl, chopped small. Add shiitake mushrooms, one bell pepper, several small onions, chopped ginger, salt, pepper, a little soy sauce, and a little oil. Marinate for 12-24 hours. Cook in a wok for a few minutes. Completely and utterly delicious and a good way to re-purpose breast meat of chicken or guinea fowl (I am a wing and leg eater, only). I eat  half yesterday, the remaining half today. One of the world's tastiest dishes.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Franz Liszt with Daniil Trifonov

I have mentioned before my ambivalent history with the music of Franz Liszt. I enjoy his songs. I like his music for violin and piano. I like much of his piano music. I do not like his piano sonata, and I certainly do not like his orchestral music. Not much of a Liszt fan club here, I'm afraid. But I bought Daniil Trifonov's new double CD of Liszt's études to help solve my Liszt conundrum. Like most people, I know many of the études d'exécution transcendante; here we have all twelve played, on occasions, by a man who seemingly has 36 fingers. I am no piano expert (and far from being a Liszt expert), but it would surprise me to hear that anyone plays these pieces better than Trifonov. My only gripe is that DG has – quite unnecessarily – left only very brief pauses between the twelve pieces and, if you are not careful, the pieces all run into one. Adroit manipulation of the pause on the remote control is needed, a defect I have met with other recordings in the past (for example, Renaud Capuçon's recording of encore pieces).

The six Paganini études are great fun (for those who know the original pieces) with five études based on Paganini's caprices, and one on the La Campanella finale from the second violin concerto. Again, things are marred by minimal pauses between the pieces, a lamentable lack of attention to detail. Probably not a double disk set I'll return to too often, but nice to have for Trifonov's astonishing pianism, and for the Paganini études.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Bach Cantatas with Sigiswald Kuijken

With a somewhat vast collection of recordings to listen to, I tend to follow my nose (or, rather, my ears) when it comes to selecting something I want to hear. Returning home from three weeks away in France, Laos and Myanmar, I was thirsty for music. Fortunately, at some time in my life, I acquired eight CDs of Bach cantatas (Accent) conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken with his Petite Bande and an array of soloists. Each CD has around three cantatas each. The performances are sane, well played, well sung, and well recorded. The music is, of course, Bach. I am happy to sit back in my chair and listen to cantata after cantata. Kuijken uses soloists for the “choir”, a cost-cutting exercise that normally perturbs me, but it does not matter too much in the cantatas where the choral role is normally not too vital (it is a different matter, of course, when we come to the Mass in B minor, or the Passions). A happy event when these purchases from the past fill a necessary need. I often wonder why on earth I continue to buy recordings, when I have more excellent ones on my shelves than I can possibly listen to.