Monday, 29 May 2017

Playing Mozart

Jascha Heifetz claimed that the most difficult music to play, was the music of Mozart. I can well believe it. Mozart demands what I think of as elegant and sophisticated simplicity, an extremely difficult concept to embrace. Of all the difficult Mozart works (and there are many) K 595, the final piano concerto no. 27 in B flat major, must pose the biggest difficulties for the pianist. The music is calm, with no Sturm und Drang. Beneath the calm surface surge many emotions, all articulated with artistry and sensitivity. Liven it up, lest it becomes boring? Absolutely not !

I learned to love the work long ago via a recording with Clifford Curzon and Benjamin Britten (a recording I still esteem highly). However, for me the summit of performances of K 595 is inhabited by Clara Haskil, Maria Pires …. and Igor Levit in an off-air performance in London on 2nd September 2015. All three understand the concept of elegant and sophisticated simplicity. All three leave my ears completely satisfied.

How not to tackle Mozart I watched with some horror on a friend's television set in France last week. Simon Rattle (complete with buffoon hair-do) and Mitsuko Uchida swooned their way through the piano concerto K 488, eyes raised to heaven, heads swaying in ecstasy. Great for the cameras, great for showbiz; no wonder Rattle and Uchida are “celebrities”. But Mozart was lost, and as for elegant and sophisticated simplicity … that was lost, as well, in favour of showbiz razzmatazz. And who ever coined the phrase “Oriental inscrutability” had never seen Uchida swooning over her keyboard. Rattle and Uchida should both emigrate to Hollywood. Rattle in Mozart did not surprise me; I have always considered him as a bit of a poseur, and a media-darling. Ms Uchida needs to spend more time in Japan, and less in England. Perhaps then she will learn to put everything into the music, rather than into the camera.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Véronique Gens

It is sad, but there are well-known works of music that I have simply heard too often in my lifetime. No loss in my musical world if I never again hear Mendelssohn's violin concerto, nor the G minor violin concerto of Max Bruch, nor Dvorak's cello concerto, nor the fifth symphony of Beethoven. Sad, but over-familiarity breeds indifference, and no performers can ever re-create the magic for me; not even Fritz Kreisler in the Mendelssohn concerto, this week.

Off tomorrow for a few weeks in France, then Sicily. Lots of spaghetti alle vongole, and many plates of fritto misto di mare (I hope). Before leaving, I am luxuriating in the smoky soprano of Véronique Gens singing Berlioz's Les Nuits d'Eté, and Ravel's Shéhérazade. That is music that keeps me alert and entranced. As I have often mentioned, I am a great admirer of Véronique Gens who combines a lovely voice with superb diction and exemplary musicality. Ravel's Shéhérazade has long been a favourite of mine, dating back to an LP with Frederica von Stade singing superbly (1982).