Sunday, 21 January 2018

"The Best". And Antje Weithaas

In terms of performances of music that have been captured and recorded for posterity, it is almost impossible to refer to “the best” performance of any given work. There may be a few exceptions: perhaps Tosca in 1953 with Vittorio di Sabata conducting Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, and Giuseppe di Stefano. Perhaps Tristan and Isolde in 1952 with Furtwängler conducting Kirsten Flagstad and Ludwig Suthaus. Perhaps even the Bach “48” recorded by Edwin Fischer in the mid- 1930s. But rather than stick ones neck out for “the best”, it is usually wiser to talk of “among a handful of the best”.

Apart from a grand piano, a solo violin is one of the most expressive solo instruments, but its range and dynamics cannot compete with those of a symphony orchestra, a string quartet, or a grand piano. To sustain a listener's interest over 30 or 60 minutes of playing demands a solo violinist of real expertise in mixing sounds and dynamics. I enthused recently over Antje Weithaas playing the solo violin music of Bach and of Eugène Ysaÿe. I have now added her Volume 1 to my collection, and only await Volume 2 which is somewhere in the order process. This additional volume confirms my initial reaction to Ms Weithaas; her playing really sustains my interest from beginning to end and she achieves this with a fascinating mixture of bowing, dynamics and timbre. In solo Bach and Ysaÿe, Ms Weithaas is certainly “among a handful of the best”, a handful that includes Alina Ibragimova and, for Bach, Heifetz and Milstein.

On the subject of “the best”, I thoroughly agree with this quote from Otto Klemperer: 'For me, Bach's B minor Mass is the greatest and most unique music ever written'. I have just re-listened to the work. Yes, it is the greatest. And yes, it is unique. How a provincial German leading a very ordinary life came to write such music is one of life's mysteries.

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