Saturday, 22 December 2018

Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio with Gilels, Kogan, and Rostropovich

In my humble opinion, there were just two really great piano trio combinations in the twentieth century: Cortot, Thibaud, and Casals. And Gilels, Kogan, and Rostropovich. All six musicians were absolutely superb. Both trios broke up mainly because of disputing cellists, Casals objecting to his colleagues because of second world war politics, Rostropovich rowing with Kogan and then, later, becoming an émigré to the West in search of money. While they lasted, however, the two quite disparate trios were world-beaters.

I have long loved the 1952 recording made by Gilels, Kogan, and Rostropovich of Tchaikovsky's A minor piano trio, opus 50. The trio with one of Tchaikovsky's haunting melodies. I have the recording in various transfers, but have just acquired one more; highly satisfactory. The three friends (as they then were) play like three Russian angels. All three, I recollect, lived in the same prestige apartment building in Moscow; Kogan married Gilel's sister Elizabeta, herself an eminent violinist. For a Russian recording of 1952, the result is excellent. Perhaps the piano sounds a little tinny, but the strings make angelic sounds and the balance is absolutely fine – no mean feat in a piano trio where, all too often, the powerful piano and the gruff cello overpower the more slender violin. Not so here.

This newly-acquired transfer comes from Diapason (“les indispensables”) and includes Tchaikovsky's third string quartet, recorded by the Borodin Quartet, also in 1952. It is the best transfer so far, in my collection of Tchaikovsky's Trio. To complete my great joy at re-possessing this all-time classic, the CD cost me just €1.46 ordered from Amazon (France) and delivered from Germany at low-cost postage. There never were such times for music lovers.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Otto Klemperer in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

When it comes to Beethoven symphonies, I am choosy. I like the 3rd, 6th, and 7th. Also the first three movements of the 9th, but I turn off at the bombastic finale. Otherwise for me, Ludwig van Beethoven is the string quartets, the sonatas for piano and violin, and many of the 32 piano sonatas.

By chance, I listened today to the 6th symphony, in a recording from 1951 (Vox XPV 1068, in origin) sent to me long ago by a very good Dutch friend. The orchestra was the Vienna Philharmonic (labelled as the "Vienna Symphony Orchestra", possibly for contractual reasons). The conductor was Otto Klemperer. For the sound of that vintage, I feared the worst, but I was pleasantly surprised. The warm, silky sound of the Vienna Philharmonic came over loud and clear.

Otto Klemperer (born in Breslau, Germany, in 1885. Died in Zürich, Switzerland in 1973) was, arguably, the last of the great conductors of the central German repertoire (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler). He, with Wilhem Furtwängler – with whom Klemperer refused to speak after 1945 – were probably the last two great conductors of that music, at that era. Now, we have Robin Ticcati, Gustavo Dudamel, or Daniel Barenboim. As a German Jew, Klemperer had an increasingly miserable life in Germany after 1930. As a staunch left-winger, he had an increasingly miserable life in America after 1940, culminating in the Americans refusing to re-issue his passport to enable him to travel internationally; he was saved (ironically) by the Germans who re-issued his German passport, freeing Klemperer – I don't recall him ever going back to America thereafter.

Whatever the racial affiliations and the politics. My two favourite recordings of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony are Furtwängler with the Vienna Philharmonic (1952) and Klemperer with the Vienna Philharmonic (1951). There is something about the Vienna Philharmonic in the early 1950s, with a very special and distinctive warm, seductive sound. And with Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Otto Klemperer. We can note in passing that Klemperer in 1951 was noticeably faster in the Pastoral than in later recordings, particularly in the Landleute third movement. We can also note that Klemperer's preference for having his woodwind to the fore pays excellent dividends in the Pastoral. This is a recording I had overlooked for many years (like so many on my shelves, alas). I shall overlook it no more.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Jan Dismas Zelenka

In Europe, the turn of the century from the 17th to the 18th saw hordes of highly talented composers of music scribbling away frantically, mainly to satisfy church and court employers. Amongst the scribblers were Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Händel, Antonio Vivaldi and, for a brief time, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. These four produced music of astonishing quality that still lives on today. Contemporaneously, in the depths of deepest Bohemia, Jan Zelenka was scribbling away, mainly at church music, with no less than twenty surviving masses. A generous friend sent me a recording that includes his 40 minute Missa Sancti Josephi.

The music is by an expert, with a surprising amount of frolicking and jollity (for a Mass). This is not “great” music on the scale of Bach's Mass in B minor, but it is immensely attractive and well written. I enjoyed it immensely, my enjoyment greatly increased by an excellent well-balanced recording (Carus-Verlag), four excellent soloists that include my much-admired Julia Lezhneva, she of the angelic soprano voice. Orchestra and Choir are from Stuttgart, and the efficient conductor is Frieder Bernius.

Zelenka grew up in a period when composers knew to keep musical numbers short and varied, otherwise the audience or congregation went to sleep, talked among themselves, or started a game of cards. So Zelenka's 39 minute Mass contains 13 different tracks, with the music well differentiated. He juggles his four soloists, one choir and one (large) orchestra like a real expert. I can't say I'm in the market for the other 19 Masses of Zelenka; but I'll certainly continue to enjoy this excellent recording and performance. Balancing the soloists, choir and orchestra cannot have been easy, but the Germans, in particular, appear to be highly skilled in that department.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Ginger Pork à la Bamboo Tree

This blog purports to deal with "Musicke & Food" but there is rarely any mention of food. So, nearing Christmas, here are details of my Number One dish for this week (with a nod towards the Bamboo Tree restaurant in Luang Prabang, who influenced my concept).
  • pork fillet, cut into small pieces
  • field or shitake mushrooms (cut small)
  • root ginger (plentiful)
  • Thai chillies, red and green
  • green bell pepper
  • salt, pepper
  • olive oil suffused with chilli
  • red Burgundy wine (to drink with the dish)

    Absolutely delicious! Melts in the mouth, tantalises the taste buds, and delights the intestines. Substitute lamb, beef, duck or chicken for the pork, if necessary, but stick with rich Burgundy wine.