Monday, June 2, 2014

Noriko Ogawa plays the Debussy Etudes

Debussy is a composer that I have enjoyed playing far more than listening to. But then, you have to have a serious mood disorder not to relish practising something like Jardins sous la pluie

Recently, though, I find myself listening to the later works – the violin and cello sonatas, and the études. I'm struck by the degree to which Debussy has left behind the world of romantic music and is forging a whole new idiom. This new appreciation was fuelled in no small measure by the playing of Monique Haas, a pianist born and steeped in the gallic idiom, but also by Noriko Ogawa, who seems to come to the music unhindered by the accumulated 'lore' of Debussy playing. Like Haas, she plays clean and cool rather than smudgy and schmaltzy. 

This is a live recording of the études, taken at a concert in Wigmore Hall, London, in 2012. I appreciate the degree to which the individual pieces seem to knit together here, resonating back and forth, revealing a broader picture, a sense of the whole.

And you get an encore: Takemitsu's last piano piece, which he wrote in memory of Olivier Messiaen: the second rain tree sketch. Almost too perfect a choice.

256 kbs, tracked and tagged losslessly
Download from Mediafire

Friday, May 30, 2014

Jen Lisiecki playing Chopin Preludes and loving it

It's that accomplished young pianist again. A whole Chopin recital, including the Préludes, played with the wisdom and clarity that lives, I think, inside every teenager, if they would only relax and let it happen. 

There's a funny moment during the préludes where the audience gets an attack of premature applause. Lisiecki pulls their leg about it, then sets off again with only a few seconds needed to recover his focus.

He was interviewed during the interval and asked by the interviewer why he seemed so relaxed as he played. "I'm doing something I love doing" was his reply. 

But make no mistake: the relaxation is in no way linked with a lack of engagement – just have a listen!

Grande Valse Brillante Op 18
24 Préludes, op 28
3 Nocturnes Op 9
3 Waltzes Op 64
Andante spianato et grande polonaise, op.2
Encore - Norturne in C sharp minor Op Posth

Live from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 26th May 2014

A wonderful recital from this very gifted pianist. The audience applauds prematurely, and I have left in place his amiable quip. 

Radio 4, 192 kbs, mp3, tracked and tagged losslessly

And I've given up on Rapidshare. I'll transfer the other files over time.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Alina Ibragimova plays Bernd Alois Zimmermann's violin concerto (1950)

I am always apprehensive when performers start to become famous. It seems that their room for manoeuvre in terms of repertoire is inevitably constricted. I groan inwardly every time I see another Hélène Grimaud concert – same couple of concertos more or less endlessly. I suppose that when you start playing big venues, they have to sell a lot of tickets to people who don't want to hear a new piece of music unless they've heard it before. 

Well, Alina Ibragimova is still not quite embedded in the Mozart/Mendelssohn/Beethoven/Brahms circuit. Here she is playing the violin concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmerman (1918-1970), a gritty, hard-driven work that nevertheless rewards the soloist by alternating grittiness with a  sort of bleak lyricism. Kind of like trying to have a romance in Berlin. Indeed, in comparison with any of his works I know, this is the sweet side of Zimmermann. 

mp3 256 kbs

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tomoko Mukaiyama - Première of Raskatov's new piano concerto

Tomoko Mukaiyama is a maverick - pianist, performance artist, composer and generally interesting person. Her 1990s work often featured her in states of undress which may have distracted from the fact that she was performing really interesting contemporary repertoire and that she was an excellent pianist. I am glad to see that she hasn't faded away, of even become dull, but is still active and inventive. And, as you can see, still has a taste in clothes that is far more interesting than the cutesy neoteny of Yuja Wang

And so to the upload. Raskatov hadn't made much of a blip on my radar until now, but I do like this concerto. Its half-hour length consists of 12 episodes (the butterflies of the title). The overall result is, I am glad to say, pianistic, engaging and diverse. 

Raskatov, Alexander Mikhailovich (1953)
- Piano Concerto "Night Butterflies" (2013) - World Premiere
Residentie Orkest, Reinbert de Leeuw, 
Tomoko Mukaiyama, Piano

Recorded live 11-May-2013 in the Dr. Anton Philipszaal, Den Haag

Radio 4 internet stream, live
192kbs mp3, tagged losslessly 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Borodin Quartet play Shostakovich: the last three quartets

String Quartet No. 14 in F#, Op. 142
String Quartet No. 13 in Bb minor, Op. 138
String Quartet No. 15 in Eb minor, Op. 144

Borodin String Quartet
Recorded 17-10-2011, Lisbon

This performance generated a little bit of controversy, with people either stunned or irritated. 

Probably the problem stems from the place of the Borodin Quartet in the history of Shostakovich's quartets. I was one of the youngsters who emerged, almost unbelieving, from a record shop with a box of LPs under my arm that had the then-complete Shostakovich quartets (the first thirteen). It was an EMI set, issued under license from Melodiya, and was ridiculously cheap.

Those recordings, in a sort of soviet-realist stereo, were challenging, unsparing and yet had a sort of wild lyricism that flashed through. They are now available again, on Chandos. 

Time moves on. The Borodins changed lineup (under pretty disagreeable circumstances - a tale of bitter personal antagonism) and the resulting ensemble is quite a different one to the original lineup. The sound is very distinctive - I always think of polished wood: ebony, rosewood, oak. They make an almost unbelievably beautiful sound when they play without vibrato, and they know how and when to use it. But there are those who see their warmer, more lyrical approach as a loss of the fire in the belly that unquestionably drove their early recordings. 

And so to these three quartets. My real interest was in the thirteenth. It's a work I have never been able to fathom, though this hasn't stopped me listening to it. Does it have a structure? Or is it more like picking your way through the wreckage of something that once had a structure? And, come to think of it, the same applies to the fifteenth, where time seems to have died. The feeling that something will happen slowly gives way to the realisation that this music isn't leading anywhere, isn't following any course. Nothing seems to accumulate. 

I happen to think that these performances are breath-taking. There is no using that beautiful Borodin sound to lipstick the pig. Rather there is a collision between the sweetness of the sound and the emptiness of the music. And when violence breaks out (such as the banshee shrieks of the fifteenth) then the Borodins are well able to produce those slicing, jabbing sforzandos. 

I walked along the canal a few nights ago, with the dog dandling from the lead, listening to number fifteen. Forty years later, I am less keen to understand what I hear, and more inclined to let it be. I am not the same person who listened all those years ago, and the world is not the same world. The political agenda is no longer relevant to the music, and Shostakovich is another dead composer, whom I miss. All of this gives us different ears. 

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Strauss : Metamorphosen - Runnicles

It's that man again. A searching performance of Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings.

I have gone through periods of detesting this work as self-pitying and periods in which I think I understand. I seem to be in one of the latter at the moment.

The end is especially successful – Runnicles, apparently, in rehearsal urged the players not to let the audience know when the music was over. And it works. The man can get utter commitment from every player, which you need to bring off a work like this.

And now, time to pack for my holidays!

Back in August.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Feldman : For Bunita Marcus - Reinbert de Leeuw

This was my introduction to the music of Morton Feldman. Not quite knowing what to expect, I put on the CD of Kildegard Kleeb, whose cool, luminous reading I still like a lot. And that was it: next time I was in London, I bought the score and started exploring the curiously mediculous and yet almost empty score. The rhythmic notation is utterly precise, designed to avoid any sense of a continuing pulse. The consequence of this is that you have to read the piece counting semiquavers at a manic speed in order to hear the rhythmic patterns exactly as Feldman wrote them. It's quite a tiring piece to work on, believe me!

The excellent and cosmopolitan Ivan Ilic  gave a concert here about a year ago in which he replaced the advertised programme with a radically different one. The reason was, he said, that he had encountered Feldman, and was completely rethinking his relationship with sound. As a pianist, he explained, you are constantly thinking about the attack of each note, weighting it, delivering it. But the body of the note is the sound that continues on, beyond your control. Because it's beyond your control you tend to pay less attention to it, but once you start listening, your whole relationship with music changes.

I have to say that the effect was noticeable on his playing. And yes, he did play some Feldman. Though not this vast work, lasting over an hour I warn you. 

The recording is live, which means, alas, that some Dutch people with terminal lung cancer are, apparently, cared for in their last moments at concerts rather than, as is usual here, at a hospice. But the concentration and energy of a live performance give this recording a special edge. This is music that is actually happening as you hear it. de Leew's playing is clear and light. 

See what you think.

Recorded 6 June, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ
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