Monday, December 21, 2009

Etsuko Hirose plays the Chopin Preludes

You may not have heard of Etsuko Hirose, but you will. This young woman won the International Martha Argerich Competition in Buenos Aires in 1997. Competition winners are many, but the signs are that she is maturing into a formidable musician.

This is a live recording from La roque d'Anthéron, 13 August 2009. Aside from the Preludes, she plays a couple of Polonaises, just to warm up.

The reason for posting this, though, is the preludes - a sustained feat of concentration and pianism. Even the things that don't come off are spellbinding.

The recording, from France Musique, is open air, and you will have to get used to the occasional sounds of children playing in the distance. But you do. Sound is 320 kbs, mp3.

Many thanks to Chris, the original uploader, with whose permission this is posted here.


Polonaise-fantaisie in A flat major, op 61   
Polonaise in A flat major, op 53 "Héroïque"   
24 Préludes, op 28   
Encore : Etude in A Flat Op 25 No 1
Etsuko Hirose, Piano

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Backhaus : Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4


Wilhelm Backhaus, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ferenc Fricsay - Recorded 1961

It's a pity that Backhaus' late recordings for Decca were marked by Decca's hamfisted recording technique. His Diabelli Variations, for instance, are marred by a microphone placed far too close to the keyboard, which picks up the clicking of his fingernails!

Here he is, captured by honest radio engineers, in a wonderfully natural recording that shows off his burnished tone and sure sense of the music's structure perfectly. Listen to how the passagework flows - no sense of yammering semiquavers here! (I am reminded of Fauré's comment to a pupil who was making a meal of a difficult passage: Remember: they're only semiquavers).

Once again, thanks to R, who originally captured and uploaded this performance.

mp3, 256 VBR

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mozart : Piano Concertos 17 and 18 - Ingrid Haebler

There were a number of well-worn LPs that dominated my childhood listening. Richter playing Rachmaninoff, Solomon playing Beethoven and Haebler playing the 15th and 18th Mozart concertos on an old Vox LP that dated from more or less the year of my birth
She has never been up there with the greats - though Tom Deacon, rather contentiously, put her into the Great Pianists of the Century series. Haebler, like Nikita Magaloff, was a Phillips house pianist for many years, recording Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert (her foray into Chopin - the waltzes - is, well, odd).

Perhaps it's time to listen again to her playing. I think the photo does her justice - there's a merry twinkle in that eye. Her impeccable and meticulous phrasing is matched by an ability to catch the wit and wisdom of Mozart without making a fuss over the discovery.

The two recordings are twenty years apart. The 18th concerto is from 1961, and is a youthful Haebler (she was 32 at the time). The slow movement is a perfectly balanced whole - seldom has the transition from minor to major seemed so poignant. And her fermatas fit seamlessly in - I really like the one in the last movement just before Mozart mischievously slips from B flat major to B minor (listen out for it - the piano also slips into 2/4 time while the orchestra continues in 6/8!)

The second recording is from 1981, and is a affectionate reading of one of the gentler concertos.

Oh - I should mention that the orchestra for the 1961 recording is using some corrupt version of the score, with the horns playing their parts an octave lower than Mozart actually wrote it! This shows up the bassoons, but subtracts a beautiful glow from the orchestral sound. Still, it's a small flaw in a really enjoyable recording.

Mozart : Piano Concerto 17 - 1981
Ingrid Haebler, Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Gerhard Wimberger

Mozart : Piano Concerto No 18 - 30.10.1961
Ingrid Haebler, Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester, Joseph Keilberth

mp3 at 256kbs VBR - good sound quality from German Radio rebroadcasts

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kristian Bezuidenhout : Mozart Concerto No 18



I told you he was good!

Mozart's 18th concerto gets less than its fair share of performances, seen as a 'slighter' concerto than its fellows. This performance certainly argues the case persuasively. Bezuidenhout effortlessly varies Mozart's written figuration and improvises fermatas and cadenzas that fit seamlessly into the music - and that's hard to do. Mozart sounds natural until you try writing some.

The slow movement, in particular, benefits from this approach. I'd like it a little more poignant, especially where the theme turns from G minor to G major, but, well, some people are never satisfied.


This is from a recent concert which I was recording from the internet when my connexion vanished for two maddening minutes during the last movement. All's well, however, thanks to Jaques, who had recorded the concert in far higher quality sound, and uploaded it. This posting is done with his permission. 

Bezuidenhout now has a snazzy website – have a look.

Kristian Bezuidenhout, Les Arts Florissants, Jonathan Cohen
Mozart Piano Concerto No 18 in B flat
321kbs mp3




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