Friday, September 10, 2010

Stanford : Fifth symphony and first Irish rhapsody

The Stanford festival continues here. First, remember to check the programme for Dublin's first actual Stanford festival at the website of the Stanford Society. And second, enjoy some more of his music.

I've chosen two of his best works for this second upload. The symphony No. 5 in D major, Op. 56, "L'Allegro ed il Pensieroso" is based on Milton's poem, and a companionable piece of music. The opening movement changes boisterously in with apparently unstoppable good humour (and an orchestral depiction of 'laughter holding both his sides'). The second depicts the pleasures of rustic life (you can tell that because it starts with open fifths in the lower strings and then horn fifths' in the horns). The opening of the third movement is one of my favourite Stanford moments as melancholy sweeps majestically – and by no means depressingly - into the picture. The final movement returns to the energetic mould which seemed to come naturally to CVS, and introduces the organ – not in a pealing burst, in the manner of Saint-Saens, but rather stealthily and effectively. The closing pages of the score unfold from a single quiet A on the trumpet most magically.

This performance by the Ulster Orchestra is conducted by Tuomas Ollila-Hannikainen. While the Finn may not have seen Stanford before, the Ulster Orchestra are old hands, having played and recorded Stanford superbly for many years under the baton of Vernon (Tod) Handley.

And it is to Tod Handley that I turn for the stocking-filler: Stanford's first Irish Rhapsody, recorded for the BBC. Vintage Stanford this, with a particularly splendid tympany part (well, it's Irish). And that wonderful tune in the middle? Ah—sure everyone knows that wan, yer honour.

Stanford : Symphony No. 5 in D major, Op. 56, "L'Allegro ed il Pensieroso"

Irish Rhapsody No 1 in Dminor

Monday, September 6, 2010

In praise of Charles Villiers Stanford – Ireland's finest composer

In Ireland, Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) is relegated to the shadowy status of "Anglo-Irish". What this terms means is that Protestant, unionist, English-speaking artists were not, somehow, truly Irish. Universities have departments of "Anglo-Irish Literature", to which our finest writers are relegated (Yeats and Beckett, for example). Why should a country deny citizenship to some of its greatest creative spirits? Because they did not fit in with the ethnically clean ethos of post-independence nationalism.

In Stanford's case, his opposition to independence made his position even worse. Although Trinity College Dublin wanted to give him an honorary doctorate in the early twenties, they were advised that it would be unsafe for him to travel to Ireland.

Anyone who has sung in a cathedral choir in Britain or Ireland will know and love Stanford's church music, which set a standard and started a vigorous tradition what extended almost to the present day. But what I am uploading is one of his piano concertos, played with great verve by the young Irish pianist Finghin Collins. It's classic Stanford – you can hear a nod to Rachmaninoff in the first movement, but the bluff, muscular energy is very much Stanford. I played the first piano quartet a while back, and you notice the same thing – you have to dig into the music from bar one (literally for the strings, who have a wonderful flourish to open the work).

Ireland named the recital room of its national concert hall after that pianistic nonentity John Field. So far, they have not honoured Stanford at all. However, signs of life – a Stanford festival is coming up, with a significant concert from John Finucane's Hibernian Orchestra. John, who is a superb clarinetist, championed the Stanford concerto. Imagine his surprise when he proposed playing it with the national symphony orchestra, only to be told that it was five minutes too long! Clearly, the petty nationalists are still ensconced. More about the Hibernian Orchestra's concert here. And more about the festival at the nascent Stanford Society's website

And here, for your delectation, is Finghin Collins, with the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Montgomery at the 2008 Proms, in the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 126

Download the concerto from Rapidshare

Bonus! A recording of Stanford's Stanford: Irish rhapsody No 4 in A minor, Op 141 (The Fisherman of Loch Neagh and what he saw) with the Ulster Orchestra under the magical influence of Vernon (Tod) Handley.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Jean Wiener (1896-1982) - Concerto Franco-Américain and solos

I got to know Wiener as a child, with an Associated Board examination piece by him simply entitled Blues, which was a piece I continued to play long after the exam was over. Other than that, I never heard a note by him until a couple of years ago when David posted this wonderful Concerto Franco-Américain and, in response to a request from me, the B side of the concerto, which features an unlikely programme of piano solos.

The concerto combines the idioms of France, jazz and Broadway in an engaging manner that brings the year 1922 to life before your very ears. The solo playing shows a Poulenc-like alternation of moods with a rapt Non komm der Heiden Heiland segue-ing into Cole Porter's Love for Sale! Hardly has the shock registered when your foot starts tapping.

Many thanks to David for permission to make this wonderful music available.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Klemperer conducts Mahler in memory of Robert Kennedy 1968


I was up in Summer college in the far North West of Ireland learning gaelic and falling madly in love with every girl I saw.

On June the 5th, Robert Kennedy was assasinated. The picture always scares me. He's younger than I am, and he has a look on his face of I'm going to be OK, right?

At the Wiener Festwoche, shortly afterwards, Otto Klemperer was scheduled to conduct Mahler's ninth. He prefaced the performance with Mozart's masonic funeral music, and dedicated the concert the the memory of Kennedy.

The recording sounds like a good quality tape, and was posted in a now-defunct Spanish Mahler forum which I used to read to keep up my Spanish. And for the Mahler, of course. It's at 192 kbs, mp3, which was state of the art in those days.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Souzay : Schumann Dichterliebe - rare early recording

Apparently Souzay was very critical of his own early recordings, and resisted attempts to reissue them. Certainly, his singing grew in stature as he got older, but there is also something wonderful about the freshness of his youthful interpretations.

Here is is with Jacqueline Bonneau, in Schumann's Dichterliebe, with a bonus of four Wolf lieder thrown in.

Many thanks to Frits, who originally uploaded this, and with whose kind permission I've uploaded it here. The LP is in great condition considering its age!

mp3, mono, about 220 kbs, VBR, tracked and tagged.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Luisada plays Fauré and Chopin

Concert donné le 25 avril 2010, Théâtre du Châtelet à Paris
Carte blanche à Jean-Marc Luisada

I had reservations about recording this recital. Luisada's recordings ranged from remarkable simplicity and sensitivity (his Bizet, for example) to downright annoying mannerism (some of his Chopin).

I need not have worried. Time seems to have favoured the sensitivity and banished the eccentricity. His reading of the haunting eleventh nocturne which opens the recital is utterly gallic in its restrained grief, and his mazurkas are, I think, vastly better than those he recorded in the 90s for DGG.

Nocturne n°11 en fa dièse mineur op 104 n°1 (à la mémoire de Noemie Lalo)    6:54   
Nocturne n°12 en si majeur op 104 n°2    6:54   
Nocturne n°6 en ré bémol Majeur op 63    10:07   
Nocturne n°7 en ut dièse mineur op 74    10:04

Ballade n°2 en fa majeur opus 38    8:09   
Quatre Mazurkas opus 24 n° 1 en sol mineur    2:08   
Quatre Mazurkas opus 24 n° 2 en ut majeur    2:08   
Quatre Mazurkas opus 24 n° 3 en la bémol majeur    1:33   
Quatre Mazurkas opus 24 n° 4 en si bémol mineur    4:42   
Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante en mi bémol Majeur op 22    14:39   

Encore : Morricone - incidental music from Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma    2:47

Once again, France Musique has done an astonishing job of engineering.

France Musique internet 128kbs
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Anatole Kitain - a pianist who might have been

Another might-have-been post. This one is a rare recording by the Russian pianist Anatole Kitain. Born in Saint Petersburg, his family moved to Kiev, where he studied in the Kiev Conservatory, whose students at that time included Horowitz, Alexander Uninsky and Alexander Brailowsky). In time, Kitain became the private pupil of Felix Blumenfeld, whose few private pupils also included Simon Barere and Horowitz (I'm quoting here from the Wikipedia entry which, in all fairness, I wrote).

Kitain moved to France, and then to the US, but success eluded him. His European recordings were released by APR on a fascinating two disc set which show him to have been a pianist of considerable technique and interpretive powers. It's hard to know why he never achieved even the cult status of Barere. His recordings are rare, and this one, of Bach and Scarlatti, even more of an oddity because it features the so-called Siena Pianoforte.

There are doubts about the Siena Pianoforte, a richly-ornamented 19th century piano which, it is claimed, was originally commissioned in 1800 by a wealthy Sienese farmer. To my mind, the sound is quite unlike anything else from the period, and I would place it later for that reason alone. The subsequent history of the piano makes unlikely reading, and even if it were true, it is difficult to believe that the piano we hear on this recording is actually one and the same piano that in 1868 became the wedding gift from the city of Siena to the Crown Prince Umberto and was kept in Rome with other art treasures of the Royal Family.

So then - a mystery pianist playing a mystery piano.

What is less mysterious is the playing. Kitain plays with grace, power and depth - listen to the Scarlatti sonata, played with poignant simplicity, and imagine the piano quake as he unleashes the full might of Busoni's transcription of the D minor chaconne. How did the instrument survive?

There were six LPs made on the Siena piano, which included an album by Charles Rosen, which I will post as soon as I finish marking my assignments. The transfer is by that old rogue Dr Duffy, pianophile, maniacal recording restorer and philosopher. Long life to you, John!

Download from Rapidshare mp3 224 kbs

Wyn Morris conducts Mahler's tenth

The conductor who might have been – Wyn Morris, born in1929, died last February. His career was marked by sensational conducting combined with his utter inability to manage his relations with others. Time and time again he managed to squander the advantages that opened up - he scuppered a recording deal that was offered to him by negotiating one with another recording company (neither, apparently materialised) and threatened legal action in the most bizarre of circumstances. You can read a fascinating obituary here.

His recording of Mahler's songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Janet Baker and Geraint Evans are the stuff of legend, and have been available almost continuously since they were recorded by a small and short-lived label. They were subsequently released by Decca, then by another small independent company, then by Nimbus.

However, he came to my attention as the man to record Deryck Cooke's second revised performing version of Mahler's tenth symphony for Philips. It appeared on two LPs but, young and Mahler-crazed as I was, I promptly shelled out and bought it. I think I played the LPs into oblivion over the next year. It was a work that fascinated me and there was not a moment of Morris's interpretation that didn't seem exactly right.

Philips didn't release the recording on CD, much to my surprise. So here, as a tribute to one of the oddest members of an odd profession, is an LP transfer - not mine, and not the work of the friend who passed it on to me.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Alexandre Tharaud : Chopin, Schubert and a third half!

Alexandre Tharaud
Recital 7 avril 2010, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées à Paris

France Musique has been doing us pianophiles proud - Angelich and
Tharaud on successive days.

Tharaud's programme is a very personal selection of Chopin, along with his own transcription of four of the movements from Rosamunde,  and his five encores amount to a virtual 'third half'.

 I love his long, spidery arms, very evident in the photo. Another pianist of remarkable physique whom I haven't posted here is Roger Muraro, a real giant in every sense. Must do. But not yet - I'm off to Cambodia for a couple of weeks. Work…

Franz Schubert
Six Moments Musicaux op 94 D 780
Four movements from Rosamunde op 26 D 797 (transcription d'Alexandre

Frédéric Chopin : 
Nocturne n° 2 en mi bémol Majeur op 9 n° 2
Fantaisie-Impromptu en ut dièse mineur op 66
Fantaisie en fa mineur op 49
Nocturne n° 20 en ut dièse mineur op posth
Mazurka en la mineur op 17 n° 4
Ballade n° 1 en sol mineur op 23

Bach : Concerto BWV 979 (transcription d'Alexandre Tharaud)
Chopin : Mazurka en ut dièse mineur Op 63
Rameau : Les Sauvages
Chopin : Valse (la mineur)
Couperin : Le tic-toc choc

France Musique Internet 128 kbs mp3
Engineering excellent comme d'habitude.

Nicholas Angelich : Haydn, Bach and Liszt

Another excellent recital from Nicholas Angelich in a decent recording
from France Musique

Angelich is a pianist who has been quietly gaining in stature in the past couple of years. If I haven't posted his Brahms and Schumann, I must. I've been listening to it over the last couple of months, and it's got me revisiting my old Brahms scores.

Joseph Haydn : Variations en fa mineur Hob. XVII:6

Johann Sebastian Bach : Suite anglaise n° 2 en la mineur BWV 807

Franz Liszt : Sonate en si mineur

Encores: Rachmaninoff: Preludes in G and G sharp minor
Schumann : Traumerei

Recorded 30 Jenuary 2009, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées à Paris

France Musique Internet 128 kbs
Broadcast 26th April 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bach : Five cello suites - Jean-Guihen Queyras

Five cello suites and an abject apology. I recorded this wonderful concert from the radio, but didn't notice that it was going out live. The concert over-ran, as live concerts do, and the timer shut off the recording just as M Queyras was on the point of playing the sixth and final suite.

So here are suites 1 to 5, beautifully played by Jean-Guihen Queyras, and lovingly recorded by France Musique in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysés in Paris on the 14th of April 2010.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chopin piano works - Philippe Giusiano

Another installment from the Nantes Chopin marathon. Giusiano won the Chopin competition in 1995 (having been placed eighth five years earlier at the age of just 17). He enjoys a considerable following in his native France (he is from Marseille) but for some reason he is less well known in the English speaking world.

I was very impressed by his playing - a fine grasp of the big picture in the ballades, and a merry humour that bubbles up in the Valses - and invested in his recording of the etudes and preludes on Mirare.

Once again, these are compiled from the original multi-performer concerts.

Prélude en ut dièse mineur opus 45
Ballade n°1 en sol mineur opus 23
Nocturne en fa majeur opus 15 n°1
Mazurka en la bémol majeur KK IV b/4
Prélude en la bémol majeur "Presto con leggierezza"
Trois Mazurkas opus 56 No 1
Trois Mazurkas opus 56 No 2
Trois Mazurkas opus 56 No 3
Deux Nocturnes opus 32 No 1
Deux Nocturnes opus 32 No 2
Galop Marquis en la bémol majeur
Impromptu en la bémol majeur opus 29
Trois Valses opus 64 No 1
Trois Valses opus 64 No 2
Trois Valses opus 64 No 3
Ballade n°2 en fa majeur opus 38

France Musique 128kbs internet, well-engineered recording

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chopin Piano Works - Iddo Bar-Shaï

Folle Journée de Nantes 2010
recorded in recitals on 30th and 31st of January 2010

Iddo Bar-Shaï has just released a recital of Chopin Mazurkas on Mirare which has drawn very significant praise. The redoubtable Tom Deacon, in fact, made one of his occasional forays into praise on RMCR. Actually, what I like about Tom is that he is constantly on the listen out for young players who stand out from the crowd. And I think you will agree, this is one.

As you might expect, too, Iddo Bar-Shaï's contribution to the Chopin festivities was dominated by Mazurkas, though we also got a splendid second sonata.

Deux Mazurkas en la mineur KK II b/4
Deux Mazurkas en la mineur KK II b/5
Nocturne en fa dièse mineur opus 48 n°2
Sonate n°2 en si bémol mineur opus 35 "Funèbre" I
Sonate n°2 en si bémol mineur opus 35 "Funèbre" II
Sonate n°2 en si bémol mineur opus 35 "Funèbre" III
Sonate n°2 en si bémol mineur opus 35 "Funèbre" IV
Nocturnes opus 55 No 1
Nocturnes opus 55 No 2
Polonaise-Fantaisie en la bémol majeur opus 61
Trois Mazurkas opus 63 No 1
Trois Mazurkas opus 63 No 2
Trois Mazurkas opus 63 No 3
Mazurkas opus 67 n°4
Quatre Mazurkas opus 30 No 1
Mazurkas opus 67 n°2
Quatre Mazurkas opus 30 No 2
Quatre Mazurkas opus 30 No 3
Quatre Mazurkas opus 30 No 4
Quatre Mazurkas opus 33 No 1
Quatre Mazurkas opus 33 No 2
Quatre Mazurkas opus 33 No 3
Quatre Mazurkas opus 33 No 4
Polonaise en la majeur opus 40 n°1
Mazurka en si bémol majeur KK II b/1
Quatre Mazurkas opus 17 No 1
Quatre Mazurkas opus 17 No 2
Quatre Mazurkas opus 17 No 3
Quatre Mazurkas opus 17 No 4
Mazurka en ré majeur KK IV b/2 (2ème version de KK IV a/7)
Grande Valse brillante en mi bémol majeur opus 18
Mazurkas opus 67 n°3
Mazurkas opus 67 n°1
Mazurka en ut majeur KK IV b/3

France Musique, Internet 128kbs, good sound, though there are occasional shifts in perspective as we move from one recital to another.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chopin Piano Works - Anne Queffélec

Anne Queffélec's playing is fascinating. Her early recordings bubbled with wit and personality. More recently, though, her playing has acquired an added zen-like sense of simple clarity. She herself said, in an interview, « Il y a une dimension sacrée dans la pratique approfondie de l’art » It certainly comes across. Listen, for example, to the sheer grace with which she lets the A flat ballade unfold. Magical!

Ballade n°3 en la bémol majeur opus 47
Ballade n°4 en fa mineur opus 52
Nocturne en sol mineur opus 37 n°1
Scherzo n°4 en mi majeur opus 54
Trois Mazurkas opus 50 No 1
Trois Mazurkas opus 50 No 2
Trois Mazurkas opus 50 No 3
Valse en fa mineur opus 70 n°2
Valse en mi bémol majeur "Sostenuto"
Berceuse en ré bémol majeur opus 57
Barcarolle en fa dièse majeur opus 60
Nocturne en sol mineur opus 15 n°3
Cantabile en si bémol majeur
Largo en mi bémol majeur
Valse en la bémol majeur opus 69 n°1

Edited and tagged from two of France Musique's all-night Chopin broadcasts
Internet 128 kbs
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Troyanos in Das Lied von der Erde

I first got to know Troyanos' voice in her doom-laden recording of Bluebeard's Castle. It ruined the piece for me in the sense that I cannot listen to anyone else without missing her intensely. I mentioned this to a South American friend, who kindly sent me this recording. The sound is, well, FM radio, but the singing is another reason to lament her early death.

MP3 240-ish kbs, VBR, from FM broadcast.

Gustav Mahler
Das Lied von der Erde
Peter Hoffman, Tatiana Troyanos,
Carlo Maria Giulini
Los Angeles Philharmonic
November 9, 1980

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Fauré : Piano Quintet No 2 - Quatuor Belcea, Bertrand Chamayou

The french pianist Bertrand Chamayou has yet to make an enormous splash, but on the basis of his Mendelssohn CD and an almost-all Mendelssohn recital at La Roque d'Anthéron, it's only a matter of time. And France Musique came up trumps in this recording, made in 2007, of Chamayou and the Quatuor Belcea playing Fauré's autumnal masterpiece.

I have owned a score of this for decades, always hoping that I'll get to play it. (I also own the Schnittke – hope springs eternal!). There is something about the way the strings weave in and out that has the austere sensuality of renaissance counterpoint. Listen, do, to the closing pages of the first movement, as the motoric semiquavers from the piano accompany a seemingly unstoppable flow of counterpoint, wave upon wave, right up to the final exultant chords. Is it any wonder I am determined to play this before I die?

In memory of Debbie Metrustry, with whom I sang for many, many years, who died suddenly this morning.

mp3, 128 kbs in surprisingly good sound, from France Musique.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Bernstein : Mahler's second - Musicians Against Nuclear Arms

Here's a piece of history – Bernstein conducting Mahler's second symphony in the National Cathedral in Washington, with Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks and musicians drawn from the National Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony, playing under the banner of Musicians Against Nuclear Arms.  
Can you imagine this happening now? Can you imagine three of the US's most famous musicians leading a performance in the National Cathedral under the banner of, say, 'Musicians Against Military Intervention'? 

No. I miss the days in which the US had a genuine opposition, when opponents of militarism could speak up, could play Mahler in the National Cathedral. 

The performance has its ragged moments, but I find it moving precisely because it is a testament to a better age. Perhaps the ideals were foolish, but foolish ideals are better than paranoid ideation any day. 

Alex Ross has an interesting piece on this performance here

Since the original post, I've encountered a rather better transfer of the recording, which I'm now reposting. As the US presidential elections near, and we face the prospect of a republican candidate who is a kind of cross between Ronald McDonald and a toilet brush genuinely representing the deepest wishes of a substantial majority of the citizens of the US, I look around aghast. Where, where are the people who will stand up and say stop? Who will urge the use of the wealth, power and influence of the US to bring an end to poverty, disease and degradation of the environment? Who will urge the US to win friends and thereby win the peace it apparently desires by, well, being friendly? 

Such an awful silence.

Mahler : Symphony No 2
Barbara Hendricks, Jessye Norman, Musicians Against Nuclear Arms.
National Cathedral, Washington, 1984

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chopin : Piano Concerto No 2 - Clara Haskil 1954

There are some pianists who become pigeon-holed – Hewitt equals Bach, Uchida equals Mozart/Schubert, Glenn Gould equals Goldbergs. Haskil's Mozart has tended to do the same for her. This does a serious disservice to a very versatile performer. To hear her play Beethoven's op 111, for example, is to hear a totally different player (Music & Arts have it on a superbly remastered recital disk which also features her Ravel, Debussy and Schumann).

I am eternally grateful to G, who recently uploaded a clutch of live Haskil performances, including this one, of the first Chopin piano concerto, the Piano Concerto no 2 (confusing? Both the Chopin and the Beethoven concertos were published out of sequence; in each case, the first published was the second one written)

Listen to how she manages the build up to the first movement recapitulation. She lets off the pedal in order to get a more incisive, emphatic sound from the passage work, cranking up the tension wonderfully. And listen to her bell-like and telling use of the bass line in the slow movement, supporting that lyrical right hand on a noble foundation. And, of course, listen to her glitter in the closing pages of the last movement. What a player!

Clara Haskil, National Orchestra, André Cluytens April 1954
Mp3 @ 320kbs from radio re-broadcast

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Martin : Et in terra pax

I had never heard of Martin before I heard this oratorio, which he composed in the last months of World War II. I was in Belgium at a choral festival with my girlfriend. We cycled to a concert which featured, in the first half, a local virtuoso pianist who was premièring his new piano concerto - a witty confection that suggested that Gershwin wasn't quite dead. He gave numerous encores to a delighted audience, improvising on Beatles tunes in the style of, and finishing with an improvisation on a bunch of random notes selected by different audience members. Everyone loved it.

Then came the second half. From the first chords of the music, I was transported to another era. The music was grainy, gritty, black and white. I remember, in particular, seeing the tenor sing the words of the beatitudes (track 9). Each one he sang more softly, until at the last line – Father, forgive them, they do no know what they are doing – he achieved a breathtaking pianissimo. Even the concluding chorus – Holy is the Lord God, Who was, Who is and Who is to come – holds out hope but doesn't suggest that everything will be fine instantly.

Afterwards, we looked around. It was clear from the applause and the faces of the audience that they would have preferred more sub-Gershwin. But I was convinced that I had heard a masterpiece. Much less pretentious than Britten's War Requiem, it's a work that convinces through those two reliables: personal integrity and good part-writing.

This performance is in German, but none the worse for that - Martin himself supervised the version.

Catherine Naglestadt, Doris Soffel, Charles Workman, Christian Gerhaher, Ralf Lukas
MDR Symphony orchestra and choir, Hartmut Haenchen
mp3 @ 256 kbs

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beethoven : Piano Concerto No 5 - Bruno-Leonardo Gelber

Those trademark eyebrows are hard at work here, in a wonderful live "Emperor" from 2006.

There's something about Beethoven's Emperor concerto that seems to divide households. My father and mother were both fond of classical music, but with the proviso that my father found the string quartets which my mother favoured a little dull, while my mother made no secret of her opinion that anything with a blaring orchestra was vulgar. Her face, as my father put on Dvorák's New World symphony or Respighi's Pines of Rome was a study in distaste. It was the very face she put on when she absent-mindedly took a mouthful from a cup of tea that had long gone cold. I associate orchestral music with Saturday mornings, on which my father would get up early and play his symphonies and concertos while my mother lay on in bed, her normal reluctance to get up in the morning doubtless intensified by the prospect of going downstairs and facing the music.

The one thing she could not tolerate was swing, which was a shame because my father dearly loved it – Django Reinhardt, Stefan Grapelli and the boys especially. It was an eerie sound, the slap-wump slap-wump that sometimes came from the living room. It was the sound of my father, drumming on the arms of the armchair as he listened to swing on the headphones, a beatific smile on his face, in silence.

And I, in my turn, am married to a woman who tolerates my preoccupation with classical music, but who has never seen the attraction of washing the dishes to the accompaniment of some loud orchestral racket. It was watching her slight wince at the opening of Beethoven's Emperor concerto that made me remember Tony.

My uncle Tony hadn't the easiest of marriages, and I suspected sometimes that we saw him more frequently, just dropping in, when things were going less well at home.
The music I associate with him is Beethoven's Emperor concerto. On one of his impromptu visits, Tony told us how, one Summer evening, he had listened to it in his garden. On a whim, he had rigged up an extension cable and brought his gramophone out to the garden and put the record on. His next door neighbour, who had been out mowing the lawn, had stopped, brought out an armchair and sat there listening too.

In my mind, it is a perfect Saturday afternoon in the suburbs, and Tony and his neighbour, each in the armchairs they have carried out of their respective drawing rooms, are listening to the music as it rises into the air.

Did they listen to it all? I wish that they did.

Many years later, I realise that this is the only happy story I know about Tony, and I treasure it.

Bruno-Leonardo Gelber, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis
MP3 256 kbs
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sergio Fiorentino - the Chopin Waltzes

There has always been a bit of hesitancy among Fiorentino fans about his Waltzes, recorded in July 1958. These are, well, the waltzes of a young touring pianist - extrovert, devil-may-care.

I first heard this record when I was twelve, and loved it. These was something intoxicating about the sheer verve of the playing. And this was the first time anyone had recorded all 19 waltzes - I was bitterly disappointed when I bought my first score and discovered that there were only 14 'official' waltzes in it. (The last is certainly not by Chopin, but the editors of the Henle edition decided to keep publishing it, on the grounds that people liked it, and that there would be no chance of anyone publishing or playing it unless they did so.)

Fiorentino does a little rewriting here and there (listen carefully and have your ears tickled), and has no hesitation in doing a little filling in of the texture in the unpublished waltzes. And, I believe, the first recording of the three little Ecossais, recorded in 1955.

It's a document of an era when you could sit down at the piano and just play without someone rustling an urtext. Many years later I still love it.

This is a needledrop, done by a friend. No noise reduction (this is left as an exercise to the reader) and only mp3 at 192 kbs, but I did manage to find and embed the original cover art.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Bloch : String Quartet No 5 - Fine Arts Quartet

Bloch wrote all but the first of his string quartets in the last years of his life, inspired to tackle the medium by hearing a performance of his first quartet by the Griller Quartet. The Grillers recorded all but the final quartet in wonderful idiomatic readings.My introduction to the last quartet came from the Fine Arts Quartet, an ensemble which even now is under-rated.  Their reading captures the idiom perfectly.
The quartet, written when Bloch was terminally ill, has a language that is gentle and searching at once. The composer's daughter, Suzanne, tells of how he wrestled with the end, writing four or five versions, each perfectly good, before he arrived at the one that made sense to him. It is a magical moment as the music loses pace, the instruments begin to separate into distinct voices, the cello hovers on D flat - the last note before the open C string, and then the chord simply opens into C major, calm, firm and final.

This is a 160 kbs needledrop, but from a decent copy of the LP, and the performance is utterly special. If you like this, head over to Music & Arts and get hold of their wonderful Bartók quartets.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Aldo Ciccolini : Beethoven Sonatas 31 and 23 (Appassionata)

Aldo Ciccolini was born in August 1925, which would make him, in July 2006 when these sonatas were recorded in Montpellier, an eighty-year-old.

You won't get much sense of this in the playing. The first sonata, the A flat, takes a minute or two to settle in, but by the time he tackles the Appassionata he's in full flow. This is one of those performances that makes you think Beethoven—yes! rather than Ciccolini—yes! It has fire in its belly, and certainly doesn't wallow in the lyrical side of the slow movement. There is something fierce about the way he brings it to its climax.

Ciccolini is a pianist whose considerable popularity in his adopted France is mirrored by his utter neglect elsewhere. Perhaps these performances will arouse a little curiosity…

Beethoven: Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57

Aldo Ciccolini, Piano
Recorded July 2006 in Montpellier
MP3 VBR averaging about 190 kbs

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