Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beethoven : Hammerklavier - Sokolov 1975

A wonderful diatribe by Boom against the Austrian pianist Till Fellner sparked off this upload. Fellner said, in an interview "Life is too short to play Rachmaninoff or drink bad wine."  to which Boom, in his typical understated fashion, replied "life is not too short for him, Till Fellner, to spend on playing meticulously planned, immaculately executed, and incomparably faceless all-Beethoven recitals season after season."  You can read the full blog entry here.

Anyway, I find myself listening to the Mount Everest of pianism - the Hammerklavier. I have a recording by Richter in Prague that has me on the edge of my seat, and a live version by Brendel that I relish because he conducts you through the music as if it were a personal guided tour of his castle. In the past few days I've listened to Martina Filjak, a pianist full of ideas and the technique to bring them off, and to Valentina Lisitsa. What can I say about Lisitsa? A sort of musical Lang Lang - total technique, but also a grasp of the large scale that makes her readings fascinating, if not always easy listening. Her fugue, for example, takes less than eleven minutes, and has an almost nightmarish lucidity that can only be produced by a technique that you got from the devil in exchange for the souls of your children. 

And here is another oddity: Sokolov. Love him or hate him, he's got his own ideas. It's the longest slow movement on record, as far as I know - nearly 24 minutes!! - but somehow he manages to maintain a fascination almost unbroken throughout.

The recording's an oddity too: it's apparently from an LP of a live performance in 1975, but there's no applause or audience noise. Looking at the waveforms between movements, they could have resulted from the audience noise being faded to zero, but could equally well just be track breaks. 

One way or the other, this recording has something of a cult status. I leave it to the reader to judge if the status be deserved or no.

mp3 192 kbs

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mahler : Das Lied von der Erde - the legendary Merriman/Haefliger/Von Beinum one

I am not sure that I have the story utterly correct here, and doubtless someone will put me right if I err.

Van Beinum recorded Das Lied for Philips in 1957, shortly before his death. However, the recording had not been approved for release by him and so (apparently) it remained unissued until the late 1960s when it was briefly available on LP. For his singers, van Beinum had the incomparable Nan Merriman and Ernst Haefliger. These two were to re-record Das Lied only about a year later, this time for DG and in stereo. The DG recording has been highly regarded ever since, but for my money this is one of the finest recordings of Das Lied ever. 

Let's face it, the whole work hinges around the ability of conductor and alto to sustain the vast final movement, and it is here that Merriman shows herself to be not just a fine singer but – far more important – an incomparable musician. There are times where Mahler pushes the voice to do things that it cannot do beautifully – like the inexorable downward line at 'Die Schönheit dieses Abends zu genießen' – and it is here that Merriman makes it clear that she isn't there to be pretty, she is there to throw her entire resources behind the music. Maybe no-one can sing that line beautifully, but Merriman sings it with such fierce focus as to be almost terrifying.

And that's just one moment of a performance that is marked, throughout, by utter integrity from everyone. A treasure, in short.

I am grateful to Maria (happy Christmas, my dear!) for making this available as a lossless transfer, and permitting me to share it. 

And thank you to an anonymous comment for more detail on the subsequent history of the recording.

Mahler : Das Lied von der Erde - Ernst Haefliger, Nan Merriman, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Eduard Van Beinum, 1957

Download from Rapidshare and be astonished!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Beethoven : Two late quartets - Belcea Quartet

Here you are: a Christmas present for the Belcea Quartet fans who have placed countless comments on the blog pages (two, actually – I just counted them) asking for Belcea Quartet late Beethoven. 

The monumental E flat quartet (like a string quartet, only bigger) and the mysterious B flat. I love the way that when you think the last movement of the E flat must surely be about to finish, there is a sound like everything beginning to grow again after the Winter, and a joyous coda erupts.

I hadn't realised until recently, but Beethoven originally conceived the B flat in the form of a divertimento – hence the peculiar arrangement of the movements. Unfortunately, every single movement grew way out of all æsthetic proportion to the original idea. And this still doesn't help to make sense of the work. Perhaps nothing, other than knowing every note of it, helps.

Quartet in B flat Op 130
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Quartet in E flat Op 127
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beethoven : "Harp" and "Serioso" quartets – Belcea Quartet

The Belcea quartet go from strength to strength. Something seems to have happened to them in the last few years that has caused both a remarkable deepening of their interpretations and the development of a very characteristic quartet sound. One of the most striking features of the sound is the dynamic range that they span, running from a whisper that is always articulate to a full-throated fortissimo that is still rich and full in its tone.

But the interpretations are what arrested me. I first came across them from their live Bartók quartet performances, and was on the edge of my seat throughout. 

Now they are embarking on a complete Beethoven quartet cycle, and luckily for us they are performing the quartets in concert extensively before they commit them to the studio. 

Just this week, the news broke that EMI (Every Mistake Imaginable) has abandoned their Beethoven quartet project, following its takeover by some vast music holding company called Engulf and Devour, or All Your Copyrights Are Belong To Us or some such. 

The good news is that the Beethoven cycle will instead appear on the ZigZag label, which will mean that the quartet will have the benefit of committed engineers, producers and designers, and will have the creative freedom that you get from a small company run by zealots. I'm delighted, and the quartet cycle is on my shopping list whenever it appears!

In the meantime, I am hoping to make a few converts to the Belcea cause. Here they are in two of Beethoven's middle quartets: the Harp (Op 74) and the Serioso (Op 95). Both were recorded at Wigmore hall concerts this year. If this doesn't completely convince you, I'm going to have to upload two late quartets as well. In fact, I should do that anyway.

Recorded from BBC Radio 3 high-resolution internet stream (320 kbs)

Quartet Op 74 from Mediafire
Quartet Op 95 from Mediafire

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mendelssohn : Violin Concerto - Ibragimova

This is by special request of PdA, who kindly gave me the precise details of the concert. 

And now, by golly, I'm going to have to start posting performances by someone else or this blog will turn into Ibragimova's unofficial fan site. 

Mendelssohn : Violin Concerto in E minor 
Alina Ibragimova, Radio Kamer Filharmonie, Philippe Herreweghe 
Vredenburg Leidsche Rijn, Utrecht - 9 december 2011 

192 kbs from Dutch Radio 4 stream - good sound 

Download from Mediafire

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mozart : Quintet in G minor K 516 - Leipzig quartet

Here it is: the second instalment of the Leipzig Quartet's Mozart quintets. This is a work I've known all my life, it seems to me. Fifty years certainly. As a teenager, I loved the sweet sadness of the slow movement, but I could never adjust to the way the last movement started with a tragic introduction and then, like a butterfly emerging, took off in a lilting, whistlable melody. How could he finish such a tragic work like this?

I now look forward to that moment, when the rondo takes wing in G major. The disquiet and doubt hasn't gone away, but we are leaving it far below. The truly wonderful property of this quintet is the solace that it brings.

And these, I assure you, are really fine performances. The Leipzig Quartet is joined by the violist Hartmut Rode in these 2006 radio recordings, captured losslessly by a friend of Don, who is the original uploader, and with whose permission I have re-upped the files.

m4a lossless files (>725 kbs) tracked and tagged

Download from Mediafire

Shostakovich : Violin concerto no 1 - Ibragimova

I hadn't meant to upload this – I still haven't put up the second Mozart quintet with the Leipzigers, but I recorded this from the BBC internet stream and really you have to hear it. I know I do a disproportionate amount of publicity for Alina Ibragimova, but she does a disproportionate amount for my mental health.

I still recall the first time I heard this concerto. Ida Haendel played it on the proms, and I taped it from my uncertain radio 3 signal, hoping, as usual, that the reception would hold out. I still recall the shock of hearing her end the first movement, how she gradually drained all color from the sound, and flicked the last note of the first movement upwards into a haunted harmonic.

Sorry. I'm going on about a recording I no longer have! This one does the same sort of tonal magic, though. Ibragimova catches the unsentimental mood of the music perfectly. There is the sense that this work is about something too important to trivialise into virtuosity.

And the recording is splendid - BBCs new high-quality stream is a constant companion these days, despite the sad trivialisation of Radio 3.

mp3 320kbs, tracked and tagged, with a photo of Ms Ibragimova

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Mozart quintet K515 - Leipzig Quartet, Hartmut Rode

I, and a lot of other people, have been listening to the Leipzig quartet's live recordings of the Mozart string quintets with considerable pleasure for the last while. So much so that when the original links apparently disappeared, there was a barrage of emails requesting someone to re-upload them.

With the kind permission of Don, the original uploader, I am posting two of the finest of the quintets, starting today with K515 in C.

K 515 and 516 are an amazing pair of works. 516, the famous G minor, is one of Mozart's most searching works. By comparison, 515, in C major, is more elusive. For sure, the slow movement has a serenity that is breathtaking, but the first movement is all in the soft-spoken dialogue between the violins and the violas. It's art that does nothing to advertise its presence. As the years have gone by, I realise that 515 is one of the works I listen to most often, and there are few occasions in life when it cannot bring solace.

The Leipzig quartet are joined by the violist Hartmut Rode in this beautiful concert recording, captured losslessly from German radio. The files are apple lossless.

Download from Mediafire