Friday, November 16, 2012

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Mihaela Ursuleasa : Duo Recital 2011

A wonderful opportunity to hear two great and original musicians. 

I would like to quote Patricia Kopatchinskaja's tribute to her friend and partner Mihaela Ursuleasa, who died tragically last August. 

She wrote:

It is said that friendship is one soul in two bodies.
We were like sisters. In all directions of life and during every astonishing ramification of our fates we were for many years ear, heart and inspiration to each other. And in need I could always count on your unselfish and generous support.
Your sound, your refinement, your aura, your awesome presence, your tenderness, your freedom without any mannerisms, your poetry and intelligent phrasing will always shine in my memory.

I always felt that you are a wild cat at the piano, a real wonder when we played together. You knew when I breathed, you knew every inch of my bow, I still see your hands and know exactly when they will touch the keys.

Our tears when we first played Enescus third sonata, the silence thereafter which said so much, – we shared the same homeland.

What are you doing now? Are you playing with Furtwängler? Will you fall in love with Chopin or Liszt? Will you talk philosophy with Nietzsche during breakfeast? And with whom will you play chamber music, – with Genette Neuveu… or Paganini?
You were like an incredible firework. We will not forget how you could serve jokes, your unique laugh, or when you spoke like Donald Duck. And we will not forget your heavenly „spaghetti al limone“ whose secret recipe you once snatched from a Roman chef. Will you now cook for Bartok?

You were so funny, and we had such a good time together.Thank you for having lived your life with us and for having given us so many magical moments. Your friends will provide support and care for your charming small daughter.

It is said that friendship is one soul in two bodies. From now on I will miss a part of my soul forever.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (Link to her original posting)

You can hear the Enescu in this concert, recorded in Bucharest in 2011. It's a very special performance! And as for the Falla – enough electricity to light a small town!

Bartók : Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56, BB 68
Bartók : Rhapsody No. 2, Sz. 89 and 90, BB 96
Enescu : Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor dans le caractère populaire roumain, Op. 25 (1926)
Falla : Polo (Siete Canciones Populares)
Kancheli : "Rag-Gidon-Time" for violin and piano (1995)

Recorded 18-09-2011 in Bucharest, Broadcast 14 Nov 2012, Radio 4 Netherlands
Radio 4 Internet stream, mp3 192 kbs, tracked and tagged losslessly
And I'm sorry: I turned the poor old Polo into a chicken…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Valentina Lisitsa - Rachmaninoff Concerto 2 SOLO!

Now that Valentina Lisitsa has brought out the Rachmaninoff second concerto, people are going to be stampeding around the internet trying to find a bootleg. Well, good readers, this isn't it! 

This is actually the piano part of the concerto, without the orchestra. And it's simply extracted from YouTube videos. I like it, though, because you get to hear the piano part without the orchestra (I know this concerto so well I can hear a phantom orchestra playing anyhow!). And the playing is wonderful! Lyrical far more often than rhetorical, with the technical difficulties of the music playing second fiddle to the musical argument. 

The sound is pretty good considering this is just 128kbs mp3. Please bear with the awful sound of the bass octaves early in the first movement. There is, you realise, a limit to what you can encode at 128 kbs! 

So enjoy, and go out and buy the concerto. It's good!

Download from Rapidshare

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Adams : Nixon in China

Alan Oke (Mao) and the amazing
Kathleen Kim (Madame Mao)
Like many people, I like almost exactly half of what John Adams has written. Still, that's a better average than with many contemporary composers. And it's also interesting to see what compositions have weathered well. Among these I would place Nixon in China. Alice Goodman's libretto manages to balance two perspectives creatively: the impersonal, global scale of the political action and the personal level of the characters who, though they are among the powerful elite of the world, are in the end just people. 
Pat Nixon's small-townness, Nixon's own nostalgia for the simpler days when he was a serviceman in the war, the ominous black presence of Kissinger, and – my own favourite – the weary solitude of Chou En Lai. 

Adams conducted the opera on the Proms this year, and this recording is from the BBC transmission. It takes a minute to settle down – be patient. But it rapidly becomes deeply involving. There really isn't a weak link in this performance, but I have to point out the contribution of Kathleen Kim, whose brilliant, terrifying performance as Madame Mao is the high point of the performance. 

You should read the synopsis of the opera. It will help, especially in the poignant, intimate Act III. 

5th of September, 2012
320KBS mp4 from BBC web stream, no re-encoding

Kathleen Kim soprano (Madame Mao)
Alan Oke tenor (Chairman Mao)
Gerald Finley bass-baritone (Chou En-Lai)
Robert Orth baritone (President Nixon)
Jessica Rivera soprano (Pat Nixon)
James Rutherford bass-baritone, New Generation Artist (Kissinger)
Stephanie Marshall mezzo-soprano (Secretary)
Louise Poole mezzo-soprano (Secretary)
Susan Platts mezzo-soprano (Secretary)
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Orchestra
John Adams conductor
Paul Curran stage director

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Valentina Lisitsa : Mozart Concerto in D minor, K466

Fig I : Valentina Lisitsa
It is in sheer irritation that I am posting this here. The ignoramuses in Sony have blocked Valentina Lisitsa's Youtube video of the Mozart K466 piano concerto on the grounds that the pianist is Martin Stadtfeld! Any ass at all, with the exception of anyone in the recording industry, can see that Martin Stadtfeld would have required some major surgery before he looked anything like Valentina Lisitsa! 
Fig II : Martin Stadtfeld

Poor Stadtfeld may end up through no fault of his own looking bad in this affair. He's a pianist who has recorded quite a lot of Bach and although I don't like his rather interventionist style of interpretation, he's an honest musician, and deserves better than to be managed by a company with an IQ of 160. That, incidentally, is a total IQ of 160.

As some sort of consolation to our music-loving friends in Germany, I have uploaded the audio from the Youtube video. It's decent sound – 192 kbs VBR. 

Mozart : Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor K466 
Valentina Lisitsa, Freiburger Mozartorchester, Michael Erren

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mihaela Ursuleasa in Memoriam II - Schumann and Chopin

No sooner had I posted my little tribute to Miheala Ursuleasa than Boom – who else? – posted me a link to a beautifully recorded solo recital. Here she is playing the entire Opus 25 Chopin études, the Schumann Fantasiestücke Opus 12, and a clutch of Chopin mazurkas and nocturnes. In other words, an invaluable addition to that slender recorded legacy.
A thoughtful, sometimes wistful lyricism predominates in the Chopin studies. Book II is less overtly technical in its conception of a study than book I, but Ursuleasa seems to be almost intent on keeping technical issues sidelined. The playing keeps somehow throwing up details that suggest to me that she was still working through her vision of the music. Some are quite arresting – listen, for example, to what happens in the dying moments of the final chord of the twelfth study (c minor)! Quite a Schumannesque touch. But what appeals to me is the sense of work in progress – quite a polar opposite to the demand for note-perfect, nuance-perfect performance required to win competitions. 

This strikes me as being closer to the Japanese ideal of Wabi-sabi (佗寂) – that  beauty is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". Being able to leave aside the demand for perfection and completeness right now gives us room to explore, to be wrong, to learn. 

Schumann : Fantasiestucke Op.12
Chopin: Etudes Op.25 (complete), 
Three mazurkas Op.59, 
Nocturnes (selection)
Mihaela Ursuleasa
August 20, 2010
Lutowslawski Concert Hall
Polish Radio, Warsaw
256 kbs mp3 (no re-encoding)

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mihaela Ursuleasa - in memoriam : Chopin, Ries, Nowakowski

Mihaela Ursuleasa died on the second of August, aged just 33, from a cerebral hæmorrhage. And we lost a wonderful musician and a vivid human presence. 
I don't say these things lightly. There are a lot of good young pianists around, but I believe Ursuleasa was more than that. I first got to know her playing in the recordings of the concertos she played when she won the Clara Haskil prize in 1995. There is a combination of mercurial playfulness and searing intensity to her playing that immediately grabbed my attention. It's probably no coincidence that she was a regular partner of that other Romanian maverick Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Indeed, Kopatchinskaja wrote a moving obituary to her friend on Norman Lebrecht's blog. 
There is all too little by way of recorded legacy. Two solo disks, the first of which won the Echo Klassik award. The photo on the left was taken at the awards. What you don't see is that she is waving her award aloft and that her right nipple has just popped out of her evening gown. The photo circulated widely at the time, and seemed to me to embody the puckish sense of fun that you find in her playing. 
These recordings are from the 2010 Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw, and the programme is one of chamber music rarities. 

of all things under our blonder than blondest star. the most mysterious
(eliena,my dear) is this. —how anyone so gay possibly could die 
e e cummings

She leaves a seven-year-old daughter.

Rainer Honeck - Violin
Christian Frohn - Viola
Arto Noras - Cello
Jurek Dybal - Bass

Mihaela Ursuleasa - Piano

Botesini : Allegretto Capriccio à la Chopin
Chopin : Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 8
Josef Nowakowski: Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 17

Nowakowski : Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 17

Ries : Piano Quintet in B Minor, Op. 74

mp3 at 320kbs, tracked and tagged

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bruckner 8 - Donald Runnicles (Proms 2012)

I first got to know Donald Runnicles' Bruckner when I brought his eight to Cambodia, where I was doing field work. It quickly became my habit to listen to half of this mighty work each evening before bed. It seemed to me that Runnicles really had the measure of this vast score. Detail was never missed, but was never allowed to obscure the overall sense of direction. 

Here he is, live from the Proms, conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. The edition is the Nowak edition of 1955. And the playing is stunning. 

MPEG audio VBR, about 232 KBS

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Alina Ibragimova - Mozart Concerto No 4, KV 218

While I was away in Portugal swimming in the cool, clear waters of the Atlantic, Boom, bless him, recorded this performance which he duly handed on to me to add to the little treasure trove of Alina Ibragimova's recordings here. 

I always think it's a pity that Mozart stopped writing violin concertos at the point where he was coming into his own as a composer. Aside from the sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, the works show invention and promise but remain a preface to an unwritten chapter. And I detest the way many violinists play them, complete with performing monkey cadenzas. Listen to the simplicity and grace of the cadenzas Mozart wrote for the sinfonia concertante and cringe, oh fiddlers! 

I'm delighted to say that Ibragimova seems, to me, to strike many of the right balances in this performance. The playing is integrated into the orchestra, more like hearing a concert master than a Renowned International Soloist. The sound world has the cleanness that Mozart needs (there's nothing like a yawing vibrato to kill the music stone dead) and the cadenzas are not, as is usual, places where the music stops but the soloist continues. But above all, it's the grace of the playing that captivated me. It dances, muses, comments, weaves in and out of the orchestra rather than riding over it. 

As you might expect from Boom, this is also a splendid recording, made in Bremen on April the 6th, 2011. The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen is conducted by Paavo Järvi. The audio has been tagged and tracked but at no point re-encoded either by Boom or myself.

Enjoy. And do read Boom's latest entry. I chortled my way through it.

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Download from Mediafire

Friday, July 6, 2012

Valentina Lisitsa Live

A shot from the internet telecast
And here she is. 
It's a great evening out, it really is. Valentina Lisitsa is funny and warm, and starts the concert by telling the audience how she came to be there. It's pretty frank stuff, admitting that she came close to giving up completely on a career in music. But she tells a story with a happy ending, at least.

I've preserved all the chatter. She has a pre-recorded interval talk, and you will hear, as she walks out to do encores, that she's trying to get the final score of the football match from the audience (before the concert she suggests that they use the huge monitors in the auditorium to relay the match – silently, of course).

The programme, chosen by vote, was

F. Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No 12
Mozart Fantasy in c minor K.475Schubert-Liszt: Des Mädchens Klage, Der Doppelgänger, Erlkönig
Beethoven : Sonata Op 27 No 2 “Moonlight”
Rachmaninoff : Etude–Tableau  Op.39 No. 6
4 Preludes: G major Op 32. No.5, G sharp minor Op 32 No.12, B minor Op 32 No. 10, G minor Op 23 No. 5
Scriabin 2 Poèmes Op. 322 Etudes: Op 42 No. 3 “Mosquito”, Op 65 No.1Chopin : Nocturne in c minor Op 48 No.1, d flat major Op 27 No.2, e flat major Op 9 No.2Liszt Totentanz S.525
Schubert-Liszt Ave Maria
Liszt La Campanella

The sound is extracted from the YouTube broadcast. You should go and buy the album to get most of the concert in high-quality sound. But the album doesn't have the chatter, which is well worth listening to. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Valentina Lisitsa - Chopin Studies

Valentina Lisitsa's triumphant sell-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall marked the comeback of a pianist whose career had apparently languished terminally five years ago. Concert engagements had dried up, her manager had died and she was seriously considering applying for a job as a newsreader with a Ukranian TV channel! Indeed, she gave a humorous and sometimes moving account of these dark days before beginning her concert. 

Now, of course, thanks to YouTube she has become one of the internet's best-loved young pianists. And she has a recording contract from Decca.

Which is all very well, but it means that the clutch of interesting live recordings that used to be available on her website are gone, together with the rest of the old site. Well, here are the Chopin Studies, recorded live and in-house, formerly available on her site, so I guess 'official' recordings. 

The sound settles down in a few minutes and that silly woman falls asleep. (You'll see what I mean when you listen to them). Sound is reasonable, but not studio quality – 128 kbs. But as a document, here is the younger Lisitsa on the wing, taking risks and giving Freddy Francis a run for his money. 

I've also got the audio from the internet relay of her London concert, which I may have time to edit before I go on holiday. 

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Moszkowski : Piano concerto in E, Op 59 - David Bar-Illan

David Bar-Illan – pianist, author and journalist, and champion of the best piano concerto you don't know, the Moszkowski. 

What can I say? From the opening bars, you know you're in for a great time. The theme sweeps in and Bar-Illan responds with a real sense of how to play this repertoire, the ebb and flow of the music. Maybe he plays the slow movement with a little too much faith in its beauty (most players take it a shade faster) but the scherzo, which grows organically out of the slow movement, takes off with a puckish delight that is utterly infectious. 

If I have a reason for loving this concerto madly, it's Moszkowski's wonderful idea at the end of the first movement, when the music slows right down, and the piano and orchestra muse on a theme from heaven. 

Bar-Illan recorded the concerto commercially, but I've never heard it. This broadcast, in excellent sound, is from the vaults of Dr J (thanks!). 

David Bar-Illan, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Alfredo Antonini
mp3. 256 kbs
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Chargeishvili : The Symphony

The picture shows the composer Chargeishvili, Nektarios Nektariosovich (1937-1971), with his wife. Chargeishvili committed suicide shortly after the premiere of his symphony, on which he had worked passionately. The work was hostilely received, and this, combined with the repressive police state of the USSR in the late sixties proved too much for him.

The work is fascinating, with its obvious links to the music of Scriabin (that must have delighted the KGB!) as well as affinities with the sound world of Kanchelli. 

There seem to have been just one performance since the failed premiere, from which this recording is taken: at the "Moscow Autumn" festival of 1990. The conductor of the unknown orchestra is identified as Dmitry Liss. And the only copy of the recording in circulation is at a modest 128 kbs (it crops up in several places, including on YouTube, but it's always the same recording). In any event, the work is so striking that I urge you to listen anyway. 

The photo haunts me. Those two faces. Two lives ruined. And a symphony that stands like a bleak memorial to them. I cannot even find the name of his wife. Does anyone out there know? Or know what became or her?

Chargeishvili, Nektarios Nektariosovich (1937-1971)

Recorded from Festival "Moscow Autumn" 1990 
Dmitry Liss (Conductor), Unknown Orchestra
Digitised by an unknown person, apparently from the sole recording of the performance

mp3 128 kbs
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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Donnacha Dennehy : If he died - what then

Donnacha Dennehy has rapidly gained the status of Ireland's most important young composer. His album Grá agus bás (love and death) topped listeners' charts for contemporary music in New York, got a Gramophone Editor's Choice, and has served to bring his music to a much wider audience.

Part of this must be due to the relationship he has with Dawn Upshaw, who performs one of the two substantial works on the album. If people didn't know who Donnacha was, they knew who Dawn Upshaw is. And now they know who he is too. 

His music is a fascinating confluence of musical styles that forges a distinctive idiom. His manner of opening out and expanding musical material applies to text as well. The words repeat in fragments, extend, add up to sentences, and in the process he can add a weight and context to each word, just as he does with the musical elements. It's not so much a style of fragmentation as one of synthesis and mosaic. 

The work here is the premiere of a new commission: If he died - what then. The text is from a book documenting first-hand accounts of survivors of the Irish famine by Asenath Nicholson called Annals of the Famine in Ireland. Nicholson, an American woman who lived in Ireland during the Great Famine, traveled across the country and observed the horrifying effects of the famine. If he died - what then concentrates on Nicholson's story of the interaction between an old man, trying to feed his starving family, and a government-appointed officer, whose job it was to distribute food to the starving.

I've included a transcript of an extended interview with Dennehy and Upshaw for you to read. 

Donnacha Dennehy: If he died - what then
Premiere. Dawn Upshaw, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Stefan Asbury

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Schubert : Octet – Doric Quartet, Michael Collins

I've been listening happily to a wonderful performance of Schubert's octet, live, and wondering once again if our ideas about great music are too wedded to the notion of earnest music. 

Here's a case in point. The octet seems to want to convey no great struggles, no lofty contrapuntal ambitions, but simply to beguile. And yet in doing so it walks in a sort of garden of Eden that is perhaps the highest plane that music can reach. 
And Schubert seems to acknowledge this by his quotation, at the start of the last movement, of the question he posed in the piano accompaniment to Die Götter Griechenlands: Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? He would also use this motif in another composition – I will irritate you by leaving you to remember which one!

But back to this performance. It's chamber music at its best. There is a sense that the music can do no wrong. That from the first note, we can relax; the work will unfold effortlessly. I love when you're playing and that happens. I still recall a performance of the Mozart piano and wind quintet and that sense that I no longer had to make any judgements or decisions – everything was simply happening. 

Of course, Michael Collins earns his star billing here. Just listen to the effortless quality of his playing, from the way he floats above the theme of the adagio to the joyous end of the scherzo. But listen, too, to the other wind players. That's some mighty fine bassoon playing from Robin O'Neill for a start. 

Eight players, utterly on top of their game here. Enjoy!

Live from Champs Hill in Sussex, 29 March 2012
Michael Collins (clarinet), 
Doric Quartet, Richard Watkins (horn), 
Robin O'Neill (bassoon), Lynda Houghton (double bass)

M4a tagged and tracked at about 320 KBS VBR

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Khatia Buniatishvili and friends : Schumann Piano Quartet Op 47

With many thanks to Piero, who uploaded this into the comments on a previous posting, here is a wonderful piece of chamber music making. 

The Schumann piano quartet has always languished in the shadow of the phenomenal piano quintet. The quintet just seems to play itself, and its pianistic difficulties (those horrifying rapid octaves, written to show off Clara's technique, for instance) are counterbalanced by the ease of the music itself. It never seems to outlast its welcome, or to lose its way.

The quartet, on the other hand, can easily seem repetitive, yammering in the piano part and curiously under-powered. Part of this has to do with the immense difference between the modern piano and the piano of Schumann's day. Many of the apparent doublings of the string parts by the piano are actually the reverse: the strings are doubling the piano to make sure that the piano line is audible! And the lighter, clearer sound of Schumann's piano (particularly in the bass) meant that those endless repeated chords bounced melodiously. On a modern piano, they have hardly time to establish the basic sound before they are cut off. 

All of this makes the work really hard to bring off. And so, when Piero uploaded this performance, my hair stood on end. Just listen to the music making! The breathtaking clarity of Buniatishvili's playing is a key ingredient to the success. She creates feather-light textures that have a bell-like clarity without the faintest sense of the tone being muzzled. And this allows the energy and drive of her fellow-musicians to shine through. And what musicians! I couldn't get a shot of them all together, so I put a photo of each musician in each of the movements, and I have used a well-known shot of Robert and Clara for the posting. 

This is chamber music of the highest order. If you ever had doubts about the Schumann quartet, abandon them here.

Incidentally, the Schumann's are pictured at a gate piano. The gate piano was so called because the whole action – keyboard, hammers, dampers, the lot – hinged outwards like a gate, allowing you to work on it very easily. When you close it, a long rod goes right down through it, holding it in place. I played on a piano like this one, beautifully restored, many years ago, at the home of Cathal Gannon, a wonderfully eccentric Irishman who built harpsichords and restored old pianos. 

Schumann: Piano Quartet Op 47
Boris Brovtsyn (violin), Julian Rachlin [viola] Boris Andrianov [cello] Khatia Buniatishvili [piano]. Recorded 2009-12-28 in Vredenburg, Utrecht. 256 kbs.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Alina Ibragimova in Bach, Biber and Vivalidi

I really am going to get my leg pulled about this one by BOOM, who already refers to this blog as my 'shrine to the lovely Alina'. But I couldn't resist it. Ill as I was last night, I got up to listen to this concert, and enjoyed it so much I listened to the whole thing again, with a glass or two of wine for company. 

It is causing me to have misgivings about the violin though. Is it possible that there's an ugly woman out there who plays the violin well? If so, why hasn't she got a recording contract?

In this concert, Ibragimova swaps her usual violin for a baroque Amati. The Biber pieces, in particular, are a revelation. The astonishing
Passacaglia starts from almost nothing and builds up in a hypnotic thread of utter concentration.  I've known the Battalia for years, thanks to an ancient Archiv recording, and it still delights me in its inventiveness. In the course of it, the strings imitate the sounds of battle, drunken soldiers singing in different keys, and lamentation. 

As a director, Ibragimova goes for dangerous speeds at times, but nothing the AAM can't handle. She's joined by Rodolfo Richter and Joseph Crouch in the Vivaldi Op 3 and by harpsichordist Alastair Ross in the sonata. 

Biber - Passacaglia in G minor from the Mystery/Rosary Sonatas
Bach - Sonata for violin and harpsichord in E major, BWV 1016
Bach - Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041
Vivaldi - Violin Concerto in D major, RV 234 (L'inquietudine)
Vivaldi - Concerto for two violins and cello in D major, Op. 3 no. 11 (RV 565)
Biber - Battalia
Bach - Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042.

Alina Ibragimova (violin and direction), Academy of Ancient Music
Assembly Rooms in Ludlow, 3rd March 2012

Radio 3 HD Internet Stream, normalised, tracked and tagged

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Yulianna Avdeeva : Recital from the 66th International Chopin Festival

Here she is again, in great sound and in great form! Not pretty, this playing, at least not in the conventional sense. The nocturnes take place in a sort of darkness that is low on moonbeams, and the opening sonorities of the hungarian rhapsody are arrestingly bleak. In fact, as a person who cannot stand the idiot antics of Liszt's piano writing, I have to confess to being fascinated by this selection of his darker works. 

Having heard Ingolf Wunder (joint second with Lukas Geniusas) and the noteworthy Hélène Tysman who didn't make the prizes, I still think Avdeeva comes out on top. Wunder has superb tone and musicianship, but Avdeeva manages to come up with a personal chemistry that is fascinating because it doesn't seem to impose itself on the music but to come up with things you don't normally hear. 


Yulianna Avdeeva : Recital from the 66th International Chopin Festival, Duszniki
Zdrój, 2011.

2 Nocturnes for piano (Op.62)
Scherzo for piano no. 1 (Op.20) in B minor
4 Mazurkas for piano (Op.33)
Yulianna Adeeva (piano)
Polonaise-fantasy for piano (Op.61) in A flat major

La Lugubre gondola for piano (S.200)
Nuages gris for piano (S.199)
Bagatelle without tonality for piano (S.216a)
No.17 from 19 Hungarian rhapsodies for piano (S.244)

Wagner (Transc. Liszt)
Tannhauser - Overture

Meditation (Op. 72 no. 5)

Waltz for piano (Op.42) in A flat major
Mazurka (Op.67 no.4) in A minor

Excellent sound, and a very good piano.

BBC Radio 3 HD internet stream, tracked, tagged, normalised

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Belcea Quartet play Beethoven Op 18/2, 59/2 and 131

Here is is: the eagerly awaited next installment of the Belcea quartet's Beethoven series. This one includes the Mount Everest of the chamber music repertoire – the C sharp minor quartet Op 131. And this is live music making, so the quartet has already played the taxing second Rasumovsky quartet. Holding together a work like Op 131 calls on the ensemble to sustain an incredible musical concentration for what must seem like an eternity. And they do it. And you cannot replicate this in a studio. This is live, on air, no retakes possible, so the tension mustn't ever be lost, not even between movements. 

And it isn't. This is a quartet on the top of their game, playing what I think is destined to become one of the great Beethoven quartet cycles. 

String Quartet in G Op. 18 No. 2
String Quartet in E minor Op. 59 No. 2 'Razumovsky'
String Quartet in C# minor Op. 131

Wigmore Hall, Broadcast Sunday 5th Feb 2012

Belcea Quartet
BBC3 HD Internet stream, tracked, normalised and tagged

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Alina Ibragimova and Alexei Ogrinchuk – Bach double concerto

Thanks to Boom for this one. It's getting to the point where anyone who comes across a good recording of Ibragimova sends it to me. Boom refers to my 'growing audio shrine of lovely Alina's concert performances'. 

Well, I cannot deny it. It's always a pleasure to hear her play. And this recording is exactly the music for this, the first day of Irish Spring. (Spring starts on the first of February in Ireland. Everyone else has to wait.)

It's a fresh, sparkling performance of the reconstructed Bach double concerto for violin and oboe BWV 1060R. Equal honour to the two soloists, Ibragimova and Ogrinchuk. Indeed, it's wonderful to hear two musicians so well matched in their vision of the music. They are backed by alert, responsive music-making from the Konzerthaus-Hammerorchester Berlin. The whole thing, then, is a delight.

So say Thank you, Boom and download!

Alina Ibragimova, violin
Alexei Ogrinchuk, oboe
Konzerthaus-Kammerorchester Berlin
George Techichinadze
January 21, 2012
Muziekgebouw Frit Philips

256 kbs mp3 (no re-encoding)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Herbert Murrill : Cello Concerto No 2

I'm not claiming this as a neglected masterpiece, but I am putting it forward as a fine piece of cello music. Murrill is remembered, if at all nowadays, as the composer of an evensong setting that is still commonly sung in Anglican worship. Indeed, I got to know him through my many years of cathedral singing. I had instinctively imagined him as a wrinkly old organist, and this photo of an earnest young man made me realise that old organists were once young too.

Not just that, but I would not have imagined him at work during the war (people my age call World War II "the war") in Bletchley Park, the top-secret intelligence centre that cracked the German and Japanese ciphers and greatly shortened the odds against the allies. In September 1944 ‘Sergeant’ Murrill conducted the Bletchley Park Musical Society in four performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Having an eye (and ear) for authenticity, Murrill brought over especially a harpsichord from Cambridge. You can read more about him here

The second cello concerto is subtitled "El cant dels ocells" in homage to Pau Casals, to whom it is dedicated. It was premièred by Murrill's second wife, Vera Canning, at the London Prom concerts in August 1951. 

It's fair to say that it is a work that does not plumb the depths, but instead spreads a picnic tablecloth on the grass and enjoys the birdsong. Raphael Walllfisch does the work proud, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the idiomatic baton of Tod (Vernon) Handley. 

mp3, 192kbs

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jan Lisiecki at Verbier, 2011

That (very) young man is Jan Lisiecki, a Canadian pianist and an outstanding one, if I may say so. He first caught my eye when I bought his Chopin piano concertos. My enjoyment was only slightly marred to find that the final movement of one of the concertos was missing on iTunes. I wrote to him to alert him, and, to my surprise, received a link to a temporary 'replacement' track, recorded live, which, in turn lead to a brief exchange of emails on the subject of signing up with DG and retaining some sort of artistic control. He was pretty adamant that he would.

I was delighted, then, to come across this recital at the Verbier festival. The recording is at least fourth hand, having been at least as far East as Bulgaria, and having ended up being tagged in cyrillic! Aside from re-tagging it in European script, I've had no role. It's a very decent recording at about 150kbs VBR. 

And the playing? An antidote to the antics of many of the monkeys of the keyboard of the present day. He even makes Liszt sound bearable (it seems almost impossible to play Liszt without seeming utterly idiotic and vulgar – only Arrau managed it consistently). His Chopin studies are the music without the antics, and his thoughtful Beethoven Op 78 is an interesting approach to a sonata that baffles many pianists by its sheer simplicity. In fact, throughout the recital I found myself simply immersed in the music, almost forgetting to be grateful to Lisiecki for making it so. 

Bach: Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor BWV 883
Beethoven : Sonata in F sharp number 24 in C major. Cit. 78 Liszt
Concert Studies .S 144 
Il Lamento 
La Leggierezza 
Un Sospiro 
Mendelson-Bartholdy : Variations Serieuses Op 54
Bach : Prelude and Fugue in F minor  BWV 857 
Chopin : Etudes Op 25Valse Op 64/1
Nocturne Op Posth

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Suk : Mass in B flat major, 'Krecovicka'

The teenage Josef Suk made his one and only foray into the realm of religious music with this short mass. You will not hear the composer of Asrael here, but you will hear a young, talented composer, brimming with ideas.

The work abounds in happy detail, notably a remarkable timpani part and occasional telling interventions from the organ loft. 

The same forces subsequently recorded this work - see link in the comments - and if the remaining works on the CD are on a par with this committed and energetic performance, I'll be delighted I ordered it. 

Marie Matejkova,
Ilona Satylova,
Jiri Vinklarek,
Michael Mergl,
Czech Radio Choir,
Pilzen Radio Orchestra,
Stanislaw Begunia

BBC Radio 3 internet HD stream, tracked and tagged

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paul Baumgartner live at Lugano 1964

A bit of a rarity here. The discography of the Swiss pianist Paul Baumgartner  (21 July 1903 – 19 October 1976) is pretty sparse. And, indeed, so are biographical details (I know, I wrote most of the tiny Wikipedia entry). His pupils included Alfred Brendel, and the very-underrated Karl Engel, who recorded one of the finest Mozart concerto cycles I know. 

As you might expect, the playing is insightful, and the selection of music is certainly not run-of-the mill. In 1964 you didn't hear Masques or Brahms Op 117 routinely programmed. The playing is also remarkable for its refusal to resort to grand gesture – listening to the Brahms, the little nuances of rubato seem to come from inside the music rather than outside, if that makes any sense. It is rubato that helps each note to find its rightful place in the flow of the music, rather than rubato that gives a customised colour to each phrase. The opening of the Andante Favori seems, well, matter of fact, but listen to the second statement of the theme – he was holding back something, wasn't he? And the Brahms Op 117/1 – less instant atmosphere than you or I might like, but by the time the last chords arrive you realise that the effect he has been working towards is the effect of the whole piece, not the notes.

But first and foremost, this upload is a tribute to all the touring pianists who played at the Royal Dublin Society in the fifties and sixties. My mother would take me along. Sure, I got to hear some household names – Arrau, Vasary – but many of the pianists were the traveling recitalists of yesteryear – Jacques Klein, for example, was a regular visitor. Who? — Exactly. A whole tradition pretty much gone. (Klein was a Brazilian, and although I cannot find any recordings, I think he was pretty good – at least my childhood self thought so.) 

Beethoven : Piano Sonata Op 27/2, Andante Favori
Brahms : 3 Intermezzi Op 117
Debussy : Images Book I, Masques
Chopin : Ballade No 4
Schubert : Moment Musical Op 94/6
Chopin : Waltz Op 70/3
Recorded 17 Feb 1964

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Victoria : Requiem - The Tallis Scholars

Last year was the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis de Victoria, and it brought with it some fascinating insights into the composer's vast output. I hadn't appreciated how the developments of the baroque influenced him – he tends to be portrayed as the last composer of the Spanish golden age, a Bach-like figure whose work was the final great expression of renaissance ideals. Far from it! The man was clearly in touch with all the latest developments. I've been savouring a 10-CD box of his work from the Ensemble Ne Plus Ultra. Highly recommended!

Meanwhile, here is the Victoria we have all come to know and love: the six-voice Requiem, in a live performance by the Tallis Scholars from the 2011 Prom concerts. The requiem was composed in 1603 for the funeral rites of the Dowager Empress Maria, sister of Philip II of Spain, in whose entourage Victoria had spent several decades as a composer. It is often portrayed as a valedictory work, a final monument to the ideals of the renaissance, but frankly I think that the clear textures and highly expressive harmonies owe at least as much to the baroque æsthetic as they do to the traditions of the older generation.

My own favorite movement is the Versa est in luctum - a movement that builds up, wave upon wave of grief – My harp is tuned for lamentation and my organ into the voice of those who weep – until it finally reaches a shattering climax on the words Spare me Lord, for my days are as nothing. It is impossible, as it is with Lassus' 5-voice requiem, not to believe that this is a profound personal statement of grief. 

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Schumann : Symphonic Studies - Ingrid Fliter

A pianist that is neither without admirers nor detractors – I've heard some rather scathing things said about her Chopin waltzes in particular. Here's a chance to put her to the test in a work that defies the pianist to string together its many gems into a coherent necklace. Local colour and inspiration are just not enough; a sense of the big picture is needed too. 

I think she holds the work together well, but see what you think!

Radio 3 HD internet stream.

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