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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