Saturday, December 7, 2013

Alina Ibragimova plays Bernd Alois Zimmermann's violin concerto (1950)

I am always apprehensive when performers start to become famous. It seems that their room for manoeuvre in terms of repertoire is inevitably constricted. I groan inwardly every time I see another Hélène Grimaud concert – same couple of concertos more or less endlessly. I suppose that when you start playing big venues, they have to sell a lot of tickets to people who don't want to hear a new piece of music unless they've heard it before. 

Well, Alina Ibragimova is still not quite embedded in the Mozart/Mendelssohn/Beethoven/Brahms circuit. Here she is playing the violin concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmerman (1918-1970), a gritty, hard-driven work that nevertheless rewards the soloist by alternating grittiness with a  sort of bleak lyricism. Kind of like trying to have a romance in Berlin. Indeed, in comparison with any of his works I know, this is the sweet side of Zimmermann. 

mp3 256 kbs

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tomoko Mukaiyama - Première of Raskatov's new piano concerto

Tomoko Mukaiyama is a maverick - pianist, performance artist, composer and generally interesting person. Her 1990s work often featured her in states of undress which may have distracted from the fact that she was performing really interesting contemporary repertoire and that she was an excellent pianist. I am glad to see that she hasn't faded away, of even become dull, but is still active and inventive. And, as you can see, still has a taste in clothes that is far more interesting than the cutesy neoteny of Yuja Wang

And so to the upload. Raskatov hadn't made much of a blip on my radar until now, but I do like this concerto. Its half-hour length consists of 12 episodes (the butterflies of the title). The overall result is, I am glad to say, pianistic, engaging and diverse. 

Raskatov, Alexander Mikhailovich (1953)
- Piano Concerto "Night Butterflies" (2013) - World Premiere
Residentie Orkest, Reinbert de Leeuw, 
Tomoko Mukaiyama, Piano

Recorded live 11-May-2013 in the Dr. Anton Philipszaal, Den Haag

Radio 4 internet stream, live
192kbs mp3, tagged losslessly

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Borodin Quartet play Shostakovich: the last three quartets

String Quartet No. 14 in F#, Op. 142
String Quartet No. 13 in Bb minor, Op. 138
String Quartet No. 15 in Eb minor, Op. 144

Borodin String Quartet
Recorded 17-10-2011, Lisbon

This performance generated a little bit of controversy, with people either stunned or irritated. 

Probably the problem stems from the place of the Borodin Quartet in the history of Shostakovich's quartets. I was one of the youngsters who emerged, almost unbelieving, from a record shop with a box of LPs under my arm that had the then-complete Shostakovich quartets (the first thirteen). It was an EMI set, issued under license from Melodiya, and was ridiculously cheap.

Those recordings, in a sort of soviet-realist stereo, were challenging, unsparing and yet had a sort of wild lyricism that flashed through. They are now available again, on Chandos. 

Time moves on. The Borodins changed lineup (under pretty disagreeable circumstances - a tale of bitter personal antagonism) and the resulting ensemble is quite a different one to the original lineup. The sound is very distinctive - I always think of polished wood: ebony, rosewood, oak. They make an almost unbelievably beautiful sound when they play without vibrato, and they know how and when to use it. But there are those who see their warmer, more lyrical approach as a loss of the fire in the belly that unquestionably drove their early recordings. 

And so to these three quartets. My real interest was in the thirteenth. It's a work I have never been able to fathom, though this hasn't stopped me listening to it. Does it have a structure? Or is it more like picking your way through the wreckage of something that once had a structure? And, come to think of it, the same applies to the fifteenth, where time seems to have died. The feeling that something will happen slowly gives way to the realisation that this music isn't leading anywhere, isn't following any course. Nothing seems to accumulate. 

I happen to think that these performances are breath-taking. There is no using that beautiful Borodin sound to lipstick the pig. Rather there is a collision between the sweetness of the sound and the emptiness of the music. And when violence breaks out (such as the banshee shrieks of the fifteenth) then the Borodins are well able to produce those slicing, jabbing sforzandos. 

I walked along the canal a few nights ago, with the dog dandling from the lead, listening to number fifteen. Forty years later, I am less keen to understand what I hear, and more inclined to let it be. I am not the same person who listened all those years ago, and the world is not the same world. The political agenda is no longer relevant to the music, and Shostakovich is another dead composer, whom I miss. All of this gives us different ears. 

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Strauss : Metamorphosen - Runnicles

It's that man again. A searching performance of Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings.

I have gone through periods of detesting this work as self-pitying and periods in which I think I understand. I seem to be in one of the latter at the moment.

The end is especially successful – Runnicles, apparently, in rehearsal urged the players not to let the audience know when the music was over. And it works. The man can get utter commitment from every player, which you need to bring off a work like this.

And now, time to pack for my holidays!

Back in August.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Feldman : For Bunita Marcus - Reinbert de Leeuw

This was my introduction to the music of Morton Feldman. Not quite knowing what to expect, I put on the CD of Kildegard Kleeb, whose cool, luminous reading I still like a lot. And that was it: next time I was in London, I bought the score and started exploring the curiously mediculous and yet almost empty score. The rhythmic notation is utterly precise, designed to avoid any sense of a continuing pulse. The consequence of this is that you have to read the piece counting semiquavers at a manic speed in order to hear the rhythmic patterns exactly as Feldman wrote them. It's quite a tiring piece to work on, believe me!

The excellent and cosmopolitan Ivan Ilic  gave a concert here about a year ago in which he replaced the advertised programme with a radically different one. The reason was, he said, that he had encountered Feldman, and was completely rethinking his relationship with sound. As a pianist, he explained, you are constantly thinking about the attack of each note, weighting it, delivering it. But the body of the note is the sound that continues on, beyond your control. Because it's beyond your control you tend to pay less attention to it, but once you start listening, your whole relationship with music changes.

I have to say that the effect was noticeable on his playing. And yes, he did play some Feldman. Though not this vast work, lasting over an hour I warn you. 

The recording is live, which means, alas, that some Dutch people with terminal lung cancer are, apparently, cared for in their last moments at concerts rather than, as is usual here, at a hospice. But the concentration and energy of a live performance give this recording a special edge. This is music that is actually happening as you hear it. de Leew's playing is clear and light. 

See what you think.

Recorded 6 June, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ
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Mihaela Ursuleasa : Mozart and Schumann Concertos

Here is where I come to the end of the little trove of recordings I have by the late Mihaela Ursuleasa. The recordings were assembled mainly through the kindness of others who, like me, had been struck by something truly original and life-affirming in her playing. 

Her performance in the Clara Haskil competition in 1995 produced two splendid concerto recordings - the Mozart Jeunehomme and the Beethoven Emperor. I can only recommend readers to seek them out. An impish, but at the same time utterly serious musician leaps out from the very first notes (and one who appreciates that some of the most profound utterances are also witty!).

The recordings on this blog do not showcase a pianist who was an uncannily fully-formed musician from a precocious age. Quite the reverse: they show, to my mind, a musician who was constantly asking questions, testing ideas, growing and developing. And this, I think, is her legacy: not a distillation of a lifetime of experience, but the energy and rigour with which she asked questions of the music and herself.

As the father of young children, my thoughts go, too, to her little daughter, Stefanie, just seven years old when her mother died.

Mozart : Piano concerto No 20 KV466 
Bucharest, 20 February 2008
Mihaela Ursuleasa, Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra, Horia Andreescu
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Schumann : Piano Concerto in A minor
Mihaela Ursuleasa, Orquestra Sinfónica de Barcelona i Catalunya (OBC), Hans Graf
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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mihaela Ursuleasa - Beethoven 3

Here, through the kindness of others, is the first of a little clutch of recordings that will add substantially to the trove I've been gathering as a tribute to Mihaela Ursuleasa, whose untimely death at 33 was deeply felt in the musical world.

Here's a splendid recording of Beethoven's third piano concerto, recorded in Bucharest on the 4th of May 2010. With the Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra conducted by Horia Andreescu.

Not only do you get the concerto, at 320 kbs, but two encores, including one that Ursuleasa had made her calling card, the mercurial Joc Dobrogean. 

Beethoven : Piano Concerto No 3 in c minor
Encore - Paul Constantinescu/  Joc Dobrogean – veloce (quasi una Toccata)
Encore - Haydn / Sonata No. 59 In E Flat Major, Hob. XVI/ 49/ III. Finale

Mihaela Ursuleasa, Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra, Horia Andreescu

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Brahms : Piano Concerto No 1 on an 1847 Streicher piano

Ronald Brautigam has made a formidable reputation for himself as a specialist in early pianos. He has already traversed the Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart piano sonatas for BIS, and his only lapse to date seems to have been his Beethoven concertos, marred by the utterly insipid conducting of a dull Englishman.

Here he is on a Streicher piano of 1847 playing Brahms' first concerto. The piano is to my ear informed by the Erard and Playels of the day. Certainly, it has the muscle to handle the orchestral balance, and the more singing bass register and faster decay mean that the piano writing comes across as more lucid, less congested. I have always felt that Brahms has an undeserved reputation for thick piano writing, based on the grumbly noises that emerge from a modern Steinway. Just remember that not even Steinway pianos sounded like that when Brahms was alive. Indeed, even the sound of Rachmaninoff's own Steinway reveals a leaner, more precise sound than you hear from modern examples. Leaving you with a feeling that we listen to classical piano music on a piano that essentially post-dates more or less the entire repertoire!

Anyway, here it is. I'm curious to hear what listeners make of it.

Brahms : Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15
Ronald Brautigam, [Piano J.B. Streicher, Vienna 1847],
Nederlands Symfonie Orkest, Jan Willem de Vriend

Recorded 5-April-2013, Muziekcentrum Enschede

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Willem van Otterloo : Symphony No 2 (Premiere)

van Otterloo
Jan Willem van Otterloo (27 December 1907 – 27 July 1978) is remembered as a conductor, and especially as a champion of new music, but he was also a composer. His second symphony, which remained incomplete, was completed by his son-in-law, the composer Otto Ketting (and I regret that the link is to the Dutch Wikipedia – nothing in the English one!). Ketting, in fact, worked on his father-in-law's symphony in the period before his own death in 2012.

So the work is in some sense a valediction from both of these two well-loved figures in Dutch musical life. 

The work received its first performance at Vredenburg Leidsche Rijn, on the 6th April 2013, and was broadcast live. 

It's a gritty work, hard-driven outer movements and a sombre slow movement at its centre. While it does manage to find a major chord in its final bars, there is a sense more of defiance than triumph. I have found myself listening to it with a sense that this is more than conductor's music. There is a complex personality underlying the music that makes me curious to know more of his work. 

Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, James Gaffigan

192kbs mp3, tracked and tagged
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Åm, Magnar (1952) : Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra

Magnar, looking very Norwegian

Åm, Magnar (1952) :Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra "Tropic of Cancer"

Geir Draugsvoll, Accordion, Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, Jan Willem de Vriend

Here's something off the beaten track. I've been listening to contemporary concertos recently, and I'm going to post a couple of interesting ones.

Starting with a concerto for Accordion by the Norwegian Magnar Åm. It's a work that does seem to wander around a lot, but the accordion part is beautifully played by Geir Graugsvoll. There are brooding passages that remind me of the late Astor Piazzolla, and in general the work has a tendency to slip into introspection.

It gets a really fine performance from the Netherlands players under the baton of de Vriend who, as far as I am concerned, is a conductor to watch out for.

256 kbs mp3 from a radio broadcast
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