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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