Monday, February 27, 2012

Used but fine

After cancelling and receiving a refund on my original Schubert order, I ordered 'used' from the Amazon Marketplace - I know I said I wouldn't but it was worth taking a chance for a saving of nine quid. Arrived today. First impression was not great. The case was grimy and the disc looked slightly marked but now listening to it for the second time, I really can't tell it is a used disc. And the music and recording....Great!

The Alban Berg Quartett really let rip, particularly in the final movement which at times seems rushed but is always exciting. This cast off Death and the Maiden is certainly well worth having.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The Grieg arrived today - Magnificent! The playing by Perahia is to die for: definite shades of Argerich playing Rach 3. Muscular when called for, delicate to the point of being almost unbearably moving at times and an extraordinary virtuosity. Tragic Sony decided to edit out what can only have been a huge ovation at the end. I liked it!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

All the right notes...

Still no Schubert, so let's move onto the next choice.

On Christmas day 1971 at the age of 10 I laughed along with literally half the nation at Eric Morecombe's rendition of Grieg's piano concerto with a game Mr Andrew Preview (Andre Previn) and the LSO. The concerto was the first piano concerto ever recorded and is probably the most famous.

Unlike Eric, Murray Perhaia managed all the right notes in the right order in his live recording in 1987 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Colin Davies (Sony Classical SK44899) - £4.07 from Amazon.

Ballet for Martha

Copland may not have had the Appalachian mountains in mind when he wrote 'Martha's ballet' for Martha Graham (the name 'Appalachian Spring' was chosen after the piece had been written) but it is music very much rooted in the open spaces of America. At first seemingly melancholic, it is also uplifting and immensely moving. Yet the abiding impression is music which distills the essence of America. Whether it's the use of the Shaker melody, 'Simple Gifts', the hints of Copland's earlier piece, 'Fanfare for the Common Man', or the echoing sound of kettle drums used to mimic gun shots, I don't know but it's almost impossible to listen to it without imagining cow folk and the great plains of the Midwest.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What a corker!

Getting the Cyrus box out of the attic for its return to the shop was enough to shame it back into life. Switching it on again this morning triggered the usual, reassuring sequence of lights and bingo all working perfectly! Never done that before but delighted it did - saved me two hundred quid.

Pity I haven't been so lucky with the next CD. No sign of it yet. I shan't buy any more CDs from Amazon's partners - just not reliable enough. I'm now having to make my next choice without yet having received the last.

Aaron Copland was a very modern American composer: born in Brooklyn, openly gay and with the extraordinary ability of capturing the essence of the new world in his music.

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas in 1999 recorded two of Copland's ballets: Appalachian Spring and Billy The Kid, for RCA (RCA Red Seal 09026-63511-2). Described by the Gramophone guide as boasting opulent, exhilarating and expansive sonics and as a corker of a release, this is a must have - amazingly just £3.49 from Amazon.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Disaster! A power cut, which lasted most of the day, tripped my amp, which will have to be returned to the factory to be re-set. The problem is the Rega pre-amp which despite supposedly being compatible with the Cyrus amplifier, nevertheless occasionally trips it if switched on whilst the amp is on. I assume it causes a power surge which the highly sensitive safety mechanism of the amp reacts to by shutting down. It is therefore necessary to switch the two units on in the correct order: pre-amp then amp; or, as I usually do, leave the pre-amp on at all times. When the power was switched back on the pre-amp beat the amp to it! You'd think there'd be a reset button, but no, the careful folk at Cyrus don't trust owners to manage such complex electronics. The result, unfortunately, will be a hefty bill and a couple or more weeks without a CD player.

In the meantime, I will manage (perfectly well) with the Bose CD/radio and must make my next choice. I'll try some chamber music this time and Schubert's Death and the Maiden. Written in 1824 as the composer struggled with tertiary syphilis, this D minor string quartet, with death as its theme seems very appropriate! A live recording by the Alban Berg quartet looks like the one to go for, but not so easy to find - ended up buying from one of Amazon's suppliers rather than direct at £12.99 plus £1.26 p&p with a vague promise of delivery between 9 and 21 Feb - fingers crossed.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The fearless Mr Rubinstein

I've discovered the perfect way to appreciate the 1930s Rubinstein recordings - on the Land Rover CD player. The road noise masks the background hiss, leaving only the sublime Mr Rubinstein.

Meanwhile the Pires recording arrived on Thursday. A beautifully produced recording which echoes through the house on the Cyrus. Is it fair to compare the two given the markedly different sound quality? The stronger bass sound on the modern recording produces an entirely different effect: less delicate, less fragile, particularly at the higher end of the range. What is remarkable for me in the Rubinstein recordings is the extraordinary sensitivity of the phrasing. This seems to work better with the rather thin sound of the early recording.

That's not to say Pires is any less sensitive in her playing. She is an extremely gifted pianist, perhaps a bit too polished for my taste. I can't imagine her hitting too many duff notes in more technically demanding pieces - something Rubinstein wasn't afraid to do. I say wasn't afraid to because at this level of playing mistakes arise not so much because of poor technique but because the performer is pushing the limits of his ability. Martha Argerich is equally fearless. Notwithstanding the brilliance of Pires and Rubinstein, my favourite recording of piano music is still Argerich's live recording of Rachmaninov's third piano concerto, recorded in Berlin with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra for Philips in 1982 (464 732-2).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Loud hissing noise

My first disappointment. Nothing wrong with Chopin or Artur Rubinstein, but the re-mastering has left a loud hissing noise from the original recording. I guess it's been cleaned up as much as it can be without losing much of the recording, but for me it is too distracting. Such a shame because Rubinstein's phrasing and feel for the pieces is superb.

Having thought I'd got a bargain I've now blown another £15.99 on Maria Pires' 1996 recording of the Nocturnes for Deutsche Grammaphon (DG 447 096-2GH2).