Friday, March 30, 2012

The ultimate synthesis

For some people only live recordings (as opposed to studio concoctions) do justice to a composer's work. The odd mistake that cannot be re-recorded is a small price to pay for the experience of a whole piece delivered in one musical chunk. Barenboim's recording of Saint-Saens' third (organ) symphony for Deutsche Grammophon (474 612-2) undermines this notion. It is entirely synthetic, with the organ part recorded separately and later mixed with the wonderful Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But the effect achieved in the final movement is quite extraordinary. It is hard not to be swept along with the power of it. Does it matter it's not 'real'? Not when it's this good - and at £3.99 from Amazon, what's not to like.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Making a name for himself

Dmitri Shostokovich took the first letter of his first name and the first three of his second and made something of a name for himself. In German musical notation D, Es, C, H (or DSCH) represent D, Eb, C, B in our anglicised terminology and this four note motif appears throughout Shostokovich's work, including his first cello concerto, considered to be one of
the most difficult cello pieces in the repertoire. It, like the second, was written for Shostokovich's friend the great cellist, Rostropovich who premiered the piece in the Soviet Union in 1959, having committed it to memory in just four days.

My recording choice is Shostokovich's son, Maxim, conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with soloist, Heinrich Schiff (421 526-2PH). Another Decca legendary recording - Just under ten quid from Amazon.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The sound of the sea

Felix Mendelssohn was very much influenced by his environment or so it seems from the names he gave to some of his compositions: Hebridean Overture, Italian symphony, Scottish symphony. The Italian symphony is perhaps his best known symphony. It reminds me of Beethoven's pastoral symphony and is a bit too 'classical' for my taste and for me not particularly evocative of Italy but very good for all that.

The Hebridean overture or Fingal's cave to give it it's other name is a very different kettle of fish. There can be no mistaking the sound of the sea lapping against the walls of the basalt cave off Staffa. Altogether more romantic it counted Wagner among it's admirers.

For just short of £26 the 4 CD boxed set of 5 symphonies and 7 overtures recorded by the LSO with Claudio Abbado for Deutsche Grammophon provides a great introduction to Mendelssohn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I'm in love with a dead Finn and a 64 year old Korean violinist. It wasn't love at first sight but boy am I smitten! Without doubt I have played Sibelius's violin concerto more than any other disc so far. It took a while to appreciate it but after a few attempts it all begins to make sense. At first it is confusing - lots of individual bits that don't quite seem to add up to a coherent whole. But relax, sit back and take it in as one piece and, like an impressionist painting that on close inspection is just dots but from a distance represents something of beauty, prepare to be astonished. The effort required is modest for what I know will be a lifetime fascination with this piece.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Repaying Mum

In 1970 the Korean violinist Kyung-Wha Chung was just 22. Her recording of the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos with the LSO and Andre Previn is, and rightly so, a Decca legendary recording (475 7734). This debut album brought her international fame, and no doubt went some way to helping repay her mother who three years earlier had sold the family home to buy the budding star her first Stradivarius. Chung's playing is reminiscent of the verve and passion du Pre brought to the Elgar cello concerto. Chung manages to extract the same tonal quality from her Strad and matches du Pre in edginess.

I started to write that the Sibelius concerto, after an exquisite start, seemed to lose its way (the piece not the playing), with far too many themes and half themes; but listening now for the third time to the first movement, it is all beginning to make sense! It is definitely growing on me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

This is it!

When Pete Postlethwaite invites the female accountant to join band practice with her father's cornet in 'Brassed Off' the miners don't expect much. The look on Pete's face as she launches into the most wonderful solo of the second movement of Rodrigo's 'Orange Juice' is priceless. The film is about the passion miners had for their pits, their jobs and their communities; but the band leader's passion is music.

John Elliot Gardner, The Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Julian Bream have that passion in spades - and some. RCA's Red Seal recording of the Concierto de Aranjuez (82876 60870 2), to give it it's proper title, is the stuff desert island discs are made of. Try it with a glass of Galician white!

You can expect the legendary Bream to give it his all, but the orchestra is a revelation. At almost every stage they match Bream's peerless musicality. In 1983 it was a young group and it shows - full of life and brio. Aged 50, Bream was in his prime and recording his third 'Orange Juice' but his first digitally.

If I had to choose just one of the discs so far this would be it!