Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Visceral Argerich

Martha Argerich must get through pianos like some people get through shoes. It is testament to the skill of the piano builder, and Argerich's extraordinary technique, that after the most ferocious pounding in the early parts of Liszt's piano sonata, Argerich is still capable of extracting some delicate, nuanced phrasing in the more expressive sections. Her recording of the B minor sonata for Deutsche Grammophon (437 252-2) is remarkably physical - exhausting just to listen to. Gramophone's 2012 guide (a birthday present - thanks kids!) rates this recording as legendary. Commenting on the sound quality the author says it's excellent 'if you bother to notice it'. With music this visceral, the sound is almost incidental.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Joie de vivre

You may be wondering how I got so far through the year with nothing yet by Wolfgang Amadeus. The truth is I have an excellent boxed set of CDs, including a wide range of his work. But it's time to add to the collection and I've chosen a legendary recording of Mozart's 4 horn concertos and quintet for piano and wind instruments featuring one of the greatest ever French horn players - Dennis Brain (EMI 0946 3 38603 2 2). Dennis Brain loved fast cars and is said to have kept a copy of a car magazine on his music stand whilst playing the Mozart concertos from memory. Tragically his love of driving cost him his life at the age of 36 when he drove his Triumph TR2 off the A1 whilst returning from the Edinburgh Festival to London in September 1957. This is a wonderful collection of some of his finest recordings. The final movement of the fourth concerto showcases a unique talent, demonstrating the joie de vivre he clearly had in spades.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Manhattan Melody

If Copeland's Apalachian Spring represents the open spaces of America, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue represents her big cities, and none more perhaps than Manhattan in the 20s The two together are about all you need for a complete understanding of the USA. Where Copeland captures (even if he didn't mean to) the essence of farm folk of the Mid West, Gershwin in just over 16 minutes of glorious, riotous, heart warming music captures the chutzpah, exuberance, hopes and dreams of a generation of city dwellers.

The Columbia Symphony Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein directing from the piano (82876 78768 2) are magnificent from the first extraordinary clarinet solo, through some amazing and vibrant brass sections right through to the end. Bernstein plays with great feeling and passion, but for my money doesn't quite match the orchestra's gutsy playing.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Back to Beethoven

After 3 months and 13 discs, I'll return to Beethoven and some of his more famous piano sonatas, including the Appassionata which includes the 'fate knocking at the door' motif which opens the fifth symphony. Decca's double CD collection featuring Alfred Brendel (438 730-2) is good value at just over £7 and includes 7 of the 32 compositions.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Firework music

A trip to St Albans was a good opportunity to get to know Saint-Saens' third symphony a little better. The first two movements suffered from the usual problem of playing classical music in the car - quiet sections too quiet for the road noise and when this is right the louder sections are too loud; but the final movement was great. The bass notes of Chartres Cathedral's organ resonated throughout the Land Rover and the brass section sounded magnificent. This would make great firework music.