Wednesday, December 27, 2006

book tags....

I've been a little slow in responding, but the other day Evelio tagged me for this:

Find the nearest book.
Turn to page 123.
Go to the fifth sentence on the page.
Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog.
Name the book and the author, and tag three more folks.

Here goes...

"...There are directions for the printer and directions to be printed in the score. Messiaen said that the preface and all the fingerings had to be included. He also told the printer to mind the page turns."
(Yvonne Loriod talking to author Rebecca Rischin about preparing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time for publication in 1942.)

The book: For the End of Time by Rebecca Rischin, Cornell University Press.

I'm tagging Viola in Vilnius, Helen and Jeremy.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Longfellow for Christmas Eve

(I was going to post a funny, facetious poem for Xmas. But this is so beautiful that I simply have to use it instead, even though it's not actually snowing...)


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air.
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent and soft and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

JDCMB CDs of the Year 2006

A few personal recommendations of favourite discs released this year - just in time for that last-minute Xmas shopping. Enjoy!

1. ELGAR Violin Concerto (original version). Philippe Graffin (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. Avie Records AV2091. Glorious golden-age-style playing from Philippe, deep empathy from Tod on the podium, and fascinating alternative textual version evoking Elgar's original ideas before Kreisler got his hands on the piece and changed them.

2. STRAUSS Lieder. Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano). Harmonia Mundi HMC901879. When I popped this into the CD player and heard that voice I thought I'd gone to heaven. A real young Heldentenor! A singer who embodies the essence of German romanticism! It's not only that beautiful tone and its large spectrum - very dark, yet with an extremely powerful top range - it's also his intelligence, his fine enuciation, the sense of all-giving passion. If only he'd do some Korngold...

3. Canciones Argentinas. Bernarda and Marcos Fink (mezzo & baritone), Carmen Piazzini (piano). Harmonia Mundi HMC901892. An Aladdin's Cave of shadowy, aching, irresistible art songs from these musicians' native Argentina, including some Piazzolla gems and far more besides. Bernarda's honeyed tones, Marcos's gritty edge, the ever-compelling rhythms of tango and the heart-rending, bittersweet nostalgia made me listen to it three times through on the spot. Harmonia Mundi seems to have had a very good year.

4. RACHMANINOV Etudes Tableaux, Rustem Hayroudinoff (piano). Chandos 10391. Just out, and picked by BBC Music Magazine as its instrumental choice of the month. Colourful, powerful and idiomatic performances of these fabulous yet oddly underrated pieces, with illuminating insights into the inspirations behind them. (The concert went well the other day, incidentally.)

5. MIKLOS ROZSA Cello Concerto & Sinfonia Concertante. Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Philippe Graffin (violin), BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth. ASV GLD4018. Philippe in partnership with the inimitable Raphael Wallfisch: astonishing music by the idiosyncratic and immensely compelling emigre Hungarian Miklos Rozsa that simply must be heard. Glittering, imaginative, earthy, astringent, Rozsa's music found a happy home in Hollywood, but, as in Korngold's case, there was one hell of a lot more to him than that. This team will be performing the Sinfonia Concertante at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1 May next year, together with Korngold's Sinfonietta.

6. ROXANNA PANUFNIK Beastly Tales. Patricia Rozario (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo), Roderick Williams (baritone), City of London Sinfonia conducted by Sian Edwards. EMI 3566922. Roxanna's settings of three of Vikram Seth's rethinkings of Aesop's Fables are as delicious as the poems, evoking many astonishing animal noises amongst other kinds of sly and imaginative humour. For children aged 0 to 100.

7. JUAN DIEGO FLOREZ Sentimento Latino. JDF (tenor), accompanied by somebody who doesn't get a credit on the front. Decca 4757576. The arrangements are a bit cheesy, but That Voice goes soaring over the top and lifts one clear off the ground into the South American sunshine...

8. RENEE FLEMING: Homage - the Age of the Diva. RF (soprano), Mariinsky Theatre orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Decca 4758070. This much-loved soprano in a programme of remarkably little-known arias from such luminaries as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Strauss, Verdi, Janacek and, best of all, two Korngold ones that are hardly ever performed: the staggeringly beautiful 'Ich ging zu ihm' from Das Wunder der Heliane and the touching 'Ich soll ihn niemals, niemals mehr sehn' from Die Kathrin.

9. TCHAIKOVSKY Suite No.3. Russian National Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Pentatone PTC5186061. I have a very, very soft spot for this under-heard Tchaikovsky Suite, a symphony in all but name. Its delicate and fearsomely challenging orchestration is beautifully conveyed by the RNO and Vladimir. Tchaikovsky's immense lyricism and virtuoso imagination is underpinned by a disturbing, sinister edge that is never overstated here but adds well-modulated depth to the whole picture.

10. SCHUMANN The complete string quartets. Fine Arts Quartet, Naxos, 8570151. Just out! The Fine Arts Quartet was my big chamber-music revelation this year: it's that golden-age edge that I adore, the intense sweetness of first violin Ralph Evans' tone, the beauty of the close-knit sounds and the completeness of their involvement in the music - as superb as ever in Schumann's personal, subtle and sensitive quartets which, again, are never played as often as they should be.

(The above links are via Amazon, in its infinite wisdom, has recently seen fit to make it impossible to search by artist, let alone composer and artist together, and has ditched proper catalogue numbers in favour of some unhelpful system of its own. It's become very hard to find specific classical recordings on that site. What are they playing at?!?).

Thursday, December 21, 2006


An unusual commission, perhaps, but I've written a short story in two parts for Classical Music Magazine's Christmas and New Year editions...

The Singewood Symphony Orchestra's future is already hanging in the balance when violinist Paul Brown accidentally discovers a new threat to its home venue: mice in the artists' bar. But does the beautiful Polish cellist 'Jackie Duprewski' possess a secret weapon? What exactly is the connection between her and the fierce music director Stefan Bach? Can Paul win Jackie's heart? Can Lenny save the day? Don't miss 'Lenny - the cat that shook an orchestra'!

Part 1 is out now (you have to buy the magazine to read it because there's no online version).

Meanwhule, don't forget Rustem Hayroudinoff's recital at the Wigmore Hall tonight!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Valentines already?

Tricky to think about Valentine's Day before Christmas is over and done with, but Muso Magazine is having an online survey to try to find out which musicians make the best lovers! Not specifically, you understand, just in terms of their choice of instrument. There's plenty of space to expound and it's safely anonymous. I've had a go and found myself rating violinists rather highly, for some mysterious reason. Follow this link and let rip...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rustem Hayroudinoff, Wigmore Hall, Thursday 21 December

Rustem Hayroudinoff is one of those musicians who knock the spots off overhyped oriental kiddies and wolf-keeping Europeans in terms of genuine artistry, but have had to struggle for much too long to achieve the recognition they deserve.

But at last I get the feeling that his boat is in sight of the shore: his latest recording for Chandos, Rachmaninov's Etudes Tableaux, is the instrumental Pick of the Month in the newest BBC Music Magazine and he'll be playing Rachmaninov's Third Concerto with the London Philharmonic on 14 January (Eastbourne, 3pm).

A big Russian-school technique - rich, glowing tone, layered voicing and spacious phrasing - plus an artistic awareness that encompasses painting, literature, cinema, jazz (which he plays jolly well), terrific intelligence and a great sense of humour, all add up to fresh, heady and colourful artistic results. Rustem is a Tatar from Kazan, trained in Moscow and London, where he now lives, and is the most vivid raconteur I know. Tomorrow (Monday) he's on BBC Radio 3's In Tune programme around 6.15pm. (Along with Juan Diego Florez!! no kidding.)

On Thursday next week he's giving a Wigmore Hall recital. Do come and hear him if you're in London.

Bach English Suite No. 3 in G minor

Debussy Suite Bergamasque

Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues op. 87

No. 2 in A minor

No. 4 in E minor

No. 15 in D flat major

Chopin Mazurkas:

Op.56 No. 2 in C

Op.17 No .4 in A minor

Op.63 No. 3 in C# minor

Scherzo No. 3 op. 39

Prokofiev Sonata No.7 op. 83

Tickets: £22 £18 £14 £10
Wigmore Hall box office: 020 7935 2141

These two...

... are at it again. Walking out of things. Yes, it's the Alagna & Gheorghiu Show (or no show). Read the Alagna files in detail c/o Milan-based Operachic here.

As far as surreal interviews go, my encounter with them several years back, pre-blog, probably takes the biscuit. Briefly, this is what happened:

7am train to Paris, with photographer, make-up artist and hairdresser. Taxi to posh hotel. A&G 45 mins late. We are all confined to a suite together. G's hair takes 2 hours. I interview A in hotel bar. He turns on charm, full of enthusiasm and ideas. When tape recorder switches off, so does he. We return to suite, where A sits on the sofa beside me but does not acknowledge my continued existence and responds monosyllabically to my attempts at chit-chat, preferring to talk in rapid French to the attending record company executive. G, still having her hair done, talks in rapid Romanian to her PA. I read a book. The TV is on, without the sound, showing female sumo wrestling. A&G don't appear to exchange so much as a look, let alone a word. Hairdresser finishes, photographer moves in to snap cover shot for Valentine's Day special and suddenly the stars turn on the twinkle and are all over each other. When photographer switches off, so do they. I interview G in hotel bar. She seems extraordinarily defensive, but at least remains consistent pre-, during- and post-interview. Sundown. Record company exec buys us a drink and I have civilised conversation with G. A continues to ignore everyone but self and record co exec. I bundle into taxi to Gare du Nord with photographer, hairdresser and make-up artist. On train they open a bottle of wine and let rip. Fast-forward a few months and A&G look stunning on cover of Valentine's Day/February edition. My article begins with the words: 'Paris: city of love...'

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Him again...

Still walking on air after my interview with Signor King of the High Cs yesterday. Just to preserve the nautical imagery: what a dreamboat!

(No wonder my husband wants me to believe that the world's best and loveliest tenor is Wunderlich, who's dead...)

Friday, December 15, 2006

On the other hand...

Tom pricked my Florez bubble yesterday evening, by a) assembling a group of friends to play the Schumann Piano Quintet in our front room (they made music and I made the food), and b) over dinner afterwards, saying 'Florez isn't a patch on this...' and putting on a CD of Fritz Wunderlich.

There are performances - like Florez's - which leave you clapping and cheering and full of superlatives. There are others which leave you speechless.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

King of the high Cs? Better believe it...

I'm high as a kite. Universal Classics held a little 'do' today for one of their best and starriest stars: Juan Diego Florez (above, photo credit: Decca / Johannes Ifkovits). Savoy Hotel; a collection of press & industry colleagues; and he sang three arias - the big whacks from Rigoletto and La fille du regiment (the one with nine high Cs) plus 'Granada' from his Sentimento Latino album, and I was standing 4 metres from him throughout. I nearly died of joy.

It's unbelievable. The security of that technique is, as far as I can tell, more comparable to Jascha Heifetz than any other singer I can think of. There's no shadow of doubt, but also no flaw in the pouring of the honey, just utter beauty and wonder and a hell of a lot of oomph, at least close to. Florez's voice is sometimes said to be 'small' or, better, 'small is beautiful', but it certainly didn't sound that way (beautiful, yes; small, no!) from 4 metres... It was hard to get the press & industry to stop applauding afterwards, and that takes a little doing.

I shook his hand afterwards. Yes, alas, I have washed since. But tomorrow I get to interview him (at least, 98% sure that I will), so maybe I can replenish that supply of wonder. And yes, he's drop-dead gorgeous - but with a voice like that, who even needs those sultry eyes?

He opens in La fille du regiment at Covent Garden in January.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's my birthday...

...and this year my special present is seeing in print in The Independent something I've been wanting to write for 20 years. Voila.

Please excuse me for a couple of days while I push off to Paris.

Friday, December 08, 2006

An Independent Carmen

Here's my piece about Carmen which appears in The Independent today. Enjoy. The show opens at Covent Garden tonight, and someone who saw the dress rehearsal told me that Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose was so marvellous that his big aria alone would be worth the price of the ticket. (I'm not going tonight, but will see it later in the run and report back then.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Please sign this if you like Korngold

I've just discovered that Brendan G Carroll's definitive biography of Korngold, The Last Prodigy, is out of print. As next year is the 50th anniversary of EWK's death and there is going to be A LOT going on to mark the occasion, it seems completely ridiculous that this book, which took Brendan 25 years to write, should be unavailable. It's an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. The Korngold website, run from Athens by another devoted Korngold fan, Eleftherios Neroulias, is carrying an online petition to the publisher, Amadeus Press, begging for the reprint of the book. You can read and sign the petition here.

My own rather more modest book still seems to be in print, but it's no substitute and I am the first to admit that.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Nina Milkina 1919-2006

The wonderful Russian pianist Nina Milkina died last week at the age of 87. I was lucky enough to meet her a few years ago for an interview about her long and fascinating career, and was much struck by her combination of qualities: humour with passion, intelligence with intuitiveness, delicacy with real gumption. She hadn't been at the forefront of musical life for a while, but her recordings are exquisite, displaying a rare sense of magic and nuance in such worlds as Mozart and Scarlatti as well as Chopin et al. This recording, live from the Wigmore Hall, is a treasure: contact details of how to get it are included on the musicwebinternational page. She was a much-loved figure among the younger generation of pianists here in London, where she lived; Leon McCawley (who introduced me to her) in particular cites her as an inspiration and mentor, not least in his impressive new set of the Mozart piano sonatas. She will be sorely missed. I wrote an obituary of her which was published yesterday and can be read in my archive, here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Krystian Zimerman notches up half a century today. When I was 14, I went with my parents to hear him play at the Royal Festival Hall. He was 23 and I'd never heard anything like it. There was a world in his piano that rolled together everything that was finest about art, poetry and pure, white-hot energy. He played the Brahms F minor Sonata Op.5, the Chopin First Ballade and the 'Funeral March' Sonata. Nothing was ever the same again. Ten years later, I had a job on a music magazine and I suddenly realised that all I needed to do was sell him to an editor, call up his manager and fix an interview, and then I could ask him all the questions I wanted to about what made that musicianship tick.

That was quite a while ago, but to this day, this man gives me faith in human nature, because he is as special a person as he is a pianist. The finest musicians play as they are; listening to the playing, you listen to them speak. You can hear their essence, distilled, in their music-making. Krystian is no exception. Few pianists have this degree of sensitivity, tenderness, intelligence and visionary wisdom, and few people.

Here's his page at Deutsche Grammophon: follow the link to the discography...

Happy birthday, Krystian! Have fun!

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Good news before I get onto tonight's pseudoprofundities: the other day, I received a letter saying I've got a grant from the Authors' Foundation to help me write my next book! Would have opened champagne if I hadn't had food poisoning at the time.

Not sure whether that gliterati party really did try to murder a roomful of authors, agents and publishers with radioactive sushi the other day, but what's certain is that it's taken me the whole weekend to get back to normal and I missed a lunchtime recital by Philippe Graffin this morning in Norden Farm, Maidenhead, because I didn't feel up to driving the M4 - exceptionally annoying.

Anyway, tonight is the last night of Tom's tour, so I treated myself to one of several things I sometimes do when he's away. Pathetically innocent things, I hasten to add. Last time it was 'Titanic' and that wasn't long ago enough to do it again. So tonight I went for The Big Woody Allen Double Bill - 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan'. I saw them both for the first time more than 20 years ago, and goodness knows how many times in the intervening years, but still notice something new in them every time.

Glorious. Humour like that is the best kind: it shows up his serious points and makes them palatable. Who else could have dreamed up that scene with the skeleton, or the Planetarium, or the view of the bridge at dawn, in 'Manhattan'? Or the lobsters in 'Annie Hall'?

By the way, contrary to The Guardian and various other daft commentators, it IS possible and not yet illegal to do the following:

* Enjoy Woody Allen's films without condemning or condoning his action in marrying his ex-wife's adopted daughter;
* Enjoy Wagner without being a Nazi;
* Enjoy Chopin, Schumann and Liszt without being anti-Semitic;
* Enjoy Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess' without believing that it's supposed to typify and therefore stigmatise or misrepresent the whole of African-American culture, or to be patronising thereto;
* Enjoy the soundtrack of 'Manhattan' - Gershwin again - without condemning it for not being an original soundtrack;
* Enjoy Korngold's serious music even though he wrote original soundtracks for Hollywood and dared to use tonality after 1930.

(This could go on forever, but The Guardian has recently had it in for Gershwin in a big way - see Gary Younge here and Joe Queenan here - and I think it's all gone a little too far. He's a great composer, already, so leave him alone, like it or lump it.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006