Friday, July 08, 2005

This morning

Things are working once again around London, but in a low-key manner. The count from the attacks yesterday is 38 dead, 700 injured and a whole city traumatised.

My friends of the Razumovsky Ensemble are not going to find it easy to recruit an audience for their Wigmore Hall concert tonight, wonderful though they and their programme are. I am determined to get there. I am not going to be afraid. At 7.30pm I shall be in that hall and if I have to get on the tube, then get on it I shall. I refuse to let a bunch of thugs stop me.

And so to some recordings to recommend, as promised yesterday.

What can one do but reach for the Elgar? The obvious thing, I suppose, is Jacqueline du Pre playing the Cello Concerto - her first recording of it, with John Barbirolli conducting. But the Violin Concerto is more consoling, more reflective, and, to my ears, more beautiful. Try the classic recording by the teenaged Yehudi Menuhin, conducted by Elgar himself.

Alternatively, this next one is extremely good value: Hugh Bean plays the concerto and the violin sonata, and you also get the Piano Quintet, the Serenade, the String Quartet and the Concert Allegro with John Ogdon. Hugh Bean's tone is incredible. I once heard him performing the Brahms Horn Trio at the Wigmore Hall and when he began the tune, his violin sounded like the horn.

While talking British violin performances, I mustn't leave Tasmin out. Her recording of the Delius Violin Sonatas with pianist Piers Lane is fabulous. I'm a secret Delius fan. It doesn't always do to admit this, mysteriously enough, but I think he's GREAT. The Walk to the Paradise Garden is one of the most exquisite pieces ever written by someone who was technically British. Here's The Halle Orchestra with John Barbirolli.

A close-run second is Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending, recorded here by our Tazza.

All of this is, however, very English although London is today a tremendously multicultural place - one of the things that we're proudest of here. Multicultural celebrations are rare in early 20th-century British music, and for a recording that celebrates the little that there was, turn to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Violin Concerto which is both stirring and gorgeous in this recording by Philippe Graffin. Philippe is playing it at the Proms on 9 August and I find it absolutely extraordinary that it should be buried in a programme of British Light Music - since it is neither particularly light nor typically British. Classical music gets a lot of stick for consisting mainly of music by dead white men. The one time we're treated to some extremely good music by a dead half-black man, however, it has to be presented either as a rarity (by Hyperion, who recorded it with Anthony Marwood) or a trifle (by whoever plans the Proms these days)! Ouch. This recording takes it as seriously as it deserves and, as I've said before, is more than the sum of its parts, since it's the first commercial recording made in South Africa since the fall of Apartheid and features the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra which struggles valiantly day to day for its very existence.

Ultimately, though, for songs of love and fun and quality and British creativity at its best, there has to be the Beatles... and Revolver is my favourite album.