Saturday, December 24, 2005

Is there something wrong with me?

I'm in despair. Not being the sort who can work with the radio on, I haven't been hearing very much of Radio 3's 'Bok' week, although I've heard some unbelievable stuff during car journeys (more of that shortly). So I was distressed when someone sent me an e-mail a few minutes ago saying, "Wasn't it great to hear Joachim and Ysaye just now?" I am chewing up the carpet & crawling up the walls with frustration at having missed this.

So I logged on to R3's invaluable Listen Again, for the 9am Bach Christmas slot. Unfortunately you can't fast forward - at least, I can't on my antiquated browser - so I found myself listening to the Suzuki brigade from Japan playing a Brandenburg Concerto or version thereof.

Is there something wrong with me? I couldn't STAND it. This ensemble is becoming vastly celebrated, the recordings get rave reviews everywhere, it's supposed to be the Big Hot Japanese Early Music Experts. Everyone seems to love it...except me.

The first movement was so breathlessly fast that I felt I was trapped in the rush-hour in the Tokyo metro. The second movement was so self-consciously expressive that I felt I was being lectured ("THIS is SOOOOOO SAAAAAD and SOOO expRESSSIve in a PURELY 18th CENTURY WAY and WE WERE THERE, YOU KNOWWWW, SO WE DO IT RIIIIGHT..."). I turned down the sound to sit it out until words of wisdom from Jonathan Freeman Atwood, for whom I have huge respect, would come on; followed, I hoped, by these two giant violinists who between them knew more about the spirit of music than all the rest put together. Then my antiquated browser crashed.

The Suzuki brigade is certainly Bach for the 21st century. It's so in touch with the spirit of our age that it almost doesn't bear thinking about. 'Big Brother' for Bach lovers...

In the car the other day, Tom and I switched on the Bok and heard a recording of the Chaconne which seemed to have been made in the 1930s. The intonation was a little wild, but there was so much fire, passion, intelligent structuring and total identification with the deepest spirit of this meaty work that we were transfixed. Nor was it a violin 'voice' we recognised - not Heifetz, Menuhin or Thibaud. At the end we discovered the soloist's identity: George Enescu in his sixties. WOW. THAT was incredible musicianship.