Wednesday, April 26, 2006

And still more...

Stormin' Norman is the latest writer to applaud the new Elgar Concerto CD - read his pithy piece from La Scena Musicale here. Recommended heartily for anyone who doesn't like English music, less heartily for patriots of all things green and pleasant, but very heartily indeed for Graffin groupies and Elgar fiddle concerto fans.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More about Elgar violin concerto...

Addendum to Island Mentalities: the CD that sparked my article about Elgar, Kreisler and the original Elgar Violin Concerto manuscript is being released today. The soloist is Philippe Graffin, who I reckon has the romantic sensibility nearest to good old Fritz of any violinist working today, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vernon Handley. Ordering details from Avie Records.

No excuses for recent hiatus in blog's just that I haven't been doing much, at least not outside my study. In-study activities have included producing an Indy review section cover feature on Placido Domingo, which appeared last Friday, plus writing up my interview with someone who may be the world's greatest pianist (watch this space) and editing Book No.2. Meanwhile Hodder is reprinting the hardback of RITES OF SPRING, which is rather good news!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Theatres of

BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting Wagner's Ring Cycle complete on Easter Monday. The Guardian made Charlotte Higgins test-drive the idea and here's her reaction.

One of the finest Wagner experts I know found his lifelong fascination for the composer sparked into existence when his uni flatmates threw him out for 24 hours so that they could perform exactly the same exercise. He wanted to know what made them tick, and the rest is history: he's now a prof at Oxford.

I've not dared try this at home, but I do broadly share La Higgins's views on the individual operas - Walkure and Gotterdammerung come out as the clear winners, with Siegfried proving less thrilling and Rhinegold whizzing by like a deceptively pleasant fairy-tale. The father-daughter relationship in Walkure is my favourite thing in the whole cycle and the apocalypse of the Immolation Scene is as mind-blowing now as it was that time I switched on Classic FM while driving down the M3, heard it & then discovered I was doing 100mph. It's some of the most astonishing music ever written, but can one swallow it in one gulp? If you want to try, Monday's your chance.

By the way, I was commissioned to write an article about Gotterdammerung & why it's important, ahead of Covent Garden's new production that opens next week. What with one thing and another, it took me a week to do this. Then it turned out that someone in the News section had done something similar ahead of us in Arts, so my piece never came out. I've started a section in my permasite Archive to provide a home for such orphans, which do occur now and then. Find it here (you'll need to scroll to the bottom of the page).

For some light relief, Richard Morrison, in today's Times, is pretty perplexed by his latest evening at the Barbican. Read his write-up of Marina Laszlo's performance here...

Happy Easter/Pesach/Springtime, everyone!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Island mentalities

I never got round to hitting back at the individual in the US who not long ago took exception to a comment I made in print about the Elgar Violin Concerto being one of the greatest works of its kind. It appears that this person, whose name I don't actually know, thinks all British critics are tub-thumping patriotic morons who will cheer anything British for the sake of it when actually everything British is mediocre, and that just because I like the Elgar Violin Concerto, I am one of those too.

First of all, just as stupid as British critics supporting British artists for the sake of it is American critics knocking anything British for the sake of it and tarring all critics in the UK with the same brush.

Secondly, if you think the Elgar is not one of the great violin concertos, then kindly give reasons for your opinion rather than knocking all the glasses off the shelf in your anger at all us dreadful Brits? I bet you can't. It's a fabulous piece.

Thirdly, I may have been born within the sound of Bow Bells, but I'm not the sort of critic who indulges in automatic Brit-bravoing, having an ingrained dislike of much British period-instrument performing (with some important exceptions), much music by Benjamin Britten and Gerald Finzi, swathes of contemporary music and a few singers, instrumentalists and conductors who do keep winning prizes but whom I find boring, pretentious, misguided etc. I love Delius, but that isn't because he's British - rather, because he can sound so wonderfully French.

Fourthly, critics write nonsense everywhere in the world.

Last but not least, the article in which my comment appeared was focused on a violinist who isn't British at all, but loves the Elgar Concerto so much so that he was willing to spend painstaking hours in the British Library going through Elgar's manuscripts with a toothcomb, sifting out the differences between them and the printed version of the concerto. This somewhat scuppers any view that you have to be a Brit to like British music.

I could bring American politics and double standards into this, but some of my best friends are American and I'm not going to tar them with the aforementioned same brush.

Please, folks, stop writing twaddle. Life is short. Get one while you can.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Things to read and hear

A rash of referrals on my statcounter from a site I hadn't seen before led me to this excellent development: a site for newcomers to classical music that demystifies the whole caboodle without talking down. His hefty referral to this blog suggests another online soulmate. Bravo, Tobin! And thanks for the plug.

Meanwhile I'm listening obsessively to Chopin Waltzes. How peculiar - I haven't experienced this particular addiction since the age of 14. But it's not a second childhood; instead, it's the result of the new recording by Stephen Kovacevich which seems to have cleared my ears of all prior expectations and made me realise anew just what fabulous pieces they are. No salon pussyfooting for our Stephen: instead there's soul, fire, songfulness, pathos and passion. Best of all, a kind of wicked glee about the way he tackles numbers like the yodelly G flat major waltz and the virtuoso flourishes in the Grand Valses Brilliantes. I've never heard Chopin playing quite like this before, but I'm totally hooked. Strongly recommended.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ten years on

I've had a lot of messages recently about Korngold. It's ten years since my biography of him came out (ouch) and next year is the 50th anniversary of his death, so all of this is very timely. Any musicians who want to schedule 50th anniversary celebrations for 2007 should start planning NOW. Ariadne has been zapped by Das Wunder der Heliane and the possibilities offered by a show named Farewell Vienna!; she also offers links to online Korngold forums. At home, my own Tomcat has started learning the Violin Concerto, for reasons best known to himself. A mysterious correspondent from the States is urging me to do a second edition of the book since so much new material has come to light in the past decade.

Keep up the good works, folks. But don't hold your breath for the second edition. I think that the Korngold field needs new voices now. I'm glad to have been part of it, but I feel I have little more to add. The facts are: my book is out of date, Brendan Carroll's is hard to find, and so if anyone else feels it is timely to write a new one, they should get on the case, fast. I for one would applaud that.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Latest review

This is what CLOSER had to say about RITES OF SPRING a couple of weeks ago:

Adam and Sasha appear to have the perfect life - good jobs, a nice home, money and three perfect children. But as their marriage begins to unravel, their ballet-crazy daughter starts starving herself - and her parents are too preoccupied to notice. A haunting, heartbreaking novel.’

Being a tad out of touch with popular culture, I'd never even heard of CLOSER before. Now I see it's piled high on the shelves in the local supermarket.

Apologies for lack of normal blogging recently. Excuses: Tom went on tour for a month, I had too many daft things to deal with in his absence, got ill three times, am still not quite better, and there was the small matter of my first novel hitting the shelves in the meantime. Arguments about the vagaries of British critics and the merits or otherwise of 'Evgeny Onegin' at Covent Garden (principally 'otherwise') started to feel like they could wait for another day.......

Except this: yes, I did write 'Evgeny', not 'Eugene'. Calling the opera 'Eugene Onegin' is one of those tired old customs that make little sense but are hard to change, like saying 'The Marriage of Figaro' instead of 'Figaro's Wedding'... Do we talk about Eugene Kissin? Greg Sokolov? Mike Pletnev? Andrew Gavrilov? I know a few Vladimirs who are known as Bob, but I don't think Pushkin or Tchaikovsky thought of Onegin as a good old Gene.