Sunday, May 30, 2004

Back to the future

With apologies to any of you who might believe that the Almighty created the human being Perfect, I have to report that THERE IS A SERIOUS DESIGN FAULT IN THE HUMAN BACK.

Last weekend, in a flurry of 'Beloved Clara' anxiety, I spent three happy hours gardening. Monday morning I woke up and could hardly move. I've done nothing useful this week except lie on my back in 'Alexander Technique' pose trying to straighten out my spine, which isn't broken but feels as if it is. Back pain is vile. It not only scuppers you physically, but also mentally. I've written nothing (except Dulwich blog entry, pretending all was well!), read nothing, listened to nothing, been no further from the house than Waitrose (3 mins gentle stroll) and only watched one French film (Jean de Florette, which I've seen 5 times already).

When things get you down this way, you can become 'half in love with easeful death' - at least with the notion of an anaesthetic to knock you out for a few weeks. But there is one thing to live for. Music, of course.

I've spent two hours this afternoon gritting my teeth and playing the piano. I've played through the Franck violin sonata to make sure I can still play it (yes!), brushing up the Debussy 'Clair de lune' (my party piece since 1981) and reading through some of my beloved Faure's abominably tricky nocturnes. Even if my back isn't better, my soul is on the mend. As long as there is music of such overwhelming beauty in the world, it's worth being here.

Having nothing better to do, besides practising, than surf the internet, I've just come across a blog by Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker, which is excellent - link under Music Friends. Alex, sorry you knew about my blog before I knew about yours, but better late than never!

Of course, one of the other things worth living for is good food. I've had some major successes with Nigella Lawson's recipes, especially the ones from 'Forever Summer'.

Actually, there's plenty to live for, isn't there!

Friday, May 21, 2004

Matzo pudding competition winner

Looks like nobody else knows how to make a matzo pudding any more than I do. But the prize goes to Marion Gedney of New York City, who e-mailed me to say that although she doesn't have a recipe, she thinks she knows what my father meant and hopes that it was supposed to be funny.

Marion is a clinical psychologist...

Marion, e-mail me your postal address and a CD will be on its way to you shortly!

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Glyndebourne, plus newsy bits

Dress rehearsal of Pelleas et Melisande at Glyndebourne yesterday. One of those rare occasions when the first trip down of the summer is on the sort of cloudless, hot day on which the place is basically paradise. The leaves are bright May green, the hawthorn flowers are out, there are sheep in the field on the hillside. In the interval the lawns are so covered with the company friends and relations picnicking that it's like a scene from Renoir. This is my seventh year of hanging out there with Tom and I still have to pinch myself to make sure it's real. I love the dress rehearsals because the family atmosphere is so excellent. Yesterday I was in the front row of the stalls right next to the violins - had to resist the temptation to pull silly faces at Tom and to throw his colleagues sweets over the railing. Not a good idea.

Pelleas is a revival of a stunning Graham Vick production, with gold panelled walls, a floor of flowers and an incredibly claustrophic atmosphere. John Tomlinson as Golaud is the central figure and his charisma makes the story work much better than usual. Marie Arnet is a gorgeous, delicate Melisande and the lovely Louis Langree takes a robust approach to the score which I like very much. I don't believe Debussy (or Faure, for that matter) should be all elusive and floaty. This stuff comes right from the gut. Highly recommended.


Tasmin Little has recorded the Karlowicz Violin Concerto on Hyperion and if you don't know the piece, you should get a copy right away. Karlowicz was a Polish composer of the early 20th century who died terribly young and has only recently attracted much attention. About 13 years ago, I visited Krystian Zimerman in Switzerland and he played me an old Polish recording of this concerto; I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever heard. Marvellous that it's now new-minted on a mainstream label. Bravo, Taz.

Marc-Andre Hamelin's new Kapustin disc is a complete delight from start to finish. Kapustin is a rather retiring Russian who prolifically composes piano music in traditional classical forms but fills them with an astonishing, idiosyncratic, energetic jazz idiom. Charming, dizzying and virtuosic, it shows off super-cool Marc to the manner born. Also on Hyperion.

Susan Tomes has written a book called 'Beyond The Notes' about life as a travelling chamber music player. Insights into what Domus was all about and why it had to give up its dome - that was the early 80s - can you imagine anyone daring to leave a concert dome unattended overnight in the Pavilion Gardens in 2004?! Susan's a deep thinker and her philosophical reflections about the nature of musical communication and relationships in a chamber group are fascinating. From Boydell Press.

You can get all of these from Amazon via the link box on the left.

Dear readers, my web-counter doesn't tell me who you are but does give me a rough idea of where you might be. One reader particularly intrigues me. You've been checking in roughly twice a day. You are in France. You are logging on from UNAPEC, which Google tells me is a university. Please, whoever you are: if you can bear to, write a comment box and identify yourself! S'IL VOUS PLAIT, ECRIVEZ-MOI! The suspense is killing me!

Thursday, May 13, 2004

If you were...

In cover features for PIANIST magazine, I have to ask my interviewees a particular set of questions. 'If you were....... - what would you be?' I get some interesting responses - it can be surprisingly illuminating. So I thought I'd have a go at it myself. Here's the result


Franz Liszt. I think he had fun. I do NOT want to have been any of those patient, long-suffering women who struggled all their lives to be creative, like Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn or Charlotte Bronte! (Emma Bardac is a better option, as she sang well, hosted a progressive Parisian artistic salon and slept with both Faure and Debussy...but even that had its drawbacks...)

'I Capture the Castle' by Dodie Smith. My favourite book. I've read it about 350 times and never get tired of it. (Available via Amazon, link on left.)

'Les enfants du paradis' - French masterpiece from the 1940s starring Jean-Louis Barrault and Arletty. Now available in snazzy DVD (see Amazon).

Unfair!! But - on balance - Faure's Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor

Chocolate - preferably Green & Black's Organic, absolute minimum 70% cocoa solids

An excessively fine 1976 red Bordeaux



What about you? Try it and put the results in a comment box!

Sunday, May 09, 2004

The morning after

A certain air of smugness prevails in the Duchen-Eisner household this morning - and it's not just Solti the cat.

The concert went fine. Lovely atmosphere, gorgeous church with warm, pleasing acoustic, small but terrifyingly knowledgeable audience and on the whole we played pretty well.

Odd difference between how things feel and how they sound. The second movement of the Franck felt about half the speed that it actually went, to my astonishment, and the whole concert had a nice 'seat-of-the-pants' feel to it. Tom sounds gorgeous in the chuch acoustic, the balance seems to have been just right, the heating was on, the piano stayed in tune and everyone hugged us at the end.

Strange, too, to remember that I've not done anything remotely comparable to this since 1988. When Tom started doing little recitals three or four years ago, I was too scared even to attempt to play things like the slow movement of the Grieg C minor Sonata and the Dvorak Sonatine. I don't know quite what happened in the interim. But it certainly feels like progress. Perhaps there's something to be said for walking up those mountains...

And no hangover this morning - simply the need to sleep for a week. Which we can't...because Tom is rehearsing Pelleas et Melisande for 6 hours today and I have 3 features to finish by next weekend. Back to real life!