Friday, December 31, 2004

Solti does it again

Originally uploaded by Duchenj.

As I had the highest ever number of blog hits when I posted a photo of my cat Solti, I thought I'd wish you all a happy new year by posting another one.

Unfortunately, though, Solti's current state isn't too pretty. He got into a fight the other day and came in with a hole in his head. Today the vet dealt with the resulting abcess and now poor Sir Georg has a very bloody face, a bald patch and an enormous plastic collar to prevent him worrying at the wound. Not so much Long John Ginger this time as Shakespeare on an extremely bad day. Perhaps some disgruntled orchestral musician has been reincarnated as a neighbouring cat and wanted to get his revenge...So I'm posting the same old picture again instead!

Life isn't all bad, though: Solti got tuna for dinner. There's a moral in there somewhere.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! Here's to a wonderful year of music in 2005.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

A personal music universe 2004

A few highlights to usher in New Year's Eve...

Emmanuel Pahud plays the Strauss and Franck violin sonatas on the flute with pianist Eric Le Sage; with Widor Suite for flute & piano (EMI). Top quality musicianship all round, knocks spots off many fiddlers. The first time I've really "got" the Strauss sonata.

Leonidas Kavakos plays Ravel & Enescu (ECM). Glorious fiddle playing, wonderfully imagined.

Philippe Graffin & the Johannesburg Philharmonic in the violin concertos by Coleridge-Taylor and Dvorak. This represents more than the sum of its parts, being the first classical CD recorded in South Africa since the fall of apartheid. But the parts are fabulous too. Serious beauty, gritty passion and great music heard too rarely. (Avie)

Faure songs - first CD in Hyperion's complete Faure song edition. Pianist Graham Johnson is joined by his stalwart singing colleagues like Felicity Lott and John Mark Ainsley, plus equally impressive others. This is just out and it's a wonderful selection of songs about water, from all periods of Faure's life and work.

Matthias Goerne singing Winterreise. Need one say more?


Top slot has to go to St Nazaire, especially the day in which Tom took the stage with Philippe, Nobuko et al! Not an experience quickly forgotten. And yes, it sounded great. No less, also at St Nazaire, Philippe with Nobuko, Pascal Devoyon and Gary Hoffmann in the Faure 2nd piano quartet - some of the most moving, insightful, sensitive and vividly coloured chamber music playing I've ever heard.

Philippe's Ravel Day at the Wigmore Hall. Weirdly enough, what strikes me most in retrospect is the appropriateness of the weather: it was the last snow of last winter, magical and straight out of Un Coeur en Hiver.

Next, the Barkauskas premiere in Vilnius (again, Philippe and Nobuko, with plentiful Lithuanian colleagues!). A privilege to be there. And I hope we'll hear more of Barkauskas's Duo Concertante and its astonishing background story. (See BBC Music Magazine, February 2005, for more info, or just click on June 2004 in the archives...)

In Verbier, Vadim Repin playing Shostakovich. Mesmerising.

From the LPO, the Edinburgh concerts with Vladimir Jurowski, which set the house on fire. (Once, literally - the Usher Hall alarm went off 10 minutes before kick-off!). And Glyndebourne's double bill of Rachmaninov and Puccini - also with Jurowski. This guy has, and is, something very special.

Speaking of opera, Juan Diego Florez in Don Pasquale at Covent Garden had to be heard to be believed.

Ballet: Mayerling, also at Covent Garden. Hair-raising, edge-of-seat drama & virtuosity.

Best piano recitals: Stephen Kovacevich at RFH; Steven Osborne's Messiaen 'Vingt Regards' at Wigmore Hall. Best piano concerto: Martha Argerich in Prokofiev 3 with LPO. Absolutely incredible.

No doubt there are plenty of others too that I've forgotten about and over which I will kick myself tomorrow morning. But perhaps the ones that spring rapidly to mind have made the deepest impression...


Tried to tinker with my Comments to amalgamate two slightly fuzzy and contradictory ones that I just posted, but have somehow managed to delete an entire post instead. Can any Blogger experts advise on how to alter Comments I've already posted?

Friday, December 24, 2004

My discovery in The Strad

Turgenev 1
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.

In case anyone really wants to spend Christmas Eve reading one tantalising page of my latest publication in The Strad...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Sibelius and Beethoven

I've been writing some programme notes for a concert including the Sibelius Symphony No.1. I adore Sibelius - the better you know this guy, the more amazing he seems, which is always a wonderful state of affairs. However, I've never delved into his inner workings the way I have with Faure and friends, so it has come as something of a surprise to find that the First Symphony is full of...Beethoven. I've beavered through a few books with sections on this piece, plus liner notes in the CDs that I have, and nowhere do I find Beethoven mentioned (have I missed some somewhere?). But here's my argument:

It seems incontrovertible to me that Sibelius must have been thinking of good old Ludwig if he could write the words 'Quasi una fantasia' at the head of a movement. Moonlight Sonata ahoy.

You know the clarinet tune that opens the symphony and returns at the start of the finale? Heard that rising and falling semitone somewhere before? Oh yes. In the Moonlight Sonata.

You know the dramatic exposition that has everyone in mayhem before the big tune in the last movement? There's a violin figuration in there that comes straight out of Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op.31 No.2 in D minor. That sonata is often called 'The Tempest'. (And which Shakespeare play did Sibelius write incidental music for in 1926? No prizes...) Just because Sibelius was a violinist of sorts, it didn't mean he didn't know his piano sonatas.

First subject, first movement. Scotch snaps over tremolando. Familiar? Yup. Beethoven 9.

As for motivic strength, rhythmic power, the conflict of whole worlds within a movement - it goes without saying that this has to follow the example set by the ultimate symphonist...

After talking about national legends, Finnish identity and dark pine forests, most commentators talk about Tchaikovsky. OK, there's an evident impact - gloomy clarinets, gorgeous tunes, super orchestration and lots of harps (the latter found, please note, more in Tchaikovsky's ballet music than his symphonies). But if Sibelius is willing to go so far as to use a title straight out of Beethoven for his finale, how come Ludwig doesn't normally get a credit?

A great deal remains to be written about Sibelius. It may be another 50 years before anyone can do it, of course, but the truth about his 30-year silence must some day be explored. Meanwhile, I wonder whether it's time someone wrote a new book about Beethoven? So much about him is simply taken for granted. 'A level' notes are regurgitated everywhere, but the most astonishing elements in his music often go unremarked. It's too easy to forget what extraordinary pieces works like the 'Moonlight' and 'Tempest' sonatas really are; no wonder they set such an example for later composers in the freeing-up of musical form. Here's a challenge for a braver musicologist than me: write a book about Beethoven without referring to any others. Take original documents, the music itself and nothing else. Don't look at anyone else's analyses: just use your own ears and your own brain. Then see if the measure of his genius has ever been captured anywhere in words. I think you'll find it hasn't.