Friday, December 30, 2005

Bring on the sunshine

It's so grey and wintery here in London that I thought I'd try and cheer everyone up with ten of the sunniest records I can find.

1. Haydn: The Creation. If you want to smile, this should do the trick. I've had some trouble finding a recording I like, though: the choice seems to be Old, Earnest, Stately But Beautiful or New, Period-Instrument, Sparky But Train-Chasing. In the end I stick with the old Karajan recording on DG because the tenor is the unmatchable Fritz Wunderlich.

2. Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe. Not only the dawn episode, but the whole score oozes Mediterranean azure. You can almost hear the sun sparkling on the sea. I am extremely fond of the Pierre Boulez recording with the NY Philharmonic. It was given to me years ago by a friend who knows what to recommend, and I've not found one I like better.

3. Schubert: Trout Quintet. There aren't many Schubert works that are pure sunshine but for a few leafy shadows - this, however, breaks the mould. I haven't yet heard this recording by the Hagen Quartet with James Levine, but the cover looks summery. Smell the country air, see the fish playing in the stream, then eat them in the open air with parsley, lemon and lots of butter...

4. Mozart: String Quintet in C major, K515. Mozart feeling spacious, relaxed and generous. Hear the opening and feel the clouds clear away. Alban Berg Quartett with Markus Wolf is a good option.

5. Dvorak: Violin Concerto. Dvorak is generally one of the most cheerful, sunny fellows in the catalogue - try keeping your feet still to the last movement of the violin concerto, among his loveliest 'Furiant' compositions. There are some super recordings, of which just two are Tasmin Little, Royal Liverpool PO/Vernon Handley (Classics for Pleasure) and Philippe Graffin, Johannesburg PO/Michael Hankinson (Avie).

6. Mendelssohn: Symphony No.4, 'Italian'. Felix kicks in with something that vaguely resembles a tarantella but goes much further in evoking the total thrill of arriving in Italy, soaking up the atmosphere and hitting the Chianti. Two minutes and you're basking in joy. Barbirolli conducts the Halle Orchestra in a classic.

7. Bizet: Carmen. Tragic the story may be, but if you want to feel the heat in Seville without getting on a plane, this is the best possible way. Try Cotrubas & Domingo with Abbado conducting and don't forget to sing along with the Toreador's Song.

8. Album 'Una furtiva lagrima' - Juan Diego Florez. Genuine Italian sunshine with Bellini and Donizetti, but the voice alone is enough to make you melt. Isn't he a dreamboat?

9. Manuel de Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat (with Albeniz Iberia, orchestral excerpts). If Carmen is just too, well, French, then go for the real Spanish McCoya. Falla stomps and sparkles his way through his irresistible ballet score, and the Albeniz makes this recommendation a neat two-in-one job. Find it here.

10. Abba Gold. Oh yes. It starts with Dancing Queen which brings out the sunshine like there's no tomorrow, if only because it makes me think I'm 13 again. (What am I doing? I hated being 13. Making up for lost time? Or mid-life crisis??...nah. I just like Abba.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Latest ENO indigestion

When I was a young girl, Enos was a remedy for heartburn. Now ENO is more likely the cause of it. Things are getting worse by the day at London's English language opera company, based at the capital's largest venue, the London Coliseum, and capable of great things when being properly run. After a dreadful run of rows, resignations and bad appointments that should have been investigated long ago, they've now dumped their recently appointed music director, Oleg Caetani, before he'd even begun. Whatever will they think of next?...oh, right...they already have: a strike over pay. Here's the latest as reported by The Guardian. And here by Norman Lebrecht.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The thingumyjig of Four

Apparently everybody's doing this and I have now been tagged for the MEME OF FOUR by Ariadne Obnoxious so thought I'd try it while the turkey goes down.

And I'm tagging Evelio, Helen and Jeremy.

Four jobs you've had (not in chronological order)

1. Piano magazine editor
2. Strad magazine assistant editor
3. Holiday assistant, school library
4. Proof-reading scale books

Four movies you could watch over and over
1. Annie Hall
2. Singin' in the Rain
3. Titanic
4. Intermezzo

Four places you've lived
1. London
2. Cambridge
3. London
4. London

Four TV shows you love to watch
1. Newnight
2. Newsnight
3. Panorama
4. Newsnight

Four places you've been on vacation
1. Switzerland
2. Australia
3. New York
4. Provence

Four websites you visit daily
1. The Independent
2. The Guardian
3. BBC Weather Forecast for Rio de Janeiro
4. (to see what number my still-awaiting-publication book is on the sales register)

Four of your favourite foods
1. Chocolate
2. Fresh fruit, preferably tropical
3. Mixed Turkish mezze
4. Sushi

Four places you'd rather be
1. Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia
2. Above Murren in the Bernese Oberland, looking across at the Jungfrau, Eiger & Monch
3. Listening to a recital by Krystian Zimerman
4. Le Gavroche, Mayfair.

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.