Sunday, July 30, 2006

CDs for a summer Sunday

I got a bit hot under the collar over the business of my article in The Australian, so thought I'd calm down by recommending some nice CDs for you.

The youthful Pole Rafal Blechacz was the winner of the last Chopin Competition in Warsaw and this is his first CD: it's pretty stunning. Beautiful tone quality, plenty of variety and an individuality which feels like a genuine response to the music - for example, a marvellous grandeur about the A flat major Polonaise. The Szymanowski variations are fascinating. I think we'll be hearing more of this fellow; I certainly hope so.

This is Elektrafying: Semyon Bychkov and the WDR in Strauss's completely OTT masterpiece, starring a nuclear-powered trio of Deborah Polaski as Elektra, Anne Schwanewilms as Chrysothemis and Felicity Palmer as Klytemnestra. If an ideal of Greek drama was catharsis, I'd say this does it: after listening, I felt exhausted, exhilarated and, peculiarly, less stewed up than usual over daft things in the rest of my life. Watch this space in a few months' time for an explanation of why my new name for Maestro Bychkov is 'The Big Cheese'.

Korngold fans might like to discover Miklos Rozsa, another central European immigrant to the US, who wound up writing film music of a rather different kind. That dynamic duo of Philippe Graffin and Raphael Wallfisch, with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth, have recorded Rosza's Sinfonia Concertante, coupled with the Cello Concerto: ascerbic, stirring, edgy stuff with a highly individual flavour - plenty of paprika. PG & RW will be performing it live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next May, again with the BBCCO and Wordsworth - more of that soon, since the second half will be Korngold's scandalously underprogrammed Sinfonietta...

Last but not least, here's one of the latest and best from the LPO's own label: Vladimir Jurowski conducts Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, live at the Royal Festival Hall. It's a glorious piece - I urge you to hear it if you don't know it - full of Byronic angst, high drama and marvellous melodies. Vladimir shapes and paces it with enormous intelligence and sensitivity. Marvellous despite the less than ideal acoustic (hopefully when the RFH reopens next year, that pigeon-hitting-wall deadness will be a thing of the past).


Friday, July 28, 2006

Reflets dans le blog

A little idle surfing yesterday produced some information that gave me a pleasant surprise: a Google search on 'classical music blog' produces (!drumroll!) JDCMB at the top of the pile. I have no fond illusions of grandeur, though: I reckon it's simply because my title includes the words 'classical music blog'. I can assure everyone that there was nothing 'clever' about the way I chose the name in March 04.

JDCMB came into being almost by accident. Blogs weren't as much of a global phenomenon then as they are now and I'd never thought of looking for any devoted to classical music. In a quiet patch following some intensive work on Ravel, after which I felt a little flat, I thought I'd investigate Something New and logged on to Blogger to see how these funny things called blogs worked. Next thing I knew, a prompt was asking me to choose a name for my blog. I didn't know that other similar sites might have poetic, meaningful titles, so I typed in the first thing that came into my head: Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog, which seemed to say everything anybody needed to know. Bingo: one blog. Nobody could have been more surprised than I was. And here we are.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Release day!

27 July: RITES OF SPRING paperback release day! As of now, I'm a real Paperback Writer! Amazon has been selling the thing for a while already, but this is the date when it's supposed to hit the physical bookshop shelves.

Time to press on with the editing of no.2 and the drafting of no.3...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fun at the opera? Heaven forfend!

I'm going to start eating those Sussex hats: The Guardian has only given 3 stars (out of 5) to 'Betrothal in a Monastery'. The objection is that the work itself isn't political enough. This opera commits the cardinal sin of being FUN. Come to think of it, with the Guardian one could perhaps predict this attitude.

The Times offers pretty much the same view, only without the politics. 'To what end? Entertainment, obviously...'

Entertainment in the opera house? How utterly, utterly dreadful! What a horrendous thought! You take an afternoon off work, spend all that money on a ticket and hiring your tux, pay for champagne & dinner & the ruinous programme, and then the company has the affrontery to ENTERTAIN you?! In Russian? Oy vay!!!

I predict deep suffering amongst the critics at tonight's Prom, where Juan Diego Florez is singing bel canto arias and Latin American songs that might just be enjoyable.

UPDATE 26 July 9am: The Daily Telegraph joins the killjoys. I suppose most of my colleagues would rather force us all to listen to 4 hours of Birtwistle. No wonder classical music is said to be dying...

UPDATE 26 July, 1.30pm Hooray for The Independent: Edward Seckerson got the point and catches the spirit.

UPDATE 31 July, 2.15pm: Hugh Canning of The Sunday Times must have been in a very, very bad mood. Perhaps a combination of the ridiculously high summer temperatures we've been having and an overdose of Russian?

Monday, July 24, 2006

5 August

On Saturday 5 August at 2pm I'll be at Waterstones in Richmond, signing copies of RITES OF SPRING, the paperback of which is now springing into life...

The shop address is 2-6 Hill Street, Richmond, Surrey, and it's less than ten minutes' walk from Richmond station (District Line, Silverlink Metro & South West Trains).