28 December 2009

An enlivening path to re-tread (11) -- Immortal performances


Before the close of 2009, I'm more than happy to re-tread the highly enjoyable paths left open by the recordings of Clara Haskil and Dinu Lipatti. If I'm forgiven to exaggerate a little, I'd say Lipatti's music is God-like and Haskil's angel-like.

Lipatti's rendition of Schumann Piano Concerto here has always given me the feeling of being definitive. The colour and perfection he instilled into his playing is something we can only marvel at. An awesome achievement. Simply out of reach of mere mortals.

Haskil is an apt reminder to those who revel only in the external appearance and manners of a pianist, that music as elegant as angels singing can only be found from the pianist with grace in the heart. This is music that plucks your heart strings.

27 December 2009

Gifts from Germany


Mary sent me a Christmas gift the other day. She ordered two sets of special-edition CDs from the German Amazon, as pictured above. They are very nice in packaging and document Horowitz's "legendary" concert on 18 May 1986 in Berlin. What is special about the first set is that it is packaged with carton papers and includes a replica of the concert poster. The second set is different from the international release found in Hong Kong in that it includes all the commentaries and interviews made during the concert and relayed for broadcast on that day.

Horowitz was said to be very satisfied with his performance, and you can understand why by listening to this recording. A truly legendary figure.

Thank you.

15 December 2009

Gifts from England (1)

Andrew came back on Sunday. Last night we shared a bottle of red wine at dinner. Not an expensive one. Just one of those gifts I received a couple of months ago. A Chilean G7 2007 Reserve. Good rich colour. The right amount of tannin. A really good and enjoyable evening.

He brought back Haitink's CSO B7. I haven't listened to Haitink's Bruckner for quite some time. He is now one of the few Brucknerians to reckon with.

Haitink is one of those few who can tame the mammoth of Bruckner's orchestral writings. For some conductors, it seems that the music flings them around with its ebbs and flows; they just can't control it. Bruckner's symphonies have been described as existing in sound blocks, a much quoted cliché. However, Haitink can smoothen them into a large landscape with undulating mountains and valleys. He just has the knack to join these "blocks" almost seamlessly. When we listened to this B7 together,  I was happy that Andrew could discern one of Haitink's tricks. He is now quite familiar with B4, B7 and B8 already, having listened to them countless times in his dorm. Haitink tends to resort to a rallentando towards the end of a theme, which gives you an impression that the present theme will not come to an abrupt halt before the next theme gets off. In other words, he employs a fading-out method to maintain a sense of continuity. His gift is that all these do not sound unnatural, thanks in part to his avoidance of a fading-in. The next theme comes to life at once, and this will not make the transition too artificially protracted. His Bruckner is smooth and soothing, and not haunting, the latter being the best attribute on a day when I'm not in the mood for some dramatic contrasts. It is like a bottle of mellow wine.

As for this recording, taken from live concerts in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, Chicago on 10, 11, 12 and 15 May 2007, Haitink's soft approach was nicely balanced by the rather bright Chicago brass which adds some much-needed rigidity and jaggedness to the reading, and without which the whole musical architecture would have been too soft-focussed for the listener to discern clearly. 

Other niceties of Bruckner Andrew brought back home include B4 (1989), B7 (1984) and B8 (1981) by Klaus Tennstedt and LPO in the latter's own label. All were live recordings of single concerts made by BBC Radio 3.  All are warmly welcomed additions to my Bruckner archive. Andrew is showing some delicacy of taste now.

PS (20 Jan 2010). Thanks to the comments by Eaquson from Taiwan, I'd like to add some of my experience with Haitink's Bruckner. In fact I've been following his Bruckner for a long time.

In the 1980s, he recorded B3, 4, 5 & 8 with the Vienna Philharmonic on Philips. At that time a full cycle with this orchestra was anticipated, but it eventually did not materialise. Then came a long period of no new Bruckner recordings from him until the recent couple of years when several live recordings were released. 

His recordings of B8 become a special case for him as his earliest recording with the CO on Philips was troubled by a very brisk tempo. His later recordings with the CO (again), VPO, then Staatskapelle Dresden were getting better and better.

12 December 2009

De Sabata's Beethoven Fifth

Victor de Sabata's performances usually emancipate us from the bondage of tasteless routine.

Fire and passion are not words alien to his music, and in fact they form an integral part of his.

Nathan Milstein is a violinist I really adore. I remember fondly the tone he recounted his being called, "the  Black sea boy", in a video. His singing and mellow tone in his violin playing is unmistakable.

Here we have a very nice Brahms violin concerto. The finale is particularly delectable.

The Beethoven Fifth opens with an understated motif, and I ask myself, "Is it de Sabata?" But when the music unfolds and the tympani comes on, the fire and the rage start. The musical flow is fluent without any annoying nuisance. The real outburst is saved for the Finale, when the glorious music of Beethoven is portrayed vividly and colourfully. This reading is not as fierce as his Eroica, yet no less satisfying. The only undoing is the rather muffled string sound, which may account for an apparent lack of incisiveness so typical of de Sabata.

03 December 2009

Memories of the late Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter is one of the pianists I adore (therefore in my "A" list).

I started to collect his recordings some 20 years ago, and since then I have collected more than 200 of his CDs. From a mere admirer of his piano playing, I've become a collector of his recordings. But collecting his CDs is a daunting task, to say the least of it. According to the latest estimation, there have been about 800 different CDs of his performance, albeit some are duplicates of the same recording or performance. After cross-checking with his extensive discography, I think I've collected at least 90% of it. Just the collecting exercise itself is arduous toil. But the listening experience is an enjoyable and fulfilling one, and one that will remain in my mind for eons.

The following pictures show part of my collection according to record labels in chronological order of the year of issue.













Need to pick up on this label


The ephemeral TNC label



This is a never-ending journey.

One may notice that those common ones from Decca, EMI and DG are not shown. They can be available at cut-throat prices in the recently released box-sets.