Thursday, 4 April 2013

Sibelius - Violin Concerto [Zukerman/ Barenboim-London Philharmonic Orchestra] 

As i was listening to this, i thought 'this is my most favourite Violin Concerto', and quite possibly it is, it's truly a work of genius, when i first heard it, all the different elements sounded as if they were glued together and you could easily see the seams, now i feel that the whole thing sounds as if it's carved from one lump, this disc has got some tremendous play in my Blog [17th May 2012 & 10th April 2011].

Pinchas Zukerman is from Israel, though now he lives in North America, he's now 64 years old, he recorded this work in 1975, the front cover photograph is one of the most stunning visual discs i own [photo by Gerd Weissing], a sunburst from behind a cloud, the dappled light on the water, and the gorgeous colours, it actually looks like a Sibelius landscape!, also the box with the lettering, and the logo top left, add a nice splash of colour, the final product is truly stunning.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Sibelius - Violin Concerto [Kremer/ Rozhdestvensky-London Symphony Orchestra] 

Another Sibelius Concerto that finds it's way into my Blog for the first time, plus it's only the second time i've ever played it, the Schnittke work is very unfamiliar to me, and it's still a work in progress for me, i really do need to listen to it a lot more, but of course the Sibelius it famously known, Kremer also recorded this Concerto with Muti [which i also have], i would recommend both, and however much i play this work, it's still such a joy to return to it again, and this was certainly the feelings today.

Gidon Kremer is Latvian, he's now 66, this recording was made back in 1977 when he was 30, the front cover photograph is a lovely silhouette, taken indoors, Kremer studying a score of music, violin in hand, and framed against a draped window, the atmosphere is terrific, and a real piece of stunning photography, also the lettering on the right is well laid out, and using different colours for the two Composers creates a nice differentiation, altogether a superb visual product.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Saint-Saens - Piano Concerto 4 [Collard/ Previn-Royal Philharmonic Orchestra] 

This is the first time a Saint-Saens Piano Concerto gets into my Blog, i guess a strange Composer of the Piano Concerto, he's not in the same league as other greats, and yet his Concerti aren't mere trifles either, and there's some very nice things going on in these Concertos, especially in 2 & 4, Hough / Litton have a newer set out on Hyperion, supposedly better performances, no doubt better recorded too, and yet i'm really quite fond of these performances, i like this set, and i played the whole thing, even though i have to admit that his output is uneven, and just recently i've listened to the Piano Concertos 2 & 3 of Tchaikovsky for the first time, now they're very much in the idiom of Saint-Saens, but Tchaikovsky is weak, whereas Saint-Saens is really quite inventive, these are really worth getting to know.

Jean-Philippe Collard is French, he's now 65, he recorded this work back in 1985, so the recording is nearly 30 years old, and it somewhat shows, a bit muddy in textures, the front cover is a painting by Paul Signac entitled 'Saint Tropez Pine Wood', a nice little example of pointillism.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Ron Affif [52nd Street] 

The 52nd Jazz disc in my Blog so far, and very appropriate considering the title of the album, Jazz discs appear roughly every 22 days, still quite a phenomenal minority, i now own 71 Jazz discs, and even though i bought my first Jazz album back in 1992 [20 years ago!], yet still Jazz seems to be stuck in its infancy in my life, a good Jazz album is hard to come by, i used to own 140 discs at one point, but i purged a lot of the dross, Affif falls into a genre of Jazz which is not as popular as the main two, horn based [saxophone / trumpet], and keyboards [mainly piano], also Jazz Guitar can veer towards the 'smooth' Jazz end of the spectrum, a genre that i've never warmed to, but Affif gets over any soulful doodlings of the smooth Jazz brigade, and certainly a Trio is harder to pull off, and he succeeds wonderfully.

Ron Affif is American, he's now 47, not a lot of albums to his name, this is the third album out of five, and quite possibly he's stopped recording since 1999, this album came out in 1996, the front cover shot [photo by Steve Maruta] is a nice portrait of Affif, nice and sharp, with guitar in hand, a red background which is aglow right behind him, i like colours, and the idea to put the lettering in green bands is inspired, along with the blue shirt, it makes a pleasing colourful front cover.

The tracks which i found really compelling were 1, 5, 7-8 & 10, with the very first track a superb gem [Bohemia After Dark], it's head and shoulders above everything else, 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Villa-Lobos - 12 Guitar Etudes [Fernandez] 

Villa-Lobos isn't a regular in my Blog, and this is only his second entry, but his Guitar Preludes / Etudes really are compelling, i've got a thing about Classical Guitar miniatures, the guitar is such an expressive instrument, and all sorts of 'un'famous Composers can become very skilled in creating a miniature, these 12 Etudes pan out to 32 minutes of music, the shortest is 1:24, and the longest is 4:19, and there's a real tremendous variety, and i find it extremely rewarding getting to know each one individually, the only other Blog entry for Villa-Lobos was a recital by Julian Bream, where i also was transfixed by these Etudes [7th March 2012].

Eduardo Fernandez is Uruguayan, he's now 60, he recorded this disc back in 1985, the front cover is Artwork by John Clementson, showing a crazy picture of a guitar, with lizards and snakes, very colourful in its reds and blues, with equally creative lettering, i actually really like it.

The three Etudes i liked the best were 4 & 11-12, and here's a synopsis of each,
Etude 4 [4:19] - The longest Etude of all [just], and a study in rhythm, very flamenco in the way the strings are Strummed, the volume comes in waves, also the intensity too, there's this wonderful use of a bass note at a lovely penultimate moment throughout, in some ways it may outstay its welcome because of the repetition and the length, but there are subtle changes throughout, repays repeated listening. 
Etude 11 [4:10] - At first sounding as if it's going to be a slow study, but actually it's only the long intro [0:00-0:51], it then becomes a highly virtuosic vehicle [0:57+], lots of sour strums interspersed with a pulsating a rhythm, but just when you think these will be the only two elements to the whole piece, a third even more intense harder rhythm comes in [1:48-2:25], and most musically satisfying it changes back to the second subject again [2:25+], it's the pieces wonderful ability to defy what you expect it would / should that makes it an exciting joy to listen to, and surprisingly again we come full circle as the whole piece ends where it started [2:55+], making the whole thing into a great symmetry, my favourite Etude from Villa-Lobos.
Etude 12 [2:14] - The final piece is really is a showstopper, a great finale if you like, played very frantically, and its intensity comes from its speed, real twangings here [0:00-0:43], lots of travelling up and down the fret, superb virtuosity from Fernandez, i like the close repetitive notes in the middle of the piece [0:42-1:17], the beginning returns as a nice A-B-A structure [1:18+], and right at the end there's a nice final flourish as a 'cherry on the top' of the whole piece / work! [1:57-2:07].

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Joshua Redman [Beyond] 

Not a Redman disc that i get to play that often, i think he's quite a genius, and yet his albums are uneven, they seem to fall into two separate camps, discs that i think are fantastic, and discs that are merely good, with the quality of my disc collection, i've eliminated the mere good, but this album is almost an inbetween of the two, i would never call it a great album, and yet there's no way i would want to purge it from library, this disc came after the excellent albums 'Freedom In The Groove' [1996], and 'Timeless Tales For Changing Times' [1998], on those two albums he was really having fun, a nice blast, here he's somewhat more serious, the musical ideas are still in abundance, but he seems to be reaching out to the fringes more, taking one rung of the ladder more toward atonality let's say, plus some of the track titles are very inventive / poetic, it's not an immediately likable album, and maybe i need to do some more serious listening to truly get it, but it's so worth listening to.

Joshua Redman is American, he's now 44, and so well established in Jazz circles, this is his sixth studio album, and it came out in 2000, the strange photography for this issue [by Frank W Ockenfels 3], shows Redman shot with i guess a serious wide angled lens, making his legs / feet look bigger than they are, in a strange room [probably a converted garage], which has the visual feel of a sort of pit [no windows], the front cover is really sparse, and it certainly goes with the feel of the music, i didn't think it's great, but somehow i can't dismiss it as average either.

Tracks 1-2, 4, 7 & 9-10 were the best, with the standout track being 7 'Stoic Revolutions', which has a phenomenal driving rhythm / beat to it, very much in the spirit of his two previous albums, there's no 'crazy' inventive intro, it's straight for the throat this one, lovely couple of beats of the drum from Gregory Hutchinson and we're away, the rhythm is made of a constant clicking of the cymbals, and a very repetitive and mellow chord hits from Pianist Aaron Goldberg, and it's the Drummer which makes the whole thing work, Redman comes in with the very lyrical tune, a degree of funkiness to the whole thing, he plays the 'theme' [0:10-1:09], and then goes off on a more complex solo [1:16-3:07], the way the rhythm section keeps going on in the same vein is terrific, but they do respond to his ever increasing complexity, there's great joy and vibrancy in his playing, the Pianist Goldberg who has been in the 'rhythm background' for so long, now finally branches out in a solo, [3:07-4:54] and also branches out volume wise as well, it's a relatively short tune [6:11], and therefore only time enough for Redman and Goldberg to cut solos, so Redman comes back in with the original opening theme [4:54+], and extends this with getting quite rapturous with the repetitive theme, and hits the treble stratosphere at the end, a highly infectious track.

Here's Joshua Redman playing 'Stoic Revolutions' on his MySpace page.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Schubert - Piano Sonata 14 [Lewis] 

Another disc that gets it's first spin, i really like Lewis, maybe because he's a Brendel disciple!, i'm usually not the greatest fan of his middle period Sonatas [though i do have a soft spot for Sonata 16], but this sounded so fantastic today, it could easily pass for late Schubert, especially the first movement, i'm still discovering Schubert, and he's still got some tricks up his sleeve that i haven't noticed yet, and Paul Lewis is a great advocate, what a great little 24 minute masterpiece this is.

Paul Lewis is English, he's now 40, he made this recording in 2001, the front cover photo [by Jack Liebeck], is a black & white shot, a good pose, it goes well with the light blue theme, and it's visually well laid out, a lovely disc to own.

The Sonata is cast in three movements, and it was the first movement that blew me away, and it's this first movement that takes over half the works length, it's in the key of A Minor, and there's an underlying sense of tension and conflict there, but there's also some of the most heartwrenching episodes of pure 'unleashment', i lkie the darkness of it all, Lewis captures the outbursts of anger with some nice fortes, right from the start Schubert creates a murky world, restrained playing by Lewis, the piece seems to get bogged down in the lower depths of the keyboard, but when the opening theme is restated [0:52+], it suddenly explodes into a very exciting forte, there's still that darkness, but now there's real animation too, and then as almost an antidote, Schubert gives us a tender variation [2:04+], and this is where my heart begins to be gripped, the opposites sway the heart, and Schubert can add single 'out of the way' notes which just have me in raptures [3:04], how can just a single note change the whole mood?, Schubert is a master of repetition, and themes and ideas are reused again for the most exquisite effect, of course Schubert has to have what appears to be one of his central episodes [7:03+], but instead it turns into a cascading carillon of bass notes [7:22-7:46], while the treble hammers out chords, now that really gets the hairs on your neck standing up, and Schubert treats us to a jumpy variation of the second theme [8:15-8:54] lots of high treble here, now that's a really satisfying variety to what's gone on before, and Schubert continues to stun me with ideas, there's this very tender variation of a previous theme [10:54-12:04], almost a gentle sort of fanfare, even though there's some fortes towards the end, the very ending is not of the highest caliber Schubert, almost as if he was unsure how to close off the movement satisfyingly, it leaves a finality to it quite open, but the verdict is, that this is one of the greatest movements that Schubert wrote.

Here's Alfred Brendel playing the first movement on YouTube.