11 April, 2009

Listening Log 10/04/09: Pianists and Fiddlers

Listening Log 10/04/09: Pianists and Fiddlers

In many ways the most interesting listening I had recently was to Jonathan Biss' Schumann CD, his second release after one for EMI's excellent Debut series (a series of surprisingly good curatorial choice, given the climate of classical music). Interesting because I am in general neither a fan of new artists nor Schumann's piano oeuvres. This recital captured me from the first notes. The Fantasy in C (my favorite Schumann piano work) cannot be more different from the grand Pollini, but in many ways it gets to the music even more. The Kreisleriana is even more free-wheeling but unusually stays interesting for me. The concluding Arabesque is but icing on the cake. I don't listen to a lot of Schumann piano, so I seriously got into thinking why I liked this album so much. I think I know why. Schumann's piano music is structurally difficult to grasp, and his mood swings are treated by pianists in hughly different ways, mostly unsuccessfully. Too gentle and self-effacing (Arrau comes to mind), the music becomes boring; too wild, the music becomes incoherent. Biss grades his dynamics very carefully. When he attacks he does so swiftly but with a rounded tone far removed from Lisztian ways. Yet he is certainly impestuous and there are many passages in these familiar works where eyebrows shall be raised. I was entranced and rarely felt any of his gestures to be empty ones. I haven't heard more fulfilling Schumann in a long time. He wrote his own perceptive note, which basically tells us to feel Schumann. It's easier said than done, but he has succeeded, I suspect not only with me!

I have been immersing myself in Alban Berg Quartet's TELDEC box. What immaculate playing! This is mandatory purchase for string quartet afficionados. For more discussion, see the entry in my Library A Blog.

I picked up an Angel LP of Dinu Lipatti's Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21. Despite having likely listened to more than 30 versions and over 100 times, This is my favorite version now. For more info on this performance, see the entry in my Library A Blog.

The Juilliard Quartet is an unjustly neglected quartet. Formed in the mono era it lived on long, but with innumerable personnel changes. I picked up a pristine EPIC (Columbia) set of Mozart Haydn Quartets, recorded by an early foursome (as in pic): Robert Mann (first violinist for the longest time, and excellent leader in the earlier days); Isidore Cohen (second-violinist, who went on to become more well known as violinist for the Beaux Arts Trio); Raphael Hillyer, viola; and Claus Adam, cello. The playing is clean, beautifully blended and fluent, superior to most of the "famous" quartet's before the public now. As I am in NYC, the Juilliard is probably the quartet I have heard the most LIVE, and they have never failed to deliver the meaning of the music. one of my favorite groups, musically deeper than the Cleveland, Guarneiri, Emerson etc. Indeed musically the deepest of American quartets, with the exceptions of the Budapest and the Hollywood.

Very good:
Solti's Chicago Mahler 6th (DECCA LP) is blistering and unrelenting. I was happily exhausted afterwards.

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