06 May, 2009

Listening Log 07/05/09: Essential Bach and Worthless Beethoven

Listening Log 07/05/09: Essential Bach and Worthless Beethoven

Time flies. I have been so busy with family matters that I was a little shocked to find that my last log was published almost a month ago. Here are a few CDs I bought or heard in Taiwan. I can only play them on my cousin's computer.

Bach's solo violin works are of course essential library material. After listening to recordings of the greatest violinists, like Milstein and Heifetz, sometimes it's not easy to find newcomers that one likes. This Oleg Kagan Erato recording, long out-of-print, is now re-issued by Warner Apex, 2 CDs for the price of one. Surely a collector's item, so grab it ASAP. This is from a 1989 live concert at the Concertgebouw, and the playing is magnificent, full of humanity. It witholds comparison with any, marred only by an over-reverberant acoustic, but afficionado's would not mind.

Even more than the solo violin works, I love the violin concerti and avidly collect different versions. This DG recording by Francescatti I already have, but when I saw the Japanese pressing (JS Bach 名盤 1200) I just had to buy one. His tone in this 1971 recording is warmer than on some Sony/Columbia recordings. Both the soloist and orchestra play and breathe together in long lines. Despite "period practice", the style here, in long singing lines, cannot be faulted. Let me add here that I have always admired the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under Rudolf Baumgartner. They have made many great discs together and their set of the Brandenberg Concertos and Orchestral Suites on Eurodisc/RCA is still top choice, and no-brainer at budget price. Don't forget, this festival orchestra, though ad hoc, has many famous soloists on its roster and had played under Furtwangler!!

While browsing at Tachung Records in Taipei, which has an excellent audio system, I was tansfixed by this hot Nonesuch (Warner) release of the Beethoven piano concertos. I actually stayed for more than 1 hr listening to the remarkable partnership. Richard Goode's pianism is spontaneous, with great tonal allure, and impeccable in its classicism. With pianism of this order, it's easy to slight the orchestral contribution which, in these of all concerti, are just as vital. I have always loved the sound of this Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer. One admires the beautifully phrased lines and the singing quality. The recording quality is excellent. While here, I should also mention that I recently heard the Pletnev cycle with the Russian National Orchestra on DG (mid-price). Pletnev's playing is cooler and more yang than Goode, but just as immaculate and fastidiously weighted. Highly recommended. I'd get both cyles.

Very good:
I was surprised to see this Janos Starker Cello Sonata cycle, originally issued on Erato and long oop. Now re-issued by Warner Apex, it's eminently worthwhile. The readings are "objective" and straightforward (as always with this cellist). The piano is balanced to the fore but Rudolf Buchbinder's somewhat dry style, with little pedaling, helps the integration much. The recording quality is excellent. Starker admirers need not hesitate.

Why is Beethoven worthless? Because all these Beethoven issues are being sold at bargain price. None of the new Beethoven piano concerto cycles are full price. I haven't heard the newest Pollini and the Kissin cycles.

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