Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Phew that was close

'But that will mean you'll have to fight resistance from the Germans,' said the Radio 4 business correspondent to his money markets interviewee. In the past, that question might have answered with the name of a battle or numbers of dead. The interviewee had the softest Aberdeen burr. The inflections became more noticeable when they turned to the oil crisis. What a good job we didn't vote yes, many must be thinking. The Land of Winter would be looking very chilly indeed.

It's Islam wot won it!

Have no doubt that the swing towards covering up flesh respresented by The Sun calling time on the Page Three Tits is connected with Islam's insistence on headscarves. 

See they have flogged a blogger, but have been trying to flog this one for years. 

Hear the internment diary of Hans Gal read at the Central London Synagogue. The refugee had already settled in Edinburgh when the war broke out and the government decided he and his ilk were a potential threat. They shut them up at Highton, Liverpool, with a load of German POWs. 'Some,' wrote Gal, 'were flaxen haired innocents from Hamburg, but others were real Nazis, convinced even in captivity, that they were going to win the war.' The book is called Music Behind Barbed Wire, published by Toccata Press. The title refers to one of Gal's Schubertian songs (he was born in Vienna in 1890) so 2015 is his 125th anniversary. His daughter, who called him 'Gal', presented the evening. So did Martin Anderson, Toccata's founder. He said, someone once asked the composer, if it were true he'd played the piano for Brahms. 'Of course not,' was the reply, 'I was only six!' 


Friday, 16 January 2015

Jarrett jarring

The record label ECM doesn't get everything right. Presenting the jazz pianist Keith Jarrett in the classical repertoire does him no favours. He and violinist Michelle Makarski perform Bach's six sonatas for violin and keyboard, composed during Bach's Koethen days as a court composer of chiefly secular music. The lines lack finesse compared to recordings of stricter, more devoted classicists and Jarrett in particular seems satisfied with the loose edges in the ensemble. Neither have the speed of, say, Frank Peter Zimmermann and Enrico Pace on their celebrated Sony disc of the same repertoire. The depth and intensity are missing and in the end one stops listening. One day, perhaps, I'll chuck it out, but for now it goes back on the shelf to gather dust. I once loved jazz musicians, but came to the conclusion after hearing too many cliched solos delivered half asleep, that the sculpted form, worked and smoothed to its perfect form, is superior to the spontaneous improvisation. Bach extemporised from necessity, as a short-hand when lacking time to write out the perfect, thought-through form, challenging the artist who will perform it. Jazz musicians play what they can, but classical musicians play what they must.    

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Song and Dance

Attend launch of BBC's Year of Song and Dance at Sadler's Wells. Dame Kiri te Kanawa tells us competitions keep a culture alive and warbles a verse of a Maori folksong and reminds us 2015 is a Cardiff Singer of the World year. Darcey Bussell talks of sweat, toil and tears among ballerinas and seconds the Dame's enthusiasm for competition. Kenneth Tharp tries to be too clever punning 'mind over matter' with 'what matters....' Sitting at the piano, Neil Brand tells us the back-story of Irving Berlin's Cheek to Cheek and says his strand will uncover the equally fascinating histories behind dozens of songs. The man in charge, Cassian Harrison, beams genially and reminds us that song and dance are the most democratic art forms. He said 'ballet was invented by Louis XIV'. Bong! untrue! What was new in his reign was not dance but women dancing on stage. Previously only men had danced for an audience.     

Friday, 9 January 2015

Pop along to Kings Place to hear the Sixteen embark on their Minimalism series with a concert of plainsong and polyphony, music from a time when Europeans were burning each other for insulting their respective religions. In Leonin's Viderunt Omnes of 1198, tenor soloists bend notes or decorate them with a slow slur occasionally like an imam's prayer-call. One hears the Tavener influence. Not least in the eternal bass notes. Fighting Islam is like time-travelling. Dr Who has come true. They've only got to 1436 or something in the millennial cycle which religions seem to work to. We can't understand their seriousness, nor they our sense of humour.

Really beautiful playing on Grigory Sokolov's Salzburg Recital. Full of surprises: Mozart two sonatas in the same key (F), Chopin, Scriabin, Rameau, Bach (a sober chorale prelude, Ich ruf zu dir, I call to thee, like a plea, to close out). Sokolov is determined not to be pigeon-holed and brings the same liquid touch to whatever he plays. The piano is the point, the different composers merely artist-servants.

I wonder how Sokolov would sound on a Seaboard's silicon keyboard. For the first time, the piano has left the percussion section and depressing a key is identical to playing a stringed instrument, warming and vibratoing its tone onwards. The Hammerklavier was the last important innovation, but the loud and soft tone production was still percussive. It is an invention of the young company ROLI, based in Dalston Junction who are at the Los Angeles trade fair next week and have already sold to the leading composers in both Hollywood and Bollywood, Hans Zimmer and AR Rahman.  

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Dale Diary

At the annual New Year's lunch, the Highgate organist makes a scatological and eschatological joke. What's brown and lies on the piano stool? Beethoven's last movement. I nered to consult a dictionary for the difference. Eschatology means the study of last things and comes from the Greek eschatos for last. Scatology means the study of excrement and comes from the Greek skatos meaning shit. 

Writing a programme note for a concert of Shakespeare settings, I come upon the composer Benjamin Dale (1885-1943), who wrote music for two of the songs of Feste the Fool in Twelfth Night while interned in a prisoner of war camp in Germany during the First World War. He had found himself stuck in Bayreuth in 1914 when hostilities began and didn't get home for four years. Periodic attempts have been made to revive interest in his richly Romantic scores, including this one released in 2008 by the viola player Roger Chase on the Dutton label. The Phantasy for viola and piano Op4 was commissioned by Walter Cobbett who had established a Phantasy competition inspired by the seventeenth century English fashion for viol fantasies. Dale's twenty-minute work writhes with voluptuous, steamy contortions between viola and keyboard. It starts with a heavily dotted lento like a Baroque French overture. The six-eight allegro runs across key- and fingerboard with Chase and Otaki in perfectly judged balance. An andante espressivo brings out Chase's silver lyricism while the piano treasures a cantabile passage alone before the exuberant buoyancy of the allegro tumbles towards a reprise of the opening theme. This is music despised by the following generation which aspired to biting modernism, but increasingly admired by the present one the new lights it sheds on the past. A short English Dance from 1916 longs for home. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Monochrome Mahler

Mahler's own two-piano / eight hands / forty finger version of his Symphony No2 'Resurrection' is the coloured orchestral work in black-and-white. Pianists Brierley Cutting, Angela Turner, Stephen Emmerson and Stewart Kelly vary the hues within a grey spectrum to produce a dramatically minimal account of the five movement monster, the melodies starkly delineated, the instrumentation merely imagined. Mahler's concept is undiminished for all its reduction to two-tone keys. Nietzsche's words are absent from the fourth movement Urlicht, but the melody of O Roeschen rot still haunts, its serenity pure after the precipitous motion of the scherzo. The effect of hearing familiar music in different tones is wonderfully refreshing and invigorating.  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Pires plus Harding equals Abbado

These are beautiful, finely detailed performances of Beethoven's Third and Fourth Piano Concertos which pianist Maria Joao Pires with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under British conductor Daniel Harding put before the listening ear this year.  Pires plays not with hefty authority or jowly weight, but refinement, and classical elegance. She articulates a phrase which then clearly echoes in the woodwind - the flute in particular adds a silver gilt to the picture. One perceives powdered and periwigged Vienna step into more honest, bare-headed Romanticism. Harding conducts with deference for his formidable star, exacting speeds which have neither the childish celerity of the period instrument racers, nor the hoary deliberation of the gerenation which made Beethoven a god. Indeed, the disc has Abbado-like grace and it is to him who died in January 2014 that the performances are dedicated.


Lutes in the Boot

The young Argentine lutenist Monika Pustilnik plays music by Alessandro Piccinini on a new Accent label CD. One usually hears her only in ensembles such as Emanuelle Haim's Concert d'Astree, Marc Minkowski's Musiciens du Louvre or Christophe Rousset's Talens Lyriques. Three of the tracks are long, absorbing and increasingly complex sets of variations. The rest are either dances - correntes and gagliardas - or fantasies - toccatas and a recercare. Her touch is light and agile on her twenty-year-old archlute by Francisco Hervas of Granada. Mine are by David Van Edwards, the current chairman of the Lute Society and need re-fretting which is only one of the reasons I put Pustilnik on the car CD player. Suddenly the ancient streets of Walworth, South East London are rather Baroque an d it is absolutely in keeping to arrive at the aromatic workshop of the lutemakers Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fashionable Baptists

I keep running across Giovanni Battistas around the time of Monteverdi (1567-1643). There are GB Doni, GB Marino , GB Guarini and GB Moroni. Sometimes their name is shortened to Giambattista like jambutty. Doni (?-?)was a luteplayer falsely credited with writing a Toccata dell'arcangeli which just happened to be in a book he owned and which is to be played at the Wigmore Hall next January the third. Marino (1569-1625) was a homosexual poet in and around Naples who spent time in prison for 'immorality' and whose lyric Vorrei baciarti, I want to kiss you, begins the same Wigmore programme. Guarini (1538-1612) was also a writer, Monteverdi's favourite lyricist, responsible for the text Mentre vaga Angioletta, while diaphonous Angioletta, also in the Wigmore prog, and the leading librettist before Mestastasio. Moroni (1525-78) was a painter whose name I saw on a poster outside the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly when  I hurried by en route to a meeting where I agreed to take minutes at future critics' circle meetings and keep the membership lists in order as the guild's Hon Gen Sec. I hope it doesn't take up too much time. Where was I? Yes. Then in hunting for one I found another GB Marinoni, Monteverdi's bass singer at Mantua and Venice. That's a lot of John Baptists for one era.