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It was the best of CDs, it was the worst of CDs

November 25, 2006 at 1:05 AM

I sup pose today is a bloggy blog kind of blog. Out for a determind stroll yesterday and accidentally fell into a music shop. There didn't seem much to do in there except go shopping so I bit the bullet and bought the new Hilary Hahn CD of Paginini and Spohr and one of those historic recordings of an octogenerian Casals, the dude from the Hungarian quartet and some old geezer on the piano playing the Mendelssohn Trio and cello odds and sods at the white house .
That Hahn recording is truly a major addition to the recorded repertoire. Worth every penny. Some of the most original and beautful playing on disc in this repertoire. I don't think anyone has played the double stopping in the first movement more perfectly or with greater clarity. I also found the opening one of the most personal and arresting statements made in this cocnerto for a while. Not just, stand by to be amazed, but more, okay everyone, you can see I can play this standing on my head but also get ready for a perfomance where I am going to think about what I am doing damn hard.
From a critical perspective I did think ther ewere a few down sides. The firts question that sprang to mind is why is , on this evidence, easily one of the top few recording artists in the world, not being recorded with the best possible orchestras? I thought the strings of the Swedish Radio orchestra were warm sounding, and very competent, no doubt due to the influence of my long lost Swedish offspring. But the wind, especially woodwind, were both sloppy and significantly out of tune in the introductory section. Could this also be due to the influence of the Swedish Watersprite himself? Who knows? I also think the orchestra is set too far back from an acoustic perspective. Perhaps a cover up was in progress.
Having not enjoyed the introduction of the first movement I do have some personal resistance to Ms. Hahn's overall conception of the first movement that spoilt it for me. That is, she has worked so hard to express the cantelina passages to the nth degree between all the fireworks that these respective sections fluctuate wildly in tempo. Overall, a sense of coherency is lost to some extent.
I can't check out bar number s or anything here, but there is a phrase that ends with a high harmonic e that Ms Hahn seems to finish then for no musical reason whatsoever bangs out a huge ugly accent. Maybe an example of slight musical immaturity but it did cross my mind that a sloppy engineer might have patched together something and Ms. Hahn was not present to check out what was going on.
My other minor quibble was in the six eight secrtion of the first movement. I think the richochet bowings are slighhglty more effective if played very strictly in tempo. The Hahn version sounds a little rushed me. In my opinion this section performed by Kogan has more clarity and force for me.
One things for sure. It isn't boring. Alas, the same could not be said for the historic recording of Casals which had so many horrible noises I shall probably donate it to a worthy cause.
Happy Thanksgiving,
From Kelsey Z.
Posted on November 25, 2006 at 5:35 AM
"Swedish Watersprite" ? Hehe.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 25, 2006 at 4:57 PM
"...the dude from the Hungarian quartet...some old geezer on the piano..."
Could you be more specific please?
From Friedrich Sprondel
Posted on November 26, 2006 at 2:53 PM
As to the balance of orchestra vs. soloist in Hahn recordings, I used to think the same until I actually experienced one of her performances. She played the Elgar concerto in Winterthur, and was audible always well over of a full late-romantic orchestra sound. The same I found later when I listenend to her Paganini life in Baden-Baden. The strength of her sound is incredible, as is her bow control. It appears as though she plays actually over the bridge all the time, and there never is a hiss, or in fact one single note she deems unimportant. It's technical perfection, full stop. -- Musically, I found many who were at odds with her non-virtuosic -- yet stunningly perfect -- reading of the Paganini concerto. I like it, and I think it opens up an entire new perspective on the music.


From Ray Randall
Posted on November 26, 2006 at 5:29 PM
Is she still using that only ok sounding Vuillaume?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 26, 2006 at 10:42 PM
Friedrich, i wasn`t talking about the balance between orchestrea and soloist. The orchestra sounds distant.

Oh seeker of knowledge- A Scneider, Mieczyslaw Horszowski.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 27, 2006 at 4:52 PM
"seeker of knowledge"...ha ha.
I believe it was Zoltan Szekely that was the leader of the Hungarian SQ, and Alexander Schneider was of the Budapest SQ.
Also, I heard Ms. Hahn's Paganini on the car radio a few weeks ago, and thought it was just great. That is on the list of things to buy.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 27, 2006 at 10:47 PM
OSOK- if you read the history of those quartets you will find that they changed their personel so often its a joke. That is the reason Heifetz claimed to have penned the following joke about the Hungarian (which I have forgotten so am improvising):
one Russian is an intellectual, two are chess players, three are a revolution and four are a string quartet.

Szekely was a veyr good @player. If you can get his Roumanian dances they are well wortha listen.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 28, 2006 at 4:34 AM
That is my all-time favorite joke! The way I heard it was:
One Russian is a philosopher
Two Russians are chess players
Three Russians are conspirators
Four Russians are The Budapest String Quartet!
There is a book about the BSQ, "Con Brio: Four Russians Called the Budapest String Quartet", by Nat Brandt, ISBN 0-19-508107-2. It is a very good book.
Another book, by Claude Kenneson, is "Szekely And Bartok: The Story of a Friendship", ISBN 0-931340-70-5. This one starts out good, but loses steam about halfway through. There is a lot of good information though.
Thanks, sir.

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