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ASM Bach and Bite. Neither is worse.

October 15, 2008 at 2:20 AM

Well, I splashed out and bought the new ASM CD after being pressured by Laurie.
Idle thoughts will follow but right now I’m thinking about how little critics manage to say about anything while trying to look knowledgeable. Consider the following from the Guardian I cited on a thread :

>The new piece is nicely complemented by two of Bach's violin concertos, in which Mutter is partnered by the Trondheim Soloists, whose performing style is a hybrid between modern techniques and period ideas: they use baroque bows but on metal stringed instruments.

Metal strings is as misleading as it is inaccurate unless they all use Astrea.

>The results are lively, though unremarkable.
Surely anyone with half a brain could sit down and make some remarks given the content of this disk? Isn’t that his job?

> It's the Gubaidulina that will sell the disc to the composer's admirers.
And was this disc created to sell to Gubaidulina`s admirers specifically? If so, then it is a largely meaningless remark. And what about Bach’s admirers?

I think this last highlights the difficulty of recording Bach these days. First of all there may be some question about the musical strength of these concertos (cf Auer who only rated the slow movements.) Assuming this is a historical blip then I find myself trying to count how many performances I have heard over the years on record, live and from students hacking away for dear life much as I did as a kid. It’s so hard to approach these pieces with fresh ears.
But what about the poor performer? On the one hand we have the epitome of tasteful romance from Oistrakh which is simply glorious. On the other we have the electricity and asceticism of dynamos like Manze at the other extreme. Pity the poor performer who forges their own way somewhere in the middle. Is it possible that deep down our first reaction is to feel they are fence sitting? Does it take some energy to forget all this and just really listen? I confess it did for me. Are these some of the reasons why a reviewer has nothing useful to say about anything?
Anyway, enough rambling. I started with the slow movement of the a minor for three or four run throughs. I love the sound of the opening orchestra. They have a kind of earthy sound which is neither as heavy as modern instruments or nasal (????;) ) as authentic. ASM has this knack of entering and leaving the field of play from nowhere which is just perfect. Here phrasing is exemplary and I swear she can visualize and recreate the sounds of different instruments as she goes. At one point she sounds exactly like an organ to me. There is also an incredibly juicy portamento about two bars from the end which is so perfect it makes the old spine tingle. One the debit side there are three or four moments I found a little ugly. On some of the long notes she uses an extremely wide and slow vibrato which sound like the intention is more of a special effect like a trill rather than vibrato itself. It’s neither subtle nor necessary to my ears.
The first movement has a brisk tempo and the most amazing combinations of different kinds of bow strokes. The more you listen (especially with headphones) the more you can find. Its not highlighted in anyway but the mixing up of strokes is done with the ease only a world class violinist can manage. Quite extraordinary but never inappropriate and miles away from the relentless, ravishing detache so typical of early violinists. One criticism I would have is that the separate 8th notes and first notes of sequences sound a bit heavy or choppy on occasion. Think a little less of this and more attention to the energy of the up beat might have enhanced this performance a little. But it’s a small quibble.
It’s interesting that ASM specifically mentions the use of a baroque bow allows for articulation and speed in Bach’s last movements. I agree that the articulation is their but I cannot personally feel these movements at this incredible speed. Not only does it sound sort of like rumpty-dumpty dum, for want of a better description, but I don’t find the ear has time to appreciate all the complex working of the inner voices at this tempo. I suppose it might grow on me but I’m not convinced yet.
I first listened to the Gubaidulina after a bad hair day at work. It grabbed me immediately but I felt it was too long. It seemed like a piece that would work really well in a concert hall where one could get spaced out rather than in the confines of a small room. After repeated listening I now think it is too short. I’m very addicted to it but I can’t tell you why. The work itself does, to my ear, hint at certain pivotal composers at various times. My subconscious would occasionally flash up not only Berg, but Bartok and The Rite of Spring. Not a criticism, musical influences are universal truisms.
ASM is utterly compelling throughout. It made me wonder about the future of the work though. Who is going to play it? For sure ASM will give it a few airings depending on cooperative management. Maybe another player or two will pick it up. But then what? How do these difficult great works get into the mainstream? As I mentioned before, the disc went on sale in Japan a long time before many other countries. It was also relegated to the bottom of the pile behind the latest over dressed babe playing Kreisler encores and Ziguienerweisen on the harp within a –very- short time frame. Made me feel a tad sad.

From Craig Coleman
Posted on October 15, 2008 at 6:50 AM
Enjoyed reading your review and now I'm tempted to go out and get her new cd also (or this time try Laurie's suggestion with downloading it). The Vivaldi Seasons and Tartini Sonata that she recorded a few years with the same band was to me one of her best recordings. ASM always has something new to say in her own unique style.


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 15, 2008 at 10:23 PM
last night I played the Gobbledigook concerto to an adult student. At first she giggled, then she said it made her nervous, then she asked me to put something more cheerul on as it reminded her of being trapped in a dark forest and unable to escape.
Can`t win them all I suppose...

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