Monday, 3 August 2015
Some colleagues see their blogs, in the words of one, as a 'shop window' for their writing. I say, write about whatever takes your fancy, ignore the tips about keeping it short if you have a lot to say, and if you please yourself, you're bound to please at least one or two others. This may look more like a 'shop window' entry but I also wanted to record several supremely pleasurable and easy meetings over recent weeks, the most recent being with my loyal friend in Prokofiev studies Fiona Noble (formerly McKnight, whom our beloved Noëlle Mann entrusted to take over the running of the Prokofiev Archive until its unseemly departure for New York some time after Noëlle's death) and Petroc Trelawny, who needs no introduction, pictured above before a pre-Prom event last Wednesday
There have been so many, of course, at various festivals, and I marvel at how one thing leads to another, which must be how it works when fine musicians gather friends and friends of friends for rather special smallish-scale events like the wonderful Southrepps Festival in north-east Norfolk, which serendipity in the form of friend Jill having just bought a cottage in the lower village led me towards. Plus of course the common denominator of superb young violinist Ben Baker in two more of the loveliest places imaginable - the East Neuk of Fife and the very special town of Pärnu in the south of Estonia. More anon here on Pärnu and Southrepps, but the East Neuk and Pärnu festival pieces are already up on The Arts Desk too.
That's Ben and his very charming Estonian girlfriend Marike Krupp, who led the Pärnu Academy Orchestra and also played in the superb concert of mostly British string music conducted by Ben Johnson - yes, tenor Ben Johnson - at Southrepps on Saturday evening.
The chats go back a bit - at least to 11 June when I once again interviewed Vladimir Ashkenazy, this time about Sibelius before a very fine all-Sibelius programme with the Philharmonia. The new dimension this time was getting to talk more, both before and after, with his instantly likeable Icelandic wife Þórunn. She too is a fine pianist - they met and fell in love when she went to Russia as a performer, and though I seem to have forgot so many details already, I think she subsequently took out Sibelius recordings - she first came to know the composer's music when playing Mozart with the National Youth Orchestra, a member of whom turned up at the event - since only the Violin Concerto was really well known out there at the time. Here they are in the green room before the talk.
We also talked a bit about Nielsen, whose Sixth Symphony - which had just left me reeling at the time of our meeting - Ashkenazy is going to conduct with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, of which he's hugely fond. We talked about why the Vienna Phil in Odense just didn't 'get' the 'Inextinguishable' Symphony and Þórunn thought the general situation might be attributable to what one German had told her - that they were afraid of the depths. Or rather of the special sort of depths in Sibelius and Nielsen, because they certainly don't fear the depths of Beethoven and Bruckner. But those, of course, are of a quite different order.
Karajan was one rare exception, of course, and it never ceases to amaze me what he did well. I no longer listen to his Beethoven and I can't bear the thought of all those symphonic performances conducted with the eyes shut. But many of his opera performances I have kept on the shelves, not just because of the golden ages of singers in the early 1960s and late 1970s, but also because he really seemed to 'get' Puccini, at least on his own hyper-sensuous and expansive terms.
The Saturday before last, I went into the BBC Radio 3 studios at Broadcasting House to chat live with the excellent Andrew McGregor about a new bumper box of Karajan's opera recordings of 26 operas, several times two, on 70 CDs. And yes, I have heard every note, even if some of the classics I already knew well and only revisited in part. You can hear the results for the next three weeks on the BBC iPlayer here (the Karajan Hour begins just after the 1hr33s mark), but just to reiterate with the cover artwork in which DG excelled, and which features, of course, in the natty packaging, among the opera sets I didn't know the two biggest surprises were this
for the lightness and humour of Papageno's music - Gottfried Hornik the best I think I've heard - as well as for the seriousness of Tamino's quest (Francisco Araiza is also superlatively good on the Marriner recording); and this
not just because Katia Ricciarelli is a much, much better Turandot than you might have thought possible, in the studio at least (I thought Callas and Sutherland never sang the role on stage either; David Zalden below corrects me re Maria's early years) but above all for the sonic extravagance, which I think the Act 1 finale we played brings out so well. I also hadn't clocked first time round what a well-rounded, text-conscious Brünnhilde and Wotan Régine Crespin and Thomas Stewart made in Act 3 of Die Walküre - this has gone up to the top of the list with Jones and McIntyre for Boulez.
Finally, back to the main man last week, and I knew Fiona would be an excellent sharer of Prokofievian wisdom because she did an amazing job in a pre-Prom event we shared two years back. It would have been nice to chat with Anthony Phillips, but they hadn't been able to track him down. And so all went, I think, swimmingly in our whistlestop tour of the five Prokofiev concertos, and to what they told us was the first packed house of the season in the Royal College of Music's Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall - certainly it was the first time they'd had to open the gallery.
Lively audience, excellent cues from Petroc and a good questions sequence, which of course you don't get to hear in the 20-minute interval slot, edited at astonishing high speed by our expert producer, Rebecca Bean. Everything, in short, but the main event itself for me, because my self-imposed Gergiev embargo remains firmly in place after further stupidities he's uttered, namely about Obama and Syria. He really should keep silent. But I cycled home to listen to it all on the radio, and though a bit on the heavy side, the three pianists acquitted themselves well and the sequence worked (though perhaps, as one earthly representative of SSP, I would say that, wouldn't I?). Trifonov's Third Concerto, perhaps predictably, was the highlight.
Biggest chat ahead is my one-man show on the Sibelius symphonies before the first of the Proms cycle on 15 August - namely a Sibelius Study Day at my local church, St Andrew's Fulham Fields from 10 to 4. If you'd like to come along, contact me at email@example.com and I'll send you a flyer with fuller details. The image I had to use is one I have as my screensaver - a shot I took of sunset over the lake and the bird island I swam out to at Savonlinna, happy memories of the most delicious bathing ever.