I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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Hilary Hahn’s Mozart and Vieuxtemps

Wolfgang Mozart: Violin Concerto #5 in A Major, K. 219
Henri Vieuxtemps: Violin Concerto #4 in D minor, Op. 31

Hillary Hahn, violin
German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen/Paavo Järvi
Deutsche Grammophon 4793956

Hilary Hahn plays Mozart and Vieuxtemps

Hilary Hahn plays Mozart and Vieuxtemps

Hilary Hahn never hesitated to bring unusual couplings in her discs. For her most recent Deutsche Grammophon release, combining Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto with Vieuxtemps’ Fourth, there is however a simple explanation. As she writes in the liner notes, she became acquainted with both concertos at a significant moment in her career. The Vieuxtemps was the last major piece she studied with Klara Berkovich, who had been her teacher for five years. The Mozart was the first she learned with Jascha Brodsky who had just become her professor for 7 years at the Curtis Institute for Music. Brodsky himself had been taught by Eugène Isaÿe, star-pupil of Vieuxtemps. She was 10 and ever since these works have been pillars of Hahn’s active repertory.

Perhaps it was this lifelong respect for the scores which kept her from giving their full due on disc. I heard Hahn perform the Vieuxtemps Forth in concert with the Berlin Philharmonic last year and if memory serves well it was a much more exciting performance than the one recorded here in the studio with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (dating from August 2013). At least in the concert we didn’t have to wait until the final movement before imagination and expressive freedom join the trademark tonal beauty and technical mastery to kick the piece really alive. The preceding Scherzo with its leaden pace is underwhelming.

Paavo Järvi’s accompaniment is detailed but as often with him distant and bland. The Bremen ensemble sounds thin and cannot muster the necessary drama nor these dark tones which the music needs. It suffices to compare with Itzhak Perlman’s recording with the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim. But then again they opted for a full-blooded romantic approach, while in Hahn’s case it never becomes clear which way they wanted to go.

The Vieuxtemps Fourth Concerto isn’t recorded much and as Hahn reminds us performing it is for most ensembles a discovery. It could have been a (re)discovery for us as well, but I for one rather stick with the old Perlman and Heifetz recordings.

The Mozart Concerto isn’t a big revelation either. The playing is vivid and attacks are firm (Allegro aperto), yet for somebody this long familiar with the work, in spite of the formal beauty, Hahn stays curiously outside of the music (Adagio). I don’t feel a real common sense of purpose between soloist and conductor. The Joachim cadenza in the first movement is performed with a romantic emphasis which doesn’t connect with the surrounding accompaniment. In the end you end up damning this whole period performance movement and the fallout it had on traditional orchestras. In the old days they might have over-romanticized classics like this, but at least everybody was on the same track.

Copyright © 2015 Marc Haegeman
First published on Classical Net (http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/d/dgg793956b.php)


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Chopin on speed

Wolfgang Mozart: Piano Sonata #9 in D Major, KV 311
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata #8 in C minor “Pathétique”, Op. 13
Frédéric Chopin:
Nocturne in A Flat Major, Op. 32 #2
2 Polonaises, Op. 40
3 Mazurkas, Op. 63
Scherzo #3 in C Flat minor, Op. 39

Rafał Blechacz, piano
Brussels Center for Fine Arts 2 June 2014

Rafał Blechacz (© Felix Broede / DG)

Rafał Blechacz (© Felix Broede / DG)

The solo recitals of the Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz (now age 28) haven’t changed much in content in the last four or five years. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course, as this could be a sign of continuous self-examination or a search for perfection. And yet a recent performance in Brussels of this year’s Gilmore Artist Award recipient with a Mozart/Beethoven/Chopin program brought a fair amount of frustration. Blechacz’s well-known energetic determination, his joy of making music, his blazing technique, as well as his charmingly old-style appearance (including long-tailed tuxedo), were still there to enjoy. But the evening was also marred by some ineffective attempts to channel his musical ideas. Overblown dynamic contrasts and rushed tempos (which have always been on the fast side anyhow, albeit never as relentless as now) could still pass, but more worrying was the lack of a distinctive sonority.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Hungarian Magic

Antonino Pasculli: Concerto on Themes from Donizetti’s “La Favorita”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Oboe & Orchestra in C Major, K. 314
Franz Liszt: A Faust-Symphony

François Leleux, oboe
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 6 March 2013

The Budapest Festival Orchestra is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Under the guidance of maestro Iván Fischer (co-founder with Zoltán Kocsis), the orchestra not only established itself as one of Hungary’s foremost cultural entities, it also went on to cut a strong profile on the international stage. The program they offered in Brussels was delightfully unusual and of the highest level throughout. Starting with a small oboe festival with pieces from the little-known Pasculli and Mozart, featuring the high-spirited François Leleux as soloist, it was the rarely heard Faust-Symphony from Franz Liszt which acted as the focal point of the evening.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Incandescent Mozart and Bruckner

Henry Purcell: Funeral Music for Queen Mary
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto #20
Anton Bruckner: Symphony #7

Maria João Pires, piano
London Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Paris, Salle Pleyel, 17 June 2012

During their annual teaming up, Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra visited Paris for a two-day stint at the Salle Pleyel. On both occasions they were joined by the Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires performing a Mozart concerto. And while Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony was offered as the main course for the first, it was Schubert’s Ninth which capped the second night.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Paris

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Overture “The Wasps”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto #23, K. 488
Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

Hélène Grimaud, piano
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 26 March 2011

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under their chief conductor Vasily Petrenko appeared in Paris for a single concert that, according to the program notes, aimed to contrast classical harmony with the often unbridled expressivity of romantic music. Although the works chosen (Mozart’s Concerto for piano #23 and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony) are indeed foremost representatives of each genre, in practice the differences turned out to be less pronounced as was intended.
Read the full review on Classical Net