mardi 20 décembre 2011


2011 was a busy year for me. My "day job" kept me extremely busy. I probably travelled somewhat less than usual so my musical experiences were more Swiss-based.

This being said, there were no shortage of events that left a big impression on me: the Leipzig Gewandhaus sound is a marvel and they were right at home on their Beethoven Mendelssohn program. I also could hear some great pianists: the young Kit Armstrong, a major unique personality, Leif Ove Andsnes who couples cristalline precision with architecural feeling and then François-René Duchable out of his self-inflicted retirement and communicating so deeply with the audience.

On a different level, I did two trips (one hour drive ...) to Lausanne to hear the Chamber Orchestra for contemporary music under Pascal Rophé and a remarkable 3 last Mozart Symphonies under Bertrand de Billy. The orchestra may be less distinguished than the OSR but both evenings were fascinating.

My Operatic highlight was a concert performance in Salzburg of Tchaikowsky Iolantha in Salzbourg where the level of singing was just amazing and yes, Anna Netrebko is a fantastic artist but so were the others and all of them.

My wife and I tend to notice that the average age of concert goers seems to increase but this reflects more the fact that Europe is an aging continent. The next music director of the OSR is 75 (Neeme Järvi) and is older than the current one, Marek Janowski ... but then age is having a different meaning these days and being 50 is not so old ...

vendredi 9 décembre 2011

Books ?

As a habit, I am preparing my end of year book reading retreat ... as well as contributing to Amazon's end of year revenue spike.

I have ordered a few books on (and in the case of Muti by) conductors. One is about George Szell, another one is by Leonard Bernstein personal assistant. Others which have not reached me are Muti's autobiagraphy as well as probably another book on why we will never understand the genius of Carlos Kleiber.

While I will keep reading about music (and write here and in Concertonet), I have to say that these biographies are a difficult genre as they often if not always fail to capture the maturation process of musicians. They relate with details successes and glory but what make artists become who they are remains a mystery.

Maybe the one that comes closest is John Adams's autobiography and the pages in which he explains the blending of style that he internalised and which helped him develop his voice. Similarly, vocal artists would not be surprised to read on Renée Fleeming talk so much about vocal technique on her book.

So happy reading for those looking for suggestions and let me know what you are reading.

jeudi 1 décembre 2011

Maurizio Pollini's EMI recordings of Chopin studies

I read Peter Andry's memoirs after hearing about them on Bob Shingleton's excellent blog. This EMI producer can be credited to have overseen some of the label greatest successes (which may be a thing of the past but this is another topic).

One of the side stories he tells was EMI's decision to sever relations with Maurizo Pollini. EMI had signed the Italian pianist after his success at the Chopin piano competition in 1961. He went on to record Chopin's first concerto, a reading that is just marvellous, a recital of various pieces but left this recording in the vault of EMI waiting, I am assuming, that copyright laws would allow for it to be reissued.

The booklet is unapologetic on the fact that EMI and Pollini could not find common ground. They acknowledge that not continuing with him was a huge mistake, financially as well as artistically but hint at the pianist being in a state of doubt which did not allowed him to complete this project.

We all know that Pollini signed with DG after, that the studies was one of his first recordings with them and remains simply unsurpassed, the pianist not only able to master the momnumental challenges of the work but much more importantly, able to bring aristocratic phrasing and poetic feeling., being the Pollini that we have all learned to love in the concert hall.

I have just heard the EMI set only once but wanted to stress out the following: playing is amazing but the subsequent set bring out playing similar to what I have experienced from Pollini in the concert hall when he has played these works as regular encores. I am aware that citical acclaim in various newspapers has been stellar so I may end up in a minority of those maintaining allegiance to the classic set.

Probably here the real issue remains on the vailidity of such documents. On the one hand, studio recordings benefit from the artists approval buton the other hand, we know of many cases where they can be revealing. Pollini is not a pianist who has made many interviews so we may never hear what he feels on this set.

Pollini was the pianist that my generation looked upon when we were discovering music. I remember foundly hearing for the first time the great masterworks when he came to play them. I am a huge fan and was keen on hearing this document. However, this remains a document of an artist who knew what he was doing when he did not accepted this set to be published.