Thursday, February 20, 2020

Classical Music

Oistrakh Op. 61

Oistrakh's Beethoven Violin Concerto



SACD is still my favourite audiophile format.


In particular I like the SACD format for classical music like symphonies and concertos, where you get very good details on the instrumentation and sound stage even at very high dynamic. However, the SACD format seems losing the battle since both Sony and Philips gave up producing players for it. But to date there are still abundant SACDs on the market in audiophile shops. Recently I was finding repairers for my long time CD players Musical Fidelity A3 and SACD player Marantz SA-14. I am surprised to realise that here in Singapore there are many supporters for these two players. There are still parts available for them. I managed to get them serviced and with the laser head changed. There are even offers to upgrade the performance of these two CD players with components upgrade.

With the lost of popularity of classical music, now in Singapore the only shop that stocks respectable range of classical CDs is now left with HMV. But even HMV the range of classical music CDs is much less than those classical hay days. Therefore I start to look for classical CDs online in the Internet. I used to go, now only to realised it has been bought over probably by Amazon, but the site is still available with the same search engine that I very much prefer. The nice thing about Internet shopping is you just need to type 'Beethoven Violin Concerto' and you get all the available albums instantly, or a specific performer. It is so much more easy compared to searching in a CD shop.

So this time accidentally I chanced upon this SACD recording of David Oistrakh's Beethoven violin concerto in stereo. My admirable soloist playing my favourite violin concerto in SACD format, so I straight away bought it online!  This 1959 stereo concerto recording of EMI Classics was supported by French National Radio Orchestra, conducted by Andre Cluytens. CD booklet was all in Japanese, I supposed the recording was specially prepared for Japanese Audiophiles.




David Oistrakh interpretation and performance of the Beethoven violin concerto without surprise was very good. He was playing with a slower tempo typical of that era. Steady performance with very warm and rich vibrato. The orchestra gave very good support to the solo violin. The recording a bit biased towards the soloist. The final chord of the third movement was decisive.

I again intoxicated in this great work of Beethoven ............ 




Brahms Violin Concerto

Brahms Violin Concerto Opus 77-The Heart Strings Concerto

by Peter Lye



Heart strings concerto because after listening about 5 versions of this pieces, I was getting increasingly emotive. I was definitely not sure whether it is melancholy, romantic, anger, triumph or perhaps a combination of them. Perhaps, I would change my will to have this played during my funeral, or over a romantic dinner or perhaps over a deeply philosophical reflective canvass. It did not help that Brahms did little commentary to help in the interpretation except dedicating to great hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim who was introduced to Brahms by another hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi. Both violinists contributed much to this piece as Brahms was primarily a pianist but it was Joachim that premiered and gained most of the recognition for his contribution. My recommendation for enjoying this wonderful piece is against a dimly lighted room with a glass of full body and long finish french red wine and allow your mind and body to relax. Just in case, I am not an alcoholic.

Remenyi was no ordinary person and supported the Hungarian revolution of 1848-1849 and had to leave Hungary as a result. Career wise, though with less limelight than Joachim, he was a notably successful violinist with calling cards that included solo violinist to Queen Victoria. Remenyi was mostly remembered for dropping dead in the midst of giving a concert in San Francisco.

Although there is some evidence from various correspondents that Brahms intended it to be a 4 movement piece with a scherzo in between but the final product was a 3 movement piece. As with most Brahms music, there is little guesswork on the authoritative source as Brahms made sure only the final  piece remains and discard all of work in progress.

The cadenza has about 16 versions exists by musicians like Leopold Auer, Henri Marteau, Max Reger, Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, George Enescu, Nigel Kennedy, Rachel Barton Pine and Ruggiero Ricci.  On this count, it could be classed as a virtuoso show piece rather than a symphonic work. A symphonic work is most probably more appropriate as it comes with a 90 bar introduction by the orchestra and also a pretty substantial melody line on the oboe in the second movement. When attending a concert of this piece, be prepared to see the solo violinist standing there for a good part of the work.

Joan Chissell seems to imply that this concerto was written by Brahms to bridge the quarrel with Joachim for openly siding with Amalie Schneeweiss during her divorce proceedings in 1880. It is more likely for the another Brahms piece Double Concerto opus 102 composed in 1887 as an apology instead. Not exactly sure why Brahms remained single although he claimed that his love for music is too overwhelming to accommodate another love for a wife. However, he seems to be associated with wives of his friend like Clara Schumann in addition to Joachim's divorce.

The piece was premiered on 1st January 1879 by Joachim as soloist and Brahms conducting at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. There are two major views on the program for that concert based on historical records. This is not uncommon even in modern day concerts due to no-show or last minute logistical problems for the actual concert to vary with the program. The majority view was the concert went as per the program note with Beethoven Violin Concerto in D opus 61 for the first half and Brahms Violin Concerto also in D major opus 77 for the second half. This was most probably Joachim's idea to have a more familiar piece by Beethoven to pave the way for the new work as Brahms clearly preferred it the other way. The second view held by Charles O'Connell with the concert consisting of Beethoven 7th symphony and and a handful of other minor works. This seems highly unlikely as it would have stretched beyond the normal duration of a concert.

My favorite movement is the subdued second movement with the woodwinds dominated introduction that moves my heart string greatly, Another favorite part is the cadenza part of the first movement where the soloist can demonstrate their skills. The third movement provides a contrast to the first 2 movements but I cannot finger it as being celebratory, anger or triumph.

This piece is classed as one of the four great German violin concertos with along those by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Bruch, it is also recorded by many artists but I would limit it to those I have heard and personally like it. Actually the inclusion of Mendelssohn can be a joke as the name itself is as Jewish as can be but he converted away from Judaism though.

For the more recent recordings, the two pieces that comes to mind are Joshua Bell and Julia Fischer. Another recording that has been highly acclaimed is Anne-Sophie Mutter second recording with Kurt Masur in 1997 after the death of her husband in 1995 as one of the more emotive perhaps emitting from her personal grief. As for the more dated recordings, I like Nathan Milstein second recording with conductor Eugene Jochum and David Oistrakh recording with Pierre Fournier. I understand from literature that Milstein first recording in mono is supposedly one of the best but I cannot comment as I have not heard it.

Here are the albums:






Peter Lye aka lkypeter 

Politics Economics Business Altruism Music

Stravinsky.Paavo Jarvi






SACD has been around for quite a while. But now it seems this format is not really flourishing, though it is the musical format I like most in terms of quality. Around 2004 a series of SACD recordings from Pentatone Classics were made available to Singapore market. Being a classical music lover as well as a SACD supporter I was very excited then.

According to Pentatone website, Pentatone Music B. V. was formed by 3 ex-staffs from Philips Classics. The recordings were done by Polyhymnia International, which was the recording studio of Philips Classics.

Pentatone believe 5.1 surround sound will finally take over stereo. Many of the Pentatone recordings are new releases made in SACD 5.1 format. At the same time Pentatone also releases old recordings under Quadraphonic Recordings. Quadraphonic recordings are old recordings made in 4 channels format. These recordings were not released into the market due to the lack of corresponding hardware development. Today with the invention of SACD format these recordings finally have a chance to get to the music lovers. These recordings were done way back in 1970s.

I can still remember I bought 40 over pieces of Pentatone SACDs when they were first release in Singapore from Mr Ernest, who is running a CD shop specialised in audiophile recordings, the New Disc Village. Out of the SACDs I particularly like this Stravinsky recording. First piece of this SACD is ‘The Soldier’s Tale Suite”, performed by a 7-man small group. The music consisted of many instrumental solos. This recording is good for testing audiophile equipment: having 11 short parts, and being performed by 7 different instruments, and with great transient and dynamic.

Other works included in this SACD are all performed by small orchestra: Ragtime (11-man), Petit Choral, Concerto in E-flat (13-man), Concerto en Re (17-man), Suite No. 1 (24-man ) and Suite No. 2 (26-man).

Stravinsky’s works are lively and energetic, and full of surprises. Guess as a classical music lover you will definitely like this SACD recording.






Drum Beats Beethoven

Old/New Drum Beats


This is a 2009 recording, with Janine Jansen as solo violinist. The CD recorded two violin concertos composed in two era decades apart:  Beethoven Violin Concerto and Britten Violin Concerto  Op. 15.

Beethoven Violin Concerto was first performed in 1806. Britten’s Violin Concerto first performed in 1940. These two concertos almost 100 years apart are very different in style. Yet both have an interesting commonality:  both in the first movement the music is led by timpani drum beats. I am not very sure but I find the recording artists seem to have paid special attention to the recording of timpani. As a result the timpani sounds clear and clean in the recordings.

The recording of this DECCA CD is not bad. Both were conducted by Paavo Jarvi. The accompany orchestra for the Beethoven Violin Concerto was Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, an orchestra seemed using authentic instrument and thus with a lighter and clean sound but still supporting well with Jansen’s modern and warm playing style. She used the candaza by Fritz Kreisler.

Accompanying Jansen for the Britten’s Concerto was London Symphony Orchestra. Although it is a modern classical, it is pleasing to listen to. The music comes with three movements. First movement is stable, second movement lively. The last movement is the longest and heavy. The effect of the spanish civil war on the composer can clearly be heard.

I prefer Jansen’s style with the Britten Concerto. As for the Beethoven Concerto, there are already so many interpretations in the market, it is not easy to be outstanding in the first place, but Jansen’s interpretation does have some freshness in it.

Britten’s concerto has large mood swing, and is not easy for both the soloist and the orchestra. Last movement is the centre of gravity of the concerto. It is performed straight from the second movement without break with the violin long note. As the movement goes along the mood gets heavier and heavier. With the hopeless and silence timpani beats, the music ends tragic.


Chinese Version

The Perfect Accompaniment

The Perfect Accompaniment




Many a time we hear classical concertos we get recordings with gaps between the accompaniment orchestra and the soloist. Although for the audience the focus is on the soloist, a good supporting orchestra will bring balance and completeness to the performance and the recording.

Beethoven violin concerto is a classical work I am very familiar with. Although it is a violin concerto, Beethoven did not compose this piece in a way to shine the solo instrument alone. In fact, and especially in the first movement, there is a good balance between the solo instrument and the supporting orchestra. The exchanging of musical ideas to and fro between the soloist and the orchestra is one of the main characteristic of this great concerto of Beethoven.

I was thinking one day that for a recording of Beethoven violin concerto, if too much emphasis was placed on the solo instrument, the recording effect for this composition actually might end up less convincing. Therefore I took out the Beethoven violin concerto recording by Christian Ferras and Karajan, with Berlin Philharmonic. We all know Karajan is a great conductor with great style. But he is also a great supporting conductor for solo instruments. His careful interpretation of the musical structure created very convincing presentation and sparks between the orchestra and the solo instrument.

Ferras and Karajan chose a broad and slow tempo for the concerto. This interpretation is a great contrast from Heifetz’s interpretation, where he used a very fast tempo. Heifetz’s recording paid too much attention to the solo violin, thus could not present the orchestra part in a balance way. Ferras’ recording, on the other hand, created a grand sound stage and a great feeling due to the slower tempo and the balance recording for both the solo violin and the orchestra.

My only complaint on Ferras’ recording is his last movement too slow to my taste. A faster tempo for the Rondo would certainly brought more life and fire to the movement. However, the last two concluding chords are so forceful and confident, and is certainly a satisfy and memorable one. 


Chinese Version

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