Ponies - Beethoven Triple Concerto in C

Beethoven 1770-1827

Beethoven 1770-1827

An awful lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog, some good, some not so good.  On the good front I am starting to like my daughters pony - I finally gave into the nagging and got her one.  I did not enjoy having him during the winter with all the cold and the mud, but the last few days it does feel as if spring could finally be round the corner and he is a rather special fellow.  I never thought I would say that.

Rudolph, Archduke of Austria 1788-1831

Rudolph, Archduke of Austria 1788-1831

The piece of music I have chosen to chase away the winter blues is the Beethoven Triple Concerto In C.  Written in 1803 it remained unperformed for 5 years until it was performed at a summer music festival in Vienna in 1808.  Not considered to be one of his greatest concerti, it is still a delightful and easy work to listen to.  Beethoven wrote the work for one his pupils Rudolph, Archduke of Austria who had a genuine if limited talent for music, eventually becoming Archbishop Cardinal of Austria, he remained a life long patron and friend of the composers.  Written for the unusual combination of two strings (violin and cello) and piano, it is more of a concerto for piano trio accompanied by orchestra.  In order to suit his students ability the piano part is not too taxing but in order to make sure they sound like a dazzling band of soloists, the string parts are florid and interwoven around the keyboard. 

Most unusually for Beethoven, there is very little conversation between soloists and orchestra, with the soloists having all the fun and the orchestra being relegated to that of a mere accompanist.  The best performances of this work are where the egos are removed from the soloists so no-one shines out leaving the music to become the star.

The recording I recommend of this work is performed by three great soloists, Daniel Barenboim (piano) Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Yo Yo Ma (cello) with the Berlin Philharmonic.  The recording also contains Beethoven's Choral Fantasy.

Here is part of the very beautiful slow movement for you to listen to on YouTube  

If you want to buy the recording from either iTunes or Amazon then click on the links below:

Posted on February 19, 2017 .

Bring on the Christmas Spirit

Having boycotted the local garden centre because they had Christmas decorations up in September, I now feel that the advent season is upon us.  I just can't believe how quickly it has come round.....again.  This means the dry season is nearly upon us, or should I say me.  As Helen McGinn (The knackered mother's wine club) says on her website, it isn't the not drinking wine that is the problem (not so sure about that) it is finding a grown-up drink to replace it - water  just doesn't cut it at 7pm at night.  Helen has written a book which you can get from Amazon called Teetotal Tipples (click here).  Might be worth a peak.

If you are already fed up of hearing Mariah Carey singing All I want for Christmas is you but need a bit of help to bring on the Christmas spirit then there are a couple of new recordings that I recommend.  The first is Carols from Chelsea and is the Choir from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it features many of the old favourites including two of mine O Holy Night and Tomorrow shall be my dancing day which you can listen to here.   But if you want carols with a bang then there is a recording by the Halle Choirs and Orchestra called A Christmas Celebration.

On a different note, if you have a moment listen into my show on Kennet Radio last Friday night.  I had a wonderful guest on called Kate Talbot who is a Financial Planner.  She had so much to talk about from organising the Beaujolais Run, being in the WI as well as her job all interspersed with her great choice of music from Debussy through to Mozart and Beethoven.  You can listen here.   

You can download both recordings from iTunes below by clicking on iTunes (Don't forget you can listen to the recordings in iTunes)
Carols from Chelsea iTunes    
A Christmas Celebration iTunes  

You can buy both recordings from Amazon below by clicking on Amazon
Carols from Chelsea Amazon
A Christmas Celebration Amazon   


Posted on December 10, 2016 .

Loss of Memory - Brahms

Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms

There are many things about getting older that aren't much fun and one tries to laugh at them but actually forgetting where you put your parking ticket in a car park at Heathrow isn't one of them.  It is also rather embarrassing when you forget a close friend's name at a party after a glass or two.  Nowadays I find it takes me ages to learn something new at the piano, I can sit down and have a good crack at a new piece and when I come to it the next day, it is almost as if I have never seen it before.  I have to say that the plumber was a bit surprised when I asked him 3 times in the space of 5 minutes what he wanted in his coffee!!

Right now I am listening to one of Brahms' piano concertos and they definitely get into your soul.   He wrote two of them and whilst they are gigantium concertos, they are without doubt two of the greatest works ever written for piano.  There is so much to say about them but in order not to bore you I will pick out the salient points.  Brahms was a pianist himself and had a complete understanding for the instrument, as such they are incredibly rich in sound and texture which is often created by his use of harmony, texture of the chords and how he balances all the different instruments and themes.  Playing these concertos is not for the feint hearted, you need to have wide hands, nimble fingers, strength, stamina and be reasonably fit.  This is because they are massive works emotionally and physically, Piano concerto No 2 is very long - some 50 minutes. 

Helene Grimaud ©Mat Henek/DG

Helene Grimaud
©Mat Henek/DG

Piano Concerto No 1 in d minor was written when the composer was in his 20s and is a masterpiece.  The first movement is full of drama opening with the orchestra in full force but calm sets in and the piano enters with a moving theme, the entire movement continues in this vein contrasting drama with calm. Listen to the first movement on YouTube.  The second movement is much quieter throughout and an almost religious atmosphere predominates running through the whole movement.  The third is yet another contrast and is almost gypsy like with it's themes and rhythms.

Piano Concerto No 2 in Bb major was written much later in his life, it is a very moving work full of emotion.  Most unusually it is in four movements, the first of which opens with a haunting horn call after which the piano responds with graceful arpeggios.  Brahms called the second movement a 'tiny tiny little scherzo', infact it is the most dramatic of all the movements.  The third movement is beautiful and tender with a very famous theme introduced by the cello and then expanded by the violins and piano.  The fourth movement is graceful but soon becomes a spirited work for the soloist. Listen to the third movement Andante on Youtube. 

An interesting aside is that Brahms himself played the first piano concerto at the premiere, it was a complete disaster and the work was dismissed.  Nowadays it is a very different story in that these two works are two of the most popular piano concertos played all over the world.

Because of the drama in these works I think they need to be recorded live, the recording I recommend is by the French Canadian pianist Helene Grimaud who is described as one of the world's most captivating pianists.  Very few female pianists play these concertos.

Download Brahms Piano concertos from iTunes    

Posted on November 5, 2016 .

Artist of the Year - Daniil Trifonov

You know Autumn is here when the Proms are over and the Gramophone Awards have been announced (one of the leading classical music journals).  You also know that when journalists start referring to artists as a 'phenomenon' that only occurs two or three times in a generation that they must be talking about somebody pretty special.  That is exactly what they are saying about the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov who is this years Gramophone Artist of the Year.  At the age of 25 he has won all the major piano competitions including the most prestigious of them all the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 2011, since then he has travelled the world as a recitalist and concerto soloist and has signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.  

© Dario Acosta/DG

© Dario Acosta/DG

There are two recordings by Daniil Trifonov which are highly recommended, the first was recorded earlier on in his career with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra under the baton of Valery Gergiev featuring Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 as well as some interesting solo piano pieces. The concerto is one of the best known works on the planet, so it takes some doing to please the media.  Here is Trifonov playing an excerpt from the very beautiful slow movement on YouTube.  

The newer recording which is highly recommended is called Rachmaninov 'Variations' on which the Paganini Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is complemented by two sets of solo variations on themes by Chopin and Corelli. Then there is a set of five pieces called Rachmaniana composed by the pianist himself which is a heart felt tribute to the legendary composer.  This recording has received a plethora of amazing reviews including this one from Gramophone online:  "The opening bars tell you this is going to be a good "Pag Rhap". As it turns out, it is a great one, up there with the very best". Here is Trifonov playing the famous 18th variation on YouTube.    

You can download both these recordings from iTunes:
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 on iTunes        
Rachmaninov 'Variations' on iTunes    


Posted on September 26, 2016 .