Mstation Classical Reviews

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Sat, 02 Jun 2007

Lang Lang and Yo Yo Ma: Farewell Isabella and Chinese things

Excuse me if I ramble a little. Those of you familiar with the fashion world will know that Isabella Blow passed away in mid May. The circumstances need not concern us here: they were sad just as the fact of her going is sad. She wasn't a friend of mine. I had spoken to her a couple of times and had generally admired the fact that she existed.

To the tabloid mind, which trivialises anything greater than itself (which is everything!) she would be the woman in the funny hats - a fashion world add-on. And where style is seen not as art statement or expression, or even a vital element (or especially not even) of being (you have a style, whether you like the fact or not, and whether it has any quality or not), but as a sort of desert plain of nothingness. She was the antithesis of all this, and ironically in the circumstances, a celebration of life and of the qualities that make it rich and good. One small anecdote illustrates: She was not very good with money and was quite broke from time to time and so, as a future survival wheeze she opened accounts at London's Fortnum and Mason for food and Berry Bros (a couple of streets away) for wine. At least, when broke and for a month or two, she would be able to eat and drink properly! Amen.

And yes, this does connect with the subject of classical music - Bachs' cantatas or Mozart's requiem are not just notes on a page that can be produced by a machine. For a start, the notation was frequently incomplete, and required knowledge to interpret it. Another aspect was that early composers were quite often not control freaks. Parts could be added which were within the general idiom of the thing. In other words, style and quality are and were vital elements of any interpretation.

This leads me nicely into two CD's that are around at the moment - one by a Chinese pianist called Lang Lang (Dragon Songs, Deutsche Grammophon which has sadly been part of Universal for some time) and the other by that very well known Chinese-American, Yo Yo Ma (Appassionato, Sony Classical).

Lang Lang comes from the red Chinese tradition. His inspiration on this disc is the peasant song tradition of the past and his playing has all that pomp of the people thing that used to colourise Soviet music so well ... or ill. It is not my thing at all but it is interesting nevertheless, and Lang Lang has a mixture of delicacy and power that will attract a lot of people.

Yo Yo Ma, is a different kettle of fish. Dismissed by many as a Big Music showman, he is nevertheless an excellent cello player, and as the cello is possibly my favourite instrument I am inclined towards charity. This disc is a wide-ranging collection that includes the likes of Williams, Gershin, Vivaldi, and Morricone. Leaving aside the idea that collections or samplers are a bit odious, we do have a nice demonstration of the range of this instrument and the skill of this player. Quite good for the car stereo I think.

Monsieur le redacteur didn't pull his punches last month. The big labels, in fact globalised big biz generally, needs to take a good long look at itself. What do we do? The first thing is that we can support our local orchestras more - recorded music has always been a very poor substitute for the real thing. We have added reason to support them directly these days.

And possibly a last word on the Hyperion thing - during and after the recent court case which cost them a bomb, a lot of artists were saying that a loss for them was just desserts for their general meanness and their odious habit of crying poor all the time. The fact that this label survived the case suggests there was rather more money around than generally thought - which makes them more odious. I suggest that, in future, they actually pay for mastering engineers. While the music on their recordings is frequently very nice, the CD's themselves are frequently not - a fact we were willing to overlook earlier, it must be said, when we looked on this company with different eyes (and where we had, to put it plainly, been bs'ed).

Lastly, we are on the lookout for small classical labels. Send me an email if you are one. (kadoshnikov *at* mstation*org)

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