If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Friday, September 26, 2014

Distinctly Kogan

Distinctly Kogan

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Leonid Kogan / Boston / Monteux 

The Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, was composed by Johannes Brahms in 1878 and dedicated to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. It is Brahms's only violin concerto, and, according to Joachim, one of the four great German violin concerti. The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven's. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart's jewel, is Mendelssohn's.


Of the legion of superb musicians out of Soviet Russia, Ukrainian violinist Leonid Kogan (1924-1982) remains notable for his immaculate skill and natural, patrician bearing and nobility of line. An unabashed admirer of Jascha Heifetz, Kogan consciously attempted to recreate that peerless master’s style, insisting on playing on all four steel strings.  While this approach did not yield particularly “flexible” results, the intense power of expression and brilliant resonance became as identifiable a trademark for Kogan as a burnished tone defined a Heifetz interpretation.

Leonid Kogan considered Brahms’s and Mozart’s Third Concertos his favorites; DOREMI has now made available live performances from Kogan’s first American tour (the Brahms Concerto being his actual American premiere) on a single disc. Kogan recorded the Brahms Concerto three times in the studio from 1955 (with Bruck and the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire) to recordings with Kondrashin in 1959 (Philharmonia) and 1967 (Moscow Philharmonic).

That exemplified Kogan—his sound wasn’t nearly as identifiable as Oistrakh’s to a young listener—but the white heat of his performance and the steely strength of his virtuosity made an indelible impression nonetheless. This American debut sounds similar, with Kogan entering with perhaps even grander, more assured aplomb, thus reaching his level of intensity earlier. Those who consider Kogan a somewhat remote, cold player should listen as a corrective to his readings of Brahms’s Concerto (as should those who entertain a similar opinion of Heifetz, who had so deeply impressed Kogan on his return to Russia). Similar to Heifetz in his technical command, Kogan nevertheless produced a tone that seemed rawer and less nuanced. Both had all the power required to bring the violin part of Brahms’s first movement to the fore (the cadenza is dazzling if somewhat edgy).


The American press wrote after the violinist's concert at Carnegie Hall "Kogan is a rare type among the performing artists: a most musical of musicians, he is always an enormous successful with the public". This recording was made during his first tour in the United States in 1958. Leonid Kogan is accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by the legendary Pierre Monteux. The public gave him a ten-minute ovation.


Leonid Kogan
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Monteux
Live recording, Boston, 10.I.1958
I. Allegro non troppo 0:00
II. Adagio 20:12
III. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace 29:01

Leonid Kogan - Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major Op.61

Leonid Kogan was less famous in the West than his competitor, David Oistrakh. This was probably more to do with politics in the USSR rather than any lesser worth, although he started later and died at the tragically young age of only 58 in 1982. Coupled with this, he did not like recording, particularly on film or TV because he always preferred performing in relatively darkened surroundings. 

He was a virtuoso of the first order, however, as these rare recordings show. The Beethoven Concerto is the centre-piece, and is ably accompanied by Louis de Froment. Particular sections of great repose and beauty are to be found in the quiet parts of the first movement and particularly the slow second movement.

In 1966, Leonid Kogan is in Paris and interprets Beethoven's Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major with the National Orchestra of the ORTF conducted by Louis de Froment: first of all it is the purity of his sound that appeals, then the extreme elegance of his playing and his contained sensibility. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

~Michelangelo Was No Beauty~

Michelangelo, painted by Marcello Venusti in 1535.

Michelangelo Was No Beauty 

It is no exaggeration to say that Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) was a complicated human being. The man and the myth that grew around him even in his own lifetime are difficult to disentangle. Arrogant with others and constantly dissatisfied with himself, he nonetheless penned tender poetry. In spite of his legendary impatience and indifference to food and drink, he committed himself to tasks that required years of sustained attention, creating some of the most beautiful human figures ever imagined. 

He constantly cried poverty, even declaring to his apprentice Ascanio Condivi: "However rich I may have been, I have always lived like a poor man," yet he amassed a considerable fortune that kept his family comfortable for centuries. And though he enjoyed the reputation of being a solitary genius and continually withdrew himself from the company of others, he also directed dozens of assistants, quarrymen, and stonemasons to carry out his work.

The second of five sons, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was born in 1475 in the town of Caprese, located in the Florentine territory of Italy near Arezzo, Tuscany. The son of a magistrate, Michelangelo shocked his family in 1488 by becoming an apprentice to painter Domenico Ghirlandaio and then studied with sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni in the Medici gardens in Florence. While honing his skills, he was influenced by prominent people who expanded his views on the arts, especially Lorenzo de' Medici and his school, who introduced him to poets, artists, and scholars in his inner circle. 

Early in his career, Michelangelo pursued artistic perfection in his representation of the human body. His meticulousness led him to anatomy, which he studied fervently, even gaining permission from the prior of the church of Santo Spirito to study cadavers in the church's hospital. During this time, he began a lifelong practice of drawing and sketching to prepare for future works of art and architecture.

Following the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492, Michelangelo left Florence, moving from Venice to Bologna and eventually Rome, where he continued sculpting and studying classical works. During this period the French ambassador in the Holy See commissioned the "Pietà" for Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican (1498-99). 

Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican
One of the artist's most famous works, the sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of Jesus Christ after the Crucifixion. After the fall of Savonarola and the rise of the gonfaloniere Pier Soderini, Michelangelo returned home to the republic of Florence (1501-1505). There he began work on his famous colossal statue "David" (1501-1504), created out of marble from the quarries at Cararra. The masterwork established his prominence as a sculptor of extraordinary technical skill and symbolic imagination.