Lovely Recordings Hosted by Mark W.

My musical journey started with piano lessons around age 5, later adding the violin. Playing these two instruments, even if only at modest amateur levels, has given me an insight into, and a love for, works that I would probably otherwise have skimmed over, as well as an intimate idea of what these instruments should really sound like.

David & Igor Oistrakh: Bach Violin Concertos (Deutsche Grammophon, 1963)
This was the first LP I bought for myself, as a teenager with his first ever hifi system. I was learning the solo part of the slow movement of the D minor Double Concerto for a school concert and wanted to hear what it should really sound like. I wasn't familiar with many recorded violinists back then, and it came down to a choice between Menuhin or Oistrakh, with the latter winning out because my Polish violin teacher favoured Eastern European playing styles. Performance styles for baroque music have of course evolved since 1963, but I still find this a very musical interpretation.

Available from Deutsche Grammophon

Simon Rattle: Mahler Symphony 10 (Warner Classics, 2000)
I have to include something from Simon Rattle. We're very nearly exact contemporaries, and I first came across him at a European orchestral summer school organised by the Royal Academy (where Rattle was then studying). The extraordinary electricity he created as a then-unknown student conductor when he picked up the baton was astonishing, and being thus conducted by Rattle remains a highlight of my amateur playing. (He also impressed everyone with his party trick of being able to play the piano with his hands being his back, facing away from keyboard—try it sometime, it's next to impossible!)

Available from Qobuz

Tord Gustavsen Trio: Being There (ECM, 2007)
Since being introduced by a friend who's since moved away, I've lost count long ago of the times I've played this (and other Tord Gustavsen albums), and have heard him play live three times in the intimate (and world-class) acoustic of St George's Bristol.

I'd be hard put to say which was my favourite album—all of course have superb recorded sound—but I've a particular reason for choosing Being There for the Lovely Recordings slot. It's a rare recording that genuinely gives me a literal hairs-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck frisson every time I hear it but this is one. The 7th track, "Karmosin", opens with Jarle Vespestad's mysterious drumming, joined after 1 minute or so by the piano vamping quietly, then Harald Johnsen's bass tentatively joins, while Vespestad adds spooky cymbal-edge squeaks, before the piano settles a gentle theme at 02:10. It doesn't matter how many times I listen and know it's coming, this entry sends a shiver down my spine.

Available from Qobuz

János Starker: Bach: Cello Suites & Sonatas (Mercury Living Presence, 1991)
Despite playing the violin myself, I have to admit to enjoying listening to the Bach Cello Suites more than the solo violin Partitas. Like most everyone else, I wouldn't want to live without the Casals recording, although in my youth I spent a lot of time with Pierre Fournier (I could only afford the one LP back then), and it's fair to say I now listen to the Rostropovich excellent version more often than Casals. (And if you've really got a lot of time on your hands, Presto Classical lists some 170 recordings, so there's no shortage of choice.)

But my favourite and most listened-to version is by János Starker. I see from Wikipedia that Starker has recorded these works fives times, with the most recent (1992) winning a Grammy, but my preferred version is this slightly earlier Mercury Living Presence recording. Like many of my favourite recordings, I was introduced to Starker by a friend, in this case herself a cellist, who sold him to me as "the cellist's cellist".

(Bonus recommendation: If you like this, for some more modern repertoire, try Starker Plays Kodály (Delos DE 1015) – Starker's playing in the "Sonata For Unaccompanied Cello" is stunning.)

Available from Qobuz

Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Continuum (ECM, 2016)
Being introduced to Tord Gustasven indirectly opened up a new world of recordings as I started to explore the previously-unknown-to-me ECM jazz catalogue. A fairly recent favourite is this almost uncategorisable mix of minimalism, jazz/funk, even ambient – pianist Bärtsch is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, and the style is sometimes called Zen Funk. Bärtsch has two ensembles, Ronin, and the all-acoustic Mobile, which has at its core piano, bass/contrabass clarinet, drums/percussion and additionally draws on a string quartet. Bärtsch rather unhelpfully titles all his tracks "Modul n", but since the works are by far best experienced as the full album (or if you get the opportunity, a live concert), this does not really matter. But if you want to sample a single track on this album, I'd recommend "Modul 44" for the previously uninitiated.

Available from Qobuz

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