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David McGuinness's blog

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Wednesday 13 September 2000

Just got back from playing harpsichord in a Haydn symphony with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.  I don’t normally enjoy playing in symphony orchestras and as a result I usually just refuse to do it, but this was quite fun as it was Martyn Brabbins conducting: he knows the orchestra well and is an open-minded and open-eared musician.  He’s also very good at encouraging people to give of their best.  That said, it wasn’t the most stylish or exciting performance in the world, as classical symphonies aren’t exactly the SSO’s strong point, but Haydn’s music always amazes – it’s just so fresh. 

Speaking of freshness, I’ve been listening to some recordings of symphonies by Johann Stamitz.  He was the Earl of Kelly’s teacher – I’ve always loved the way Charles Burney puts it: ‘before he travelled to Germany, he could scarcely tune his fiddle, [but] he shut himself up at Mannheim with the elder Stamitz, and studied composition’.  It’s a record the Academy of Ancient Music made in 1975 – I don’t think it’s been reissued on CD, and I don’t think it will be either – a lot of the playing is really ropey.  But that’s all there was in London in 1975 I suppose, and occasionally it lends a genuine excitement.  

Transcending all the technical inadequacies, Alan Hacker plays Stamitz’s clarinet concerto on an instrument from around 1760, which he told me recently had been found in an Edinburgh dustbin, was subsequently ruined by over-enthusiastic restoration, and is now unplayable.  There’s an amazing bit where he plays a loud low note deliberately out of tune and it sounds fabulous.  He was telling me that he thinks that most people who play on old instruments these days are just trying to make them sound like modern ones, and I think he’s right.  The whole period instrument bandwagon has just become another branch of the industry – it sold a lot of records in the 80s and 90s, but now what?  Where’s the sense of discovery?  Anyhow, one of my all-time favourite records is Alan playing the Weber clarinet quintet – Decca had the sense to reissue that one – and it’s got our Carolyn playing viola on it into the bargain.  It’s dangerous chamber music: how seldom you can put those three words together.

Heard the Sonata of Scots Tunes on the radio today, and it took me a while to realise it was us playing it!  It sounded so polite and well-bred.  The way we play it now is much wilder – we did a piano trio version in the Edinburgh Festival, complete with foot-stamping, and it brought the house down.

Got an email from Davitt Moroney this afternoon asking if I could go to the Mitchell Library for him, to locate some harpsichord variations on Scots Tunes by Alexander Reinagle.  It’s for a CD Olivier Baumont’s making for Erato of 18th century American harpsichord music.  Apparently Boston Public Library have lost their copy, and it just so happens I’m going to the dentist in the morning, which isn’t far from the Mitchell, so I can pop in and have a look.  Isn’t that handy?