Posted tagged ‘Beethoven’

Sorry, chaps

November 1, 2008

So many wonderful things since I last wrote – pressure of work and other activities has prevented me blogging them, much as I wanted to.  So here is a list of what I should have written about, for your edification and delight…

Covent Garden Chamber Orchestra concert, Saturday 4 October – especially the Schumann Konzertstück for four horns, magisterially played by Richard Lewis, Jo Towler, Duncan Gwyther and Liz Kadir.  Wow.

Haydn’s Creation at the Korean Full Gospel Church in Raynes Park, Sunday 12 October – lots of fun, the Koreans charming and lovely, my contra bottom B flat much appreciated!

The English Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, Wednesday 15 October – Tippett, Britten (Les Illuminations with stunning young soprano Mary Bevan), plus some works by Arab composers including the brilliant and hilarious Saxophone Concerto by Waleed Howrani – a perfect Last Night of the Proms piece?

Celebrity Recital at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 19 October – Emma Johnson, Julian Lloyd Webber, John Lill, surprisingly not a full house:  a treat of Beethoven and Brahms clarinet trios, the Weber Grand Duo Concertant, Julian playing two of his father’s pieces (with Andrew in the audience), and John Lill scorching our eyebrows off with the Chopin C minor Nocturne and the amazing Prokofiev Toccata

Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran at the Opera House, with Juan Diego Florez

Our very own Phoenix Orchestra concert (see previous post) on Thursday 23 October, especially the wonderful and inexhaustible Tom Poster in the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto

The Esbjerg Ensemble at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 26 October:  Nonet by Louise Farrenc, Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and wind (fantastic), the Schumann Piano Quintet (wonderful as ever).  Slightly dour Danish group, lifted to a higher plane by the tiny, sparky, beaming and incredibly accomplished pianist Marianna Shirinyan (who she??)

And the Brodsky Quartet at Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 29 October – Beethoven Razumovsky No. 1 (what a wonderful piece), Tchaikovsky Quartet No. 1, and two little Stravinsky numbers (Concertino and Three Pieces) which were spellbinding.

Now I’m off to rehearse contra in Boléro (don’t ask)…

Normal service one of these days!

thanks for the picture, Diana…

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Nikolai Demidenko at Blackheath

February 10, 2008

demidenko.jpgThe Burghers of Blackheath did themselves proud this morning – so many tickets sold for Nikolai Demidenko’s Blackheath Sunday recital that they had to move the gig downstairs into the Big Hall. Or was that just a pretext to hire in a big clangy Steinway (I guess) and leave the lovely little Bösendorfer sulking upstairs?

(There’s something about Demidenko’s appearance – short, hunched, bear-like, little beard, businesslike, unsmiling but not humourless – that reminded me of someone. I can’t quite think who it is: Malcolm Lowry? Arnold Dolmetsch? Peter Warlock? John Ogdon?)

I am forever grateful to the Powers that Be for setting Beethoven’s so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2, on our O-level syllabus a hundred years ago – so I know it well, or so I thought. Nick Breckenfield’s fascinating programme note dismissed the ‘moonlight’ tag, but revealed that the first movement is a meditation on the music for the death of the Commendatore from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a fact which I certainly had not come across before. This makes sense of the Sonata’s subtitle – ‘quasi una fantasia’: meaning not ‘an apology for not being in the sort of sonata form you’re used to’, but ‘like an improvisation’ on an idea by Mozart. An illuminating insight into Beethoven’s creative processes.

A friendly Burgher of Blackheath (who shall be nameless) was absent, as she’d been to a previous recital by Demidenko and said she couldn’t stand the way he played – he ‘bashed the hell out of Schubert’. In the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’, my worst fears seemed to be confirmed. The sound was dry, too loud, and broken up by little hesitations before barlines or even beats – the opposite of the constant flow of triplets the music surely needs. I guess (I couldn’t see his feet) that Demidenko was using hardly any pedal – in contradiction of Beethoven’s instruction to play ‘without dampers’, i.e. with the pedal down all the time (which admittedly wouldn’t work on a resonant modern piano, producing an impossibly muddy effect). Not pleasant.

Liszt called the tiny (more…)

Endymion at Blackheath

January 27, 2008
endymion2.jpg

Up the road again this morning, to a Blackheath Sunday concert by ENDYMION (who seem to have misguidedly adopted a new logo which plays fast and loose with the Greek alphabet – no doubt a source of great distress to linguists everywhere, who are still trying to recover from ‘TOYS “YA” US’.  You’re not called ‘SNDPSMIPHN’, are you?  Well then).

The Burghers of Blackheath remain a mystery to me.  Some Sundays, they will collectively decide the concert is not for them, and there may be just a couple of dozen people huddled in the recital room.  Today they were out in force – almost a full house, chattering excitedly.  The average age seems to be about 150 (where will the next generation of audiences come from??), so there was much clattering of sticks and whistling of hearing aids before the music began.    Thereafter, however, you could hear a pin drop (well, actually you could hear an infuriatingly running tap or overflow somewhere, which didn’t get turned off until the interval).

The Endymion Ensemble (founded in 1979 by my dear friend, bassoonist John Whitfield), used to be resident at Blackheath Halls, with an office in the lobby.  Good to welcome them back.  Today’s incarnation consisted of Michael Dussek (piano), Krysia Osostowicz (violin) and Stephen Stirling (horn) – who, if I am not mistaken, was playing in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House yesterday – busy fellow.

Beethoven’s last Violin Sonata (No. 10 in G, Op. 96) is so blithe and laid-back and generally un-Beethovenian that you catch yourself wondering ‘What did he mean by that?’  Nick Breckenfield’s programme note describes the first movement as ‘an intimate, relaxed, long-breathed soirée’ – which is nice.  His theory is that the Sonata was a ‘therapeutic’ response to Beethoven’s stormy relationship with the mysterious ‘Immortal Beloved’.

Krysia Osostowicz played the Sonata with an expression that flitted between rapt concentration and a beatific smile.  In the past, her sound has sometimes seemed to me to be a touch lean and stringy, but not today – rich, secure and expressive.  Perhaps she has a new fiddle?  For once, the Hall’s priceless jewel of a Bösendorfer grand sounded too plummy for Beethoven.  Maybe put the lid on the short stick (i.e. half open)?

Then we had György Ligeti’s Trio (1982) – strong meat (more…)

The Wihan Quartet at Blackheath

November 25, 2007

wihanqt.jpgThere’s something about listening to chamber music at 11 o’clock in the morning – the mind is sharper and clearer, you can appreciate the music more, and find yourself picking up hints and connections that you might miss in the bustle of an evening.  (I received my education in the Dvořák string quartets thanks to an unforgettable Chilingirian Quartet cycle of morning concerts at the Cheltenham Festival some years ago.)

So – though groping through the fog of an incipient cold – a brisk walk up the road to Blackheath Concert Halls, to hear the Wihan Quartet in one of the Blackheath Sundays series.

Am I right in thinking there’s a historical connection here?  I believe the quartet takes its name from the great Bohemian cellist Hanuš Wihan, dedicatee of the Dvořák Cello Concerto (and cuckolded by a very young Richard Strauss), and Wihan played at Blackheath Halls a century ago?  The programme was silent on this point – along with other important information such as the names of the four players and the key of the Dvořák Op. 61 Quartet.

Anyway, the Wihan Quartet are local favourites;  the Recital Room was packed out.  The Quartet are four youngish gentlemen from Prague, all cast in the same amiable puppyish mould (no jokes about ‘bouncing Czechs’, please) – their mothers probably think they need haircuts.  All were dressed in black;  they sat with the viola on the outside, which makes for a compact sound with the cello at the heart of the quartet, as it should be.

Their sound tends toward the lean and stringy, though never less than beautiful, and they can do a magical hushed pianissimo;  tuning and ensemble were extraordinarily immaculate (I overheard my neighbour say ‘They breathe as one’, although they did follow their leader’s upbeat sniffs).

They began with the Mozart ‘Dissonance’ Quartet, K 465 – what a tremendous piece.  It’s one of the set of quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn, and you could feel Mozart striving to show the older master what he could do.  I caught myself wondering whether the famous ‘dissonant’ introduction was a homage to the ‘Chaos’ at the beginning of Haydn’s Creation, with its C minor harmonic dead-ends and non sequiturs;  but of course the Haydn was later, so perhaps the influence went the other way.  It was also interesting to try and track the progress of seeds planted in the introduction as they took root later in the work – the crawling chromatic bass lines, the chugging quavers.  Who knows.  And the lovely octave second subject in the last movement sang out like a ray of sunshine.

Then came Cavatina and Moravian Dance, billed in the advance publicity as by ‘Panufnik’ so I was expecting the very wonderful and underrated Andrzej Panufnik, Polish refugee and denizen of Surrey.  But no, this was by Roxanna, his composing daughter.  She shares many talents with her late father, including an accessible idiom and an ear for colour, the ability to swim effortlessly between simple chords and atonality with no bumps, and a taste for jazzy and bittersweet harmonies (sometimes with chords simultaneously major and minor). 

The Cavatina (more…)

Joshua Bell at Cadogan Hall, Sunday 18 November at… er… 7 pm

November 19, 2007

red-violin.jpgAll did not go quite according to plan:  Joshua Bell (along with several of the audience) apparently thought the concert started at 7.30, not 7, so it was getting on for 7.20 when a slightly dishevelled-looking figure finally came on to the Cadogan Hall stage, along with the more impeccably turned out pianist Jeremy Denk, both dressed all in black and looking somewhat like a couple of über-cool twelve-year-olds.

Things were further muddied by a misunderstanding which had led all of us (including me, writing the programme notes, and poor Lisa at the Hall who booked him a year ago) to think he would be performing the Sonata by John Corigliano (1964), whereas Mr Bell insisted he was playing Grieg’s Sonata No. 3 instead.  His rather garbled explanation did little to clear things up.

Anyway, all negative impressions were erased when they started to play.  The Schumann Sonata No. 1 was terrific (a little early scratchiness aside), charged with energy and understanding, the beautiful conversational middle movement full of intimacy and wit. 

(Amazing that in 1945 Harold Bauer thought it necessary to ‘improve’ Schumann’s violin sonatas, correcting perceived errors in balance, texture and dynamics and even ‘touching up’ the harmony.  Even more amazing that, as recently as 1972, John Gardner commends these versions to performers ‘for serious consideration’  [in ‘Robert Schumann, the Man and His Music’, ed. Alan Walker, Barrie & Jenkins 1972]. 

Poor Schumann… of course, he wasn’t well, was he… so he needs a helping hand… can’t orchestrate, poor dear… has good ideas but doesn’t know how to get them across… 

Terrifying arrogance!  Just play what the man wrote, and let it tell you how it’s supposed to go!  Trust him, he’s a greater musician than you will ever be!  End of rant.)

Then came Beethoven’s last Sonata, No. 10 in G, (more…)