On Friday night, to hear the SSO with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Elgar Cello concerto with Jian Wang and Elgar’s Symphony No 1.
This was the first concert in the SSO’s Elgar Festival. Gelmetti’s photo is still in the program, but the concert carried with it an anticipation of Ashkenazy’s term as principal conductor, which begins, officially, next year. This, and the cello concerto, brought out a close-to-full house, and VA and the orchestra received a very warm reception from the start.
I’m not actually so crazy about the cello concerto, but many obviously are. The Cello-concerto factor seems also to have brought out the most determined bunch of inter-movement coughers and shufflers that I have heard for quite a long time.
My own theory is that people who are unaccustomed to sitting still in concerts or possibly going to concerts at all are anxious about being able to keep still and quiet. They strain every nerve to sit as quietly as they can during the music and then, as a kind of nervous relief, embark on a bout of throat clearing etc between the movements in order to get it out of their system before the music resumes. In the last pause in the symphony, this was despite VA poised with arms raised in readiness for an attacca last movement (which revisits earlier material in a coda-ish kind of way).
As for the symphony, I thought the opening theme was just a bit too slow to be rhythmically stable. Was that just me and my own expectations? When it returned it did not seem quite as slow – but maybe by then I was accustomed to it. I hope to revisit this on Monday when the concert is to be broadcast, though obviously that will also be a different performance.
But to return to the cello concerto, and my own madeleine-ish chain of association which hearing it again summoned up. I have played the first movement of this concerto (or rather, a piano-reduction of the orchestral part) in rather peculiar circumstances. In 1981, I was asked to accompany the daughter of one of my childhood family doctors. She had studied cello at the conservatorium in Tasmania. You might think this is a rather odd thing to undertake at your own wedding (shades of Lady Jane in Patience), but a wedding is the bride’s day, so there it was. With only a very little amount of time to learn it, I was asked to accompany her as well as to play other music at the reception.
I didn’t know the concerto at all, and I shudder to think what rendition I managed. I was rather out of practice as I wasn’t playing “seriously” at the time, there were a lot of notes, and without a sound picture of the piece as it is meant to sound, it can be quite difficult to realise piano reductions. I don’t think the bride was in very good shape on the cello, either. In fact, as music, it was probably quite excruciating.
A number of other items were requested. I didn’t know them all. One was the song “Poor little Angeline” (circa 1936), which my mother then sang to me. A quick google has yielded some very bawdy Rugby-song lyrics, but my mother did not teach me those.
This was the last song my mother taught me. I can still sing it.