There was some excitement abroad in the city owing the the Vivid Festival. I have rarely seen so many people in town other than on new year’s eve or for Australia Day. I’ve rarely even seen this since for many years I have avoided such crowded public celebrations. The crowds and the traffic delayed the concert start by a bit over ten minutes and latecomers were admitted.
Brahms’ piano concerti are towering works. In both of them, I think the difficulty for the soloist is to manage the muscularity of Brahms’s pianistic writing but to find room for relaxation into lighter or more lyrical moments. Each, of course, has a slow movement where this relaxation is clearer, and the second lightens up in the last, fourth[!] movement where Brahms almost trips off into Hungarian Dances territory. I could have done with a bit more occasional relaxation from Bianconi in bits of the first movement, and things took a little while to gel in the second movement (though I thought Caetani guided the transition to the second, major-key, section, particularly well). For my taste, Catherine Hewgill played the cello solo in the middle movement with too much vibrato, too light a tone and a rather tenuous upper-register section. To be fair, others thought she played it well.
Predictably, latecomers had to be admitted between movements. It would have been better if Caetani had been forewarned of this and waited for them to find their seats – especially the elderly couple who had to get to their own seats in the middle row and then – wait for it – actually discussed which seat they were meant to be in and had to trade places. What were they thinking? “I’m in 28. ” ” No, I’m in 28.”
I thought the performance deserved a warmer reception than the audience gave it, but maybe people find the Brahms rather too heavy going.
There was a seasonal plentitude of coughing. I am convinced that people who cough in slow and quiet spots do so from ignorance rather than infirmity. They think these bits (actually moments of suspense) are simply filling. The proof of this is that they were able to keep perfectly quiet in the encore – Debussy’s Gardens in the Rain, in an interpretation that suggests that some of Bianconi’s muscularity in the Brahms is just the way he likes to play.
The second half was the Shostakovich. I had wondered why Peter Jenkin, principal clarinet of the Opera and Ballet orchestra, was sitting at third clarinet. That all became clear when he had a spectacular solo on the e flat clarinet in the second movement. In fact there were lots of big solos – after a wintry first movement, it becomes a kind of concerto for orchestra (Bartok’s concerto, of course, was famously parodied by Shostakovich in a later symphony). Caetani gave bows at the end to some, including, of course, Alexander Oguey on cor anglais, but seems to have forgotten concertmaster-for-the-night Kirsten Williams, who I thought acquitted herself particularly well in her solo and also her leadership.
It’s strange to think that Caetani was insulted and let go from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra because audiences were staying away from too much Shostakovich. (His program biography discreetly passed over any mention of Melbourne at all.) I can’t help thinking Caetani was the fall-guy for other difficulties. Was Harold Mitchell Caetani’s very own Rowena Danziger?
Afterwards, in an hour-long trek back to the car, we took in some more of Vivid, including a detour through the Argyle Cut. The picture above (pinched from the ABC) doesn’t really capture it because what was nice was how the picture grew out of what first looked like cracks in the rock and then became a kind of living wallpaper. The animated cartoon projections on the Customs House were probably the biggest crowd-pleaser, even if some think such installations are a little passé. We also liked the installation at the western end of the Quay which was activated by shouting or screaming. On the way to the concert this was maintained by excited screams of children, on the way back it was young adults.
It ensured a
manic [no,] ludic, festive atmosphere – remarkably unmarked by any conspicuous consumption of alcohol or its effects. Which is just as well given that, with its customary good grace, Cityrail had only opened the public toilets at the west end of Circular Quay station. Patient crowds queued outside the handicapped toilet at the eastern end (probably ignorant of the existence of the other set at the western end) and of course even at the western end there was a large line outside the ladies’. I’d say “shame, Cityrail, shame!” but Cityrail is generally such a shameless organisation that there seems little point.
It was after 11.30 before I was home.
D comes to the opera with me and would be happy to go to the ballet or dance, but his interest in concert music is weaker. Mostly I go without him. I go to the Saturday night concerts and the SSO piano recitals with the “Dulwich Hill gang” – or those who are not away from Sydney as some of them often are.
When I get home my returning announcement is almost invariably “Concert was good.” The absence of an initial “the” is by sympathetic osmosis from D’s own English, influenced by a first language which has demonstratives that sometimes serve that purpose but lacks a dedicated definite article. It’s a little joke or ritual that has grown up quite spontaneously.
After all, what would be the point of going to a bad concert or not enjoying a concert once you had got to it? I’m not a critic.
But good it was.