Tonight with D and Mxx to hear the SSO with visiting conductor, Charles Dutoit.
A few years it was hoped that his presence in Australia would tempt the elusive Martha Argerich to keep her contractual commitment to come and play here. Billed as “for the first time” it turned into “for the second time” because for the second time she was a no-show. Still, the disappointment wasn’t too bitter, because anyone who knew anything about her track record would have known that her appearance was not to be counted on. This year, no such risk was taken, and Dutoit was billed without any ancillary soloist.
You could tell it was a red-letter day for the orchestra, even if the choir stalls were less than half-full. (“It’s the economy,” said my neighbour. Is it? I shivered, though not without delicious anticipation of a wave of insolvency work bouying up my profession.) Julian Smiles of the Australia Ensemble was a guest principal cello, and he was joined by Catherine Hewgill and Nathan Waks.
The program was:
MOZART Symphony No.41 in C (Jupiter)
R STRAUSS An Alpine Symphony
It was an odd choice of repertoire, but I guess Dutoit doesn’t always want to be typecast as a musical francophone.
A few stylistic fingerprints in the Mozart (a performance seemingly untouched by the historical performance movement and, it seemed to me, still distinctively “francophone” in approach): feminine endings to phrases which shrugged themselves into pianissimo and then silence (true piano playing in general was a notable feature); a very relaxed Lander-like third movement; perkily articulated woodwind. He certainly kept the violins on a tight leash for those tricky passages in the last movement. The first movement was perhaps a little too stately for my own taste, but that is clearly part of Dutoit’s style and it was a coherent part of his vision of the whole.
I sit in the middle of a little pocket of South Africans (probably, by other indications, Jewish, as so many South Africans in Sydney are) who all know each other and catch up with each other at each concert. One said to another just behind me “I prefer the 40th.”
The Strauss depicts a day in the life of a mountain. I kid you not. It is played in 22 continuous sections lasting circa 47 minutes. It is fun though a lot of it is pretty low-grade music, even when it is high-grade orchestration. One section is arguably even deliberately bad and ugly music: entitled “Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp auf Irrwegen (Wrong Path through the Thicket)” it reprises the confusion of the critics or the Beckmesser strains of (Wagner’s not Strauss’s, of course) Die Meistersinger as a foil to the succeeding splendour when, ascending the mountain, the musical narrative reaches the mighty glacier.
My neighbour and I had a giggle when I whispered to her just before it started: “Of course, I prefer Ein Heldenleben.”
As fresh wonders of musical pictorialism are trotted out, it is all a bit like going to a 3D movie, but Strauss still manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat for a typically Straussian finale – in that mellow, sacher-torte-ish (even though he was Bavarian) manner of In Abendrot or the end of either Die Rosenkavalier or (I only mention since recently heard) Arabella.
After, D, Ma and I went to dinner in Newtown. On the way home, I was random-breath tested. The thing I hate about this is the bit where they ask for your licence. I fear this because it is possible that sometimes I will have left home without it. What gives them the right to ask for my licence if they have no reason to suspect I have done anything wrong? It’s meant to be a random breath test, not a random licence check. That’s what happens once you start giving police powers like this.
Fortunately, I had remembered to bring my licence and found it readily, so there was just the unpleasant humiliation of being at the mercy of the state for even a moment. The breath test was nothing to fear, as I have been almost “on the wagon” since Chinese New Year, and had drunk nothing (something which the policeman seemed to find difficult to believe). But my diaphragm still trembled nervously as I counted from one to six (that was enough, it seemed).
I do not like police. Like military personnel, prison warders and censors, I know they are a necessary evil, but I don’t personally see why it is necessary for any decent person to become one – except perhaps to stop one of the sort of people who otherwise want to be police/prison warders/censors et al from being so.
Mind you, I guess there are people who think much the same about lawyers.
Half way through the Alpine I remembered that its scoring includes the elusive (apparently only 100-120 are in existence) Heckelphone. Shefali Prior was listed as playing the “bass oboe,” which is not quite the same, though it plays the same range. Unfortunately, I cannot lay claim to sufficient expertise to be able to distinguish these instruments at the distance I was sitting, and I remembered the fact too late to pay any particular attention to its timbre other than as the foundation of the oboe section. Despite my particular attention, its solo moment, if any, had already passed.