Tale of two trumpeters

On Friday night to see/hear the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the final concert for 2008 in my Friday night subscription series.

The traffic in was terrible: this is the price I pay for having a nap before a concert and not wanting to catch the train in and out. Fortunately I still found a spot on the street and so escaped the exorbitant clutches of Wilson Parking.

The program was:

Lothar Zagrosek conductor
Michele Campanella piano

MOZART
Symphony No.27 in G
FRANCK
Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra
STRAVINSKY
Petrushka (1911)

From the beginning of the Mozart, I was impressed by Lothar Zagrosek. I see from the program that he started out as one of the Regensburger Domspatzen. (Regensburg=Ratisbon for afficcionados of military history.) Whilst I enjoyed the brace of Mozart symphonies I heard earlier this year played by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, this was playing of an altogether different class, notwithstanding a couple of french horn fluffs, though it was frustrating to hear it in the Concert Hall’s far-from-satisfactory acoustics.

The Franck is a work which of course I know of, but in Sydney it has been only rarely programmed. I certainly recognized the finale, but this was one occasion when I regretted not having undertaken some preparatory listening to enable me better to appreciate what was really going on in some of the more subtle variations. There was a lot which I want to hear again, and I shall try to catch the broadcast on December 15.

Michele Campanella has a rather steely touch, and from time to time I caught little ringing sounds from the piano which made me wonder if I was suffering momentary tinnitis. As we egressed for interval, I overheard someone saying to his companion “I thought the SSO was getting a new piano.” I took it that he thought that they hadn’t yet.

I am grateful to Thomasina to her links to a you-tube version of the ballet of Petrushka, and I’m glad I took the time to watch them. The effect was rather less piano-concertante than she had led me to believe. Perhaps it was because the piano was situated in the middle of the orchestra with the lid off. With due respect to Josephine Allan, if this is to be considered a concertante work, what would be really interesting would be to hear a concertante soloist playing it with the orchestra, a la Tiberghien last year in Turangalîla. I’m not the only one to whom this thought has occurred.

This was an exciting performance. As my neighbour, Z, said, you could see the ballet. Stravinsky’s orchestration is brilliant. When you think that there should also be a ballet as well, it really makes you think what opulent entertainment those Diaghilev ballets and other works in thae first decade or so of the twentieth century were. All on the back of the toil of the workers, of course, and war and revolution soon put a stopper on this sort of thing.

Just as people often seem to match their pets, it has always seemed to me instrumentalists often line up with their instruments. I don’t know which is cause and which is effect, but violinists do not seem to be the same as violists or trumpeters the same as trombonists. I even wonder if first violins, over time, differ from seconds. It’s not a simple thing, and of course there are variations between individuals on the same instrument. For example, Danny Mendelow, the principal trumpet, and Paul Goodchild, the associate principal, play quite differently. In years gone by, my private rather disrespectful nickname for Paul Goodchild was “boofhead” – partly to do with his personal demeanour and not, I hasten to add, based on any real acquaintance, and partly to do with his rather boisterous style of playing. Mendelow’s playing has always struck me as more refined. I can nearly always tell which of the two is playing without looking.

Maybe Paul Goodchild has mellowed over the years, or maybe I have, but I have come to respect his strong points more. I don’t know who makes these decisions, but which of the two fronts for a particular work with the SSO often seems to match their respective strong points and the nature of the work and part in question. Last night we had them both: Goodchild played the trumpet and Mendelow played the cornet. This seemed just right. Both played well.

Before the concert I received some sad news from my neighbours, Jy and Z. As I have mentioned before, Jy had come for many years with Doug, who died at the beginning of this year. As it was, because he was ill and in pain, he had only renewed this year for 5 of the concerts. Z took his place, but for next year decided to revert to her seat in a side box where she brings her grandchildren to overlook the orchestra. The orchestra wouldn’t give such a plum seat to Jy for only 5 concerts again, so she was relegated to a single seat in row U for next year – not so bad, but the end of our neighbourly relations. The funny thing is that these only blossomed with the presence of Z, who is a talkative soul: I don’t think Doug ever said a word to me for all the concerts we were next to each other. We said our goodbyes in pre and post-concert chat. Jy, who will now be coming to the concerts on her own, looked a little forlorn.

Walking back up Macquarie St after the concert, I enjoyed Christmas illumination of the Conservatorium, which brings out its Horace-WalpoleStrawberry-Hill-ish Gothicism.

I drive home over ANZAC Bridge. As you head out over the city, there is a funny kind of orphan lane or apron area where the police are wont to set up speed traps and breath test units on the eastward approach to the bridge. It always struck me as too easy to dodge this by the simple expedient of driving in the right hand lane, so that you can’t be pulled over. The police have wised up to that, and as I came round the corner from the city I drove into a traffic jam as the police held up both lanes in order to select cars from the hitherto immune lane. I really don’t like this sort of thing. For one thing, you have to wonder if there is more chance of a rear-end pile up from such interference than of any accident being prevented by the minuscule chance of detecting, even exemplarily, an over-the-limit driver.

3 Responses to “Tale of two trumpeters”

  1. Thom Says:

    One of the things Stravinsky achieved in the 1947 revision of Petrushka (other than a renewal of his copyright and an orchestration friendlier to cash-strapped dance companies and small pits) was an amplification of the piano part. So probably that’s the version to listen to for the closest idea of what he initially might have had in mind for his “Konzertstück” before it became more character-driven. I agree, though, that the acoustic and positioning of the piano didn’t really do it justice. Maybe the broadcast recording will be more satisfying on that account.

    There is a new piano at the Opera House but soloists still have their choice.

  2. Victor Says:

    What a coincidence that you mentioned the police checks on the Anzac Bridge. I noticed four cars parked in that apron as I drove over the bridge yesterday morning with not a driver nor passenger in sight. I wondered for a moment why people would park there and then the penny dropped that the drivers had probably failed RBT tests the evening before and been required by the police to leave their cars there rather than continue driving whilst over the limit. It had been a thunderous evening the night before so getting away from that area on foot must have been a tad interesting.

  3. marcellous Says:

    Victor, on reflection I think it may originally have been a bus stop, and there may have once been access to a bridge beneath. I have always assumed that in its former sate this was the site of a tragic accident, reported here.

    On further reflection, the bus stop referred to in the link above was probably where the NZ ANZAC is now located. Maybe the police give the miscreants a lift to safety, or call a taxi, or first of all take them away to the police station. I suspect the last.

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