While I’ve been away – Ten concerts

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Given the least encouragement, I am dipping my toe back into blogging, notwithstanding that you can never dip your toe in the same river twice.

A musical update.

1. SSO at Angel Place (Mostly Mozart) “Angels and Broken Hearts”

The Thursday before the arrival of my sister (recorded in my last post), I went to the SSO’s Mozart in the City series at Angel Place. In the interests of keeping this post to a manageable length the remaining scraps of what I have to say about that are here.

2. Sydney Symphony, Nelson, Gerbhardt vc; SOH

The Saturday a week and a half after that, I went to hear the SSO at the SOH. Reminiscences here.

3. The Laughing Clowns at the Basement

The next night I went to hear the early-eighties cult band, The Laughing Clowns, performing at The Basement. This was something of a contrast. Calling it a “concert” is probably stretching things a bit.

The Basement’s glory years as Sydney’s leading jazz venue – years associated in my memory with my own (axiomatically impressionable) youth and Horst Liepolt – appear to have passed. There don’t seem to be any residencies, but rather a series of (not always jazz; sometimes touring) guest acts. Horst or no Horst, it is still a very well-set-up venue. If you pay for the meal you get an intimate encounter with the musicians which you couldn’t really get anywhere else in Sydney. Conditions for the standing patrons are less favourable, but the sound system is clear and well-controlled. I enjoyed this evening more than I expected to.

4. Geoffrey Lancaster, International Pianist

About a week after that I went to hear Geoffrey Lancaster play a bunch of Haydn sonatas at Angel Place for the SSO. Ticket sales must have been poor, because I was able to secure two free tickets for some friends under a special offer.

I expect the reduced attendance was a result of, first, the choice of instrument (fortepianos – actually two) and, secondly, the inclusion of an artist resident in Canberra in a series nominally devoted to “International” pianists. As to the second of these, the person who served me at the SSO box office (not one of the regular box office minions: he wrestled with the software) assured me that Lancaster was an “International” artist, but (more tellingly) let slip that he wasn’t planning to be there.

Maybe I was just a bit too tired, but despite my own early music allegiance (which should have overcome the first problem above, though in even a recital hall the fortepiano remains pretty quiet), Lancaster’s choice of sonatas (none of the London ones; more contemplation than drama) left me feeling that things must have been pretty quiet and the nights very long at Esterhaza, and there was nothing on TV. Haydn filled the void. Lancaster’s habit of guying to the audience with a genial shrug at the end of each sonata did not convince me that the music was as witty as the gesture was apparently intended to assert.

5. SSO at SOH; Ashkenazy/Mussorgsky and Shostakovich violin concerto

That Friday off to hear Ashkenazy conduct the SSO in his own arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Sasha Rozhdestvensky play the Shostakovich first violin concerto. It would be a very big ask for Ashkenazy’s arrangement to dislodge Ravel’s on just one hearing: it was brassier, and there were a few touches which struck me as anachronistic in the same as the Hollywood-ish percussion in Schoenberg’s arrangement of Brahms strikes me.

6. Australia Ensemble

This program had a Leipzig theme. There was an unexplained substitution of artist in the second half. A further post is in the works.

7. SSO Meet the Music

The next Thursday I was back at the SOH for an SSO Meet the Music concert. These start at 6.30 which proved impossible for me, so I missed Peter Sculthorpe’s Kakadu. I arrived in time for Bax’s Tintagel. Remainder of comments here.

8. Katia Skanavi, piano

I also heard Katia Skanavi at Angel Place for Musica Viva. Post to come.

9. “Mostly Mozart” and Mendelssohn Octet

See separate post.

10. Back with the SSO at the SOH

Last weekend, I went again to hear the SSO at the SOH, which was lit up as pictured above. The current bicentennial is certainly an opportunity to erase the early and bad impression made on me by massed Suzuki violinists playing the last movement of the Mendelssohn concerto. In the second half (Beethoven, Pastoral Symphony) Mr Celata managed the clarinet solos without the embarassing squeaks which marked Lawrence Dobell’s bolder but more risky approach the last time I heard this orchestra play this work, but conversely Robert Johnson was plagued with horn fluffs which even rated a mention in Murray Black’s review in The Australian.

Once upon a time (“in my youth”), horn fluffs were absolutely par for the course in SSO performances and I often wondered if all those composers were just joking when they wrote for the instrument. Things have been better for some time now, and are usually better when RJ is playing than when Ben Jacks is in the chair, but it just goes to show that (as a teacher of mine used to say perhaps unconscious of what feels to me like faintly submerged social Darwinism) “You’re only as good as your last performance.”

The Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture didn’t quite live up to expectations, which were probably at an unreasonable height for the opposite reason to my attitude to the Mendelssohn – in this case, a powerful and favourable first impression on hearing the BBC Symphony play this on their Australian tour almost 30 years ago. I waited for what I think of as the big trombone tune at the end, but it just didn’t seem to be as big as I was expecting or wishing it to be.

11. And the one that got away

Finally, mortifyingly, at the very beginning of this month I forgot to go and hear Imogen Cooper. This was especially remiss of me as she was playing chunks of Schubert, and Schubert (on the simple criterion of inclusion in Vol 1 of the Henle edition of the sonatas) has been taking up quite a lot of time and space on my piano desk recently.

2 Responses to “While I’ve been away – Ten concerts”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Welcome back. Good to see you in writing again!

  2. Thom Says:

    I’d be the first to say that the piano series title poses some problems for itself (not least because, as one of my friends says, it smacks of the insecurity of the old “Celebrity Artists” series). But I would also consider Geoffrey Lancaster every bit the “international” artist.

    As I interpret it, this designation doesn’t have anything to do with country of birth (else you’d have to question the Leslie Howards of this world as well) or even place of primary residence, and everything to do with reputation and arena of activity. I think when you have an artist who is active overseas as well as at home, then that’s “international”.

    I realise, of course, you’re only reporting an observation and also speculating re lower-than-usual attendance. My suspicion is that it was the absence of a shiny black Steinway from the stage that was more of a factor in that. I do wonder with you, though, if the absence of a London sonata (of which only the E flat has been played recently) or one of the better-known late sonatas played a part: the piano series audience “knows” its repertoire (and at the same time probably has a very selective knowledge of Haydn’s sonatas!).

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