Recently

On Saturday night with my old friend P to hear the first Australia Ensemble concert of the year.

The program was:

  • Wolfgang MOZART (1756-1791): Piano Concerto in F K413 with strings a quattro (1783)
  • Elena KATS-CHERNIN (b 1957): Interludes and Rags: 2MBS-FM Commission (2012) for flute, clarinet, oboe/cor anglais, piano, two violins, viola and cello
  • Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918): Prélude à ‘L’après-midi d’un faune’ (1894) for flute, oboe, clarinet, antique cymbal, piano, harmonium and string quartet (arr attrib Hanns Eisler) – 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth
  • Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893): String Quartet No 1 in D Opus 11 (1871)

The Mozart is one of the early concertos which Mozart wrote with ostensibly elastic scoring (to borrow a phrase from Percy Grainger).  It can be performed with an orchestra with strings and winds,  with strings only, or even (as here) with 4 strings only.

It may have been difficult for Ian Munro to adjust his role to that of concerto soloist rather than ensemble pianist, and playing a concerto with only four strings is just a little odd.  There were many felicities but I thought the slow movement just a smidgin too fast – tellingly, it sounded nicer as it got a touch slower, before (after the cadenza) the strings started up at the old pace.  P commented that the whole approach was just a little uncompromising.

The Kats-Chernin has been written as a series of quasi-jingles for 2MBSFM. The instrumentation (cor anglais rather than oboe; clarinet in fact bass clarinet) gave a rather thick texture.  Lots was laid out in eight-bar chunks – then again, Schumann is a bit like that so that shouldn’t be any particular obstacle.  I liked the shortest movement the most.  A lot of the rest was also generally rather loud.  It was enthusiastically received.

The Debussy is one of those arrangements from the Vienna society for new music.  What this endeavour marks is the development of music to a point where two-piano or four-handed arrangements such as, say, Brahms produced for tryouts no longer sufficed to give a similitude of the real thing.  The harmonium replaces the missing orchestral masses to glue everything together.  I was totally captivated and wafted away to the warm pagan south – a cultural rather than an actual concept given that we live in a deeper and warmer south here even in a rainy summer.

The Tchaikovsky has one indisputably great and very famous movement, the second – which I enjoyed despite the elderly lady two seats to my left who spent most of it trying to unwrap her coughdrop rapper.  P has a love-hate relationship with Tchaikovsky and thought the last movement the weakest, as (she claims) is often the case with him.  I’m not sure which movements she had in mind for that.  Apart from the second movement, I thought the first movement the strongest.  It is marked Moderato e semplice.  The players realised the semplice aspect so placidly as to render the rhythmic figure quite cryptic (to me at least) for some time.

P and I always exchange musical gossip.  I learnt a bit more about the mysterious demise of the Wollongong Symphony Orchestra, and also that I had missed a concert which P’s husband claimed as being one of the four best he had heard in his life (apparently it was one of the best three until he stretched things to include the Berlin Phil) – a concert led by French oboist François Leleux in the SSO’s Mozart in the City series.

P was disappointed with OA’s Magic Flute but loved Figaro.  We wondered why it was taking so long to appoint another principal cello to the SSO.  We talked about how it can be that a player we like is not accepted by other players of the same instrument because they make “the wrong sound.”  Catherine McKinnon, the AE’s clarinetist, is such a player in both P’s and my experience of comments from other clarinetists.  P had heard a flautist with the LPO whom she liked more than other flautists and who she therefore wondered might fall into the same category so far as other flautists are concerned.

P also told me a good story.  She and her family spent Xmas and shortly after in Melbourne.  One day at Williamstown her son, T, was walking along the footpath, as boys of his age do, texting, when he literally bumped into the Prime Minister.  In retrospect he had registered that there was an area of the curb being kept clear and a number of people he now realises were bodyguards (quite casually dressed) were in the vicinity.  What must have happened is that the car pulled up and the PM stepped out and headed straight to the shop where she was about to have her nails done or whatever.  After they bumped into each other, and this is the bit I rather like, the PM extended her hand and presumably in a slightly humorous way introduced herself: “Julia”  to which T naturally responded ” [T].”

Earlier in the week, D and I drove north of Newcastle for Sq/x‘s funeral.  It was held in a church where S*s parents have worshiped for many years.  The present minister read a tribute written by them and S*’s sister.

S* himself ceased attending church at an early age.  When he reached the requisite age the minister at the time asked S* whether he intended to attend the church youth group, which was held on Friday nights.  S* replied that he couldn’t possibly come, as “that is the night I watch The Two Ronnies.”

The minister also recounted a story dating from S*’s last day of year 6, when awards were to be presented.  S* had been school captain and dux.   His mother asked if he would like corn beef in his sandwiches that day.  S* replied:

“Do not profane this day with talk of corned meats.”

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