End of year

is almost upon us.  So I thought I’d mention a few things which I’ve been to which are so far unnoticed here.

I went to the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Rameau’s Castor and Pollux.

I’m sorry to say that I found the acting of visiting American Jeffrey Thompson as Castor almost insufferable, even if it be accepted that some of it was his own musical necessity. At one point, for no perceivable reason, he sat on the edge of the stage just behind Erin Helyard (the harpsichordist) and ran his hands over EH’s bald/shaven cranium. Something like this was done last year (or maybe the year before) as well but then at least it was funny and had a reason. I wouldn’t like it to become a running gag and for that matter I don’t think it is fair on EH, whether he minded it or not.

I sometimes wondered what the director, Kate Gaul, was thinking of, albeit that she had to operate within some constraints.

The realisation of the balletic element was problematic.   There were two rather fetching topless male dancers, and I’m not complaining about that. The women in the chorus, wearing vaguely Grecian drapery gym-slippy outfits, had to do rather a lot of stuff which maked them look like one of those early twentieth century photos of Druidic or Theosophic-ish groups doing something in the open air early in the morning.  Sometimes the urge came to just shut one’s eyes and listen to the music.

I found the second half, which seemed to prefigure Gluck and Haydn in its account of other worlds, more interesting than the first.

The orchestra was good. I went twice. This was something I had planned long before.

I wish I could say I enjoyed it more. Maybe the novelty to me of the French baroque has lessened, thanks in large part to Pinchgut’s own productions, which have also set a pretty high act for Pinchgut itself to follow.

I also went to two SSO concerts. The first of these featured Scott Davie playing the original version of Rhachmaninov’s fourth piano concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred.  The first was obviously a labour of love on SD’s part.  I enjoyed but was not really electrified by it.  Sometimes the verdict of history is right, and of course there are at least three better-known concertante works for piano by this composer.  Manfred excited me more when Caetani conducted it a few years ago.  This time it seemed a bit scrappy.

The second was billed as “Totally Tchaikovsky” (to distinguish it from Pique Dame as also being by Pushkin?) and paired the second piano concerto (also in its original version) with the fourth symphony.  I heard Garrick Ohlsson on the radio admit that the second concerto is an inferior work to the first, but all things considering that is not as big a put down as it might at first seem.  I enjoyed it and again on the live broadcast which I also listened to the next afternoon.  There were differences in approach between Ohlsson and Stephen Hough, who played this concerto here not so long ago.  I like to think that these match differences in their personality.

I have yet to see a publicity shot of Garrick Ohlsson that looks less than ten years old. The standard one looks as though it was taken more like twenty years ago, if not more.

One feature of the original version of the concerto is a kind of trio between the concertmaster, principal cello and piano in the middle movement.  I should concede (because sometimes I rail against her place in the orchestra’s publicity limelight that seems to only be rivalled by that enjoyed or hogged for the WASO by their grinning percussionist) that I enjoyed Catherine Hewgill’s solo in this very much.

The Tchaikovsky was on the mellow and warm side. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t have big moments, but it wasn’t as directly ominous as I have sometimes heard it, nor as angular.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard the second theme of the first movement edged into quite so gently. It was a distinctive approach.

Longer ago I went to the last of the Australia Ensemble concerts for the year.  The highlight of this for me (and I can’t say I was expecting this) was Ian Munro’s arrangement of Debussy’s Six epigraphes antiques

At the end of the concert, the retiring Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) announced next year’s program. When he anglicized the “ř” in “Dvořák” a kind of electric frisson mixed with comfort of knowing better rippled round the hall. As is customary, rather splendid chocolates and slightly less splendid but alcoholic-if-you-wished drinks were given out in the foyer afterwards.

I’ll be back for more.

On Sunday night I went to a concert by Orchestra Romantique at Paddington Town Hall. I first heard of this in November from Wanderer. Now that I look I see that it was announced on facebook on June 16. I think I had by then given up on checking to see if anything was happening with this group. You couldn’t say this concert was over-publicized. Handbills were distributed outside Castor & Pollux but to little evident effect. By the time the concert was held, it had been announced as the orchestra’s final concert in its present form. Something smaller may or may not emerge.

The first half of the program was the Brahms double concerto. This was the draw-card for me. Kristian Winther (who also directed) was the violinist and Timo-Veiko Valve the cellist. Without a dedicated conductor (Kirsty Hilton also waved her bow from the leader’s desk in one particularly hairy bit) it was all rather strict-tempo, but I still enjoyed it. The early-music push of the previous concerts did not seem to be a particular issue. Maybe with the size of the band we were meant to imagine ourselves at Meiningen.

The second half was in honour of Beethoven’s birthday and featured a kind of running address by [“Lord”] Geoffrey Robertson on liberty and the enlightenment. It also featured rather a lot of namedropping on GR’s part, though some may feel he is entitled to it. Overall it seemed a rather long bow to draw from the “Turkish March” from Beethoven’s music written in 1811 for von Kotzebue’s play, “The Ruin of Athens” to GR’s proposed appearance before the European Court of Human Rights to argue for the return of the “Elgin Marbles” to Greece.

When GR ascribed the push to end slavery as one originating in “High Anglicanism” he had gone too far. Last time I looked (then, and since) the Clapham Sect and Wilberforce were evangelicals, which is usually thought of as being quite the opposite. Call me a pedant, but that’s the sort of historical howler that can cast a bit of a shadow.

This sort of talking is not really a drawcard for me. It just seems a waste of an orchestra to have it sit by idle. I realise that is an error because the orchestra’s time is not to be measured simply by its time on stage on the night – there also has to be rehearsal time. So maybe the talking was a way of padding the program out. Others enjoyed it.

It’s sad to see the orchestra fold (or even restructure into something smaller) but not really surprising. It was good to hear them while they lasted.

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One Response to “End of year”

  1. DharmaBray Says:

    Re: Castor & Pollux. Couldn’t agree more. We had no idea which production Jeffrey Thompson was in but it certainly wasn’t the one we were seeing. The histrionics dramatically and vocally (they may be true to fach but they were really annoying) were totally off putting in a production that seems to recall the days of 1960s baroque opera production. And don’t get me started on the dance, the costumes and Zeus’ catwalk! The music making saved the day but what happened on stage did not at all reach the production standards of recent Pinchgut productions.

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