Archive for November, 2014

Too good to last?

November 21, 2014

On Monday night to Angel Place to hear Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in recital for the SSO.

He has been here before and there was a reasonably full hall. I had been sorry to miss a rather patchily-publicized performance by him of the Schumann piano concerto with the SSO and its fellows and fellows-alumni on the Friday morning before, but it was a difficult time and a look on the internet suggested that there were almost no seats available. What had been done with them? Was it all a big free list?

But back to Angel Place.

The first half was all Beethoven. Originally it was to be No 22 (Op 54), No 24 (Op 78), No 26 (op 81a) and Les Adieux, No 26 (op 81a). That is, the last pre-Waldstein sonata and then three more in almost a row – skipping the Appassionata – two smallish and less often performed and Les Adieux as the big finish.

Maybe in the course of the year since the program was planned Bavouzet decided this was a little too esoteric. Whatever reason, in the end what we got was a rearrangement with the unfamiliar little sonatas taken out and substituted for by the Appassionata. That then became the first-half closer, bookended by Les Adieux as the opener with Op 54 tucked in the middle.

Personally, I would have preferred the original first half. But then I am an esoterica snob. Even if that is my own straw man, it says something a bit pathetic about modern piano recital culture that any Beethoven sonata could be considered so. But I’m not making it up – I overheard others commenting on the F major as “not often heard” on the way out at interval.

Consistent with that, I most enjoyed the middle sonata: the second movement elicited a deserved Bravo! from the balcony.

It struck me that Bavouzet’s vision of Beethoven was a French vision of Beethoven the mad German, stomping his foot and thumping the keyboard against the world and his deafness. This started from the octave leap sforzando just into the Allegro of the first movement of Les Adieux, which was matched with a thumpish (in a good way) bass line. As the first half went on, Bavouzet assumed a Ludwig-van-ish dishevelment. Germans tend to downplay that side of LvB to take him back to the world of Goethe and Schiller.

I did wonder if the last Mvt of the Appassionata started a bit fast (it’s “ma non troppo”): there wasn’t much more for JEB to add for the Presto at the end.

Still, I enjoyed it.

The second half was a piece written specially for Bavouzet: “The Book of JEB,” by Bruno Mantovani. I am always a bit trepidatious about new works. It’s ignorance, of course. Being told as we were told to listen to the iterations of the opening chord was not a very helpful listening guide. Nevertheless it was compelling, with some beautiful sounds, and obviously virtuosic – subject to the qualification that I would never know if there were a wrong note, which makes it a kind of low-risk virtuosity which must be a contradiction in terms.

Bavouzet may have brushed his hair at interval: the mad Teuton was banished. He even sat more still.

Which was especially apparent in the last set of pieces, Ravel’s Miroirs. Everyone will have their favourite piece in this set: for me the point where the magic really struck was the boat on the ocean which induced me into a kind of sympathetically sighing trance with the rhythms of the ocean. The spell held and at the end of the valley of the bells I was in tears from the beauty of it all. This was not playing to burst into applause at the end of, but that does not mean it was any the less appreciated.

For an encore we got Debussy’s Fireworks.

This concert itself was not recorded, but a repeat performance in Melbourne is due to be recorded by the ABC and broadcast by them in December. That means I won’t be able to check the (what seemed to me like) slight falters at one point in Les Adieux, but I would be able to hear the Mantovani again and relive the rapture of the Ravel.

At home afterwards, the news was all of the impending cuts to the ABC. The Govt says they are “savings” and that no programs need be cut. ABC management says that as it is it needs to use savings to fund the repositioning of its activities to meet the digital age. Some things will need to be cut to fund this and the word was ABC Classic FM is in the firing line.

ABC “Classic” FM is already not what it was. There are no announcers overnight, and it is unable to announce its music lists more than about 3 days in advance. There has been a certain amount of dumbing down of some of its musical content towards a popular classical format. I could do without Margaret Throsby (though there is less of her than there once was).

What I treasure most in ABC FM is its broadcasts of live performances. That’s the ABC’s own recordings, from Australia, and overseas recordings, mostly from public or public-interest broadcasters. I’m not quite sure how the latter works but I presume it relies on some system of exchange as well as contractual provision in the rights given or sold by the performers to the respective broadcasters.

This has become increasingly important as the economics of studio recordings and CDs or other means of distribution have changed. Broadcasts of local performances and associated magazine-type programs also provide a publicity infrastructure in kind for local performers.

Now it looks as though Mark Scott is ready to slash that. (Update: I meant Classic FM in general but my suspicion that live broadcasts, its most distinctive contribution, would be a target is firming.)

Change and decay in all around as another part of the (middle class) welfare state crumbles. Was it all really too good to last?

Night music

November 3, 2014

On Saturday night to the to SOH see/hear the SSO conducted by Jonathan Nott.

The second half was Mahler 7. There was some pretty flash playing though my generalised recollection is that I have heard the quieter moments played with more charm or enchantment than on this occasion. I’m maddened to find that, because I am not a critic, I did not make a note of the last outing, conducted by Ashkenazy, which I most definitely caught in March 2011. Hence this minimalist note.

Prompted by a morning SMS, I caught up with Db, a student when I was a school teacher and subsequently a neighbour and friend. Db had changed his regular Wednesday ticket. On Wednesday he was at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, which is just two stops up the Pindar Road from the sheep station where my father spent his childhood. It’s a small world.

In the first half David Drury played the Poulenc organ concerto. I enjoyed this though sometimes I thought Drury could have put a bit of a sock in it so we could hear more of the orchestral details. It is always maddening to see players doing things which you cannot hear.

I don’t blame DD: Mr Nott was the one who should have told DD to tone things down – after all, it’s not as if DD could judge the balance.

Db, who, like me, knows DD from our involvement (at different times) in music at S James King Street, doubted whether it would ever be possible to tell DD to tone things down. He was joking, I think.