Lounging round Beethoven

Last Friday to the SOH to hear the SSO under Ashkenazy in the second-last instalment of this year’s Beethoven cycle.

The program was the third piano concerto and the Pastoral symphony.

These are favourite works for many.  The player who introduced the Night Lounge afterwards disclosed that the Pastoral Symphony was her first cassette as a teenager on her Walkman; I think it is my favourite symphony and certainly the one I know best because I studied it for a (not very successful) conducting course and wrote an essay about it once.  The third concerto is the first concerto I learnt (the last movement) and I’m pretty sure the first record of a piano concerto I bought: an early Vox recording by Alfred Brendel which I remember sampling at the sound-proof-booth at Rowe Street Records in about 1974.

I listened to most of the concerto with my eyes shut.  It seemed appropriate because the soloist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, has been blind from birth.

That’s a tricky issue.  I wasn’t aware of Tsujii’s blindness until just before I went into the hall and over all I’m glad of it.  I wouldn’t want to have been thinking “I’m off to see the blind pianist.”

Tsujii has some mannerisms the impact of which he must be quite unaware and I found I also had to confront my own squeamishness about the spectacle.  By the end I’d grown accustomed to it and no longer needed to occlude my gaze.  I suppose there’s a lesson there.

I enjoyed his playing.  He dared some very pianissimo moments; the slow movement was the best (for me).  Sometimes when things got complicated the ensemble became a bit ragged: I put that down in part because then, when Ashkenazy had to follow Tsujii in a more mechanical way, the orchestra had to follow Ashkenazy’s beat in a more mechanical way, whereas I don’t really think of VA as conductor who leads with his stick: he really operates on a kind of musical empathy and the immense respect the orchestra feel for him.

For an encore Tsujii played the Revolutionary Etude – a c-minor match for the Beethoven.  I was just aware at the end that he needed to be careful reaching up to the top of the keyboard for the final tumultuous descent.

I enjoyed the Pastoral.  Maybe the storm could have been a bit more fiery.

These concerts are Dene Olding’s second last set of concerts as concertmaster.  This was marked by a speech by Catherine Hewgill and a brief response by Olding.  I’m prepared to guess that even the apparently spontaneous bits were given at each of the concert’s repetitions.

Afterwards to the Northern Foyer for the Night Lounge event.  The music was:

Glinka – 2 songs ‘Do not tempt me needlessly’ and ‘Doubt’ – arr Eduard Herrman for violin, viola and harp (Marina and Justine Marsden and Louise Johnson).

Halvorsen – Sarabande for violin and viola after theme by Handel (Benjamin Li and Tobias Br[e]i).

Professor Teddy BOR – Bach at the Double for swing trio performed on period instruments – Stan W Kornel (viola d’amore), Fiona Ziegler (tenor viola da gamba) and Jacques Emery (billed as bass viola da gamba though I can’t say I can detect the difference).

Of these, I most enjoyed the Glinka.  Others enjoyed the Halvorsen.  I always find that sort of music more estimable than enjoyable and I felt the intimacy of chamber music was somewhat spoilt by the amplification and a bit of a shortage of direct communication between the two players.  The BOR was charming but silly.  Unfortunately the amplification did not really catch the sound of the viola d’amore at all well and the bass (of whatever sort) was not present enough – maybe some of it needed to be played up an octave?

My own preference would still be for more playing and less talking at these events.

Still it was fun if not, overall, as mellow as the last one I went to.  Atmosphere might have been enhanced if I’d bought a post-concert drink – but I don’t like to encourage the new concessionaires too much given their price hikes.  And couldn’t the bar staff sling the bottles around a bit more quietly while the musicians are playing?

In the first half of the concert there seemed to be a rash of babes in arms making vocal contributions.  Do we need a code?  First of all, infants need to be seated near exits and we should not be the innocent bystanders in any Truby-King style parental resistance to them.  My own inclination is to make tickets for children under, say, 6, at least as expensive as a babysitter. * OK, I am a grumpy non-breeder.

*Or subject to a non-vocalising bond or some kind of assessment of the child in question if at the upper end of this range.





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