Archive for March, 2017

Older Russians

March 15, 2017

Last Saturday night with my old friend and some-time piano teacher P to the Australia Ensemble’s first concert of the year, entitled Russian Legends.

The program was:

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971):L’histoire du soldat (Soldier’s Tale Suite)(1918)

Sofia Gubaidulina (b 1931):Allegro Rustico (1963) and Sounds of the Forest (1978)

Anton Arensky (1861-1906): Piano Trio no.1 Op.32 (1894)

[Interval]

Elena Kats-Chernin (b 1957): Three Rags (1996)

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887): String Quartet no. 2(1881)

The Stravinsky was an arrangement by the composer for violin, clarinet and piano written for a patron who had financed the original work.  The clarinettist was the ensemble’s seemingly now-permanent guest artist, David Griffiths.  That probably means that the UNSW is never again going to make a permanent appointment to the Ensemble of the sort the other members enjoy.

Dene Olding was in particularly fine form for the devilish violin part.

I really enjoyed the Gubaidulina, which were for flute and piano, despite  a few really shocking audience noises.  I find I am a sucker for flutter tonguing on the flute in much the way I am for mutes on strings.

I expect it is because I have heard Geoffrey Collins so often with the Ensemble that I find his style highly recognisable when he pops up on the radio, either in some Australian chamber work or by his distinctive (to me) contribution to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as their principal flute. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could fill in a few principal gigs with the SSO while they don’t have their own?

The Arensky didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but that was more the work than the performance and my expectations were probably pitched too high.  It features a massive piano part – in previous years set as a choice but rarely if ever chosen in the Sydney International Piano Competition.  In the first movement, the effect was almost comic with Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles seemingly unperturbed by fairly straightforward material for the violin and cello whilst in almost a parallel world Ian Munro cooked up a storm behind them.  The balance of energy became more even in the last two movements.

I wasn’t so crazy about the Kats-Chernin.  I feel a resistance to pieces where all the audience feel they have to have a little sighing chuckle at the end, especially if I’m not feeling it myself.  Of the three rags (all, I think, originally for piano), the first was an arrangement by Kats-Chernin and the second and third were arrangements by Griffiths.  Without knowing that, P thought the Griffiths arrangements more successful.

The first time P came to hear the Ensemble the Borodin quartet was on the program and with it they won her allegiance.  The third movement is the most famous and the audience anticipation was palpable as the players took a moment to tune, though Dene O never seemed to me to quite settle in the famous tune.

I most enjoyed the first movement, which from the start feels like a conversation that you have just walked into, and the amazing second movement which opens with a kind of whirling without bass – as if of birds or other objects in the air.  Wikipedia tells me that the last movement is a masterpiece of counterpoint but it is hard for it to live up to what has come before.

In the pre-concert publicity Irina Morozova was quoted as saying how much she loves the Borodin quartet on account of its being Russian and “in her blood.” It is certainly a quartet with a generous serve of gratifying moments for the viola.

This year the Ensemble has gone the Eventbrite way with bar-coded tickets printed on A4 sheets of paper.  You also get an email and perhaps it is possible to put the barcode on your phone.  I guess this saves them money but I would still rather have a traditional ticket – the A4 printout is so daggy.

At least our tickets were not being scanned with a device as we entered as they now very officiously (and delay-makingly) are at the Opera House.

Earlier in the week, I went to Daniil Trifonov’s recital.  It was very much the hot ticket in town and everyone was there (2).   Trifonov is a phenomenal player.  I’m afraid all the excitement about his virtuosity got a bit in the way of my really losing myself in the music.  I don’t mean by that to accuse him of any meretricious display; it was mostly me.

 

 

 

Young Russians

March 5, 2017

This was the title for my first SSO concert for this year which I went to on Saturday night.

The town was abuzz with Mardi Gras.

The “young Russians” of the title were Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, aged 18 or 19 when they wrote their first symphony and piano concerto respectively (the concerto as we now hear it has some slightly more mature-aged revision) and Prokofiev and Daniil Trifonov, aged 26 (actually Trifonov turned 26 today, Sunday) – Prokofiev for his Classical Symphony (his No 1) and Daniil Trifonov as piano soloist.

Conductor Gustavo Gimeno, a Spaniard, was the odd man out though he is still comparatively young in conductor terms.  Just because I’m not going to talk about him more in this post does not mean he didn’t do a good job. In the Shostakovich in particular there was a big job to be done.

The Shostakovich 1 was the rarity – last played by the SSO as part of a Shostakovich festival in 2002.  I missed that as I was in Perth.  I expect that means I haven’t previously heard it live.  I felt as if I’d heard the perky little march in the first movement before.  Could it have been Peter and the Wolf?  Apparently when Prokofiev admired some of Shostakovich’s work at about this time, a mutual acquaintance suggested that Prokofiev just liked it because Shostakovich had imitated his style.

The Symphony is a bit like a first novel or a kind of musical scrapbook where Shostakovich pasted in everything he had stored up to date.  It switches gear half way through to a more sustainedly tragic mode with a rather tacked-on,  it seemed to me, obligatory big finish.

At first I felt that if it wasn’t by Shostakovich we wouldn’t have been hearing it.  That’s probably because it’s easy to take for granted elements of his style which are familiar from later works.  My friend and former teacher, LW, starting from the view that he didn’t like the symphony very much, expressed himself as converted to it by this performance. I enjoyed it and am glad I heard it.  Despite some restive coughing from, I assume, the Rachmaninov crowd, it received rousing applause.

I say the Rachmaninov crowd because Trifonov was without doubt the big draw-card for this concert.  His recital on Monday at Angel Place is all-but booked out (2 seats available when I checked just now).  His approach to the Rachmaninov was a bit on the cool, objectivist, side, but it was undeniably thrilling.  It was a solace to mere mortals and probably a symptom of youth that he managed to beat the orchestra to the finishing chord by a microsecond in the first movement and a microsecond or two in the last, but this in no way detracted from the whole, and I’m definitely looking forward to Monday.

For an encore Trifonov played – what was it?  I could tell that it was an arrangement of a Gavotte from a Bach unaccompanied string suite but as for me all of those works are a bit like a dog walking on its hind legs exactly which one was a bit of a mystery.  Could it be a cello suite? We’re always hearing so much about these.  Well, no. The key should have given the game away, as it was in E and is an arrangement by Rachmaninov of the  gavotte from the Violin Partita No 3- evidently one of his party-pieces.  Jayson Gillham gave Rachmaninov’s transcription of the Preludio from the same partita as an encore last year.

RG, arts-savant and cultural tour-leader, complained about this, because now after all that Rachmaninov, the Bach would inevitably become the ear-worm – and in my case he  proved to be right. Does that mean we can have no catchy encores? I am not such a purist though I see RG’s point about this particular one.

I don’t think it was the earworm alone which kept me awake well into the morning – which I find occurs if a performance has really made an impact on me.

Happy Birthday Mr Trifonov, and see you tomorrow!