Too much talking

On Saturday to hear/see the Australia Ensemble at UNSW for a program entitled “The Sound of Pictures.”  It featured Andrew Ford as presenter and a focus on film, film music and concert music by composers who also wrote film music.

When this year’s season was announced last year I mentioned my misgivings about this program.  P, my usual companion to these concerts, had her own and stayed away.  D came instead.

The program was:

Shostakovich- Prelude from Piano Quintet

Andrew Ford, Scherzo perpetuo (String quartet; played with short film, Le Sculpteur express, 1907)

Arthur Benjamin, Jamaican Rhumba (transcribed for clarinet and piano)

Film extract, Hitchcock, The Man who Knew Too Much (1956) scene featuring mock cantata by Arthur Benjamin performed in Albert Hall and conducted by Bernard Hermann

Benjamin, arr Ian Munro [for the “standard” AE ensemble – piano quintet + cl, fl] – Suite from Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and Return of SP (1937)

Shower scene, Psycho (music Bernard Hermann)

Hermann, arr Birchall (2010) Psycho suite (String quartet)

[INTERVAL]

Felicity Wilcox, Vivre sa vie – Composer’s Cut (with extracts from Godard’s film) [cl, fl, piano and Claire Edwards on percussion]

Excerpt, Zefirelli, Romeo and Juliet (score Nina Rota)

Nina Rota, Trio for flute violin and piano

Excerpt, Hamlet (Russian version, 1964; score Shostakovich)

Shostakovich – Scherzo from Piano Quintet

It’s a packed program, but the list is incomplete, because at the start and then between every item we got some thoughts about the music, about film and about film music from Andrew Ford.  He’s a more than competent presenter, but that’s simply too much talking.  If I want that sort of thing, I will read his book or listen to his radio program.

The moment which summed this up for me came at the end of the excerpt from Hamlet – the arrival of the players followed by ‘To be or not to be.’  An atmosphere was set, including (if a little indistinctly in terms of sound quality) by Shostakovich’s score; the piano quintet was waiting expectantly below the screen ready to play the Scherzo.  Couldn’t they have just played it?  No, something more need to be said as Andrew signed off for the night.  That might be right for radio but it wasn’t right for a concert.  Not for me, anyway.

The two most interesting pieces in the program were Ford’s and Felicity Wilcox’s.  Even then I it’s a conflicting experience.  What should I watch?  The musicians or the screen?  What does the live performance add?  I’m prepared to think about that a bit more and Wilcox in particular took this issue by the horns with her “Composer’s Cut.”  Dispiriting to think that rights for the film were obtained on the basis that there would probably be only one performance.

Apart from the bits of Shostakovich (which suffered on account of their isolation), otherwise the Hermann fared best.  Benjamin’s Pimpernel suite never really rose above 1930s historical pastiche – and why should it have? Nino Rota is a fluent composer.  Are we surprised?

 

 

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