CWT

Last night to the SOH for the SSO.

Simone Young conducted. The program was:

SCHUBERT The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: Overture

SCHUBERT arr. Liszt Wanderer Fantasy

LISZT Dante Symphony

I heard the SSO play the  overture twice in 2008.  I’ve been a bit more into Schubert since then, and I got more out of it this time.  There is some quite high trumpet writing and a tricky trombone trio.  But it was still just a curtain-raiser.  I was here for the Schubert-Liszt and the Liszt.

To a pianist, “Schubert-Liszt” is an evocative compound, mostly denoting the many song transcriptions.  The arrangement of the Wanderer is on another level.

Until recently I didn’t have a very favourable opinion of the Wanderer Fantasie.  It is an exhausting work for the pianist and the big writing at the end tends to come across as harsh and bangy. It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve come round to it on the strength of a recording that finally won me over.  I would still be wary of what I might encounter if I heard it in the flesh. Perhaps I’ve heard it too often in the (Sydney) Piano Competition.

The great thing about Liszt’s arrangement is that it frees the pianist from the burden of maintaining the ground of the rhythm.  Adding an orchestra works a bit like adding a rhythm section (bass, drums) to a jazz pianist.  Whilst that then leads to some flashy Lisztian enlargement of Schubert’s figurations, I suspect this ends up being less demanding for the pianist than the original.  There is a romanticisation and a cute-ification – the opening is more remote from the Waldstein, but a bit more charm does no harm.  I enjoyed Louis Lortie’s performance.

Liszt must have a bad reputation still amongst some – probably for meretricious bombast, because there was a marked exodus from the upper rear stalls at interval. Maybe they had come for the “Vienna” theme of the concert and considered it spent. I moved up and back a bit for the second half.

Leavers were losers.  Albeit with a certain amount of hellish musical noise (up and down some altered/diminished chord in repeated figures) the Dante symphony was terrific.  This is the “new music” of the mid-nineteenth century – half way (roughly) between Berlioz and Wagner.  Simone Young was an ideal exponent.

And the orchestra played terrifically for her.  The string playing had a sheen in the violins – and grunt in the violas and celli and basses – that the SSO does not always achieve.  There were many other well-realised orchestral effects, and a beautiful ending with the upper voices of Cantillation singing from upstairs half way up the circle.

This was the day that Sydney trains were (again) in total disarray.  On the advice of the station attendant at Circular Quay I boarded the first available train, described as terminating at Central.  By Central it had turned into an all stations to Lidcombe (not-via-Bankstown) train and I stayed on it and got D to pick me up from Lewisham.

One of our little joke phrases when I return from a concert is “CWG”  – standing for Concert was good. D considers that a joke because exceptions to it are so rare.  This time, when he asked, I told him “CWT.”

That was “T” for “terrific.”

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