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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Early Bartók

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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20 June

A report from The Aldeburgh Festival:

The piano quintet by Bartók, apparently written 1903 to 1904 (and revised in 1920), is not even like the early string quartets in sounding like Bartók - except perhaps in the wicked dissonances of the second movement and, as it developed, its rhythmicity.

This piece, in four movements (the third and fourth linked), sounded initially as though the main influence had been Brahms, though it did not sound like Brahms, but another composer, aware of his piano quintet. As it progressed, though there were even vague hints of Chopin’s writing for orchestra and piano, and stronger ones of Dvorak (particularly the Dumky piano trio) and Tchaikovsky (Piano Trio No. 1), but the main person, perhaps, without whom this could not have been written was Liszt.

Obviously, in common with Dvorak, a composer who acknowledged folk music in his work, but, for me, the signs of Liszt at play were in the phrasing, the attack when the piano planted chords of its own as complement to that of the strings, and the sheer exuberance of cutting loose.

It would not have been, in true Lisztian style, for the piano to support the string texture so much, and supply it with patterns, motifs and melodies that the strings did not exactly took over, but maybe worked through with the piano, but I nonetheless see his thought-world in the making of this piece. Especially in one moment, I think in the third movement, where the piano doodles with some trills and a few related notes, and from this, as if magically (yet contrarily organically), a melody emerged.

Maybe there aren’t many recordings of this (I’d be surprised if there were), and maybe the magic of to-night’s playing by Tamara Stefanovich and The Keller Quartet wouldn’t be matched, but I shall be looking into this piece a little further – and not just to see if anyone else agrees with me about what was in Bartók’s mind and soul at the time!


Afterwards came a performance of the composer's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, admirably performed when Stefanovich was joined by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and by Daniel Ciampolini and Sawm Walton. It was a long time, too long to name, since I had heard this piece, and the first time to hear it live.

Infected though I was by what Richard Sennett had written in the programme about his lecture the following day to the effect that members of the audience, not just the performers, can be anxious that something will go wrong, I managed to put from my mind the notion that Ciampolini might come in at the wrong place or miss it altogether by concentrating on the pianists, and I had one the musical experiences of a lifetime, even confusing, though I was, the Piano Concerto No. 1 and even the Musi for Percussion, Strings and Celeste as to what came next.

The smile on my face said it all, and the rest of the audience were just as enthusiastic with their applause.


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