Follow by e-mail

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Revisiting City of Angels (1998) after The Matrix (1999) (and Drive (2011))

This is a review / exploration of City of Angels (1998)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 December

This is a review / exploration of City of Angels (1998) (re-watched on DVD)

Appearing just before The Matrix (1999), City of Angels (1998) somehow inhabits a benign version of its city of also black-costumed guardians : there, Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo enter it from their reality, based in a submarine-like craft*, beyond The Matrix itself** – and are effectively (in the sense of an immune system) infections that Agents Smith, Brown and others (the guardians of that system) seek to locate and destroy. In City of Angels, Seth, unseen with his fellows, is a guardian of the angel variety (hence Los Angeles).

However, the idea of being watched over might not yet be counter to the spirit of enjoyment that is willing to entertain the framing-story of Capra’s now-classic It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), with Clarence (Henry Travers) ‘getting his wings’ (against a divine backdrop) through the saving of George Bailey and family (James Stewart, Donna Reed (Mary Bailey) and Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy)). It’s A Wonderful Life supposedly was a failure on its release, but is part of Christmas for many***. After the opening sequence, the God perspective, which is present throughout Meg Ryan’s (Dr Rice’s) involvement with Seth (Nicolas Cage), is downplayed in, and into, some moments of comedy (or fun).

Even so, when we have George, surveying the world that there would have been without him – a befuddled, slow-to-comprehend George**** (partly under the influence of cheap booze) – the mood, of course, is dismal, stark, chilling. And, for some, seeing how George has been put upon, disappointed, and ended up making sacrifices is too much to be balanced by how the film eventually closes : cruel vignette after vignette that show the optimism and hope of youth turned to 'service' and 'duty'*****.

Which brings us back to the angels, and whether contemplating them is a help to us : Messenger (Dennis Franz) and Cassiel (Andre Braugher) are the ones whom we come to know (alongside, and in relation to, Seth). Some of us, in a God-empty universe, might revolt at the notion that, in a lapse of attention, an air-traffic controller could, by the unfelt touch of an invisible angel, be brought back down to ground (pun not intended, but still included) – from thoughts of domestic matters to a flight on his screen that he has overlooked.

For some have to rejoice instead in asserting a post-Nietzschean world – preferring that to what are viewed as the empty comforts of religion (and ignoring the force of logic in Pascal’s Wager ?). In this film, Maggie Rice is seen, seeking to be rationalistic about the world and mortality (and even talking to herself, trying to get herself to believe it), but hurting with the fact of ‘losing’ her patient (Mr Balford) on the operating-table – whom Seth was, in parallel, tasked with taking to eternal realms.

Only a little licence that Maggie should take it so personally, because cardiac surgeons may well be bound, at times, both to examine themselves for what they may have done wrong, and to feel solely responsible for battling against death. Seth says that he has been struck by how hard Maggie fights, and believes that she could see him, ready to take Mr Balford away. From there on, and with Messenger’s help, their appreciation of the realities of their positions occupies the bulk of the film, with Seth (as does Neo) needing to test his powers to find out who he is.

It is a film infused by the theology and iconography of Milton in Paradise Lost, and, if considered in the context of the Matrix trilogy as a whole, it also ends with reconciliation, telling a story of loss and love : Seth, who had not even been heeding his own needs, ends up affirming the positive that there is in life by plunging into the sea, as Messenger earlier showed him how…

The New Testament’s First Letter of Peter seems to speak of the curiosity of the angels in desiring to know what will happen to mankind, and there is the same sense of the angels Seth and Cassiel, existing on the outside of their own experience – sitting together, as buddies, high above the city (on a sign or a statue), and marvelling at the nature and order of things :

Wonder not then, what God for you saw good
If I refuse not, but convert, as you,
To proper substance; time may come when men
With Angels may participate, and find
No inconvenient Diet, nor too light Fare:
And from these corporal nutriments perhaps
Your bodies may at last turn all to Spirit
Improv'd by tract of time, and wingd ascend
Ethereal, as wee, or may at choice
Here or in Heav'nly Paradises dwell;
If ye be found obedient, and retain
Unalterably firm his love entire
Whose progenie you are. Mean while enjoy
Your fill what happiness this happie state
Can comprehend, incapable of more.

(John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book V)


* Thankfully, the Nebuchadnezzar is not a yellow craft.

** Unlike The Wachowskis’ machine-city, where the only outside (at least in the first part of the trilogy) is that of the rebels’ quasi-submarine, the final section of City of Angels takes us beyond LA (and even Drive (2011), with its similarly impressive noctilucent cityscapes, has a brief interlude of respite).

*** Though there are interesting, lesser-known alternatives such as The Bishop’s Wife (1947) (Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven), or even Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) (Judy Garland).

**** One is almost reminded of Macduff, feelingly denying the acceptance that all my pretty chickens and their dam have been lost.

***** Pot o’ Gold (1941) (later known as The Golden Hour) has Stewart as a character (Jimmy Haskel) who seems to move in the opposite direction from the battles with Potter (Lionel Barrymore) that embroil George Bailey :

Jimmy gives up the happy, but parlous, mayhem of the music shop that he runs to go to work for his music-hating uncle, Charley Haskel (a CJ decades before that of David Nobbs’ Perrin). Music then becomes the symbol around which the warm-hearted unite, and which the bigoted CJ despises (largely to comic effect, as when he is obliged to try to sing by Jimmy’s former cell-mates, and ends up – thanks to Charles Winninger’s skill – amusingly hoarse).

In a plot that makes no / few pretensions to hang together (except through music, and centred for no very obvious reason on Ma McCorkle’s orderly yet anarchic boarding-house), Pot o’ Gold still revolves entertainingly around chucking a rotten tomato, gratuitous off-screen violence, proud lovers, and just as stubborn neighbours…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Some sort of insomniac response to Benedict C. as Alan T. ...

The beginnings of a review of The Imitation Game (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 December

* Contains some spoilers *

This has the beginnings of a review of The Imitation Game (2014)

It was not the first visit to Bletchley Park (@BParkPodcast), but a friend who had not already been and who came to an excellent amateur production (at The ADC Theatre (@adctheatre)) of Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code was then taken there that same weekend : we easily agreed, seeing The Imitation Game (2014) together (@ImitationGame), that it could have given no such impetus, because it is best watched by someone knowing little about BP or Alan Turing (and unprepared to know more) :

It is fanciful in the extreme to show people trying to crack a code who not only have no notion what would / should happen, if they did so, but who are also – in consequence, and as if such decisions could would be left to them – left squabbling about what to do.

Not only that, but it is presented as if, finding out in the middle of the night on the edge of what is now Milton Keynes in the early 1940s, that someone’s mother is about to be eaten by a shark on a remote beach, one can simply summon up a passing shark-hunter (via the offices of the beneficent Steven Spielberg, no doubt)…

Some film-posters make more fanciful claims than others :

The worst thing about the film (because there were not just half-a-dozen codebreakers, and only one woman amongst them) was also a source of the best : Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) reaching out to what he found kindred in Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), and the sense of their valuing and encouraging (the best in) each other.

Though, that said, it did feel as if one had been there before, with the premiere of Dimensions : A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads, at Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) in 2011… :

Of course, the film has a number of good things about it, from Alexandre Desplat's score settling down nicely, after seeming too prominently like the tappings of Morse Code (even if he is made to over-egg the sentiment at the end ?), to evoking in miniatures the horrors and hypocrisy of Sherborne, but they feel in the significant minority.

So the friend (a former animator) had the same reservations about the doom-laden flights / convoys in impossibly tight formations - that they were designed to have an instant content for those who know nothing about The Second World War, and sought thereby to make a virtue of their alien look and qualities* :


* Almost as if machines themselves were waging war, whilst, quite clearly in the editing, we have counterpointed the quiet, calm Turing (supposedly infuriating everyone's patience by being unnecessarily fastidious), but biding his time to rob such machines of their brutal power with a different sort and class of machine...

Yawn ! (Facile sub-Matrix juxtaposition to enliven any in the audience who are uninformed about Turing (and who he was for our times) with a subliminal notion of those things, i.e. that he is Neo to Agent Smith's machine-world...)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 26 December 2014

A poem near Christmas

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


For Anne Sixsmith

When I say that singers of carols
(one carol, and a quick Figgy Pudding)
Woke me on the last Sunday of Advent –
Heaven sent,
You say that it’s my interpretation…
But it still did me good to believe it

When a beat police officer
(maybe ‘beat’ in some several senses)
Finds me on my last legs at Christmas –
In distress,
I say that it’s her interpretation…
To think me better off, locked in a cell

When, in Strasbourg or New York
(representing our global views, perhaps),
Hearers respond to what others say –
In good faith,
They view it not as interpretation…
That nation should thus speak unto nation

When, transported from Hebrew
(maybe Veni, veni Emmanuel),
We hear a special name for Christ –
At Advent,
Isaiah says what they shall call his name,
Which, being interpreted, is God with Us

© Copyright Belston Night Works 2014

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 19 December 2014

Artist Gilly Marklew's impressions of Ockham’s Razor’s show Not Until We Are Lost at The Corn Exchange, Cambridge

Artist Gilly Marklew's impressions of Ockham’s Razor’s Not Until We Are Lost

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 December

Watercolourist Gilly Marklew at the dress rehearsal for Ockham’s Razor’s (@AlexOckhams’s) show at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange, Not Until We Are Lost

Moonlight Sonata (© Copyright Gilly Marklew 2009)

It is a pleasure, which is ever present, to retire in contemplation of this watercolour, and to be wakeful with it after sleep :

The best art, whatever its apparent simplicity may be, one can live and grow with, because it has this quality to it that it never ceases to give as the eye explores, and re-explores, the felicities of construction and execution.

Partly, that is a question of the richness that keeps coming to the eye, but that richness is not simply in the work, but came from somewhere : Gilly Marklew has been known as a dear and gifted friend for more than half-a-dozen years, and, much as she might play down her intellectual side, her essential gifts of copying in image, word and sound, and her love of inventiveness and fun, are central to what makes her work special and alive – coupled, of course, with a strong sense of line, form, colour, and the dynamic power within a composition*.

It was a special pleasure, by invitation from the marketing team at The Corn Exchange, to bring Gilly along to the wonderland of expression that was last night’s dress rehearsal by aerial-theatre group Ockham’s Razor. In the event, she did not find herself with enough light to make use of her supply of sketching material, and the action anyway proved a little too swift for the medium, but she relished the clarity with which the subjects in the performance had been lit, and she took in image after image through her camera-lens, some of which have been shared in the original response to the evening.

Image by, courtesy of, and © Copyright Gilly Marklew 2014

A pose and a face such as this, that of the group’s Telma Pinto in the solo opening of the show, is classic material for Gilly Marklew : the timelessness of the expression, look and gesture

Since last night, the show has been seen again, and a short discussion with cast and crew took place, and Gilly has been making sketches after the fact, using what attracted her when she saw through her lens. On this first one, she comments :

I wanted to play up the interconnected movement and love story as I saw it, [without the climbing] poles, to emphasize the aetherial.

An original sketch, by, courtesy of and © Copyright Gilly Marklew 2014,
based on images taken at the dress rehearsal

The other sketch available so far is an ensemble piece, about which Gilly says This is a bit rougher, but there was more energetic movement in this scene, so it merited a more vigorous approach.

An original sketch, by, courtesy of and © Copyright Gilly Marklew 2014,
based on images taken at the dress rehearsal

In some key-words, after the matinee, this Tweet sought to use language to describe how this part of the performance looked and felt :

With her painterly perspective, here describing her artistic approach and process, Gilly uses these lovely phrases ‘vigorous approach’ and ‘interconnected / energetic movement’ : for us, those descriptions may be in the same relation as are our internal attempts to encompass, through our senses, the performers’ work in Ockham’s Razor, and to find ourselves touched and emboldened in our responses :

In the live show (as against with a smaller audience at the dress rehearsal), we had this sense of atmosphere from sharing what we felt about the different scena as they unfolded – all at once and in the moment : for they do unfold, not as origami figures might, but with the delicacy and precision that we might, say, associate with the construction and appeal of a Fabergé egg.

After the show, in response to questions about working with Graham Fitkin on his score (as beautifully performed by harpist Ruth Wall), Alex Harvey said a little about what had gone on, after they had met him, between Alex’s fellow directors Tina Koch, Charlotte (‘Lottie’) Mooney and Graham, seeking to communicate through the language of moods a conversation about the score, and helping it to take shape. Now that we have it, though unfortunately at this venue Ruth cannot be present to play live, the music feels integral to the piece...

The life of the work is in its performance, and its performance is inseparable from the immersive participation of us being there, reacting to sound and visuals (from, all the time, the actors, from Ruth, and from each other), and to the sheer drama of limbs and bodies that are flying and interacting through space and time – the actors knowing their parts and abilities so well that they are in, and simultaneously are, the vigour and interconnectedness of which Gilly speaks :

In her pastel interpretations of moments from Ockham’s Razor's Not Until We Are Lost, in finding her own relatedness to the energy and imagery, Gilly shares with us wonder and amazement that even the performers themselves seem to feel just about being alive in, and having such power of motion within, our physical world.

Artist, and Bauhaus lecturer, Paul Klee is famous, in art circles, for opening his Pedagogical Sketchbook** with this proposition (from which the work, and its teaching, develop) :

An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.
A walk for a walk’s sake.
[emphasis added]

In the second scena on the large apparatus (whose first reaction to seeing which Telma Pinto delightedly described to us as like a playground), when it becomes hinged as like a gate, we have yet another moment of discovery – it is as if another Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (from the Narnia novels) were playing as Lucy does with Aslan (after The Stone Table), all four enjoying a game of chicken with it :

Running, as one does on a beach, towards the roarers of the ocean, and then squealingly away again, even more quickly (if possible), at a sudden appreciation of the sea’s might. All its nimbleness and experimentation – as if for the first time – caught in the hope of Graham’s score, and in the magic depicted by Ruth’s playing.

Whether evoking metallicized percussion, the picked notes of guitar, or of plucked instruments (as of a lute or thumb-piano), the boundless sound-world of Ruth and Graham's music, just as with the variety and variation of Gilly's palette, are all emblematic of the richness in Not Until We Are Lost, that we

begin to find ourselves [...], to learn the points of compass again as often as [we] awake, whether from sleep or any abstraction

[Henry Thoreau, Walden, chapter 8, 'The village']


* As Gilly shared just on the night of the dress rehearsal, Moonlight Sonata relates to an image by Henri Cartier-Bresson that she once found and pasted into her source-book : she had seen, in his photographic image, the classicity of The Three Graces, and had – with some of her favourite sitters (not least the one placed centrally) – created her own version, looking back, beyond him, to what she thought had inspired him.

** So published in the UK by Faber & Faber Limited, London, 1953, in translation of Klee’s Bauhaus text from 1925, Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ockham's Razor at Cambridge's Corn Exchange : Not Until We Are Lost

A new show at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange by aerial theatre group Ockham's Razor

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 December (closing Tweet added, 28 December)

Glimpses of the dress rehearsal of a new show at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx), by aerial theatre group Ockham’s Razor (@AlexOckhams) : Not Until We Are Lost

Although sounding like it could quote the works of Samuel Beckettt, the title derives from Henry Thoreau’s Walden*, but no knowledge of Emerson’s or his transcendentalist thought (or of Beckettt) is necessary to an appreciation of what is to be seen and heard…

In around half-a-dozen scena, which seem to defy transparent and scaffolding materials by the forces that are exerted on them (though this is no lesson in dynamics or Newtonian principle), aerial theatre group Ockham’s Razor (@AlexOckhams) tell a series of stories – the exact meaning, though, is for us to interpret, even as it would be if we had words, rather than actions and interactions, to construe…

Afterwards, co-director Alex Harvey said that what appears before the audience is open to interpretation, and fellow directors Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch even felt that saying that there is a choir as part of the musical accompaniment is not a give-away, so here goes :

Image by, courtesy of and © Copyright Gilly Marklew 2014

Some of the scena (involving all four performers (Alex plus Hamish Tjoeng, Grania Picard and Telma Pinto) on a giant scaffolding climbing-frame, which later becomes a swing) seem euphoric, even utopian, with a triumph of collective behaviour and what modern jargon calls ‘working together’, but not all of them.

One seems to revolve, more unfortunately, around the conjoined roles of Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, another that of a young woman pestered by the attentions of two similar men, who appear to be hunting her as if in a pack and to win her confidence : it all ends with seemingly innocent fun and enjoyment, but what has she been cajoled into, and for what reason ?

Image (of Telma Pinto) by, courtesy of and © Copyright Gilly Marklew 2014

Paper rips and tears, and the performers bodies fly between or across the face of, blunt scaffolding-poles, with no room for error, no avoiding the consequence of a mistake, and, as already alluded to, the transparent material is tested, seemingly to its limits :

It is in that medium of a clear tower, which sometimes seems more than merely a box in cross-section, that we have scope both for what seems survival of the fittest pushed to its extremes, and for the greatest elation. In the latter case, maybe a release from a – maybe Narcissistically-created – invisible prison that could be what we conveniently call 'depression', and where love, and responding when another reaches out, are part of the healing.

Image (of Alex Harvey and Telma Pinto) by, courtesy of and © Copyright Gilly Marklew 2014

Never pulling its punches, in the fitness of the guitar- or harp-like melodies, dissonances, arpeggios, the physicality and riskiness of the performances, and the theatrical content of the scena, Ockham’s Razor (@AlexOckhams) give more than an entertainment :

All at once, something that, by turns, can be seen as encouraging, cynical, or appalling, but always thought provoking, and never compromising with the belief in realiz[ing] where we are and the infinite extent of our relations (Thoreau*).

A follow-up piece, featuring Gilly's sketchings from her images after the event, is linked here ...

The show runs at Cambridge's Corn Exchange from 18 to 21 December.


* Specifically, chapter 8 (‘The village’), where Thoreau starts by talking about being physically disoriented, and having to put one of several visitors on the right track in the dark, being guided rather by his feet than his eyes.

Following the observation It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time, Thoreau develops the thought ,with the effect of snow, and of night added to it, ending the section where the words occur, first in a different form, then as quoted (but he is clearly no longer to be read as writing just about the visual world and mistaking one’s way, any more than Canto I of Inferno) :

In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round — for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost — do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A review by Tweet of Renaissance’s recital for York Early Music Christmas Festival

A review by Tweet of Renaissance’s recital for York Early Music Christmas Festival

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

10 December

A review by Tweet of Renaissance’s (@RenaissanceBenR's) recital for York Early Music Christmas Festival (@yorkearlymusic) at All Saints’ Church, North Street, York, on Wednesday 10 December 2014

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 8 December 2014

I am to Mozart (and Haydn) as Schubert and Brahms are to me

This reviews Noriko Ogawa’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 November

This is a follow-up to the posting What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part III) : a mini-review of Noriko Ogawa’s (@norikogawa's) performance / interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 83, at Cambridge's Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx) on Wednesday 3 December 2014

This performance set one thinking (concentrating throughout on Noriko's rendition of the solo part (after contact on Twitter, one cannot write 'Ogawa', which would seem unnatural)) :

What if Beethoven felt about Mozart (and, maybe, about Haydn) as we know that, in turn, Schubert and Brahms felt about Beethoven himself – at least with regard to orchestral / large-scale writing – which is to say, in his shadow ?

Might not Beethoven, in his early thirties (we believe) when he composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 (in C Minor, Op. 83), have been comparing himself to Mozart - a composer who, at his death at the age of nearly thirty-six*, may not have completed his famous Requiem**, but the main theme of which Beethoven appears to allude to here... ?

The autograph title-page of Mozart K. 626, Requiem

Yes, the list itself of works without Opus Number ascribed to Beethoven after his death is lengthy, but he could well have been more than keenly aware of Mozart, both as a prolific composer and as one who, even as a teenager*, had not had trouble finding his own voice with works for orchestra in what resembles his mature style.

Particularly in the first movement, Noriko deliberately held back in handling the initial material, not so much using legato as, in the more direct passages and motifs, not making them as expressive as moments where the heart of the music clearly lies for her : there was, thus, a double-contrast between the slight abruptness to Beethoven’s diction in ‘the cooler places’, where it felt as though he might be dutifully paying his respects to the earlier performer / director / composer (since, of course, Beethoven – as long as his hearing allowed – was another such), and where he appeared to break free in language that we know to be his.

As to the question of the cadenzas, they were brought to us with such freshness as to seem spontaneous, and it mattered little whether they were a later addition, or Beethoven's seeking to notate what he may have performed in 1803. They had a natural creativity to them and were alive, when some bring them to us in ‘studied’ form, maybe note perfect, but lacking warmth.

As Noriko played it for us, the opening of the second movement, for piano alone, felt as though it was not just recognizably Beethovenesque, but also capable of founding and fostering the rest of the movement, laying a sure basis for it, almost as if Beethoven were saying :

Look, this is my calling-card ! Here, I can write in this style – and, here, I can seamlessly integrate it into the orchestral texture, for which I have prepared the ground with it.

For composers or performers acclimatize to and acquire their craft, technique, approach and skill with and through others, at conservatoires and colleges of music, who have gone before, and homage across wider generations then becomes part of what, say, Stravinsky is about, in relation to Tchaikovsky, with Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy’s Kiss) in 1928 (and when he revised the piece in 1950) – or Schoenberg, orchestrating Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 (in G Minor, Op. 25)****.

The reflective moments in the second movement, alongside those that were less inward, made the more celebratory liveliness of the Rondo - Allegro feel an innate progression, an inevitable development from it : with great music, just as with a powerful film or play, one does not even hesitate to imagine how it could have been other when it has been well conceived by those playing it, complete with, as one would expect, passing-notes and elisions executed with ease.

Noriko may not have intended to make the exact journey suggested above with her audience, for, with a chance to speak to her briefly in the interval, she suggested that Beethoven, if he were indeed trying to exorcize the spirit of Mozart, is not as chromatic as Mozart (assuming that he could be writing in homage to Mozart in order to move forward).

In this kind of way, Brahms clearly established his inner confidence with works for larger ensembles when he both wrote and had his Symphony No. 2 performed in six months, hard on the heels of the successful performance of his Symphony No. 1, which had taken much more than a decade in the writing – and whose predecessor he had transmuted into the poorly received Piano Concerto No. 1.

It does not matter, in a way, if this sort of account has truth outside the concert-hall, for the feeling from many commentators that Beethoven is being, especially in this concerto, so Mozartian must have some sort of meaning, and why should that, in this kind of fantasy, not go along with the pianist’s interpretation – even if it were never in Noriko's head to convey it ?

Many a writer has viewed him- or herself as a conduit*****, just as we have in the legend of Mozart’s compositional ease, perpetrated by history and perpetuated – as if he were God’s amanuensis, along with the Mozart / Salieri story – in such accounts as Peter Shaffer’s play (from 1979) and the huge film of the same name derived from it, Amadeus (1984).


* To the day, Mozart died 223 years ago yesterday (in 1791). It appears that Beethoven was 56 / 57 when he died.

** In D Minor (K. 626).

*** When he wrote his five glorious Concertos for Violin and Orchestra (respectively (as numbered), K. 207 (in B Flat Major), K. 211 (in D Major), K. 216 (in G Major), K. 218 (in D Major), and K. 219 (in A Major)).

**** The LA Phil’s web-site [the work was first performed by this orchestra, under Klemperer, in 1937] tells us this about why :

Schoenberg explained the rationale behind his orchestration in a letter to Alfred Frankenstein, the music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, almost a year after the premiere :

'1. I like the piece

'2. It is seldom played

'3. It is always very badly played, because the better the pianist, the louder he plays, and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything, and this I achieved.'

***** For example, novelist Russell Hoban was pleased to see himself as a channel, and to invent characters in his books as writers in his image, e.g. Hermann Orff in The Medusa Frequency, one of his finest novels (published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1987).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sergey Prokofiev hypnotizes Yevgeny Sudbin - or vice versa - at The Wigmore Hall [uncorrected proof]

A mini-review of Yevgeny Sudbin performing Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

4 November

A mini-review of Yevgeny Sudbin performing Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in B Flat Major, Op. 83 ~ The Wigmore Hall (@wigmore_hall) (heard live via Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3blog) - available for 30 days ?) on Tuesday 2 December 2014

The sonata was first performed in Moscow, on 18 January 1943 :

Allego inquieto

Andante caloroso


In those markings, several that one would not often encounter…

At the end of this recital, a so-called war sonata (Sergey Prokofiev's Piano Sonata no. 7) followed three Preludes by Sergey Rachmaninov, Op. 32 Nos 12 and 5 (in, respectively, G Sharp Minor and G Major), and Op. 23 No. 5 (in G Minor), amongst the most glorious of his smaller-scale works, and with a certain tonal grouping – all beautifully played, but at a time when concentrating on the road had to be a priority, rather than luxuriating in their compositional perfection.

When parked, however, one could not resist the prospect of this familiar work by Prokofiev – a friend had learnt it at university, and so there was much exposure to it in practice form. For, when a pianist ‘understands’ and can interpret a piece of music (even if it is being interpreted new to the listener), the manner in which the composition is being presented is likely to be persuasive, and notes that do not otherwise necessarily fit easily into the whole then have a place and purpose :

Yevgeny Sudbin’s playing of this sonata certainly was of this persuasive kind, and it was hypnotically so, as he construed the repetitions, dissonances, and inner notes, softening them so that the sonata cohered – and even ending it not at a break-neck, hell-for-leather pace, but conveying the sense of speed, yet at the same time being properly able to articulate the detail, which can get lost / subsumed in the conventional rush to be more literally ‘precipitate’.

Taking the finale thus, in the light of a central movement whose resemblances to Gaspard de la nuit (of Ravel) were sensitively brought out, meant that it was not an act of bravado – in the way, too, that Prokofiev’s Toccata, Op. 11, is often rendered – but part of the texture and structure of the sonata : not an add-on, but, through its edginess and figurations, reflecting the preoccupations of the opening and middle movements.

In the former was where Sudbin had exercised discretion and control, and not made this the stereotype of performance that Martin Handley had announced to us. Yes, detonations and explosions of a sort, but those of emotional turmoil, not the barbarisms of war – rather, the anguish of the soul, not a slashing knife in the vein (no pun intended) of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates* (as the friend, not alone, gave one).

Not for nothing does Prokofiev juxtapose gestures that could be rendered as [the] violence [of war]** alongside the tenderness that was brought out for us here, which made the different modes of being communicate together and with each other, not separate messages, but aspects of one affect. (Which, unfortunately, seemed lost on Handley, judging by the words with which he sought to summarize his experience of the sonata.)


* I.e. in Psycho (1960).

** And, of course, such gestures usually are, when this sonata is heard performed – which begs the question :

Why are the Prokofiev sonatas for piano (which are amongst the strongest and most exploratory of the smaller-scale works) rarely broadcast, whereas seemingly it is always the symphonies, in which some of us may sense that the composer’s heart did not really lie (any more than Shostakovich’s in his) ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)