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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Thaxted Festival, from several years ago : Charles Owen demolishes Schumann, but builds with Bach

A much-delayed review of a recital given by Charles Owen at Thaxted Festival

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 July

Much delayed (through having hidden itself in a sub-folder), a review
(now impressionistically completed) of a recital given by Charles Owen at
Thaxted Festival on Saturday 30 June 2012

By which title one means that Carnaval, Op. 9, when played, coheres, but this performance had the opposite effect.

One cannot claim, of course, to be able to play the work, with its demands, but would one wish to, if it sounded as measured, as ‘balanced’ as this ? :

One had taken more pleasure from hearing the close of the work played, by chance, on Radio 3 an earlier day, and longed to play a CD of Martha Argerich to counteract this impression of performing the work, but without actually seeming to play it.

It was not that what Charles Owen did was four-square as such, but that, in each movement, every phrase or gesture balanced every other one out, feeling as if it were leaving nothing. Also, in terms of a feeling of a whole, nothing linked each movement, and it was only when we got to the Davidsbund, in that there then has to be a leading-up to something, that using restraint seemed to come off but too late.

So there were reservations about how The Goldberg Variations, following the interval, would fare : there was the promise that, led by feeling, it was likely that most of the repeats would be played, but would one stay, and be there for seventy minutes or so, regretting it ?

No, for this was a recital of two halves, and, as night atmospherically fell in Thaxted Church, and one could see less and less, and focus less and less on seeing Owen in a pool of light (there with Bach, in his score, and the page-turner), one experienced the greatness of this work, its inevitable, but always surprising, unfolding leading back, as we know that it will when we get to Variations 30 / 31, to the simplicity of the Aria.

We had been told that what to notice were the three variations in the minor, and the performance did really work around them. Unlike with Charles Owen’s Schumann, where one felt that we had heard and he had brought out of it nothing but the notes, the essence of the Bach had been present to us here, and one lingered in the darkness, satisfied, before daring to applaud as the impression of the quiet close Aria died away.

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

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