More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
1. Béla Bartók (1881–1945) ~ Second movement from String Quartet No. 2
2. Elena Langer (1974-) ~ Story of an Impossible Love
3. Mozart (1756-1791) ~ Piano Concerto No. 27
1. Bartók ~ Allegro molto capriccioso from String Quartet No. 2 (1917)
The concert began with what one expects from these string-principals of Britten Sinfonia² (@BrittenSinfonia), music-making of a high and expressive order. Here, serving as an energizing prelude to what was to ensue in the works of Elena Langer (and then Mozart), it was much infused, at the outset, with very gypsy-style slurring and intonation.
Yet these mere words do not do justice to trying to describe the fresh tone-colours and nuances of this approach to Bartók, and, although he does bring that material / sound back, they were just part of the quartet’s accent-perfect playing. For – amongst other elements that constitute this compact movement’s make-up – we were also to hear :
* Some very spirited cello-lines from Caroline Dearnley
* Almost Bergian moments of pure hush
* What can only be characterized as pops and squeaks
* Initiated by Dearnley, the eerie hollowness in which the movement concludes, with its spidery or spiky notes
A very idiomatic, and natural, performance of this Bartók movement !
2. Langer ~ Story of an Impossible Love (2016)
This new commission was receiving only its second public performance (with Norwich and London to come – at, respectively, St Andrew’s Hall on Friday 29 April, and Milton Court on Sunday 1 May). Very fleetingly, Elena Langer seemed to open in the same way as an established piece of repertoire, but so much so that one could not place the reference before it had gone :
Composer Elena Langer "gives eclecticism a good name" - ALBUM REVIEW @nzherald https://t.co/J8erDO9QzA Avail: https://t.co/ITrYw7NQA9— harmonia mundi USA (@harmoniamundi) April 5, 2016
From @BrittenSinfonia, we heard Elena Langer's Story of an Impossible Love - assimilating styles of Western music ? https://t.co/xZQy6wglXX— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) April 27, 2016
In what sometimes came to resemble a Concerto Grosso in variation form, we initially experienced -alongside the prime role of the lead violin (Jacqueline Shave) - a strong element of woodwind, cutting through the strings : oboe, flute, bassoon, all very beautifully played.
Rather than attempting to find words to say everything about how the composition continued to make itself known through this performance, it seemed wiser to concentrate on considering its overall sweep in a few observations :
* Some pastiche of Stravinskyesque neoclassicism (not least in the use of the piccolo (played by flautist Ileana Ruhemann) ?)
* Hints of Debussy (and his orchestral style or tone)
* Sparingly effective use of dissonance, or of disruptive sound
One was nearing what one sensed was the end of the work when Jacqueline Shave provided a drone to mix with the woodwind players, especially with the pair of oboes, played by Melinda Maxwell and Emma Feilding, interwoven (or interlocked ?).
Then, in what appeared to be a coda, Shave’s playing was foregrounded in a way that was very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, with flute and oboe notes audible, before we died away with just her to close.
Alongside these pastoral aspects to the piece, one finds oneself returning to Story of an Impossible Love, the generic title of the work, and a possible connection to what Klaus Beekman’s monograph on Marcel Duchamp says about the work usually known as The Large Glass [the Bride stripped bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915–1923) ] : Let me remind you at this point that the Large Glass relates the story of an impossible love affair between a half-willing virgin and an anxious bachelor.
Be that as it may, Elena Langer was warmly welcomed to the stage at West Road, where she showed her appreciation to the ensemble, and to particular players, not least Jacqueline Shave.
3. Mozart (1756-1791) ~ Piano Concerto No. 27 in B Flat Major, K. 595
For various reasons, one had been a little hesitant what to expect from Benjamin Grosvenor with Mozart³, but the situations in which ‘home-grown’ artists receive acclaim do differ, as do solo piano recitals on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3) - and the interpretative choices (or those of programme⁴) that are part of them – from directing a concerto from the keyboard…
This evening's Mozart K. 595, @BrittenSinfonia directed by @grosvenorpiano, was a tight ship :— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) April 27, 2016
Touching the simplicity beyond the ornate ?
If everyone came to a concert for a replica of exactly what he or she already knew about a composer’s world, the result might please them all without really challenging them : with this Piano Concerto, even if all who came on the night specifically wanted to hear Britten Sinfonia, it would have been difficult for them not to come with the preconceptions that arise from familiarity. Before, that is, the keyboard entry in the opening (1) Allegro, and the cadence of a pattern of notes in the strings that changed them, probably having us wonder at its syncopated nature :
Except that, when Grosvenor (@grosvenorpiano) had started playing, we now heard the mimicry of that string-gesture in his part, and we heard brought out (with flute and both oboes at the core) a fanfare in the orchestral writing (which are causes for delight that playing one’s usual CD, or a radio broadcast where the score is not imaginatively re-entered, may not give…).
Similarly, as the movement widened out, the element of ‘call and response’ between Ruhemann (on flute) and Grosvenor had a closeness and impromptu feel to it (which was to pervade the whole Concerto), and, before the close, there were further lovely touches from both Sarah Burnett (bassoon) and her.
As witness his Piano Concerto No. 27, as heard with @grosvenorpiano and @BrittenSinfonia : one key sight-line was from him to its flautist.— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) April 28, 2016
In the first part of the (2) Larghetto, which Grosvenor had characterized as with a marking of grazioso, we may soon have sensed that this impression of ‘graciousness’ was not wholly a convention of the Classical era, and that, signalled in the restraint that he brought to his part (and despite very conservative orchestral flourishes), we were not far from being taken to sense the emotional centre of this composition.
It was to prove to give the lie to the oft-quoted assertion that Mozart disliked the flute (made in its context of a commission for Flute Concerti that, for all sorts of reasons, failed to interest him in his youthful days, as against what ended being his final Piano Concerto), with the attentiveness of the eye-contact between Ruhemann and Grosvenor now as patent as the artistry of their musical understanding and interaction.
Just the closing Allegro of @grosvenorpiano with @BrittenSinfonia to write as prose - living music, not a score :https://t.co/OsjSJGi8GS— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) April 30, 2016
After flurries of what, because of Mozart’s use of grace-notes, sound like impossible note-values, there was more of the mimicry between flute and piano, and then with oboe, too, in the final (3) Allegro.
In a cadenza, Mozart took the piano soloist into a minor key, and started modulating – with, perhaps, a feeling of a tease, here, as to whether the work of the Concerto might effectively be done at this point ? Instead, he led us to a tutti before bringing flute and bassoon back to the fore, and this is where the Tweeted comment Touching the simplicity beyond the ornate ? had been made in the review-notes :
As we heard another highly modulating cadenza, there was a sense that the mood or will behind the piece (although unacknowledged to itself ?) now stood ‘broken’, and that from here onwards a brave face would be put on it. In all of which, the hall was rapt, carried with Grosvenor both in it, and in and through a closing cadenza, to a firm, positive ending, greeted enthusiastically to close the first half. (Except that Grosvenor was persuaded to give a quiet encore, sadly not heard for having already exited.)
¹ An immense dislike of Richard Strauss (let alone Strauss ‘re-working’ Beethoven), conveniently coupled with the need to make a mercy dash to The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) and back, means that Metamorphosen had been but audible in part, and only via the speakers in the foyer.
² In Jacqueline Shave (first violin), Miranda Dale (second violin), Clare Finnimore (viola), and Caroline Dearnley (cello), we had the same accomplished players who opened a concert by the Sinfonia during a day devoted to the music of Louis #Andriessen (at Milton Court in The Barbican Centre). (One day, and not just at a Sinfonia At Lunch, it would be lovely to hear them give a full recital… !)
³ Somehow, also, one had failed to engage with the meaning of the title ‘Benjamin Grosvenor Directs’, possibly through not mentally switching from Shave’s having directed the new work as leader, or having even construed that both were directing, but in different compositions.
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)