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Showing posts with label Dmitri Shostakovich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dmitri Shostakovich. Show all posts

Saturday, 20 May 2017

From a town in western Russia to the north of England... (work in progress)

An accreting assortment of Tweets about Lady Macbeth (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 May

An accreting assortment of Tweets about Lady Macbeth (2016) (work in progress)

Those born in Russia (or the former USSR) – or who were not, but who study Russian literature – may be in a different relation to Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and, because considering it in, its literary and social context – if we are interested in music, we will all know that (so the story goes) Dmitri Shostakovich, looking at an edition of Pravda, found himself there condemned*, and having [to appear] ‘to change his ways’ (again, as the story goes).

One question, amongst many, that the film may pose (not necessarily a bad thing in a film that we should wish to enquire) is whether it commends to us Shostakovich’s opera / libretto, and / or Nikolai Leskov’s original novella (from 1865)…

In modern Russia, the town of Mtsensk lies in Oryol Oblast (a federal subject of Russia)

Film and other references :

* Effi Briest ~ Theodor Fontane

* Lady Chatterley (2006) [adapting** John Thomas and Lady Jane ~ D. H. Lawrence]

* Sunset Song (2015)

* The Tenant of Wildfell Hall ~ Anne Brontë

End-notes :

* Not straightaway, when the work was first performed in Leningrad and Moscow (within days) in January 1934, but around two years later.

** Not 'Based on one of the most scandalous novels of our time', as IMDb asserts (@IMDb), with regard to Lawrence...

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

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Surrealism, The Orient, and Sollertinsky*

This is a review of At Lunch 4 from Britten Sinfonia on Tuesday 10 March 2015

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

11 March

This is a review of At Lunch 4 from Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia), as performed at West Road Concert Hall (@WestRoadCH), Cambridge, on Tuesday 10 March 2015

Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67 (1944) ~ Dmitri Shostakovich (19061975)

1. Andante
2. Allegro con brio
3. Largo
4. Allegretto

The work begins with high, spidery writing for solo cello, scarcely the easiest place to have a performer be, quietly seeking these harmonic notes right at the top of the range, and probably keenly waiting for the violin part (from Thomas Gould, @ThomasGouldVLN) to come in underneath…

Yet, as throughout, this was playing of great poise from Caroline Dearnley in what, as the movement proceeded to rumination from Huw Watkins (@WatkinsHuw) on piano and ‘bounced’ notes from Gould and her, was really just the prelude to the Andante proper, which was a showcase for excellent communication, both between the three, and to us of their energy and rhythmicity in bringing us the wealth of material here.

The Allegro con brio has some gorgeous, idiomatic string-writing from the man who, although he composed his String Quartet No. 2 in 1944, the same year as this Piano Trio, was going to go on to write another thirteen, and here shows his forte. The players from Britten Sinfonia gave it to us with verve, skill, and endless enthusiasm, and, almost necessarily, with quite a different feel from the chorale-like opening from Watkins to the Largo.

This sets out, in essence, both the chord-structure and the pace behind the beautiful scoring for the string-voices, where we could hear, in the lovely tone of Gould and Dearnley (both separately and together), how the principal sense, again and again, is of falling intervals. In that pacing, there was also the awareness of a heart-beat, and, by the trio’s running the Largo on with the Allegretto, we suddenly had a faster one in the famous opening theme (from when Shostakovich revisited it**) :

The trio was immensely sensitive to adjusting its dynamic up and down to suit the ambience, and Dearnley and Gould also acted as a contrast to each other in the mood of their playing, so that the facets of the work were opened up. In this movement in particular, where so much emotion is concentrated by the composer, the ensemble was devastatingly effective, with Watkins bringing out the intensity and motivic qualities of the piano part, and leading into a passage that took him up and down the keyboard, at the same time as violin and cello tapped out the tell-tale heartbeat.

Although bringing back what some have characterized as a Dance of Death treatment of the initial Jewish theme, and also the high writing for cello and the chorale, Shostakovich actually takes this piano trio elsewhere to end, with a harp-like close. The result is a compelling composition, matched by a highly persuasive performance that the audience at West Road Concert Hall (@WestRoadCH) much appreciated.

The stage had been set, in a way, by two shorter pieces (amounting to the same overall length) by Lou Harrison (19172003) and Joey Roukens (1982), the second of which is reviewed first

Lost in a surreal trip (2015) ~ Joey Roukens (1982)

Reaching under the lid at the start of this piece, Watkins had to pluck some lower strings, but this never felt akin to John Cage’s approach to piano, but highly specified (with other strings to be played with a beater). Roukens, in writing a brief programme-note about the composition, says that :

Lost in a surreal trip evolves not unlike the experience of a ‘trip’

The feel of the opening keyboard-writing is that it is in and out of time-signatures, and never settling, which turned into a stretched-out section, where the piano played shorter note-values than everyone else. The fragmented opening then came back in a vigorous version, reaching a crescendo  with Owen Gunnell prominent on vibraphone  before the score turned to making minute interruptions to, or light accents on, the thematic material.

Next, recursive patterns gave rise to a sense of travel, of movement, and attention was then momentarily passed from vibes to the cello, and from piano to violin. Visually, and in terms of the emergent sound, Gunnell being asked to play certain cylinders of the vibes with a bow was strikingly different from what had gone before, and against which Roukens placed a quiet contribution from Gould, with Dearnley to the fore on cello.

Chimes of what can only be described as a ‘doomy’ character, accompanied pizzicato, heralded  for a very brief fraction what closely resembled Bernard Herrmann’s principal theme from North by Northwest (1959) : it was no sooner heard than gone, and melded into a persistent scraping effect from Gould, and, with the alternating presence of snare- and bass-drum, a driving pace and mood was set :

Into it, after a caesura, both loud piano chords and a tam-tam crashed, but were straightaway stilled, and we were taken down to the sound of violin, and plangent, open tones from Watkins. Within several long bowing movements, Gould bent some notes against the sound of the vibes, a section that gave way to faint cello tones, and writing for violin that was almost ghostly.

Complemented by chords from Watkins, Gunnell picked out a theme on vibes, and, as the piano stated some new material, there was a strong sense of expectation in the air but that was where the piece ended.

One was left, both by hearing it played and by a resultant appreciation of its scope, wanting to hear it again. For it offered such a richness, and one desired although the title had suggested something rather limited and druggy to go off with Roukens on an exploration of this cohering notion of the travelling in travel, and telling words ! of being 'lost in' a trip that was genuinely Surreal (since the word is much mis- and overused).

This co-commission by the Sinfonia and the Wigmore Hall (@wigmore_hall) was very ably brought to a Cambridge lunch-time recital by these players, as to sense and sound : Maybe not, in fact, the graphic dislocation of tiny figures struggling for life against the backdrop of the huge carvings of Mount Rushmore, but entering into the dream-worlds of Catalan artists Dalí or Miró, or of the Belgians Paul Delvaux and René Magritte… ?

Varied Trio for violin, piano and percussion (1987) ~ Lou Harrison (19172003)

1. Gending
2. Bowl Bells
3. Elegy
4. Rondeau in Honor of Fragonard
5. Dance

Going back to before Caroline Dearnley and her cello graced the stage at West Road, we had a trio of violin, piano, and percussion.

Reaching under the lid at the start of this piece, Watkins had to pluck some lower strings, but this never felt akin to John Cage’s approach to piano, but highly specified (with other strings played with a beater). Gending began, thus, moodily and quietly, and with piano and vibes. Yet it was really as the sub-text to elegiac writing for violin (and taps on a gong), ending, as we began, with Watkins sounding a low bass-note, which was allowed to fade.

Bowl Bells (which we later saw emptied of the water that gave them their pitch) began with a sort of ostinato, and with Watkins tapping the case of the Steinway with a beater, as Gould gave us a light pizzicato. This was a movement that revolved around repetitive patterns and rhythmic structures, but which eased off and ended quietly, with Gunnell holding his chopstick-beaters aloft.

It was in Elegy, which linked thematically to the first movement (which, with Bowl Bells, served as a frame for it), that we first had less sense of the oriental, in the writing for violin, and through Gould’s playing, both being more elegiac in a western style. The mood of the ensemble was chromatic, but not dissonant, and one could imagine the marking being espressivo. It concluded quietly, with chimes from Gunnell on vibes.

The Rondeau in Honor of Fragonard opened with ostentatious deployment of, now, a pentatonic scale in the string-writing. However, operating in sonata form, Harrison next gave us, for piano, what sounded like pastiche in the French style : a juxtaposition that, as both moods felt like stereotyped fakes, seemed neither quite a yoking, nor yet pointing up differences. In retrospect, it seemed a little as if it were a foil for the concluding Dance (just as the first two movements had been for the third) :

The restrained feel to the start was not at the expense of a very definite rhythmic quality, which accentuated the writing’s extreme oriental character. The noise of cooking-pans being struck was as of thunder, and Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, with its ‘Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes’ as its sixth movement, was strongly evoked in the writing. The piece as a whole, though, ended with a simple rising cadence (up a third, then a fifth).

Well-executed though the work was, one could not imagine that revisiting it was likely to reward in the way that would the compositions by Roukens, and certainly Shostakovich. By being, even so, an introduction to those other works, it set up points of contrast, which was hardly an unworthy role to have played.


* Shostakovich had Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky, his 'closest friend', on his mind at the time of writing his Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, as we read (in Jo Kirkbride's helpful programme-note) in a letter to Sollertinsky's widow from February 1944.

** In 1960, with his Opus 110, the celebrated String Quartet No. 8, which Shostakovich wrote in just three days (12 to 14 July) when visiting Dresden.

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)

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Responding like Shostakovich

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 August

It was decided to give Dmitri S. a hrad* time, as a delayed response, to Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (which I have not knowingly heard any more than an extract from (long frogotten**), nor do I know where M. is).

Let's say that Stalin took offence at the work. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't (though he could have done: he heard things, and he didn't always like - or condemn - them), but it was the official line.

DS took the official way of reply, saying that he was responding to just criticism, and the work disappeared, I gather, for three decades, with DS having a hard time and having to abandon his formalist ways (in public, anyway, even if he was composing his string quartets on the sly).

All this, it is clear enough, is happening on the surface - publicly and officially, the work (and DS with it) was condemned, so no point defending it, but does it tell us anything?

Yes, maybe a bit, because if you think that this posting is crap, you can add a coment to that effect. If, because it is not the Soviet might against DS, I just call you a troll***, does that mean anything in any objective terms, or is it just a label, like reactionary, liberalism or - that wonder of wonders for a fairly meaningless phrase - political correctness?

Obviously, it means that I disagree violently not with what you have said (but with you!), and want you to go away, a stage on from finding your message in my spam folder and, deciding that it is spam, deleting it. If I were hacking your page and putting anti-Islamic or -Pakistani slogans on there, maybe, and maybe a call to the police, before you get blamed for some sort of incitement, but what about trying to tell you that perhaps you are wrong?

Really a response to just criticism to lash out with You're trolling my blog!, because you can't stand the heat in the kitchen? After all, who lit the flames with his or her blog to begin with - and isn't it there for anyone to read and maybe disagree with? If a reader responds by trying to engage with the arguments and refute them, that isn't wrecking activity in my mind, but, more importantly, the response to that criticism (not accepting it as possibly just, just trolling) may be indicative of insecurity and an inability to accept the hypocrisy of the position argued for, of not practising what one preaches.

And as for political correctness, if we mean using the right words, but then actually 'queer bashing' with the best of 'em, then that's just whited sepulchres, hypocrisy, and a bogus party-line, seeking to get the minority vote...


* Sorry, not thinking about Prague - honestly!

** I shall keep that in, too, never having managed to wrap my fingers around that one before.

** I don't know who originated this faintly idiotic description, probably someone who's never read Peer Gynt, but my sister and I (at a lunch-stop by rail between Bergen and Oslo) met a troll in 1973 and were awarded a certificate, so they can't be all bad!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Here's to you, Dmitri S.!

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 July

Not even knocking it back in one, but drinking it cold from the freezer with enthusiatic company (and on top of other drink), I know that there is a state of regretting having had so much vodka.

The existence of such enthusiastic company would offer support for the notion Any excuse for a drink! being a current one, of course, which takes me back to this old old topic of anniversaries:

Is Myaskovsky - or are his works - suddenly more interesting because (as last year) it was 130 years since his birth?

Or 200 years :

* Since his death

* Since he first vomited after too much vodka

* After he
stubbed his toe on Poulenc in Montmartre (which he may have done), and so experienced an unexpected orgasm (which he may have done*)?


* But Twitter doesn't tell me.

Friday, 27 April 2012

What did the bluebells tell Jesus?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 April

Dmitri Shostakovich concurred that Pushkin was right in stating that bluebells are very WYSIWYG*, pretty Zen.

DS demonstrated as much by transliterating the utterance - as only he knew how - to give the theme of the second movement of his Strinq Guartet [sic] No. 10 (sometimes seen as a printer's error, but actually a subtle slight on Stalin).

That apart, bluebells resemble snowdrops (and Märzenbecher) in being close to the ground, largely odourless, and, although not invariant, quite subtle in their varieties**.

As to whether they blabbed about the true nature of the Messiah and that he would suffer, opinions differ:

* Some say that the manna left in the desert areas was responsible

* Others blame Zionist / Marxist mechanisms of Tidal Flux

* It is, in any case, clear that Mendelssohn only accidentally gave the true name of God in one of the modulations of The Hebrides Overture, and paid a levy to the authorities governing Staffa for his mistake (but it was disguised, in the books, as late settlement of unpaid bills left by Boswell and Johnson)

* Botanists, who get shut out of many such a debate, say that bluebells were not in season at the relevant time - but what do they know about the conditions that prevailed two millennia ago?

* Sceptics suggest that, if the bluebells had been in a position to speak, they would not have been audible for the noise of the thyme and lemongrass

From which we can conclude that maybe the teaching of the bluebells, perhaps not as showy, resembled that of the lilies of the field, in being more like a PowerPoint® presentation in technicolor than a dry, formal lecture, given in a crumbling, drafty hall...


* Which, actually, stands for What You Saved Is With Yuri Gagarian, the official motto of Moscow State Bank (we could not publish the unofficial one, for tax reasons).

** They are not well known in Galilee, it has to be said, but maybe the success that has built on their debut album might lead to a World Tour that takes in the region...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

What is this fascination with the music of Adès? (1)

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

1 March

Well, I have now witnessed the much-vaunted Thomas Adès (I was sceptical, but The Tempest - almost like The Artist (2011) - seemed to have everyone enthralled, i.e. in slavery), and he does not, at any rate, look like a man who is comfortable with himself: it could be fanciful, but he struck me, in dress and demeanour, as more like a harassed postmaster (or, maybe, an astonished station-master) than the director of an evening's programme of music.

In fact, he did not direct at all: he conducted, arms jutting out to give cues and the like, and he even conducted a very small chamber group, of no more than half-a-dozen players, almost as if, with a string quartet performing one of his works, he would do the same.

As to his music, it may not be pastiche as such, but these were my brief impressions of his concerto Concentric Paths (which, I also believe, was meant to sound more clever than it was - some people want to claim about Chopin that his solo piano works sound very difficult, but are not really that hard to play):

If I had not known that I was listening to the first movement of this concerto for violin, I would have sworn that this was a piece of Ligeti, and that made me feel that Adès does not have his own voice.

(Sally Beamish has just been on Composer of the Week, and, Undertow, a piece by Tansy Davies was played to-night on Radio 3, and neither of those composers sounded so like anyone else.)

In the second movement, it appeared to be a variety of composers' influences (two British) that I was hearing: in writing this, I did forget, for a moment, who all three were, but it was Shostakovich, Maxwell Davies, and Nyman.

In the case of Nyman alone, he continued into the finale: unlike with what sounded like a piece of Ligeti, the music just seemed immensely in the shadow of Nymanesque concerns and approaches (and maybe, as Adès looked, not happy with them).

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Britten and the concentration camps

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 February

[For which, of course, read extermination camps - or death camps.]

But can we really hear, in the writing of his String Quartet No. 2, that Britten had made a visit to these camps? Surely, if we could, we wouldn't need to be told the fact, because the music itself would tell us!

The essence of my point is the old, old one: does the detail of a biography (even an autobiography) inform how we listen to a composer's work*? If so, are we then not unbelievably alienated, according to that belief, from Bach's highly alive compositions, because we do not really know very much about his life?

After hearing a quartet, five or so years back, announce Shostakovich's inescapable String Quartet No. 8 in a different way from what predominates, I have been freed from crediting that old chestnut about the bombing of Dresden, even if the composer was, indeed, in Dresden to write music for a film about that very subject (Five Days, Five Nights), and wrote it there in the three days from 12 to 14 July 1960.

Rightly or wrongly, I feel that I can now hear that quartet without these supposed guides to an interpretative view of what is - purely - music: it is not, I believe, programme (or programmatic) music.

And we also ought not only to get a good chance for an airing of more than a dozen other string quartets except to mark the 52nd anniversary of his stubbing his toe in Dresden (a bit like Poulenc: 50 years since Poulenc stubbed his toe in Montmartre).


* Orrin Howard seems to inform us, regarding Britten, that 'In spite of his being a Britisher through and through, he didn't go the folk route of Vaughan Williams'. Well, yes...