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Showing posts with label Franz Schubert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Franz Schubert. Show all posts

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The connections between Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Scriabin with Joanna MacGregor

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



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

Friday, 16 June 2017

In gross, does music resemble Schumann's Davidbündlertänze ?

A first response to Pierre-Laurent Aimard's Aldeburgh Festival recital

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

16 June

A performance-night response to Pierre-Laurent Aimard's intricate and exact steps around the theme of dance, and how movements work together, at Snape Maltings during Aldeburgh Festival on Friday 16 June 2017 at 7.30 p.m.

Lest we need repeat other comments about PLA's programming and playing, here is the #UCFF review from Aldeburgh Festival in 2014

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

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The best of duo partners (Part I) : The music is almost an excuse to hear them play

Part I of a review of Maxim Vengerov in Recital, with pianist Roustem Saïtkoulov

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

21 February

This is the delayed¹ Part I of a review of Maxim Vengerov in Recital [Part II is reviewed here], which he gave with pianist Roustem Saïtkoulov at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, on Saturday 20 February at 7.30 p.m.

The first part of the recital that Maxim Vengerov gave at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHallSW) with pianist Roustem Saïtkoulov comprised two sonatas for violin and piano. [Part II is reviewed here.]

They were written in the first two decades of the nineteenth century and within fifteen years of each other (although Schubert was more than a decade, and his work was not to be published until 1851, which, if it is the publication-date that we notice, might make us fail to realize that he lived his live almost entirely within Beethoven's life-time).

Programme (Part I) :

1. Franz Schubert (1797-1828) ~ Sonata for Violin and Piano (‘Grand Duo’)

2. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) ~ Sonata No. 7

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) ~ Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major (‘Grand Duo’), Op. Posth. 162 (1817), D. 574

1. Allegro moderato
2. Scherzo : Presto
3. Andantino
4. Allegro vivace

In the Sonata’s opening Allegro moderato, the tone of Roustem Saïtkoulov’s playing was open, as if of song accompaniment. The writing for violin, meanwhile, was developing into complexity, with expressive cadences, and with Maxim Vengerov using a great variability of string-tone between, say, feeling free or sweet, exuberant or jolly. With the repeat, ease was the overriding sense, leading into a hint of nostalgia, and then new (agitated) material, with loud piano gestures. Momentarily, the duo chose to hesitate over the recurrence of the original theme, and then brought the movement to lively and uncomplicated close.

A horn-like motif, as if acting as a fanfare, opened the Scherzo (and was to make further appearances, following boisterous gestures the next two times). Schubert next variously gave us (punctuated by use of the fanfare) a passage built around repeated and syncopated notes, and a sinuously flexible line for Vengerov, whilst the piano had a sort of trotting pattern : that sound had already reminded of another composer, and, when the horn-call had come back triumphantly, the piece then duly transformed, in its ending, into a piece of Beethovenian theatre.

The third movement had a song-like opening from Vengerov. That theme was ultimately to be passed to Saïtkoulov, but a feature of this Andantino was trills on piano, violin adornments, and modulations. Those modulations, when the theme was on piano, led to harmonic uncertainty, and then it was passed back for a mood of mellifluousness that alternated with one of earnestness. More modulations, and trills, first on piano, came before the movement concluded, but with a slight feeling of irresolution.

Having once read Jo Kirkbride’s programme-notes, one necessarily listened with awareness that it was youthful Schubert. The Allegro vivace opened with what seemed to be a variation of the start of the work, with a ‘jogging’ passage connected to it (a little like the earlier ‘trotting’ figure ?). Just before a theme was passed to the violin, one was aware that the piano part was reminiscent of Schubert’s later style in keyboard sonatas.

Generally, this movement seemed more mature than the others, with a feeling of equal partners, and it had energy and dramatic tension, from performers and composer : Schubert’s piano-writing is sympathetic, and both Saïtkoulov and Vengerov brought a lightness of touch to this finale, but coupled with expressiveness. Schubert ends the piece with enthusiasm, but it is unannounced, in the usual ways, in the writing, and so catches us somewhat short.

As with the Sonata that we were about to hear, this was playing engaged on a passionate purpose, with sympathy and communication between the players, and much appreciated by those who had been listening at Saffron Hall.

Beethoven ~ Sonata No. 7 in C Minor (1802), Op. 30, No. 2 :

1. Allegro con brio
2. Adagio cantabile
3. Scherzo : Allegro
4. Finale : Allegro ; Presto

Beethoven gives us, in the opening Allegro con brio, a pair of note-clusters that, with their contrasting note-values, balance a third, longer one, and Vengerov and Saïtkoulov clearly relished this rhythmic material. The composer’s assurance in writing and handling it was matched by theirs in bringing it to us, and, in co-curating the performance with him, and so a march-like passage felt rendered quite anew when it returns.

To some extent, elements of music inevitably, if well imprinted on the first occasion, will feel fresh when the composition has it repeated, by virtue of the differing context. Yet this was all part of the performers’ nuance and intonation, to have us take in themes in passing : at another point, we would be able to notice that Vengerov used under-statement before the material reappeared – both men were clearly feeling alive to the sensitivities and revelations in the Sonata. So, musically, the group of three vigorous down-strokes on violin need to fit where we hear them, and, if they do (as they did when Vengerov played them), they do not resemble gratuitous loudness (or even aggression ?), but make musical sense.

When that martial utterance comes back one final time, before a gloriously confident end to the movement, does it now seem to pre-figure what we hear in the so-called 'Eroica' Symphony ? (The Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major (1804), Op. 55, was completed within a year of its publication*.)

When Roustem Saïtkoulov opened the next movement (marked Adagio cantabile), Maxim Vengerov was observing him keenly, during the introduction for solo piano : one had the sense that he wanted to absorb, with all available senses (not just that of sound), how this was being played, and, when he made his entry, it was with a most beautiful tone on violin, and phrased for the light piano chords.

There was the intonation and feeling of close duo partners, with Saïtkoulov performing figures, below Vengerov’s playing, and of an overall effect that, as the writing is, was balanced, with grace amidst a sense of solemnity. Just as with those three lively down-strokes from Vengerov in the Allegro con brio (please see above, in the penultimate paragraph), so Beethoven puts two massive rumbles into the piano-writing (in the form of pairs of very abrupt scales) : maybe curious in itself at first, but, with delicate violin following and adding to it, there was a devotional feel to how we heard violin with piano.

By now, although we still had two movements to be heard, they are (in a typical performance) shorter in length, put together, than the preceding Adagio cantabile. Yet music is not, of course, to be ‘sold by the pound (or kilo)’, and so, just as the emotional centre of a work may be found in a relatively short Adagio (because of what has come before it, and prepared for it), so the effect that these last movements can have will be built and be sustained by our experience of the earlier part of the Sonata.

The Scherzo movement opens with what, to Western ears could be an erratically accented dance-line (maybe in homage to the its fellows and its Tsarist dedicatee² ?), from which players and Beethoven extract thematic material. At times, with Saïtkoulov following Vengerov, it sounded imperial in nature; at others, perhaps more like a hymn of thanks – radiant and glorious.

Of course, it is not actually that the Scherzo is any more brief than is typical with any other movement so marked, but that the Finale is no longer. However, with rhythmically inventive writing and playing, and more use of syncopated off-beats, almost everything (please see below) about the tone and structure of the movement is predicated on its doing as we expect :

Beethoven makes a fugal use of a form of the theme, and we could see and sense the satisfaction of both men, in this music and in the performance, as they built from this point. Despite indications to the contrary, in a moment of almost stasis near the end, with violin and piano moving strophically, a Presto coda, signalled by Vengerov, was to bring the Sonata to a close, and to very much applause and sincere appreciation from Maxim Vengerov and Roustem Saïtkoulov on stage at Saffron Hall.

The link here is to the review of Part II of the concert


¹ By way of explanation for this Part (Part I) of the review not appearing when intended :

² The publication of this set of three Sonatas, Beethoven's Opus 30 (dedicated to Tsar Alexander I of Russia), had been in May 1803 (they had been written between 1801 and 1802).

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

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 (in E Minor) - given The Proms 'treatment'

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

26 July

This was played last night, in the Prom's first half, for the first time there.

I have no idea why. (Or why applause was needed after every movement*.)

I am now less resentful of what Mahler did to orchestrate Schubert's String Quartet No. 14, Death and The Maiden, because it still sounded like Schubert:

This orchestration, the work of George Szell, had little identifiable connection with the original, and used brass, amongst its textures. Perhaps the composer's intentions in writing a quartet, which we were repeatedly told contained a motif at the end that represented his blindness (or was it, after all, deafness?), were as dispensable as good employee relations in Ohio.
If you had asked me what I was listening to (without the benefit of whoever's wisdom it was beforehand, or to schedule), I would have had no idea, although I like this string quartet. All grist to the orchestral mill, I s'pose.

* Unless it was shocked, grieving applause in embarrassment by those who knew the original.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What satisfaction does a good - or better - novel give?

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

11 March

Of course, start by defining your terms - is On Chesil Beach (which Philip French probably thinks is a palaeontology manual) a novel or a novella? Maybe, just maybe, it depends - in part - on what the author calls it.

That said, I have a lovely red pepper sitting in my kitchen (well, it's on top of a mug), but, if I called it a novel, I doubt that anyone would approach it as one, but rather with a knife and / or some cheese, mushrooms and breadcrumbs.

So, peppers and McEwan (or even McEwan's lager) apart, you are reading this book, and a bit as if it's a lover keep wanting to spend time with it, and its takes you not quite where you wanted, but where you were content to be taken (because of the dialogue, the descriptions, the ideas, the characters...), right to the final word.

Is that better than when, as with Das Schloss (The Castle), that novel of Kafka's allegedly snatched from the fire to which he had mentally consigned it, there is no ending, as he did not finish it (although I think that it is Max Brod, the man who refused to destroy it and other works, who reports that Kafka had something in mind, and says what it is)?

Probably a pig to read it to that point - in whichever of numerous editions / translations comes one's way - not knowing, but would one, say, with Gogol's Dead Souls curse God and Man on finishing what we have and learning that there is no more, because - if we believe the story - the wrong MS, that of the reworked later part, was thrown into the fire?

Do things have to be wrapped up by the author, if he or she can, so that we can put the book down with a sigh of satisfaction, or can we declare, as I do with The Medusa Frequency and Angelica's Grotto, that the books are still great, even if it is clear enough - as debated elsewhere - that the books terminate with what, in musical terms, is a final cadence, but one that, for its formally ending, nonetheless smacks of an ending to be done with it as none other promoted itself in the mind of Russell Hoban.

And then, with that idea of an end to a symphonty* or like, we steer dangerously close - and so pull back, pretending that we touched the leg by mistake - to the labours left unfinished of Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler and the like (not to mention Fartov and Belcher).


* I'm keeping that in, and I shall write to Peter Maxwell Davies, urging him to abandon the symphonic form (he's written at least four, after all), and compose a Symphonty instead!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Who gets diagnosed - and where are the psychiatrists when this is happening?

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

29 February

It's not just on Composer of the Week, a Radio 3 programme whose content and production I very much esteem, that, centuries after the event, musicians get diagnosed with bi-polar disorder or the like*. It's just that I struggle to think of somewhere else - or somewhere else recently - that I have heard this done.

Let's not take Robert Schumann (and I very much appreciated what Steeven Isserlis wrote in a recent magazine article, seeking to focus attention on the music), but think about Johannes Brahms: we factually know that the Intermezzi are late works, so, when Peter Donohue introduced playing four of them to-night, he had to correct himself when he said that Brahms was writing them in the face of the end of his life, when he was actually doing so, as he then said, when he had retired.

But isn't this all a bit tiresome, reading autumn notes into these works that are not there (I couldn't hear them, at any rate)? If the pieces are any good, they should be played on their own merits, not listened to with an 'Ah, now this is late Brahms' posture, when, as I have said before, we know J. S. Bach's life but sketchily, and also the exact time of composition of some works, so we are freed from these stupid and pointless games.

And I shall scream if I hear any more of this end-of-life nonsense about Scubert's final compositions!

No psychiatric diagnosis with Brahms or Schubert, agreed, but it is not letting the music be free. And, in another sphere, what about William Blake? Blake is always talked about as a visionary, but what that means is that, for all the gubbins written by way of commentary on opaque works such as Milton, no one knows what the hell they are about. Blake writes, engraves, illustrates poetry that may reach few other than himself, but, despite his claims to converse with angels, I have never - to my knowledge - heard him given a posthumous psychiatric diagnosis.

Nor, also, Sir Thomas Browne. No, it's only ever - in the literary world - people who, if they were not ever incarcerated for their mental ill-health, were certainly otherwise known to have been treated for it: John Clare and Virginia Woolf.

And, if I ever hear anyone else described as 'a depressive', I shall bellow!


* Where are the case-notes, and who studied them?