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Showing posts with label Livre pour quatuor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Livre pour quatuor. Show all posts

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Yorick and Ludwig’s Thanksgiving* at Robinson

This is an account of Tanya Bannister's recital for Cambridge Summer Music Festival

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

7 August

This is an account of a recital given by pianist Tanya Bannister, as part of Cambridge Summer Music Festival, in the chapel of Robinson College on Wednesday 29 July at 8.00 p.m.

There were two UK premieres in the hour-long programme for Cambridge Summer Music Festival (@cambridgemusic) :

Handel (16851759) ~ Suite No. 2 in F Major, HWV 427

Harold Meltzer (1966) ~ Iconography

Sidney Corbett (1960) ~ Yorick’s Skull

Beethoven (17701827) ~ Piano Sonata No. 31 in A Flat Major, Op. 110

Tanya Bannister (@TanyaBannister) had mounted the scores of both premieres on large pieces of cardboard not elegant, but eminently practical (as she told us) to avoid relying on a page-turner being able to follow them (and so daunting him or her) :

One was reminded, not a little, of Pierre-Laurent Aimard's sensational recital at Aldeburgh Festival (@aldeburghmusic) in 2014, passing folded-out score after score of Études by Debussy, Chopin, Bartók, Scriabin, and, most of all, Ligeti from in front of him all in his determined order of playing to the music student next to him.

(Or, during this year’s Aldeburgh Festival, of the fragments that indeed confronted Florent Boffard (except that, a few double-takes apart, he seemed to be confidently in control of them) on the music-stand for Boulez’ Piano Sonata No. 3 during the Boulez Exploration, hosted highly informatively by Julian Anderson (with knowledge about, and recordings of, all things Boulez)**.)

The second work, not just through being longer, made a stronger impression : it felt as though Sidney Corbett might have been studied with Messiaen (or just have studied his work ?), because one heard some of the latter’s typical, mature chordal structure (and even sounds that occur in some of Messiaen’s more inaccessible works for piano). However, Corbett also made much use of repeats, both repeated passages, and chords that were played several times, and those repeated chords were handled very well by Bannister, making them meaningful, and not in any way merely dutiful :

Her playing, and the chapel’s acoustic, suited Yorick’s Skull perfectly, and, fearless of the density and challenge of the work (as was Bannister), it was well received by the Cambridge audience. Despite the programme-notes for (Meltzer’s and) Corbett's works, one might not have been able to hear much of Beethoven’s Opus 110 in the composition, but it was certainly a fitting preparation for its spirit and sensitivities, and one would welcome the opportunity to hear it again.

If one had felt that Bannister was not in touch with Handel***, one had no hesitation in realizing that this was not only untrue of Beethoven (or of these contemporary composers with whom she had collaborated), but that this was actually one of the so-called late Beethoven sonatas with which one was not very familiar. (Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111, and the one known as Hammerklavier (Piano Sonata No. 29, Op. 106) do tend to steal the limelight ?)

One listened for the material from / via Corbett and Meltzer a little, but most one listened to Bannister playing music that must have presented some puzzle to contemporaries (as one had remarked, the week before, with Melvyn Tan’s playing of the immediately preceding work with Opus numbering, Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major (Op. 109) (as part of a concert in the Festival with The Škampa Quartet)) :

The playing convinced one of a connection with Beethoven, and what he was about here with this sometimes fragmented (and often thought-provoking) music, although much of the detail has been lost to – what legal circles call – effluxion of time. Suffice to say, though, and before going on to what else marked it out, that the performance deserved better than the reluctantly middling approval of the woman (referred to by the opening Tweet) who had facetiously dismissed the new works with a laconic phrase each : one has to be strong to restrain homicidal thoughts that anyone could be so grudging of pianist and composer’s work.

The very open sounds of the ruminative first movement feel, in harmonic terms, as if they are buzzing to modulate and develop, and Bannister gave direction to that emanation : through such things as being assured both in executing runs and in establishing the role that Beethoven had given them there, throughout she showed a very definite sense of the work as a whole. Even into the brief second movement, Beethoven is keeping much material in reserve, rather than ‘opening it out’ : it may begin with a definite impression of itself, but it is one that proves far less certain, even tentative (in ways that slow movements in sonatas from ‘the middle period’, although likewise in the minor key, are not).

With the closing Adagio ma non troppo, just as we could hear Bannister bringing out some of the inner parts in the writing, which meant that we did not just follow the upper line(s), so the programme-notes also usefully drew our attention to elements of the construction of the fugal sections (not just by describing it as an elaborate slow-movement-plus-fugue sandwich, but by expanding on that summary, and analysing the use of thematic material).

Perhaps, unlike the sonata (from 1820) that Tan had played days before, which found comparative freedom in the variations with which it closed, this one (whose autograph score is dated 25 December 1821) elaborates a mixture of complexity and finding resolution by employing the form of the fugue. (Just as Beethoven was to do in 1825, with its original placing within the String Quartet in B Flat Major (Op. 130) of what separately became the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133.) In Bannister’s rendition, not only was the performance of extremely high technical quality, but, in its musical arc, we were able to trust her to guide us, and the emotional depths of the work were therefore always readily apparent.


* The notes about the pieces, in the Festival programme, had reminded one of ‘the historical nexus’ against which Beethoven wrote latter works of this kind (i.e. his life please see below), and [der] Heiliger Dankgesang of the third movement of his String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132. [In full, Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart (not to be mistaken, by non-Germanists, for the earlier Heiligenstadt Testament please see below).]

One reads on the web-page for the quartet on Wikipedia® :

Beethoven wrote this piece after recovering from a serious illness which he had feared was fatal because he had been afflicted with intestinal disorder during the entire winter of 18245. He thus headed the movement with the words, "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" (Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode).

** One thing, amongst many, that we learnt about the Piano Sonata from Anderson was that contemporaries of Boulez had condemned him for using something as eighteenth century as the trill (just as Boulez had sought to correct Xenakis and Cage without referring to them by name, in an essay, before producing this work by showing how a piece could be written whose structure would vary between performances, but without resorting to chance). However, it is a sound that one associates with his writing for piano, without it ever seeming like a relic of the baroque or classical past, and a device that Corbett was happy to use.

(In the morning session of Boulez Exploration, also in The Britten Studio at The Maltings at Snape, Anderson had been with Quatuor Diotima, for a presentation about, and performance of, Livre pour quatuor.)

*** In all honesty, before Tanya Bannister explained her programme (and how Beethoven had looked to Handel, more than to Bach, for his fugues), one could already tell that she does not normally play Handel.

NB The paragraphs that follow are principally for those who wish to know more in a critical vein Movements that resembled what Scarlatti sonatas sound like, when over-romanticized by a modern style of playing, had alternated with Glenn Gould’s fast Bach take on, say, movements of The Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) [or French Suites (BWV 812817)], i.e. Handel had marked it Allegro, but it was being played more like Vivace, if not Presto :

Somehow, though, Gould has an air about him that carries it off (or, depending on one’s point of view, he ‘appears to get away with it’), but there is, of course, a debate to be had about what ground there is for expecting Mozart, say, to be performed in more or less the same way that we perceive to be Mozartian - with or without modern performance practice / instruments.

Yet, at Aldeburgh in 2014, Ian Bostridge gave us A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times, effectively so. However, on the other hand, one had to say of Sollazzo Ensemble, the winners of the Young Artists’ Competition at York Early Music Festival in 2015 : If one were told that this was not meant to be a Balkanized take on works by fourteenth-century composers, or that they had set texts in Italian, one could not credit it.

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

Monday, 22 June 2015

Boulez at 90 : Aldeburgh Festival at its niche best

This is an account of Boulez Exploration at Aldeburgh Festival’s Boulez at 90

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

22 June

This is an account of the Boulez Exploration day, on Thursday 18 June at 3.00 p.m. (and 11.30 a.m.), at Aldeburgh Festival’s celebrations of Boulez at 90

On the face of it, Boulez Exploration sounds like a strange activity, but, with a strong communicator and respectful guide in the composer Julian Anderson (and the apt collaboration of Florent Boffard to give and bring out examples from the score (in the morning, it had been Quatuor Diotima : see below)), it was a chance to realize, during Aldeburgh Festival (@aldeburghmusic), just how much there was to explore in the realm of the compositions of Pierre Boulez.

Regarding Piano Sonata No. 3, one might have thought that one had heard a recording, but it became clear that the notion of incompleteness in itself meant that we did not have all the material, and Boffard even had a piece, in manuscript and courtesy of Boulez himself, that might not have been played in public before : at the end of Anderson’s exposition of the work to be heard, and before Boffard gave his performance, one questioner, envisaging that Boulez might not live forever, seemed quite perturbed that we might be left with no definitive version of the sonata...

Meanwhile, we had heard how Boulez had debated, and corresponded with, Stockhausen and Cage about the use of aleatory techniques (which Cage, we learnt, preferred to call ‘chance’), and had, after blasting them both (but without naming them) in an article in 1957 called Alea, had maybe shown them how it should be done in this piece. He had started with criticism, of other things, of Stockhausen’s Klavierstück XI, and its apparent scope for random performance of its elements : for Anderson and Boffard were agreed that the scope for playing such works from sight, and with decisions made on the spot, is limited, because one actually ends up needs to prepare one’s approach to the piece in advance (defeating what Stockhausen seemed to have aimed at, with elements that could be played in any order ?).

By contrast, and objecting to anything so arbitrary (if it were possible to play it that way), Boulez had provided choices, and, between them, Boffard and Anderson talked us through the instructions that he had given to the performer, and which were at their simplest in those for the middle movement (Formant 2), called Trope (a word, we heard, denoting a section inserted into a plainsong text) : start with any one of its four sections and play all four, from that point until one got back to where one began. (The titles of those sections (Texte, Parenthèse, Glose, Commentaire) are all evocative of the layers of interpretation of mediaeval religious texts (of all kinds).)

Before, Constellation-Miroir (Formant 3) was an assemblage from sections that were, essentially, individual notes (Points 1 to 3) and groups of notes (Blocs I and II), and, afterwards, Formant 1 (extracts from Antiphonie) had simple-form and elaborated versions of each verset and RÉPONS (the lower- and upper-case descriptions, respectively, denoting them - only one version was to be chosen to be played) : Boffard gave us the simple and elaborated versions, but none of this really served as a guide to listening in the performance (as the effect was too overwhelming to want to keep track of whether one was hearing VERSET II, or already onto verset 3), but an understanding of Boulez’ care as composer, and of his integrity in doing what he believes in.

Pictured a few nights later, Florent Boffard is the last figure on the right

What one saw was how Boulez had given freedom to prepare a version of the sonata for performance (arguing against what he saw as the extreme liberty of his contemporaries in letting their work become too random), and could then listen to Boffard’s pianism and precise articulation against that theoretical and musical background.

A superb event – but what else would one expect of Boulez at 90 at Aldeburgh Festival ?

In the morning, and in a different approach (not least as one ticket-price admitted one to both sessions), Julian Anderson had played us, as DJ, extracts from a constellation of other works by Boulez that surrounded his Livre pour quatuor, and we had heard from members of the quartet how they had gained his trust (by suggesting a pairing to bring its sound into relief). From that point, they had worked with him to ease certain difficulties in a score that is itself, we gathered, virtually unobtainable, such as how to interpret a tempo-marking Vif consistently with sustained playing (Anderson liked the short extract that they played at that original speed, but had to agree that it was punishing on them), or the lack of dynamic-markings or a means of making a reasonably playable transition from one note to another that was quite separate on the strings and finger-board for the next.

An earlier, and more linear, score than that of the sonata, and brought to us with great sincerity and interpretative skill by Quatuor Diotima : one immersed oneself in the sound of their playing, and, rare for a live performance, avoided watching the performers in order better to do so.

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