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Showing posts with label Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Show all posts

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, 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)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Ever-ambitious¹ Aimard wows with authenticity

This is a review of Pierre-Laurent Aimard's solo piano recital in June 2014

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

24 June (updated, with link, 6 July)

This is a review of a solo piano recital given on Monday 23 June 2014 at The Maltings, Snape, by Pierre-Laurent Aimard during the 67th Aldeburgh Festival (@aldeburghmusic) – relayed live on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3)

Also on Aldeburgh...

A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times

The Humphrey and Andy Show (Britten on Camera)

The best £13 ever spent !

Why are all concert / recital programmes not like this, mixing memory and desire, as Eliot once wrote ?

That was written at the end of the first half, but it could have been inspired by later seeing the Aldeburgh music booklet ‘Leaving a legacy in your will’, which has Eliot on the back cover (You are the music while the music lasts (which seems sure to be from Four Quartets)), and the words Make Your Mark¹ on the front :

If Pierre-Laurent Aimard (PLA – just as Kristin Scott Thomas is always KST in these postings) has not made his mark on people’s consciousness to-night, that of the bewitched audience at The Maltings, Snape, and in those listening to Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3), he never will !

PLA at The Friends' Reception

(One almost hesitates, having perfectly seen those fingers and hands crossing, separating, interlocking, even one above the other, to go to the Radio 3 web-site and Listen Again (for seven days only), but, as one of my fellow occupants of the front row suggested, one wants to hear again the juxtapositions that PLA has made here.)

He has built on the wonderful curation in past Aldeburgh Festivals, both in partnership with the amazing Tamara Stefanovich (on both one and two pianos), and his solo piano non-stop miscellanies, which had seemed, until last night, to be ground-breaking music marathons. Not that they were not, but PLA has now shattered the unhelpful image of separateness in and between composers and their compositions, and, with the sheer dynamism with which he interpreted these two, differing halves, thrown down a sort of gauntlet to the question of what we listen to – and why : with the first sounding as though it contained some Scriabin (although it actually did not, because studies of his, exquisitely rendered, had only been scheduled, according to the running order, after the interval), the second with a complete short set of pieces by Bartók, whose score alone (and not exclusively) was remarkable for resembling pyramids, upwards triangles of notation.

Afterwards, when a couple was heard comparing this Festival very positively with previous ones², they appeared (unless they were talking about another performer) to be saying that PLA’s response is an intellectual response, not an emotional one, whereas one could not agree less. Yes, he is clearly a shy man (on the level of being unassuming, but proud of what he has the conviction to attempt, and succeed with), but he clearly accepts that a public face is part of performance (as, maybe, Glenn Gloud could not), and he entered into this recital as another John Ogden (who, one is glad, is being recalled just now on Radio 3) :

No one who saw Ogden, for all that he had these feats of memory and technique at his fingertips (pun intended), could doubt how brilliantly he felt the music in his soul. (Quite apart from whether having the experience of worlds known to Alexander Scriabin [the programme prefers the spelling 'Skryabin'] allowed Ogden to enter into the landscape of his harmony, and make so many remarkable recordings that we can go to³.) With PLA, one could see the pleasure, joy, surprise, anguish and discomfort with what all this music, at its height, had to say to him from the page.

He has little physical resonance with the look of Ogden on stage, but there was a resemblance in that he had clearly fixed the order of works in his head not only so that he could transition into the next one as the page-turner moved the concertina, booklet or collection of pages that was (as the case might be) the score, but be fully present to the music in each case :

And this was not ‘compartmentalization’ at all, in no sense a glib characterization of the next composer, but internalizing the essence not only of the moment, but also of the connection that he had, in scheduling the works, made with what went before : the quotation from Eliot is so relevant here, that, whilst the music – in each case – lasted, he was not only with it, but was it.

A butterfly on the lavender in the lovely garden at By The Crossways
(where The Friends' Reception was held)

Performers as different as Stile Antico (@stileantico), Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia), and (to name but one other pianist) Vladimir Horowitz⁴ all have had their notion of a sequence, but the programme of PLA’s two halves was curated in such a way that we only (especially if one had a clear view of PLA’s hands, and where he was on each score) incidentally noticed the practice-elements in these various Études, such as octaves, chimes, dissonances, or even what, at the beginning of the very first piece, presented just as a simple scale (and how it developed from there !).

He had not, of course, not just jumbled these pieces all together, and the programming alone deserves enormous acclaim (though could another have brought off delivering it ?), alongside the precision and pianism with which PLA played. (Some might have wanted to follow the listing, to see what he was playing, where ‘we had go to’, but that seemed unnecessary (although one was partly still playing The Radio 3 Guessing Game, when, having switched on during a piece, one tries to guess what it is, before it is announced).)

More so than through enviable technique and stamina, it was in the integrity, the conviction that this should – and would – work. Rarely, then, in a second half will we have heard the top note struck and stroked to such effect, but entirely integrally and organically, as much as finding pentatonic scales, or bell-notes, and chimes. PLA did seem to be saying two things very clearly :

Why do we need opus numbers, keys, and sets of pieces so often brought to us as sets⁵, etc. ?

More importantly :

Why, in all these things, do we seek what divides music from music ?

Do not just take @THEAGENTAPSLEY's word for it that this recital excelled - read The Guardian's review, which gave it five stars, and with the following extract from which one cannot at all disagree !

Yet he will surely never make a more heartfelt tribute to Ligeti than this recital, where he placed the Hungarian composer squarely in the context of the piano greats. This was an exquisitely constructed programme, interlacing 12 Ligeti studies with 12 by Debussy, Chopin, Bartók and Scriabin, first paired and then heard in blocks of three. It made for spellbinding listening.

Rian Evans

Also on Aldeburgh...

A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times

The Humphrey and Andy Show (Britten on Camera)


¹ In the good way, that of extending an ambit, here that of musicality and the true life that is, and is of, music.

² Not, though, that they seemed in any way let down with them, but highly impressed this time, whereas, at The Friends’ Reception on Sunday, someone had sounded a note that there had been uncertainty about how successful of this year, but that it – and PLA – had proved him or her wrong.

³ An excellent choice, made available by gullivior, is his interpretation of Beethoven's Opus 111...

⁴ Who could seem almost impatient to move on to the next piece in a recital, and not to be ruffled by applause…

⁵ In a recent piano recital (15 February) in King’s College Chapel (@ConcertsatKings), Leon McCawley (@leonmccawley) had brought us Rachmaninov’s whole Opus 32 (from 1910) in his second half, Thirteen Preludes, and, stunningly nice though it was to hear them through (the familiar and the less familiar), they made no connection of this kind :

Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms were still the other side of the interval, in another place. And, with the Songs Without Words, there had seemed little feeling for the three pieces played : how often (and what does it tell us ?) might we have been to a recital where we could take or leave staying after the interval ? (Yet, to give an example, Sodi Braide’s all-Liszt second half redeemed a performance at Cambridge Summer Music Festival where one had initially felt exactly that.)

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Early Bartók

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

20 June

A report from The Aldeburgh Festival:

The piano quintet by Bartók, apparently written 1903 to 1904 (and revised in 1920), is not even like the early string quartets in sounding like Bartók - except perhaps in the wicked dissonances of the second movement and, as it developed, its rhythmicity.

This piece, in four movements (the third and fourth linked), sounded initially as though the main influence had been Brahms, though it did not sound like Brahms, but another composer, aware of his piano quintet. As it progressed, though there were even vague hints of Chopin’s writing for orchestra and piano, and stronger ones of Dvorak (particularly the Dumky piano trio) and Tchaikovsky (Piano Trio No. 1), but the main person, perhaps, without whom this could not have been written was Liszt.

Obviously, in common with Dvorak, a composer who acknowledged folk music in his work, but, for me, the signs of Liszt at play were in the phrasing, the attack when the piano planted chords of its own as complement to that of the strings, and the sheer exuberance of cutting loose.

It would not have been, in true Lisztian style, for the piano to support the string texture so much, and supply it with patterns, motifs and melodies that the strings did not exactly took over, but maybe worked through with the piano, but I nonetheless see his thought-world in the making of this piece. Especially in one moment, I think in the third movement, where the piano doodles with some trills and a few related notes, and from this, as if magically (yet contrarily organically), a melody emerged.

Maybe there aren’t many recordings of this (I’d be surprised if there were), and maybe the magic of to-night’s playing by Tamara Stefanovich and The Keller Quartet wouldn’t be matched, but I shall be looking into this piece a little further – and not just to see if anyone else agrees with me about what was in Bartók’s mind and soul at the time!

Afterwards came a performance of the composer's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, admirably performed when Stefanovich was joined by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and by Daniel Ciampolini and Sawm Walton. It was a long time, too long to name, since I had heard this piece, and the first time to hear it live.

Infected though I was by what Richard Sennett had written in the programme about his lecture the following day to the effect that members of the audience, not just the performers, can be anxious that something will go wrong, I managed to put from my mind the notion that Ciampolini might come in at the wrong place or miss it altogether by concentrating on the pianists, and I had one the musical experiences of a lifetime, even confusing, though I was, the Piano Concerto No. 1 and even the Musi for Percussion, Strings and Celeste as to what came next.

The smile on my face said it all, and the rest of the audience were just as enthusiastic with their applause.