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Showing posts with label Ravel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ravel. Show all posts

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Phronesis : Solos aren't really their thing

Reflections on hearing Phronesis in Cambridge (November 2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

24 November

Reflections on hearing Phronesis (@phronesismusic) at Cambridge International Jazz Festival 2018 – a gig at The Mumford Theatre, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge,
on Saturday 24 November 2018 at 7.30 p.m.

In the first set, the band gave us four numbers (or 'songs'), the third of which (Jasper Høiby, leader and bass-player, suggested) was from 2014 (and which had been heard played at The Stables in 2016), but they were all in such extended forms that one was almost aware of 'Four seasons in one day' (to quote Crowded House).

By which is meant, almost necessarily, that the instrumentalists are all 'playing the long game', painting 'a bigger picture', whereas the solo is most usually a period taken out of a shorter treatment of a song, which does not necessarily have or need an overarching feel in which such individualism, rather than the compact work of the trio, is going to feel out of place*.

They will no sooner have excitingly stepped up into an energetic, faster gear** than drop down or away, and the trick in the hearing is, when it happens, to enjoy the acceleration into that movement, but accept that it is part of a whole, in that Phronesis perform songs that are fundamentally quite modular, or moody – or modular***.

However, it is something more loose than that*, as if the structure of the song is modelling-clay that can be shaped by the interaction of the members of the trio as they go, by listening to each other, and also looking out for each other’s signals. The things that communicate themselves in this music at its height - which is already of an unbelievably and highly reliable special quality - are that everyone enjoys the others' playing, and a strong sense of freedom and of play, which can easily move between the very melodic and the strongly rhythmic.

We had tight and virtuosic drumming from Anton Eger (@AntonEger), as one will remember when the band were at Cambridge Jazz Festival in 2016, and saw the erect and observant Høiby (@jasperhoiby) centre stage, at times casting looks back and forth between Ivo Neame (@Ivoneame) on piano, and Eger. Harmonically, and in terms of the figurations and inflections that he can adeptly work with, Neame seems like a mirror to and for Eger, and Eger for Neame, with Høiby (using the bow more often than two years ago) in the role of using his playing and presence to mediate and direct, at the cross-roads of patterned communications, and gauging with Eger and Neame when to extend a section, when to move – which they always do so smoothly – to another passage, another facet, another feeling.

This is not jazz that is pretending to be clever. It just is clever, in the sense of being good and of quality, but does not even require of us to congratulate ourselves for being there to listen (or for listening to it). It takes us to places, maybe not real ones, in the band's sound-world, and, as the new album is called, perhaps tells us We Are All ?

With the three of them, deeply bowing at the front of the stage in The Mumford Theatre, who could doubt that they had given their all, and that we had truly been with them, in - and because of - the music !

End-notes :

* Another musical example, if in the world of what has been written out, might be where a chamber work is in movements, but - without a break - they are run together, such as Ravel's Sonata in A Minor (Op. Posth.) ?

** Colour coded by the principal lighting of the back, velveteen curtain, behind the band, as blue, red, and sub-marine green (the encore was purple, then red), the three songs of the second set all had this synergistic short moment, when the trio took off together, in tempo and intensity :

Perhaps we most immediately sense how alive their creativity is in this type of sound, but it is there to act as a contrast to much else that is going on in the song, such as when they are relishing a repetition or noodling with the possibilities of tossing a fragment around, yet almost without exception conveying the feeling of being both experimental and able to cope with the play-offs that they create, the interplay on which they thrive.

*** Which is not to say that they are blocks of material in, say, a Boulezian sense, where playing one determines whether one will or will not play another (e.g. his Piano Sonata No. 3), or, within a set of reels or jigs, where a group such as Lau might take a pre-arranged, short common rest - a little like the heart 'missing a bit, or a jump-cut in the cinema - and then directly juxtapose the tempo and rhythm of what went before with those of the new.

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

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

'Energetic and energizing' : At Lunch Two with Britten Sinfonia

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia's recital At Lunch Two on 14 February 2017

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 February

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia with At Lunch Two at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, at 1.00 p.m. on Tuesday 14 February 2017

Programme :

1. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹) [4 players]

2. Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960-) ~ Prayer for a great man (2010) [2 players]

3. Oliver Knussen (1952-) ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977) [4 players]

4. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) ~ Introduction and Allegro (1905) [7 players]

5. Turnage ~ Col (2016) [8 players]

6. Stravinsky ~ Concertino for String Quartet (1920) [4 players]

Stravinsky I ~ Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914¹)

1. Danse

2. Eccentrique

3. Cantique

(1) Vibrant tone-colour from Jacqueline Shave (1st violin) and vigorous pizzicato on cello (Caroline Dearnley) characterized the first impression of the work, with Miranda Dale (2nd violin) making lively interjections in the brief Danse. Even so, we hear that Stravinsky’s writing is of a contrasting nature, and – in the overall somewhat atrophied sounds of the opening bars of Eccentrique – is juxtaposing inertia and lyricism. Before, that is, the intense flowering of the development section, and a return to this quirky form of spikiness, and the opening material’s serving partly as punctuation, partly as an ending.

Last, sensitively rendered by the violinists and more mournful, Cantique resembles a less-uninformed version of Beethoven as processed in Strauss’ Metamorphosen : quicker, but a mutated theme. Again, the writing relies on a contrast between passages and their affective colouring, but evoking a memory that is rooted, not in nostalgia, but in grief.

Turnage I ~ Prayer for a great man (2010)

(2) Prayer is uplifted, and positive, if stoic – it is, as with the preceding work, a fascinating blend of sounds, those of cello and of the horn – Martin Owen – with all its connotations of the martial, the inward, and the rustic. As the short piece progressed, we were aware how Caroline Dearnley’s freely-flowing cello-line worked with the latter : in the string legato, melding tones, although there was a deliberate, gentle mismatch with the horn’s timbre. A final, muted, section perhaps seemed to speak of adieu, or farewell.

Knussen ~ Cantata for oboe and string trio (1977)

Before Oliver Knussen’s instrumental (3) Cantata, the statesman-like tone and appearance of Nicholas Daniel (later, in a post-concert workshop (with / for Jago Thornton’s prize-winning composition), maybe less so ?), who said that we could expect to hear some of the instruments in tempo, others playing ‘out of time’ : as he put it, Strict, but flexible – parenting, I suppose ?

Nicholas Daniel also told us that he favoured – over Knussen’s own account of the work – when Knussen had shared, with Sinfonia players, that it is ‘like a series of diary-entries’, but ones that are technically connected. Compared with other works, rehearsing this one had apparently been more intense, but also more rewarding, and, although Daniel says that he is usually hesitant to say the word ‘masterpiece’, he promised (not wrongly) that Cantata was one - and jewel like

Characterizing – or trying, and failing, to characterize – the mood or feel of such diary-entries, when Knussen is deliberately being holistic with them, would not let his work be the centre-piece that it was of this superbly wrought and planned Sinfonia recital. Here, the incalculably strong overall effect of a moving entity, comprising people and a feeling of place, of being placed into the timeless eternity of Time :

As one would know from typically thoughtful Sinfonia programming, pairing how the Stravinsky ends with Turnage’s reaction to the passing of his father-in-law naturally fits with Knussen’s conception of Cantata - with all the changeability that we are aware of with, say, Bach’s portraits of the facets of the seeking of a soul in penitence [counter-tenor Robin Blaze with BWV 170, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust], or Handel’s Un’alma inamorata, HWV 173 [Mhairi Lawson, with La Serenissima (LaSerenissimaUK)].

Or, of course, it could be Handel’s much more famous and beautiful da capo aria Lascia ch’io pianga [Almira / Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno / Rinaldo], or Bach’s even more famous Erbarme dich, so beautiful where it comes in St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) : at such times, what is Time ?

Ravel ~ Introduction and Allegro(1905)

Maurice Ravel, though, has a radiance that is rarely outshone, and so we aptly heard next, in the familiar (4) Introduction and Allegro, his feeling for poesie and fantasie in the intensity of an imagined world : in the first harp solo, it became very clear that Ravel, in being commissioned to write this work to show off a new make of harp (pace Donald Macleod on Radio 3, that self-same day, with the evening repeat of Composer of the Week [#COTW]), is scoring in the spirit of writing for piano.

Further on, and starting with the delicacy of the cello (Caroline Dearnley), the other players (Miranda Dale and Clare Finnimore) joined her in pizzicato to accompany Jacqueline Shave's bowed violin, before another gorgeous, rapt harp solo from Lucy Wakeford. With the ensemble embodying faerie and fruitfulness, we came to the flowering and fecundity of the Allegro section – with the very lovely phrasing of Lucy Wakeford, who was given a well-earnt accolade by her fellow Sinfonia performers.

Turnage II (1960-) ~ Col (2016)

A tradition in music of The British Isles that goes back well before Elgar’s variations presents portraits in music (of a sort, Façade (1918-1923) is also one). Unfortunately, this is what Mark-Anthony Turnage does in (5) Col, in a piece that starts in open terms, but becomes first ruminative, and then – with or at the return of that initial material – becomes downright maudlin.

This is unlike the spirit of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917), Arvo Pärt in In memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977), or Stravinsky’s Epitaphium (Für das Grabmal des Prinzen Max Egon zu Fürstenberg) (1959), for flute, clarinet and piano, [or Double Canon ‘Raoul Dufy in Memoriam’ (1959)], and, rather, a requiem that is yet a birthday cake, but which serves as neither : though it is imperfect, one may be better hearing Colin Matthews the man, by watching Barrie Gavin’s Colin Matthews at 70 [seventy minutes or so of film about Colin Matthews, as screened at 2016’s Aldeburgh Festival of Arts and Music² (on which, see more, below)]…

Stravinsky II ~ Concertino for String Quartet

NB The programme-notes (by Jo Kirkbride) credit the (6) Concertino as dating to 1952 – having wondered about this, and then checked more authoritatively than on the Internet³ [Wikipedia®], the Concertino actually dates to 1920⁴, and its arrangement for small ensemble to 1952…

Given that L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) (1919) was from the year before 1920, it seems to endorse the comment above that one can hear hints of that work here. The Britten Sinfonia String Quartet plays the Concertino with aplomb : they happen, all, to be women, but the important point is that they are excellent musicians and communicators, and it is by their quality, not their gender, that one would commend their musicianship⁵.

In this work, as brought out here, the motivic elements underlie, but do not belie, its meditative qualities – the recapitulation that we heard was brimful of feeling, and tacitly contradicts a conception of Stravinsky as cool and unemotional. Just as did, one reflects, this string quartet with the Stravinsky piece(s) with which it / they opened a tribute to Louis #Andriessen at Milton Court last year (at The Barbican).

End-notes :

¹ Please see the note at the beginning of the section (below) for the second Stravinsky work for string quartet (and its dependent end-note⁴).

² One way in which the Festival is on a human scale is that, during the interval of a concert that had featured Matthews' work last year, one had the informality to address him on the stairs - to shake his hand, and briefly thank him.

Sadly, at some more 'protective' venues - unlike, for example, The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM / @yorkearlymusic) - one may not approach performers, even though they are just a small distance away (though not evident, stewards are there to prevent it) : those on stage have to be at a signing, or otherwise choose to come out into the foyer, for approaching them to be permitted.

³ In Roman Vlad's monograph entitled Stravinsky, pp. 79-81 (Oxford University Press, London (1978)).

⁴ With Three Pieces for String Quartet, it initially seemed that they were written in 1914, revised in 1918, but probably not published until 1922.

Roman Vlad (ibid, p. 50), after saying ‘Although very little known, these pieces are extremely significant as far as Stravinsky’s stylistic development and inner artistic motivation are concerned’, and then devoting several pages to them [in which, by analysing them, Vlad explains their importance to Stravinsky's and other composers' works], goes on to tell us (p. 54) :

Stravinsky himself was always greatly attached to [the Three Pieces], so much so that in 1917 he transcribed them for orchestra under the titles of ‘Danse’: ‘Excentrique’ : ‘Cantique’ [my emphasis] […].

⁵ On which point, initiatives such as Holly Tarquini's F-Rating (F-Rated (@F__Rating)) at Bath Film Festival (@BathFilm), or Cambridge's Reel Women (@ReelWomenUK), might take pause ? [Unless, of course, one claims that inclusion in a programme at the latter, or the former's Festival, is an absolute guarantee, per se, of outstanding quality.]

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

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A quick overview, by Tweet, of I Fagiolini’s programme Amuse-bouche at Cambridge Summer Music Festival

An overview of I Fagiolini with Amuse-bouche at Cambridge Summer Music Festival

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 July

A quick overview, by Tweet (and free text), of I Fagiolini’s performance of their programme Amuse-bouche, under the directorship of Robert Hollingworth, for Cambridge Summer Music Festival at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge, on Saturday 23 July at 7.30 p.m.

A still from I Fagiolini - Ode à la gastronomie

Directed by John La Bouchardière and made by Polyphonic Films

In both halves, we also heard from Anna Markland (as well as her voice in the ensemble) on piano, with two of Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes (Nos 4* and 6, respectively), and, to close the first half, with Roderick Williams’ arrangement for piano and choir of the central movement (marked Adagio assai) of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major

All in all, whether one wants to relate to the majority of the texts that we heard before the Françaix as surréaliste, or in some other stylistic or genre terms, these composers brought out qualities in them, and likewise the members of I Fagiolini under Robert Hollingworth’s direction, that made them compelling, and highly inviting of our interest :

In his Lieder, Franz Schubert sometimes transformed poems to which one might otherwise not have devoted much attention : here, it was not that the poems of Éluard or Apollinaire were unattractive, but that interpreters such as Poulenc could, in and through their sound-world, cause their visions to open up – in a way that, beforehand, their words on the page, even in the French, did not easily allow one to experience…

To conclude by way of an encore, after the well-received strangeness of Jean Françaix’s text and its treatment, something more familiar still than the Satie pieces : ‘Baïlèro’ from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne.

Very much a Post-script - Schumann, Surrealism, and Satie [in Satie’s Parade] :

One can read more about András Schiff here [from Kirshbaum Associates Inc., his representatives in North America], and Wikipedia® on Parade, Satie's Opus ??, here...


* Regarding which the audience, wrongly, seemed almost more enthusiastic than the preceding Sept chansons (by Francis Poulenc)… ?

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

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Making out in Marseille

This is a Festival review of The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011)

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

14 September

This is a Festival review of The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011) is a sort of fable for our time*, with strikingly strong performances, both from (as Michel) Jean-Pierre Darroussin (whom I knew from Conversations with my Gardener (2007)), and Ariane Ascaride as Marie-Claire, a couple whose integrity and good hearts are at its centre.

Subject to an event that leaves all shaken, but especially Marie-Claire's sister Denise (Marilyne Canto is very sympathetic), the course of things unfolds in a manner consistent with not only justice, but also responsibility and reconciliation, almost a modern Dostoyevsky, I often enough felt (which maybe Victor Hugo, a poem of whose is the film's starting-point, and he had in common).

Certainly, although The Angels' Share (2012) is equally good natured and hopeful, this film makes a challenge to our thoughts and prejudices far beyond it: this film treats of its themes seriously, whereas Loach launches into a romp from whose end the dark and threatening scenes from earlier seem far removed - director Robert Guédiguian has sketched a world that acknowledges deep-seated human emotions of envy, resentment and greed, but wants to offer those who feel them a way back.

The centre is the family, whether a party for Michel and Marie-Claire (to which he has invited the other nineteen whose posts were made redundant at the same time as his), them playing cards with Denise and her husband Raoul (a good part for Gérard Meylan), or at the home of their son Gilles and his partner / wife, and the tensions, more or less freely articulated, between them because of their differing viewpoints: in Leigh's Glasgow, the family has little or nothing to offer any more.

Guédiguian answered questions after the screening, and some (as well as some observations from the audience) were of a rather political or judgemental nature, as if depicting certain truths, rather than presenting a story, were the film's purpose. As he sought to stress, cinema is not reality, and the Internet was not there because a screen is not that inetersting, and the focus was elsewhere.

I asked about the use of Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défuncte, which is a beautiful theme, both thoughtful and with a hint of real, not over-blown, sadness to it: he did not comment on that theme in particular, but that, classical or otherwise, the music is fitted early in the editing and has to be what belongs. Later, I aked about the Hemingway novel with the same titles as this film, assuming that there was no connection, as the origins appeared in a song sung at the anniversary party. This was apparently a very popular song in the 60s, and Guédiguian did not comment on whether the Hemingway associations carried any regrettable or deliberate overtones.


* To quote a title of Tames Thurber's.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Colin Matthews or Does the world need more orchestrations?

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

3 February

I wonder what Colin Matthews would say if I commissioned another composer to orchestrate one of his very fine string quartets¹...

Presumably, to be consistent, Matthews would just have to go along with it, for, if he did not, what I heard on Radio 3 in mid-December would seem to be hypocrisy :

For the concert, in the Afternoon Performance slot, featured what the web-page describes as 'exquisite versions' of six of Debussy's preludes (three in each half), including such prominent ones as 'The Girl with the Flaxen Hair' ('La fille aux cheveux de lin') in the first part, and 'The Submerged Cathedral' ('La cathédrale engloutie') in the second. (Whether 'versions' is a choice of word that came from Matthews, I do not know.)

Now, I must have been very busy with what I was doing - and I was at work on something - or even asleep in my wakefulness, because, although I heard the concept announced (and marvelled, later, when told that all 24 preludes had been given the same treatment²), I failed to identify either piece that I have named (and I couldn't have missed them both). All that I actually registered was an inundation rather akin to that which did for the cathedral - it all sounded like some murky seascape, and did not sound unlike Debussy in that regard, but I cannot say that it added, for me, in a helpful to what Debussy wrote in 1910 :

Oh, the audience at City Halls in Glasgow seemed appreciative enough, but I do wonder what they had gained from the experience. For I cannot honestly say that, even in an exercise to challenge the too familiar³, these preludes are calling out to be listened to in a different way. (And, for that matter, maybe The Planets didn't need Matthews to produce a Pluto - although I believe that, since he wrote it, it is no longer deemed a planet.)

As it is, Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition may stand as part of the virtuoso repertoire (though one hardly ever hears it broadcast) and, I would equally argue, was in no need of embellishment, that ever-present arrangement by Maurice Ravel (in which, admittedly, 'The Great Gate of Kiev' is very powerful and stirring)⁴ is what many people probably only ever hear, and miss out on the beauties of the original suite.

Mussorgsky wrote it in 1874 as a tribute to his artist friend Viktor Hartmann. Without what Ravel did (and Henry Wood apparently withdrew his own orchestration, made in 1915, because he thought Ravel's version superior), many people would not know of this work, but do they ever, in fact, hear it, if they never come to a knowledge of the piano original ?⁵

Well, none of us chooses what he or she is remembered by - the successful writer, who had something like forty West End hits to his name, is thought of as having written Winnie-the-Pooh, after all.

Postlude³ :


¹ As, having heard it played live, Mahler rather pointlessly seems to have done with Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (amongst other works) - he does not take liberties, thankfully, but what is gained by having more instruments to produce the sound, when that is not what the quartet, in my view, is about ?

(According to Michael Kennedy's book about Mahler, that arrangement, although one of two made in Hamburg, rankled with the orchestra in Vienna when he took up the baton, because they were viewed as complicit in what he had done with the likes of Beethoven and Schubert in these arrangements. I believe that some reckoned that Beethoven had known well enough how to orchestrate his Symphony No. 9, without an extra little beefing up here and there.)

² The Radio 3 web-page says that they were 'orchestrated for the Hallé Orchestra between 2001 and 2007.

³ And, to chip away the veneer on Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, I found Liszt's piano transcription very rewarding. His other such works, including the concert paraphrases, similarly endear themselves to me.

⁴ And there are at least twenty others, including one by Vladimir Ashkenazy (in 1982) that takes issue with what Ravel did (in 1922, commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky).

⁵ Even Night on a Bare Mountain is usually in the edition by Rimsky-Korsakov, and, for Fantasia (1940), Stokowski orchestrated it afresh.