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Showing posts with label Robert Schumann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert Schumann. 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, 3 May 2016

At Lunch 4 : 'The modes and moods of the human heart' ?

This is a review of Britten Sinfonia in At Lunch 4 on 12 April 2016

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

2 May

This is a review of At Lunch 4, given by Britten Sinfonia at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday 12 April 2016 at 1.00 p.m.

Programme :

1. Béla Bartók (1881-1945) ~ 44 Duos

2. Bryce Dessner (1976-) ~ El Chan

3. Robert Schumann (1810-1856) ~ Piano Quartet

Bartók ~ From 44 Duos (1931), BB104, a selection of five

These are duos for violin and viola, so we welcomed Thomas Gould and Clare Finnimore, respectively, to perform them (the – ever-ascending - position of each number in the whole work is given in parenthesis after the title) :

1. Pillow Dance (14)

2. Hungarian March I (17)

3. Sorrow (28)

4. Bagpipes (36)

5. Pizzicato (43)

Frankly, at this remove from the event (i.e. of the time of the review), one may be imagining that Thomas Gould (@ThomasGouldVLN) said a little – before or after these five items – about the pedadgogic aspect of Bartók’s collecting folk music in the field (recording, notating, etc.) (although there were political, musical, historical ones, too, of course) : hardly uniquely to Bartók, it seems as if these Duos partly serve as graded exercises, in order of difficulty.

Thus, (1) Pillow Dance, a study in rhythm and pattern, contrasted with an atmosphere of the lyrical (tinged with the drunken ?) in the first (2) Hungarian Dance of the whole set – and, at its end, it reminded us of the dance that had preceded it.

Not just numerically at the centre of these five Duos, played standing, was (3) Sorrow. Not unabated sorrow, however, but a weaving together of threnody with its transformation into music – in the persons of viola and violin – and with its emotional, linear and harmonic parts matched so as to sound as wedded.

Over a drone from Finnimore (on viola), we heard Gould’s violin dance in (4) Bagpipes – material used elsewhere by Bartók, in one of his major compositions ? Then the drone ended, and we had an energetic conclusion from the paired players (a form of dance ?). Last, in (5) Pizzicato, we necessarily had that string-effect, but it began in a ‘picked’ form from Finnimore, and with more of a strum from Gould.

Both reminded of the tone and sound of the String Quartets (a little of which we were yet to hear on the evening of Benjamin Grosvenor directs), but also of the banjo. We were to move to a sensation of liveliness balanced against a heavier (or sharper) sound in a number of variations, and, by the close, an interplay of lead instrument from Gould to Finnimore and back. Judged just right, as a curation that was to end here and which had been perfectly executed, this was an excellent start to the programme !

2. Dessner ~ El Chan (2016)

For the rest of At Lunch 4, Caroline Dearnley (cello), and Huw Watkins (piano), joined Finnimore and Gould in two works for piano quartet.

As this contemporary commission progressed (we had been told that El Chan was in seven movements, and principal pianist Huw Watkins (@WatkinsHuw) described it as a beautiful piece¹), its filmic quality came out, and a theory – shared by Tweet below – formed as to its scope and intent…

(I) Against a shimmer of an opening, a very violent pizzicato had been written for Caroline Dearnley – yet very soon, and almost at the other extreme, she brought out a ghostly cello tremolo, and Watkins reached inside the lid of the piano to play some bass-notes directly.

Again to the fore, Dearnley had flurries of notes, before passing back to the piano, and the start of an obsessively repetitive pattern. Slowly, it subsided to a quiet close, and then (II) an equally quiet opening from Watkins, which became a raindrop-like texture. The other players joined it, but in what seemed an uneasy tranquillity, with odd dissonances, to which they added.

As it broadened out, it seemed as though it might give space to some isolated sounds with violin, but instead it closed. Next (III), lively strokes from Clare Finnimore (viola) and Thomas Gould (violin) reminded of Philip Glass, before the sound grew to that of the quartet of players, and subsided - leaving us listening to the sweetness of Gould’s upper string(s), but ending quite hoarsely.

Next (IV), a violin-line that, in a jazzy and non-linear way, felt confused (or conflicted) against those of cello (Caroline Dearnley) and viola, and where – as in cinema – one experienced misdirections as to where the movement was heading. (V) After a minute pause (signalled by communication between Huw Watkins and Thomas Gould), what followed now sounded like John Adams, and felt to be the centre of the piece², with, seemingly, hints of Mexican dance-rhythms, and strongly bowed cello-strokes.

(VI) Piano mumbled (or grumbled ?) as – over a drone from cello and viola – Dessner carefully placed Gould’s violin-line. Soon, a tremolo on the cello passed to the viola, and then a fragmented line moved from Gould to Watkins, becoming an ostinato : we were to hear shimmers, and soft pizzicato tones from Finnimore and Gould. Near the end, there was a quiet period of rumination with a cross-melody, but we were to conclude with a few bars of peals and cascades.

(VII) To long, ghostly cello-strokes, whose sound had a resemblance to that of a didgeridoo, was added the keening of the viola, and quiet contributions on piano : looking at Dearnley’s splayed left hand helped one to appreciate both what she was playing, and how she was playing it. When Gould at last entered, it was an augmentation of all that we heard, but, perhaps contrary to our expectations again, El Chan ended with cello (and a big smile from Caroline Dearnley – please see comments on the Schumann, below).

With any new commission, even from a composer with a pedigree such as - from the programme-notes - one gathers Bryce Dessner’s to be, one may be unsure what its future is : in his case, though, he has been running MusicNow (the music festival in Cincinnati that he founded) for ten years, for example, and so has additional recognition and musical impetus. As well, of course, as the skill as a composer, here evident to all³.

All that aside, Dessner constructed a set of changing moods in El Chan, which, he informed us (again, in the programme-notes), was a reaction to ‘a pool of water which has been the source of popular legends for many centuries’ [El Charco del Ingenio (near San Miguel, Mexico), which he visited in January 2016], after whose ‘guardian spirit’ the composition is named.

In this reviewer’s perception or interpretation, what this Tweeting says was also part of it :

3. Schumann ~ Piano Quartet in E Flat Major (1842), Op. 47

1. Sostenuto assai – Allegro ma non troppo

2. Scherzo : Molto vivace – Trio I – Trio II

3. Andante cantabile

4. Finale : Vivace

The Piano Quartet opens with (1) a chorale, whose use is in a Beethovenian vein, and we heard it as both spirited and thoughtful, before (in the Allegro ma non troppo) Schumann gets ‘into the swing’ of his own, distinct style.

To the movement, the Sinfonia players admirably brought a sense of being placed in relation to the composition, and we were treated to Caroline Dearnley’s luscious cello-tone, before a moment’s rallentando signalled that its close would be in a coda.

The (2) Scherzo was nimble and fleet of foot, flowing like quicksilver into the opening Trio section. Here, as in the connected and celebrated Piano Quintet in the same key (Opus 44), Schumann nervily keeps us alert. Throughout, one was aware of the close communication between the instrumentalists, and the poise that Schumann had them establish prior to employing pizzicato as a closing gesture.

At some level, we must have known that Schumann had set the scene for the gorgeous cello-writing that, here as elsewhere (and through how Caroline Dearnley played his melody-line), he was now to bring us in the (3) Andante cantabile. With it, as the attention moved to Thomas Gould, yearning (Sehnsucht ?) in the sweet-sounding tones of his violin.

Then – but softly, softly - into creating another chorale, whose utterly involving mood came to conjure – via Clare Finnimore on viola (and violin figurations) – the relaxed grandeur of eastern European cities and of the dance, quite gedachtvoll, but also gemütlich. At first, the cello stayed out, but then Dearnley came in, with light pizzicato, to complete the atmosphere. It was a wonder, because – in and through this writing (which might, in other, less-skilful hands, have felt like schmaltz) – we had such a fulness of true feeling.

To draw us into the (4) Finale, the tempo was straightaway Vivace - another facet of that carefree spirit of the Andante ! The joy was that, led by Gould (@ThomasGouldVLN), the musicians of Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) were as excited and enthused by the music as we were :

Infectiously so, in an act of co-creation (Zusammenhalt ?). As the section concluded, Caroline Dearnley gave one of her big smiles of pleasure at the material, and Schumann a fugato, which ended a performance that had easily shown that the Piano Quartet is the emotional equal of the Quintet.

Very enthusiastic applause summed up both the recital as a whole, and this lovely interpretation.

End-notes :

¹ Its world premiere had been given at the end of the previous week, at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich (@thehallsnorwich), on Friday 8 April 2016, and this was only the second of three performances (the last was the following day, at Wigmore Hall (@wigmore_hall)).

² In Schumann’s Piano Quartet (as described in that part of the review), one feels to have reached this point in the movement marked Andante cantabile.

³ Likewise, in the ensembles and performers with whom Dessner works, including The Kronos Quaret (unbelievably coming to play locally, at Saffron Hall, within a fortnight : Saturday 14 May at 7.30 p.m.

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

Monday, 5 October 2015

A dream-time concert : Schumann and Donohoe

Peter Donohoe performs Schumann’s Concerto for Piano at The Corn Exchange

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

4 October (Proof corrected / end-note extended, 13 October)

This is a review of Peter Donohoe’s performance of Schumann’s Concerto for Piano with the Dresdener Philharmonie, under the baton of Michael Sanderling, at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge on Thursday 1 October 2015 at 7.30 p.m.

Peter Donohoe had clearly not done anything as crude as ‘thinking out’ his approach to playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto (in A Minor, Op. 54), but he must know the piece from the inside out, and he could work with it, on the night, to bring out its and his very best (the latter through the former) :

In all honesty, and not wishing to denigrate any specific piano soloists, it is rare to hear this concerto infused with such spark and feeling. (Those qualities, too, typified Michael Sanderling’s conductorship of Brahms’ last symphony*, in the second half of the concert.)

Robert Schumann (18101856) ~ Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 :

1. Allegro affetuoso

2. Intermezzo : Andantino grazioso

3. Allegro vivace

In Schumann’s measured, but lyrically narrative, initial bars, one catches the Grieg concerto (his Opus 16, and also in A Minor). Schumann's concerto was completed barely more than twenty years earlier, and its (1) Allegro affetuoso feels distinctly a series of interludes yet seamlessly so, as befits having first been a Fantasia (for piano and orchestra).

Very early, a deft trill introduces the theme’s being stated and, as will emerge, the trill is used for a purpose, not as ornament. Here, there is grandeur, before the theme scales down with a decrescendo, and is quizzically given in a varied form : to which Peter Donohoe brought a singing, ‘placed’ quality, and thus carefully linked to a passage with clarinet and strings.

The poetry and the emotion were evident in scoring and playing, with such features as the ease with which, after Donohoe had been restrained in a short solo section, clarinet passed material to oboe, and Donohoe then took time before an outpouring in the piano voice. It felt unquenchable, but did abate into a string ritardando, cantabile keyboard work, a clarinet passage, and light arpeggios, which, too, felt held back by Michael Sanderling.

Soloist, woodwind-players, strings, all demonstrated together the real felt emotion, there amongst lighter touches. We heard that, within the notes, Schumann has notes that need to flow, and that a burst from the piano can be experienced within the orchestra (not seeming external to it).

As with the finale, one feels driven inevitability, but that it is coupled with an easiness in using thematic material : the oboe is given a statement, but it is underpinned by brass and woodwind, then handed to the soloist to play with it and, as Donohoe did, bring out its pianism. Then, just as soon, the pulse moves on : the effect being that our familiarity now, with the structure, allowed the use of underplaying as a way of making the string-effect that followed stronger.

One moment we can have aching engagement with a very Schumannesque subject ; the next, scales or arpeggios that feel more regimented. It is as if we are to glimpse beauty amongst the mundane, and so a formal cadenza can, ushered in by strings, become a tender interlude : those who know the solo piano works will identify a sense of the familiar mixed with the intense, and of pain, but yet also comfort, in outcries (even if they get cut off, by the structural outworking ?).

This is the moment when we realize that the use of trills actually comes across as very emotionally informed and when, in the context of a pianistic outpouring, reintroducing the trill, and passing over to the woodwind, feels absolutely right in terms of the psyche.

Bass notes in the piano herald a brief coda, and we are led into the movement’s close.

Called an Intermezzo (and typically accounting for less than one-sixth of the length of a performance), the (2) Andantino grazioso may seem inconsequential when it opens, but this is far from the truth : as with many ‘a musical bridge’, it effects our transition to the mood at the close of the work. Breathing and living through the music, Donohoe brought us a moment of exceptional poise with the re-entry of the principal theme, and, not for the last time, some very quiet tones.

Further on, and despite Sanderling bringing up a full Viennese string-sound, we cannot pretend that there is not hurt to be felt here : the balance of the piano against the orchestra was impeccable, and the attentive stillness allowed Donohoe to be daringly pianissimo.

When a repeat came, it did so with the tiny suggestion that it might be perfunctorily attempting ‘to go through the motions’, since what was telling was the sensation that the rhythmicity was swaying a little, and, at the close, of the music wanting to hold back.

In the (3) Allegro vivace finale, both a sense of release and of relative ease, with, for example, a tutti statement, and Donohoe just playing quietly underneath it, but then moving, alongside the other players and through and with Sanderling, to bring out the chordal complexity.

Yet, although Schumann’s heroic sense of triumph may be heard, at one point, in a bold utterance, it dissolves, in the next, into the orchestra, or we enter a semi-questioning episode : the concerto seems to be seeking a different model of pianist / soloist, and one can see how Brahms must have had close regard to it (e.g. with what symphonic ambitions he had (before the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor) for what became his Piano Concerto No. 1 (in D Minor, Op. 15), first performed (by Brahms) in 1859).

Yes, we had Donohoe’s fists raised with the conclusion of a bold assertion, but one senses, now, that the piano is present more in the momentum (and not so much in the hurt or beauty within individual notes), as if Schumann’s writing is drawing rhythmically back and forth, in broader sweeps. Thus, a sense of outreach, and of opening out although there is still ‘angularity’ in his choice of intervals when he leads up to the main theme, and then gives a feeling of tranquillity (and a sense of purpose even destiny ?) in the harmonic resolution.

Right at the end, Schumann gives us dance-forms, the cadences of motion against the patterning of a finale. However, after a moment of quiet, timpani (which have been integrated into the concerto throughout) duly propel the concluding chords.


* This Tweet aims to amplify the comment :

The fact is that one can hear Brahms played perfectly well, but one may also feel that the experience added relatively little other than (a) unamplified sound, (b) seeing the performers as they interact with each other and with their instruments, and (c) appreciating, at some level, that the totality of what one desired to hear is the result of the interaction at (b) :

Yet, at its least good, this can amount to little more than a fleeting consumer pleasure, i.e. knowing that these men, women and resources are here at the collective bidding of those who have paid the ticket-price (matters of effective concert-promotion apart)... ?

Against which, one might propose counterposing an alternative, the practice of actively engaging with the performance, rather than 'going to hear' a familiar piece of music of listening agog, or with new ears, maybe as if one had to give an account of what was good or fresh in it to a friend who could not be there ?

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

Monday, 13 October 2014

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part I)

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part I)

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

13 October

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part I)

On Friday 17 October at 7.30, Cambridge Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx) hosts the first in its annual Cambridge Classical Concert Series

The series opens with the excellent Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (@rpoonline), again as The Corn Exchange's Orchestra in Residence (reviewed here, at the end of the previous series (earlier in the year), when Nicholas Collon conducted them in an all-British programme of Elgar, Britten, and Vaughan Williams…)

The programme for Friday is as follows:

First half

Robert Schumann (1810–1856) : Manfred Overture (please see below for a more accurate title) [mainly written in 1848, but first performed in 1852]

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943) : Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 [apparently written in July / August 1934, and first performed that November]

Second half

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) : Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 [more than fifty years earlier, in 1877, but otherwise as with the Rachmaninov : started in the summer, and first performed later that year – please see below]

Extra : Please look here for a further connection, of sorts, between Brahms and Rachmaninov (plus a plethora of other Opus Numbers !)…

This posting – much delayed by the exigencies of trying to write up The 34th Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest) – looks essentially at the reasons why we have the Overture as an isolated piece, whereas those about the Brahms is now linked here, and about the Rachmaninov here, are more personal responses (plus some more music history)

If one stops to investigate the phenomenon, it is remarkable that some pieces achieve a life beyond the work for which they were written :

Not so much in the case of a lovely aria, such as the famous ‘Erbarme dich’ (in Bach’s St Matthew Passion, BWV 244) or Gluck’s equally well-known ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ (from his Orfeo ed Euridice (from 1762)), where it is obvious that the strength of the writing has given birth to a lovely expression of feeling – although it is probably still best understood (first of all, at least) in context.

No. One has in mind, say, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 – or, as the Germans more style it, Ouvertüre zu Coriolan (Overture to Coriolan). The question of naming apart (though as true of the Manfred Overture in this concert), the music was written in 1807 for Heinrich Joseph von Collin's drama Coriolan.

Here, nothing suggests that there was any other incidental music. The complete works of von Collin (Gesammelte Werke, in six volumes) appeared between 1812 and 1814, and are still in print (so presumably still studied), but what really seems to survive with any life is the Overture*.

In the case of Schubert**, maybe his incidental music to Rosamunde*** (Op. 26, D. 797) has survived a little better. Yet the production, withdrawn after two nights, scarcely deviated from his other general lack of success in writing for the stage. Regarding this programme’s piece by Robert Schumann, it is, yet again, an extract – seemingly surviving largely on its own.

The ‘Overture’ is taken from Manfred : Dramatic Poem (with Music) in Three Parts (in the original German, Manfred. Dramatisches Gedicht in drei Abtheitungen), Op. 115, and is a setting of the dramatic work of that name by George, Lord Byron (published in 1817), mainly written in 1848.

Pictured is the title-page of the edition of Manfred that was prepared by Clara Schumann, Robert’s wife (and then widow), and it indicates that it had pretensions to be amongst his greater vocal works. Despite Hugo Wolf’s apparent appreciation for Manfred (Wolf lived from 1860 to 1903), its availability as a score (although modern scores are of the 'Overture' alone) and even as a recording, and the fact that academics are still writing about it (and, inevitably – it appears – with Schumann, his mental state at the time of writing it), the focus remains this ‘Overture’.

The result, seemingly, is that the whole Manfred is not allowed to stand alongside compositions such as Liederkreis, Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben (all earlier, being from 1840).

So it is does not even seem, after all, that this 'Overture' was separated from its musical home quite in the same way as for the other works considered above : they were attached to something that has not really survived, whereas this piece, by being picked out as the best part, has been severed from the body of Manfred and kept alive before us on the concert platform...


* Likewise, to stay with Beethoven, his score to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 – the Overture is certainly in the concert repertoire, but what about the rest of the score (maybe only on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3), where it has been broadcast), let alone the ballet itself ?

** If one does not check, Schubert (1797–1828) may seem more contemporary with Schumann (1810–1856) than with Beethoven, but Schubert’s life in fact much overlapped with that of Beethoven (1770–1827), since Schubert died before he was 32, and Schumann lived for more than 25 years beyond him. (As is well known, Schubert both felt himself in Beethoven’s shadow (as did Brahms (1833–1897), and was one of the great man’s torch-bearers.)

*** In full, the play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern [Countess of Cyprus], by Helmina von Chézy.

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

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?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What does that Italian at the top of the music mean?

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

14 February

An example. Does striggio mean:

(a) Excitedly - a bit like a tremolo?

(b) The opposite of sforzando?

(c) There's a hole in the score here, where the composer dropped his or her cigarette on the manuscript original?

(d) Just for the strings, i.e. the players are encouraged to sound really stringy?

(e) He's that other composer of a choral work in forty parts?

And why Italian anyway? Not always, because some composers (e.g. Schumann, Dvorak) shun it, but is it really the language of music (or, even, Music)?

And, if you thought None of these in (a) to (e), above, then you're probably right, and 'that Itlian' is Carlo Maria Giulini, ready to conduct the piece...