Wednesday, August 24, 2016
The weekly diary of Anthea Kreston, violinist of the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet: This week we are back to quartet. Several concerts of old repertoire allow us the rehearsal time to build new repertoire – this week we begin Haydn Op. 76 #1, Schumann 3 and Rihm 3. This next week we gather for a festival at a lake – Bebersee – where we play quartet concerts. Jason and I stay for another week of mixed chamber music – from Beethoven to Schnittke. I returned this week to lend a hand at the Mit Macht Musik program for refugees. This time I was able to see a bit more of the facility – a community garden and a large courtyard with bicycles and children playing is nestled in between the horse-shoe shaped government building. As I walked up to the entrance I took a deep breath in – the smells of cooking hit me with a pungent wall of yum. I wanted to continue up another flight of stairs just to take a look at what was on the stove. I was greeted with hugs from a couple of the students, all of whom respond enthusiastically to the music – the pieces being taught are familiar songs from the home countries – Afghanistan, Syria, Chechnya. I was happy to see more parents this time – coming to pick up kids and ask questions. I learned that there is a hierarchy of cultures even in this small refugee village – prejudices and long-standing clashes of cultures. Some countries have a history of an established educational system, and some not. Many of the women from particular countries have never attended a school themselves – do not know how to read or write, or the importance of regular attendance. The teachers try to impart this need to them – consistent attendance is a must – a difficult concept for a parent who has never been in a formal learning environment. Some of the things I observed gave me heavy pause – and made me think that music is indeed a tool which can help bridge cultures, all of which have different priorities. To give a child a voice – a child who may have never had the opportunity to speak her (his) mind before, is a gift which can be given through music in a somewhat gentle way. Each person who had made it all the way from their homes to that village in Potsdam has courage the likes of which we will never be able to understand. And yet, the courage to find your own voice, the pride of discovery and creativity – of collaboration between people of different genders, ages, languages – with no hierarchy – these are things that happen in music – things that you do not realize you are teaching, or doing. Some families allow their children this freedom, and some are still struggling with this new-found freedom of choice. With love and support of the teachers, I believe they will come to that music room and allow their children the choice to discover their own voices.
From the classical archive, 15 March 1982: Sir András Schiff returns to the Proms next week to perform Beethoven. How did we review the pianist performing the same composer nearly 35 years ago at the beginning of his career? No-one who heard Andras Schiff’s Sunday afternoon piano recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall could have left the hall cold to the sheer radiance of his technique, which was constantly a joy to hear, if not always to see. In performance, Schiff presents a curious physical response to the music. When he pours up the tempo or dynamic after a diminution in either, he draws his whole body up from the keyboard and down on to the next chord with a characteristically precise but somehow graceless articulation of movement. Continue reading...
Maxim Vengerov, born 1974, was a child prodigy who won great competitions at an early age: the Wieniawski at ten and the Carl Flesch at fifteen. He went on to have a great career and be recognised as one of the leading violinists of our times, fortunately prodigal in this specialty. Nowadays he is also a conductor and teacher, and has his own Festival. An interesting point: during the recent decade he took a three-year sabbatical from playing; during that time he studied conducting . He came to Buenos Aires several times, the last playing a Chinese concerto with the Shanghai Symphony; although his playing was admirable, the work was subpar and hardly up to his capacities. But late in 2011 he gave a splendid recital of sustained quality, blending ideally intellectual comprehension with virtuoso realisation. Unfortunately I don´t keep archives and can´t vouchsafe if his pianist was Roustem Saitkoulov, but he is Vengerov´s habitual partner, it might have been him. Hand programme biographies should provide information about earlier visits to BA, but they are always mere translations of a standard international biography. I remember that years ago the Mozarteum made it a point of mentioning previous contacts with the artists; I wish they did that again in the future. Saitkoulov is a distinguished pianist in his own right; also,H he does a lot of chamber work. Born at Kazan, Russia, he studied with the great Elisso Virsaladze at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory (she came twice here) and then completed his training in Munich. He won important competitions: the Ferruccio Busoni (Bolzano), Géza Anda (Zürich), Marguerite Long (Paris). He has played with important orchestras and given recitals throughout the world. By the way, he accepts the French version of his name and surname; for us or for Great Britain and USA, it should be Rustem Saitkulov (we write Mussorgsky, not Moussorgsky). So there were good reasons to expect from this Mozarteum concert (repeated with the same programme) a very high level. Technically it was of course impeccable, but the interpretations began coldly, more so in the case of Vengerov. The sonatas chosen were enticing: Schubert´s Sonata in A, D.574, pompously called "Grand Duet"; and Beethoven´s marvelous Sonata Nº 7, in C minor, Op.30 Nº2. Schubert´s sonata was written young, at 20, but his personality is clear from the very beginning, a delicious Allegro moderato. Who else wrote such melodies or was so subtle in the harmonic modulations? He also wrote three other sonatas, a bit less inspired and developed, called Sonatinas by the editor. All of them were published posthumously, the same sad destiny of his symphonies 8 and 9. I fell in love with the sonata in my youth with the wonderful recording by Kreisler and Rachmaninov, for it has charm and beauty: Kreisler sings with captivating timbre, and the great Russian virtuoso adapts to the intimate style perfectly.Too much sliding from Kreisler? Agreed, but he is irresistible. And that´s contrary to what I felt from Vengerov: an academic, correct reading with no involvement. During the interval, a veteran friend said: "it´s as if he were afraid of producing any sound that isn´t round and smooth". Yes, all exact but with little energy and attack. Saitkoulov was better; however, the final result was placid in the wrong sense. As Claudia Guzmán rightly says in her comments referring to Beethoven´s Seventh Sonata: "never until then a work for piano and violin had displayed such dramatic intensity nor had required similar temporal proportions". It is a C minor masterpiece in the same rank as the "Pathetic" Piano Sonata and the Third Piano Concerto. No namby-pamby approach can deal with such a score. Things went gradually better, fired by the greater intensity and virtuoso playing of Soutkulov, but only got to the desirable grade of electricity from both in the last movement. Said my friend: "there I found Beethoven". But things changed, and the whole Second Part, as well as the four encores, went swimmingly. Both showed complete identification with that peculiar Ravel Second Sonata: he believed that piano and violin are incompatible and the music echoes that idea: the players oppose each other instead of being complemental. And you know, it works! The Blues is the best movement and it was played with ideal sinuosity. And then came a final virtuoso section starting with a violin solo piece: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst´s Variations on "The Last Rose of Summer", Nº 6 of the Polyphonic Etudes for solo violin. The piece on the lovely Irish tune is the devil to play and rarely done; Vengerov at twelve presented it at the Tchaikovsky International Competition. Here he showed the complete range of his fantastic technique. A quiet and reflexive Paganini, the Cantabile Op.17, originally for violin and guitar, was done in a transcription for violin and piano. The final score was the Kreisler arrangement for violin and piano of Paganini´s "I palpiti" for violin and orchestra, Introduction and Variations on a theme from Rossini´s "Tancredi" (the aria "Di tanti palpiti"), a true catalogue of Paganini´s technical innovations, splendidly played. Four encores: two of those inimitable Kreisler pieces that Beecham would have called "lollipops": the famous "Viennese Caprice" and the dynamic "Chinese tambourine". Rachmaninov´s beautiful Vocalise, transcribed from the original for orchestra. And Brahms´ ever so popular Hungarian Dance Nº5, in the Joachim arrangement. All done with panache by the artists. For Buenos Aires Herald
I am a huge fan of Beethoven’s chamber music. And recordings that combine his early quartets with the very late quartets written shortly before he died create exciting lessons in Beethoven’s musical development. Now there is a new recording by the Quartetto Di Cremona that does just that. Beethoven: Complete String Quartets Volume 6 Beethoven: String Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18 No. 5 String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130 Performed by the Quartetto di Cremona Both of these compositions reveal how Beethoven incorporated folk music into his own works; however, in all other aspects the styles of these two string quartets could not be more different. Early and late – with Beethoven this always implies developing questions and expanding compositional ideas. In the case of the works recorded here, we hear the A major Quartet from the Op. 18 set and the B-flat major Quartet, Op. 130. In both the focus is on folk music and its integration into Beethoven’s music. The variations on a simple theme in the Andante of the Quartet Op. 18 No. 5 represent such a case of looking towards popular music, as also does the “Alla danza tedesca” from the late Quartet Op. 130, where the rhythm and character of the good old German dance is alienated to such an extent that it seems to appear as a distant recollection, more than as an actual dance. During the early 1800’s music lovers were delighted to find so soon after Mozart’s death that Beethoven might replace the sorely missed music of Mozart. But Beethoven gradually departed from his initial path, insisted on cutting a new one, and finally went on his own creative journey. Here is the Quartet Op. 18 number 5 by Beethoven:
19 August 1840: Will has been sent to England for the purpose of being sold to help the widow and family of Beethoven’s brotherWhen Beethoven died, in 1827, a will was found among his papers, made by him during a dangerous illness in the year 1802, and addressed to his brother Carl, and his nephew Ludwig Beethoven. His brother died before him; and this will, which remained in the possession of his brother’s widow, has now been sent to England for the purpose of being sold to relieve the urgent necessities of herself and her family. It is in the hands of Messrs. Cramer and Co. of Regent-street. It was during Liszt’s recent visit to London that the will was sent to him by the widow of Beethoven’s brother, accompanied by a letter from that lady, describing in most affecting language the melancholy circumstances of herself and her daughter. “Had I not borne the name of Beethoven,” she writes, “I should never have dared to trouble you with my request; though your character for generosity is acknowledged all over Europe, so much genius and talent having seldom been combined with such benevolence. My present unhappy condition is the cause of my troubling you with this letter, as I am in danger of being completely destitute if your assistance does not soon arrive, my creditors having consented to wait no longer than is requisite for me to receive an answer to this letter.” Continue reading...
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Dean (BIS)Brett Dean here conducts a selection of his own works that highlights the restless imagination and sheer rightness of his string writing. Etüdenfest is a teeming showpiece drawn from the kind of finger-numbing studies every serious string student will know and dread – tongue-in-cheek, but only just. The five Short Stories exploit string possibilities to the full, as you might expect from a composer who used to play viola in the Berlin Philharmonic. These are for strings only; elsewhere we hear the rest of the excellent Swedish Chamber Orchestra too. The three movements of Shadow Music take us through different kinds of darkness, ending up in a dimly glittering, menacing fairyland. Finally, Dean’s own arrangement of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Quartet Op 59 No 2 leads into Testament, in which he imagines Beethoven scribbling away at the famous letter in which he confronted his encroaching deafness. It’s a disc of uneasy but engaging music. Continue reading...
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