Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Festival 2005, part III

It shouldn't take this long to copy and paste two year old writings from another forum, but hey. However, for any who may have been waiting, here is week three of the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival, first posted over at the Naim forum. Click here for weeks 1 and 2. However, on rereading it, it appears to have been written at a time when my computer failed me and is rather less detailed that I would like. As a result I have preceded it with my round-up of that year's chamber concerts. Once again, revisions are italicised.

In addition to the main evening concerts, the festival also has the morning Queen’s Hall series (which are going out at around lunch time on Radio 3 at the moment). These are chamber music and have been a little mixed. They started off with Llyr Williams on Monday the 15th. He’s apparently a very highly regarded pianist, though lord only knows why. He started off with a terrible Schubert D960 sonata, the pauses extended far, far too long. His use of the echo pedal (sorry, I don’t know the technical term) was so excessive that all the notes were muddy and garbled. This, coupled with the disconcerting way he kept turning round to look at the audience, was annoying. His Chopin preludes were a little better, but I shall not be making an effort to see him again.

Wednesday and we had some viola sonatas. Sadly the pianist, Crawford-Philips, was not very good: far too intrusive during the Brahms. The Britten and Prokofiev were better, mainly because it’s virtually impossible to play intrusively in those. The Prokofiev (scenes from Romeo and Juliet) was the highlight. Thursday gave us the wonderful Belcea Quartet with a very long programme. A Haydn trio, the Beethoven op.70 and the Schubert D898. They confirmed my opinion that they really are an outstanding group, and the play with such a wonderful excitement. Friday and Kozena followed her appearance in Clemenza with some lieder (accompanied Edinburgh stalwart Martineau – also far too intrusive!). The outstanding songs here were by Britten, lullabies (op 41), and Shostakovich, satires (op 109). Indeed they were so good, I picked up the cd there and then.

Into week two and Monday saw lieder from Maltman and Martineau: a mix of Schubert, Schumann, Mahler and Strauss. It was good, though I don’t really know the works well enough to review it properly. Tuesday gave us the first of the Janacek String Quartet’s concerts playing Dvorak. The op.105 sting quartet didn’t really do anything for me. However, in the second half was a really wonderful performance of the op.81 piano quintet which melded together really well. Wednesday, and Martineau accompanies Brachmann in Schubert and Mahler. The Mahler (Wunderhorn) is particularly fine. Thursday was the second of the Janacek’s two concerts. It was less good. The op.34 string quartet was on a par with their tuesday performance. Sadly the second half (and string quintet, op.97) was not nearly as wonderful as Tuesday’s piano quintet. I would also like to have had some Janacek from them. Indeed, I’d like to see a little more adventure in the programming in general (how about some Bartok and Shostakovich too). Friday and the Michelangelo Quartet gave competent reading of Mozart’s k387, Haydn’s op.77 no. 2 and the Schubert string quintet. While there was nothing wrong with it, it didn’t blow me away either. Indeed, that has been the hallmark of much of the Queen’s Hall series this year: competent but not outstanding.

Review of the 3rd week to follow (my computer recently went and died on me!). It appears that the problems of my computer (repeated hard disk failure, Apple's refusal to fix it effectively remains a sore spot) meant that I never got round to that, so I have thrashed out the brief notes I made in response to some else's postings as best I can recall.

Tuesday 30th saw the Bamberg Orchestra's first concert (or, at least, the first I went to, for some reason I wasn't at Monday's Mahler 5, odd given how much I am a fan of the music, certainly nothing in the programme explains my absence) of Wagner's Tristan and Islode. As mentioned in my previous post, this was remarkable for the presence of Christine Brewer's Isolde. The Bamberg Orchestra played well enough, and certainly made all the right sounds, but, somehow, failed to go that extra mile.

Brendel, on the Wednesday, had lost none of his skill, and was absolutely stunning. Actually, I was in two minds as to whether or not to go to this concert, and was surprisingly able to get a ticket shortly before hand. My apprehension stemmed from my previous encounter with the artist in the concert hall. That had been in a performance of Beethoven's 3rd concerto with the Philharmonia at the Anvil in Basingstoke a few years earlier. A lot of the problem was the small size of the stage to the large size of the orchestra. They started with an overture, if memory serves, and then a number of the players cleared out so the forces were more appropriate to the concerto. The result was that almost all the members of the orchestra were on one side of the stage and the piano on the other, and behind Dohnanyi (who seemed to make little effort to communicate). The result was an odd balance and a rather unsatisfactory performance. However, I put much of this down to unprofessionalism on the part of the conductor. Certainly Brendel still sparkled in the solo repertoire (I don't know if I would still go to hear him in a concerto). True, the Usher Hall was not without its problems (as often with smaller ensembles, the sound of glasses being put out for the interval was clearly audible (hopefully this problem will be eliminated in the renovations, which they appear to be blogging). But none of that mattered. We got commanding performances of Mozart's 9 variations of a minuet by Duport, Schumann's Kreisleriana, Schubert's momens musicals and Beethoven's op.28 pastoral (followed by an encore of Bach). Persuasive not only in his playing, he also instantly silence some clapping between movements with the subtlest of gestures. His recital this year was near the top of my list of priorities.

I wrote nothing about the Thursday concert and can recall only two things: that Ravel's Bolero is an absolutely interminable piece of music and that Ming Campbell was to be spotted in the audience.

Friday was more interesting. We had Ligeti's 100 metronomes - his Poeme Symphonique. As you come into the hall, there they are, arranged in 4 squares of 25, all ticking away. One by one they fall silent. Wonderfully silly (and interesting). However, it says something a little telling that, Brewer aside, it is my fondest memory of the Bambergers residence. I enjoyed Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, sang by Alice Coote (though they really need to sort out having the house lights stay up when there's text). Also, I'm not clear whether it was deliberate not to light the singer's face, I suspect not.

As to the Bambergers and Nott, I went to 4 of their 5 concerts and by the end of the week I think I'd nailed his problem: he doesn't give the 'big picture'. Sure, he gets some nice sounds now and then, but over all.... The closing concert (aside from being far, far too long) was terrible to sit through. I'm a little ashamed to admit that the Schubert 8th was the first time I've ever felt moved to boo after a performance, but it was truly terrible. Clearly Nott hadn't read the tempo makings as both the Allegro and the Andante were played at a snail's pace (and, indeed, the Andante seemed the faster of the two!). In fairness, some (e.g. Furtwangler) can get away with perverse tempi, Nott couldn't and the result was interminable. The Schubert 1 was interesting, not least because he'd decided to try and go for some 'period performance' technique, sadly the orchestra wasn't up to it. I don't mean to imply they were bad players, just this style was not their thing, and it rather showed. Why they decided to do that on the Schubert, yet not the Mozart is also little puzzling. He clearly thinks he knows Schubert (he's recorded enough of it) but my advice would be to steer very well clear. It wasn't all bad, though I think the Bolero should never, under any circumstances, be played (I have since heard one or two bearable recordings, but I could live perfectly happy never hearing it again). However, I think it's a good lesson that 5 concerts by the same band in the same week is certainly too much.

Over all it's been a good year, though I wonder whether McMaster is holding back a little for his final throw of the dice next year.

Coming up soon, Festival 2006, which was much better chronicled and will require less revision. Please note, this in no way implies it will be posted here any sooner!

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