Tuesday 14 August 2012

EIF 2012 – In Which First Music then a Musician Fail to Convince Me

Two brief reports follow on performances which for different reasons just didn't carry me off.

Greyfriars – His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts and Concerto Palatino

Early Music has been a regular feature of the International Festival during Jonathan Mills's directorship. Generally speaking this is not an era of classical music that does much for me and I have consequently not attended many of the concerts in this strand over the last few years. However, I've always been intrigued by the idea of an ensemble of Sagbutts and Cornetts so I decided to give this performance a try.

The concert celebrated the 400th anniversary the day before of the death of Giovanni Gabrieli with an hour long selection of his instrumental pieces featuring various combinations of sackbut (the predecessor of the trombone) and cornetts – described in the programme note as “made of wood [with] finger-holes (like a woodwind instrument) but [using] the cup mouthpiece more often associated with brass ones.” The selections were taken from three collections of Gabrieli's music – the Symphoniae sacrae (1597), the Canzoni per sonare (1608) and the posthumously published Canzone e sonate (1615).

The quality of the playing was excellent and I found more to interest me in the pieces of later date which sounded more complex musically to my unfamiliar ears. That said an hour of this sound world was quite sufficient for me. I'm interested to have heard these performers once but I don't feel I need to hurry to hear them again. This is not a comment on them, but on myself – it rather proved to me that early music is just not really my cup of tea.

Queens Hall – Antonio Meneses/Maria Joao Pires

This morning's Queen's Hall chamber concert also left me wondering if it was me. I'd bought a ticket really because I wanted to hear Pires again, a pianist I really admire. I hadn't heard Meneses before, and he, for me, proved to be the problematic element of this recital.

The best part of the concert to my ear was the opening work, Brahms Three Intermezzi, Op.117. The observant among you may detect that this was the only work in the programme just for Pires. She played them with the poetry and delicacy that I remembered from previous performances. There were also moments of this in the duo works which followed. These were Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, Mendelssohn's Song Without Words, Op.109 and Brahms's Cello Sonata No.1.

My overall problem in all these pieces was with Meneses's playing, which just did not engage me. To my ear he rarely sounded secure. He was better in the slower passages and on a number of occasions these drew a fine sound. But faster passages sounded scrambled, tuning occasionally sounded fractionally off to me and quality of tone deteriorated. The overall result was too often a lack of a sense of shape. I couldn't help feeling there was a real gap between the moods Pires conjured when the piano was dominant and what was happening in the corresponding passages for cello.

Applause was strong from the rest of the audience after each piece, suggesting I was clearly in a minority in my reaction. Maybe it was me, but as a cellist Meneses was a long way from matching Miklos Perenyi's memorable recital in the Aldeburgh Festival earlier this year, or Heinrich Schiff's Queens Hall recital some years ago.

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