Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Schubert Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, 7 Feb 2011

This, the second of three concerts given by the Schubert Ensemble at Wigmore Hall featuring works by Enescu and Dvořák, gave pride of place to the second piano quartets of both composers.   
Schubert’s brief piano trio Notturno, c. 1827, acted as a not inconsequential concert opener. The performance married steadiness of tempo with a brightness of tone and ebullience of feeling for the music’s surging lines, held together by tight ensemble coordination.  By turns, tender delicacy mixed with suitably dominant crescendi that always maintained a sense of relative scale.

Over the past few years the Schubert Ensemble have devoted a considerable amount of effort to understanding and performing some of Enescu’s major chamber compositions. The obvious enthusiasm they have for the second piano quartet was reflected in the cogent remarks on Enescu’s compositional approach that violinist Simon Blendis offered from the platform before the performance.  A defining characteristic of Enescu’s later works is his ability to fuse concentration of musical ideas with individuality of expression; indeed, the musical seed is sown by the piano in the opening movement’s first bars, and through gradual development and transformation it flowers across much of the entire work. The Schubert Ensemble brought a distinct intensity to the opening movement, flavouring the instrumental lines with a pungency of timbre that played slight of hand with the music’s key signature whilst unobtrusively registering the folk-originated underpinning layer within Enescu’s writing.  As elsewhere, careful observation was made of Enescu’s precise markings, resulting at times in a near improvisatory feel, so often the intention elsewhere in Enescu’s compositional approach. The playing of the middle movement explored the delicacy of Enescu’s writing to great effect, here a limpidity of phrasing in Jane Salmon’s cello and William Howard’s piano playing brought intended association with Gabriel Fauré to mind. The closing movement proved suitably driven, possessed of its own emotional dynamism and creative energy: the players’ advocacy of the coda’s gradual evolution proved the necessity of thinking in terms of musical paragraphs rather that than on a phrase-by-phrase basis.

Based on this experience, their forthcoming CD of both Enescu piano quartets for Chandos, to be released later this year, should be well worth hearing. Perhaps in due course the Schubert Ensemble might be persuaded to add the virtually unknown A minor piano trio dating from 1916 to their repertoire, thus extending their journey into Enescu still further.
After the involved nature of Enescu’s writing, Dvořák’s piano quartet poured fourth effusively with self-confident, full-blooded lyricism. Across the four movements a range of moods were conveyed. Ever one to exploit the potential of a good theme with taste, refinement of statement, best explored in the slow second movement, found its counter-weight in the scherzo third movement’s staccato remarks, which gradually attained warmth of expression as the music progressed. Douglas Paterson’s viola frequently added a nutty ripeness to the overall palette. The closing movement was completely assured, peppery and vigorous.  

Another jointly written review also published at:

CD: Luiza Borac - Frühlingsglaube

It has been my privilege to hear Luiza Borac in concert – though far too infrequently for my liking – and to know her great recordings for the Avie label. Each one of these experiences reaffirms for me that Luiza is a wonderful artist blessed not only with a fabulous technique but also a deep insight into her chosen repertoire. In performance Luiza shows a constant care for the beauty of tone produced, an awareness of dynamic range and a passionate involvement with the music played that sets her far apart from most pianists on the concert circuit. Her latest CD, Frühlingsglaube, offers several live performance recordings that make these qualities palpably apparent.  

If today it seems that star soloists are only to willing to place themselves in the spotlight, only to forget the real purpose of why they are there – to put their skill and musical integrity at the service of the compositions they perform – then it is worth reflecting for a moment on the piano transcription. Could not the same accusation be levelled at Liszt or Busoni, for example? Yet it is an accusation that does not always hold fast. Liszt's transcriptions of Schubert lieder possess the means to cover a wide range of emotions and colour palettes: the dignity of Ave Maria, the intimate pathos felt in Sei mir gegrüßt or the drama of Erlkönig, all of which Luiza's performances take in their stride. Liszt increases the performing demands still further with his Mozart-influenced Réminiscences de “Don Juan”, requiring not a single voice to come through with character, but several, whilst adding a lot of his own invention as well. Luiza Borac's delightfully nuanced touch breathes life into the personalities with beguiling ease and makes light of the Lisztian extravagances. From vocal transcriptions to instrumental ones... Rachmaninov's transcription of Kreisler's Liebeslied transports us effectively to Vienna in a momentary reverie, whist Luiza Borac's own transcription of Tárrega's Requerdos de la Alhambra makes the tremolo guitar technique no less challenging and tender of sentiment on the keyboard. Often whilst listening to this recording, the words of Franz von Schober famously set by Schubert crossed my mind: “Du holde Kunst … Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb' entzunden, Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt!” This is music-making that enriches not just the lives of those who hear it but, due to Luiza's continued charitable commitments to her Romanian roots, those less fortunate than us who should never be forgotten.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Eduard Stan at Enescu Society 3 Feb 2011

Eduard Stan's solo recital at the Enescu Society opened with an account of Grieg's Holberg Suite that clearly established the over-riding characteristics of the evening's playing: strength of architectural conception without neglecting telling nuances of detail. The Prelaudium was full of flourish and panache, the Sarabande built of finely graded dynamics, whilst much interest was found in the Gavotte's contrasting sections. Finest of all though was the Air, bringing to the fore Eduard's gift for sustaining a cantelina line that was introspective and searching. Unforced depth of tone and restraint marked out the closing Rigaudon.

The remainder of the first half was centred around the theme of water, with three excerpts from Liszt's Années de Pèlerinage and Liszt's transcription of Schubert's Auf dem Wasser zu singen. Les jeux d'eau à la villa d'Este was grandly evoked, with the succeeding Au lac de Wallenstadt impressing by its relative sense of calm. Au bord d'une source held much poetry in Eduard Stan's delicate touch and subtlety of phrasing. The Schubert-Liszt transcription was at first suitably lyrical then ever more elaborated, to be at once true to the original and the best excesses of Lisztian exuberance.

Schubert's Impromptu in F minor gave Eduard Stan the opportunity to explore at length a nuanced palette of colours with playing that was always stylistically aware.

Such qualities were continued in his masterly account of Enescu's second piano suite, op. 10. The Toccata was suitably majestic, big-boned without being too strongly built. The Sarabande had its nobility underlined by an evenness of dynamic and crispness of articulation. The Pavane found Stan delighting in the delicacy and lightness of Enescu's writing, bringing both a sense of spaciousness and elegance of phrasing to bear on the results. The glories of the closing Bourrée, in contrast to that played by Florian Mitrea the night before, proved to be rather more hard won. Eduard's conception was at once anxious and urgent in his telling staccato attack across, at first, a relatively narrow dynamic range, making much of the internal workings, before broadening the tonal palette to achieve a suitable grandness of gesture. Brahms' Intermezzo in A was given as an encore, tasteful and refined to the last.

Photo credit: Sabrina Scheffer

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Florian Mitrea recital at Latvian Embassy 2 Feb 2011

It is appropriate that a new blog documenting my reactions to the most significant cultural events I attend should also record the initiative of the Latvian Embassy in London to establish a series of classical concerts. With the Embassy situated not a stone's throw away from the Royal Academy of Music, it felt entirely natural that Florian Mitrea, one of the most promising students in the Academy’s keyboard department, should give the debut recital upon the newly installed baby grand piano amongst surroundings that were suitably intimate and comfortable. The spirit of traditional salon concerts, with music before convivial conversation, lives on.

By opening his hour-long recital with Schumann’s Carnaval, Florian set himself a considerable challenge. The work’s popularity takes nothing away from the interpretive difficulties it poses for the player – should the sequence of character portraits be unified within an overall concept of the piece, or should their differences of mood and emotional force be left exposed? Florian’s response was very much the latter, evident from the outset with his daringly fast chosen tempo. Strength of feeling for the work permeated Florian’s playing throughout give a good sense that he understood the impulses that lie within Schumann’s writing. Occasionally, passions outbalanced cleanliness of execution, but in the work’s more Florestanesque fiery aspects this detracted only slightly.

Jazeps Vitols (1863-1948), though hardly a household name, commands a significant place among Latvian composers, having been a prominent composition professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire and thereafter in Riga. His output is sizable and his piano works readily reflect a post-Lisztian train of thought, which Song of Waves, op 41, significantly illustrated. Florian Mitrea’s interpretation mixed Romantic largesse in his touch with a keenness for colourful sonority, deftly heightened through appropriate pedalling.

Moving from Latvian to Romanian repertoire for the remainder of the programme, Florian was at last in his element. The Bourrée from Enescu’s Second Piano Suite, op. 10, was eloquent in its fluency, mindful both of the Gallic feel inherent to the form and Enescu’s particular depth of tone at the keyboard. If Enescu’s music has become more widely played and recorded in recent years, Paul Constantinescu (1909-1963) remains all but unknown outside of Romania. Florian’s inclusion of two important solo piano works, Theme with variations and Dobrogean Dance, effectively made the case for a more thorough investigation of Constantinescu’s music. Theme with variations wore its heart on its sleeve, turning effortlessly from joy, to celebration in its dance-inspired elements to a very Romanian sense of dor (bitter-sweet sadness) at its close. The Dobrogean Dance followed almost without a break, full of life and energy.

The next concert on 28 April features music by Astor Piazzolla. Hopefully it will not be long before the music of Latvians Emils Darzins, noted for his songs, or Maija Einfelde, a contemporary composer with a sizable reputation for chamber music, reach a wider audience.

Photo credit: Serban Mestecaneanu