Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are those my strings on that fiddle?

My musical friends will remember my friend Eleanor's campaign to collect used strings for the Moldavian Chamber Orchestra. Well, here I am in Chisinau, Moldova (in case you had not guessed before!) and there is a concert by the National Chamber Orchestra of Moldova. Is it the same orchestra, I ask myself? (Moldova, Moldavia, Moldau [the river Vltava in its German incarnation...]). In Vilnius (country same size, but richer) we have two chamber orchestras, and two symphony orchestras with very similar name ('National' and 'State'....).

'Tis a concert with a flautist, Anastasia Gusarova, whose doctoral exam it might be - though on the other hand her teacher appears to have died this year. The programming is fairly conventional at the beginning, though we don't often hear of the composer Josef Myslivecek (1737 - 1781). His was a fairly bog standard classical flute concerto, very pleasant and all that. I was worried about the soloist here; she played all the right notes at the right time, but her articulation was not good - there was a wash of notes, all merging into each other. No crispness here. Nor in the orchestra, who could have played this music a lot tighter - though at least the horns only fluffed once, which is better than in other chamber orchestras I could mention.

This was followed by Mozart's Andante which everyone knows, and Michael Haydn's flute concerto, which not so many people know. It's a bit of a trivial little piece. I wonder if this composer's surname had been 'Schmidt'- would he have become so relatively well known? Nothing in this set the heather alight (although her articulation had improved by then), and the fact that Ms Gusarova went on the stage with rather a grim little face did not help; Nor did it help, it must be said, the fact that the audience of 150 in a hall of 540 seats seemed to be rationing its applause - if it had not been for us two foreigners hardly anyone would have been applauded onto the stage.

All this classical stuff was followed by a 'Polca de bravura' (Romanian spelling, before someone starts chucking saucepans) by one Wilhelm Albrecht Otto Popp. Not Poppe, as my teacher's composer son Enno, just plain Popp, almost as in 'pop off'. Late 19th century, he lived till only age 34. This was one of those virtuosic pieces , like so many in the violin/viola world - starts slowly, and then explodes. Here Ms Gusarova suddenly came to life, and gave it all she'd got. Typical Eastern European - they are always good on the fireworks! (though did I notice the conductor turning more than one page at one time? Surely not!).

You thought the concert would be over, no? It wasn't - right at the end the band played two pieces by Vladimir Rotaru, Gusarova's late teacher, who was also a composer, as well as a flautist. They played the first movement of his sinfonietta; a piece in the style of Adagio for strings, or some of those Britten works - nothing outrageous for the strings to do. If he had finished it it might have been quite pleasant, though perhaps not of the current time.

Rotaru's piece 'tablouri rustice' for flute and orchestra ended the concert. This was an interesting little virtuosic piece, mixing slow and fast music, quite in the style of 'gypsy' music (the theme sounded a little familiar - I've been watching 'Black Cat, White Cat' too much). At times the orchestra drowned out the flute, though, but it was a lovely little Eastern European fantasy.

The conductor, Mihail Secichin, did well at holding the orchestra together; they could all have been crisper in the classical pieces, but neither was the flautist.

So, were those my strings? I had been given a name of someone who was the orchestra's chairperson, but it seemed he is now in the opera orchestra. And how can you ask, in very fractured Russian, not even knowing the word for 'string' where they got the strings from? And what could they say to that? Getting gratitude was not exactly what I would have wanted...But it would still have been nice to know the strings were being used....

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