Saturday, October 20, 2007

What story did he make up for himself this time?

Last time I heard Freddy Kempf it was when I played with him. Let me rephrase that - I was at the Dartington Summer School as was Freddy and his trio, where they worked as coaches. Only most people were so deeply in awe of this lot, that they did not dare ask them for tutoring. A friend and I did, and since the friend (a pianist) was the one who was particularly keen on the Arpeggione Sonata we picked on Freddy. Also there was no way I would have exposed myself to a cellist for the other part of the sonata. So he came along - and I was so in awe of being in the same room as him that I could barely hold my instrument the right way up! The main thing I brought back from that session was how useful it was to make up a little story about the music to help express what it said; and we made up a very nice, albeit slightly depressing, story about this sonata. The previous time I had heard him live was in Glasgow in 1992 when, aged 15, he won the young musician of the year competition. I'm not sure whether he has changed since....

Anyway, here he was in Vilnius, playing the Rakhmaninov second piano concerto. And wow, he blistered into it, and gave that piano laldy! Fingers flying everywhere, bravely battling against the occasionally overwhelming orchestra, beautifully cooperating with the conductor and the cellist opposite him - there were moments of utter bliss. Until you see a guy playing this stuff you don't appreciate the intricacy of it all, like when at least 10 fingers are hitting the keys (says she, who can do one hand on a piano, has trouble with both hands at the same time, and as for two hands and one foot - oh forget it!). And he was so mobile and full of expression and communication - the audience lapped it up and got him to play a Chopin etude as an encore. Another piano lesson on having the 'tune' on one finger with the others just providing a wash of background (says she whose hands are siamese twins on the piano, and as for divorcing just a finger ....). Totally awesome!

Those of you who live in the UK - Freddy Kempf and the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robertas Servenikas, in November are doing a tour of mainly England (12 concerts; there must be one near you!). Go and see them! They are playing all of Rakhmaninov's piano and orchestra pieces (not in the same concert), and some other stuff, too.

For the rest of the concert the orchestra was transformed, compared to the week before. It's all, and entirely and totally, due to the talented Robertas Servenikas, who conducts more and more like Simon Rattle every day. He did a thing with his left shoulder which Rattle does, too. Though on the whole Servenikas has nicer hair. Here the orchestra blistered its way through the William Tell overture (after an absolutely heart-rending start by the lead cellist, Edmundas Kulikauskas -oh, that first note - play it again, and again, Edmundas! - and his delightful group), and then launched into Nielsen's first symphony. Nielsen is one I should be familiar with, what with the Scottish chamber orchestra, and possibly the RSNO having had Nielsen seasons, but I could not remember anything about this symphony - I would have heard it only once, anyway.
I see Nielsen is described as post-romantic composer; that's about right, on the showing of this symphony. Nothing modern or atonal about it (atonal? wash my mouth out with soap and water), but apparently it already displays Nielsen's habit of starting a piece in one key and ending in another. That would indeed make it post-romantic. It's a very powerful work, with the first movement ending as if the whole piece had ended (unfortunately for the audience who burst into premature applause). The third movement had moved as far away from a minuet or scherzo form as you might get. The orchestra was totally under control and well-rehearsed; a Nielsen series of concerts would be a very nice idea.

(Photo courtesy of IMG Artists website).