Monday, November 05, 2007

Bratsche forever!

I want to review a film I've just seen but I cannot put it next to something as tasteful and sensitive as Daniel Hope (who, incidentally, has had some quite mixed reviews of his Mendelssohn CD, with particularly BBC Radio 3, the somewhat obscure German music magazine 'Partituren' and something else not being altogether impressed by it. Never mind; I am told he has had great reviews elsewhere - he has his own very specific style of playing, which is a change from the many faceless interpretations one gets nowadays).

Just back in Vilnius after almost a fortnight in Germany, doing different things....very different things....

Last weekend had the German Bratschistentag in Muenster, Northrhine Westphalia. (Bit of a spelling nightmare, no?) Muenster's other claim to fame is that it is the capital of Westphalia, and the place which set the curricula (actually, they only advised) of the school I went to several centuries ago. Oh yes, and they signed the Peace of Westphalia there in 1648, after the 30-year war. It is a lovely place to go and see at Christmas, with the old town beautifully decorated. I was pleased to note that the municipal decorations are not yet up.

The music school at Muenster University is not that well known. First I had heard about it was when Reinbert Evers, who appears to be the head of the music school, appeared in Vilnius playing the guitar. Reasonably well, though you tended to hang at the end of the chair at times in suspense, wondering about the next note. I guess much of his time is taken up in administration.

The head of the viola department is Hartmut Lindemann, who has a particular interest in the playing style of about 100 years ago, Kreisler, Heifetz and Primrose. Well, ok, 50 years ago. The Deutsche Bratschistentag united members of the German viola society and others in 48 hours of intense viola playing, with three concerts, masterclasses and the usual play in, apart from quite an extensive display of violas by different and very enthusiastic makers.

In the first concert students from Tabea Zimmermann's class gave it laldy. I think she goes for students who can not only play the viola, but who also have a personality - and they did her proud with the world premiere of a fun, energetic and rather noisy piece by Gordon Kampe, '15 white pictures by Guenther Uecker'. I don't think anyone could count all 15 - they rather merged, but it was a fun piece, and great for energetic young people. (I could digress further and tell a story about Guenther Uecker, but I won't). This was followed by a rather uninspiring performance of Milhaud's 'Quatre Visages' for viola and piano. Milhaud, for a French composer, writes some nice music - my friend Omar played a lovely piano, clarinet and violin trio (with the delightful Trevor Bray on the piano and a great unknown violinist) at the OU summer school. This was a lovely piece, too, played rather school boyishly. Oh dear, and then there was another world premiere of a piece called 'En' by Nicolaus Huber, performed by Hideko Koyabashi, who teaches in Mannheim. Well, er, what can I say. It's not a piece that would work on a CD seeing as for large stretches of time there is not much sound. Don't ask my why there isn't much sound - I only saw the back of the soloist; it's all about strange noises. Supposed to reflect meditation in a Japanese garden....Again you ask why does it need a viola. Ms Koyabashi showed what she could do in Hindemith's 1939 sonata which went very well.

The next day we had two first performances of classical works. We think. We are not sure, though I cannot immediately find a recording of the Sperger viola concerto in E flat major. The piece is ok. Not brilliant, though; in fact rather weird. The first movement tootles along ok for a classical piece (Sperger lived around Mozart's lifetime). The second movement is strange, with a sort of baroque way of getting the soloist to play all the time - but not always the tune. There you have the piece starting with the orchestra playing the melody and the soloist the accompaniment. And then in the final movement, which goes on and on, there are a couple of places where the solo line just kind of hangs in the air. It must have been meant. But. I would not rush out to buy it, nor would I have published it particularly. The soloist played very beautifully but not with that much personality or power; but she has won many scholarships and other forms of support. Both issues were more than made up for in the Stamitz sinfonia concertante for violin and viola in D major, recently republished from the manuscript (I see there are recordings of a sinf. conc. in that key - is it the same one or a different one?). This is a brilliant piece, very virtuosic and very very long. Played in beautiful togetherness by Noah Bendix-Balgley and Benedikt Schneider (look out for him) with lots of panache and lots of personality. Finally we had Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (my third live hearing this year) with Karin Wolf and Susanne Rabenschlager. It was ok; could have done with a little more enthusiasm and spirit of togetherness, but was of course totally secure.

The final concert had Hartmut Lindemann doing what he does best, playing Kreisler (the Praeludium and Allegro on which I came a serious cropper in a competition), a Primrose transcription, pieces by Bax, Stanford and one of the Brahms sonatas. Not being a lover of English music, particularly of that period and those composers, this was a bit of suffering; but the pieces were interesting and would add some variety to students who also always play Brahms. Lindemann certainly played very beautifully, and, as is his style, very virtuosically. Got loads of applause and was unstoppable on the encores.

In between that we had the group playing together, some masterclasses and a talk on viola music of the early classical period - plus many happy get-togethers. It was great! Next year it will be in Cologne, where I hear Antoine Tamestit is the new professor of viola at the ripe old age of 28, rubbing shoulders with star teachers like Zakhar Bron (vile-din) and Frans Helmerson (cello). Wow!!!! And very well deserved indeed!