Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another airline mishap

Sergej Babajan, the delightful conductor and soloist of tonight's concert at the Vilnius Filharmonija, in the course of the evening appeared on stage in two different pairs of trousers, neither of which matched his blazer. Luggage is still travelling presumably. Since he's not that tall, it may have been too difficult to borrow a suit from someone else.

It was a great concert! We've had odd Boxing Day concerts with the Lithuanian chamber orchestra, particularly under its long-time conductor, when the conductor was tired and so was the orchestra. Since he left, the orchestra is improving, though it always needs a very strong personality to get them to play their best.

Tonight's concert, a full Bach evening (as is the tradition on Boxing Day, we were told - it ain't so, we distinctly remember a ropy Schubert one Boxing day), consisted of two Bach piano concertos and the Magnificat. I'm never convinced about Bach piano concertos; they just don't sound right - and why is there a harpsichord being played at the back of the stage (it was almost inaudible in any case, but maybe is needed for the continuo). The transition from the slow movement to the final fast movement in the concerto in f minor is so corny, it's pure romanticism.

But oh, that second movement - Babajan played it soooo calmly, it was total bliss! The orchestra picked slightly the wrong moment to be energetic - the cellos in particular under the delightful Dainius should just have swum along in the slipstream, rather than trying to drive the thing. And the pratt behind me should not have picked this quietest of all movements to get out his reading glasses 'clack clack', read the programme, and put them away again 'clack clack'. I suppose it was boring for him - otherwise you could have heard a pin drop. Babajan must have liked this movement, too, because he gave it as an encore. The other piano concerto (d-minor) went very nicely, too. Babajan really did beautifully with these concertos.

The Magnificat in the second half involved the choir Jauna Muzika, and the singers Jekaterina Tretjakova, Milda Smalakyte, Ieva Prudnikovaite, Mindaugas Zimkus, and Ignas Misiura (I am almost certain he used to be double-barrelled). If ever you need a singer to look style, call for Ignas - he can do style for Lithuania - and most Lithuanians are good at style anyway. But Ignas' outfits are sublime! Today he was wearing a black frock coat lined in red, set off by a maroon bow tie, and what looked like a Paisley pattern handkerchief in his top pocket. Ever so snazzy!

He sings well, too, though he had only one solo and one shared aria. Usually I hear him and his colleagues in a small church where I sit about 3 m from them; here I was a bit more distant, and their nice voices did not come across quite so well. Ieva's voice, which can have foghorn qualities, was more scattered here, and not quite so dominant. Not sure whether her aria quite hit the low notes that Ieva is so impressive at. Bit of a shame, really. Milda seemed to have trouble controlling her face when she was not singing. Jekaterina had a very bright soprano voice and was a bit over-enthusiastic with her entries. Mindaugas and Ignas did well, as they always do - a very solid, reliable pair of (pairs of) hands. You have an oratorio? You need sound singers? Get Ignas and Mindaugas on the job. Ignas is particularly multitalented; I always remember him doing a version of a Paul Celan poem on the topic of the holocaust - it was awesome! But Mindaugas, there was one odd moment - when Bach writes 'qui venit', even if it's on a melisma, I don't think it should be 'qui ve-he-he-he-he-nit', more like 'qui ve-e-e-e-e-nit'. I doubt it was meant to be a laugh.

Something else I found a bit strange, though I have not previously paid attention to it...when the cello (together with the harpsichord) was doing an obbligato line, or simply accompanying a soloist, why did it need to be doubled by the double bass? (In Lithuanian the 'double bass' does not have 'double' in its name). That seemed like a very high risk strategy - though they pulled it off perfectly. Not convinced that this is necessary, though. Maybe the double bassist was bored, or the conductor required it?).

Generally it all fitted together well, everyone paid great attention to the conductor, and it was a very pleasing performance. (One wonders how it would be with just the soloists as the 'choir', but probably the choirs trades union might have a word or two to say about that).

Judging by this concert Mr Babajan, who is from Armenia, but sensibly lives in the US, had a very successful trip to Lithuania. And I hope he finds his trousers.

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