Saturday, December 15, 2007

That Jacqueline Dupre must have had some power to her elbow

It's really not fair on any cellist to have a Brit, steeped in Jacqueline Dupre, review a performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto.

Young Edvardas Armonas had that pleasure this evening in the Vilnius Filharmonija. Given that his dad is a cello professor, too, it made me wonder during the performance what motivated the choice of 'Edvardas' for the first name....

Edvardas Armonas studied in Cologne, with Frans Helmerson (as now does that wonderful cellist, Giorgi Kharadze); both have been, or are, also closely involved with the Kronberg Academy, the German centre for top cellist development, as is the very young Marie Elisabeth Hecker, also reviewed by me here. I'm doing well on young cellists, no?

Armonas may be a minute or two older than the other two. Last time I heard him was in Yo Yo Ma's masterclass in the Vilnius music academy. Was it him who played Shostakovich, which prompted Ma to say that actually he had not engaged much with Shosty himself?

Anyway. Armonas may have missed the Dupre moment of that extremely powerful, blistering opening that she had, with the sobbing slide down on the C string, but he sure made up for it. He was in total control of the piece, with perfect intonation apart from one note, and there were moments of exquisite beauty. Not quite as many as with Kharadze and the Haydn that time in Tbilisi, but nevertheless there were. Particularly in the second movement which has a (repeated, and repeated within itself, so it comes up four times) moment where the cellist dives in on an off-beat - Armonas held that rest before it beautifully just that teeny bit too long to have the audience at the edge of their seat. (He could have varied it a little in the repeat within itself, but never mind). Sometimes the orchestra overpowered him, but perhaps I am so used to the Dupre recordings which may have had microphones in interesting places that this may not be a fair comment. The end was stunning, and his phrasing was great.

As an encore he played the two gigues from Bach's third cello suite. Well played, but it's not the kind of interpretation I like - just cleansing my ears with Anner Bylsma's version. Armonas went rather elastic on the tempi, and over-romanticised the second gigue (which of course should be played be differently from the first one). But this is a never-ending debate; each to their own. In the red corner are the romantics (Daniel Hope, Edvardas Armonas), in the blue corner are the Historically Influenced Players (Bylsma, Harnoncourt) - I tend to the blue corner.

The concerto was preceded by Jonas Nabazas symphonic poem „Song about sadness and happiness“. Nabazas was born 100 years ago, and this was written in 1933, one of the rare moments of Lithuania's independence. Before someone starts picking nits saying that Vilnius was in Poland then, let me tell you that Nabazas was based in Kaunas, the capital of independent Lithuania. This piece was kind of film music, with the odd moment of chinese sounding music in it, too. Quite big and complex. Ah well.

Finally we had Cesar Franck's D-minor symphony. Now, me, I don't like simpering, wishy-washy French music, and tend to lump them all together, Franck, Poulenc, Debussy, Faure and Messiaen (oh, Messiaen - he's got his 100th anniversary coming up next year.....can't stand the stuff). The opening blast of the Franck made me look at the programme, to note that Franck was born in 1822, so considerably earlier than that impressionist lot. Then I realised that Franck was actually of Belgian origin, and I further realised that I knew the symphony quite well. It's really fairly traditional romantic, considering that it is written in 1886 to 1888, with the first movement particularly being quite recognizably in sonata form. Lacks a scherzo, but by that time in the 19th century people had moved well away from the 'normal' sonata form. I do like Berlioz a lot, and this was quite a bit like Berlioz, what with the bright brass sound, the wide range of instruments and so on.

At this time in the concert I had moved up to the 'standing seats' above the orchestra. Something had made me want to see the conductor, the gorgeous Modestas Pitrenas, conduct - the standing seats are quite good, even better, if you have them all to yourself. It's one thing seeing them from behind (particularly Vytautas Lukocius with that delightful waggly behind - where is he these days?), but another to see people interact with their band. You also spot other things, involving fleeing follicles, for example. I'm sorry to say that the smile count was low, tended to come up when he peered in my direction (though he could hardly have spotted me what with the rather ornate balcony railings I was looking through). That would be three times, and after the slow movement to the oboes who may actually have smiled at him first. Then again, he's not a scowling conductor either, and the piece went well. The other interesting thing about this location, compared to the stalls seats, is that you can much better follow the music, and how the ball is thrown around the orchestra. Not only can you get a rough idea of the score because you can see the more or less black bits, but it makes it really easy to see and hear who plays what. Not all the balls were tossed about equally - sometimes they were hit back a bit half-heartedly, but generally it was a good effort. The orchestra likes to play loud, and it got plenty of chances for that!

I'll be spending more time in the gods in future!

(Photo by Mikhail Raskovskij)