Saturday, January 19, 2008

Homage to Ravel?

Not sure what Arvydas Malcys' 'Eccentric Bolero' was trying to say in tonight's concert of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO). We were reminded that it is 80 years ago that Ravel's Bolero was first performed, but this? It started with an impressionistic kind of sound wall, which went on for quite a while and I wondered - how would you dance to this? But then the fog lifted and a snare drum rhythm appeared (not quite as complex as Ravel's) with a little tune in the oboes (?) and the cellos, and with the whole thing becoming denser and denser, much in the way of the Ravel Bolero, including increasingly Ravel's thematic bits (though I spotted a tiny moment of West Side Story, too), and finally an end similar to that of Ravel - rather short and abrupt. Now, if I were able to write music, and wished to pay homage to Ravel's Bolero, I might have done several of the following:

  • dropped the first impressionistic bit
  • taken on the snare drum rhythm but maybe passed it round bits of the orchestra, or given someone else the rhythm first (what about a col legno on the strings to start off with?)
  • stretched and shortened the tempo (a bit like 'A drunk man dances the Bolero')
  • used completely different material (there must be more than one tune for this dance) and interspersed it with Ravel's bits
  • turned Ravel's bits upside down and back to front
  • stretched out the end in a Beethovian kind of way
  • had less of a consistent increase in noise but thrown in solo bits here and there
...just for a few ideas. In terms of market value I suspect that people may always prefer the original.

Myaskovsky's (who??) cello concerto followed, played by Georgi Goryunov. Myaskovsky (1881-1950) was a Russian composer, who first trained as an engineer and then as a composer, becoming friends with Prokofiev. Like most composers of this period (anywhere in the world, even if not living in the Stalin regime) he went through various phases of compositional style including experimentation with harmonies stretched very far. The cello concerto is very conventional, however, with a hint, I thought, of Soviet Realism. It's very pleasant and has whistle-able tunes - I am sure the theme of the first movement came round again at the end of the last movement - but it does not have that much depth. It's quite tonal, and makes beautiful use of the sound quality of cellos. No strange noises here. It's not very virtuosic, apart from the last movement, but someone who draws a beautiful sound out of a cello can make good use of it. Goryunov did so, with a lovely tone, and totally in control. Maybe he could have wrung out more emotion here or there, but it was a solid, sound performance.

Finally Tchaik 4, which the orchestra plays very often - I thought they could play it in their sleep, but I am told it was rehearsed all week. It was powerful stuff, with some lovely clarinet solo work, and a nice timp/violins interaction in the second movement. The violins played their hearts out!