Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Romantic Quartets

Holland Music Sessions is a programme offering master classes, concert tours in Europe and the US, and management to talented young musicians (applications are open for Summer 2008). Clearly a wonderful opportunity, and tonight at the Filharmonija three young Lithuanians received scholarships for this year's events (two were absent, studying in Germany....). The programme is at least partly funded by AON, an insurance company (welldone, AON!). This was good, because they must have provided about 90% of the about 40 members of the audience, listening to previous participants of the Music Sessions. Shocking, that - it was blamed on the fact that the Filharmonija never has concerts on a Tuesday.

Tonight's group was the Lendvai String Trio (violin, viola, cello) with Martin Sturfaelt, piano. The Lendvai String Trio consists of 3 young ladies from the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands respectively. It's brave to set up such a trio - the repertoire is a bit limited.....hence the pianist.

And that's where the problem lay. Martin Sturfaelt, a very competent pianist, is an extremely confident young man. A much better and much more charismatic pianist than the poor young man who played last Friday. Martin did some announcements in perfect English, and I am sure would make a wonderful TV presenter. Boy, could he talk. Could he talk?????

The programming was a bit odd; lots of single movements from this and that. Maybe a wise move given that the audience was full of people who don't usually come to concerts, but actually, the audience coped very well during the pieces with more than one movement. It was mostly romantic music, apart from Schnittke who had taken a bit of Mahler's a-minor piano trio and added a second movement, based on Mahler's sketches. The first movement of this was wonderful, very early Mahler; the second movement...I think the Mahler fragment was at the end; otherwise it was pure Schnittke. Which is fine for me.

Steenhammer's Allegro brillante for piano quartet, Faure's piano quartet in c-minor, and Schubert's string trio in B major (first movement) were also very pleasant pieces indeed. The Schubert was particularly nice, because it was the only piece where you could actually hear the string players, and suddenly they developed welly. In all other pieces they were dominated by the piano, you could see them moving, but they did not cut through. The viola in particular, which, as an instrument, was so dull in appearance you felt like slapping some varnish on it, was almost totally inaudible, as was the cello. Did the ladies lose courage when Martin played? It was such a shame. When they went off the stage with Martin at the end, it was like he was herding a gaggle of geese - but on their own they were perfectly confident. Men! Women!

There was another 'piece' - frankly, we could have done without it, the concert was quite long enough - which they called 'Ipod Shuffle' where they played a series of tiny pieces by, if I remember them all, Tchaikovsky, Messiaen, Atterberg, Di Lasso, Ravel, and one or two others, in random order. When they mentioned 3 minutes each, and the overall list of composers, those of us in the maths business worked out all by ourselves that this would take 18 - 21 minutes. Too long, and the pieces were obscure. It would have been more fun to either take something and do it in the styles of these composers, or to do a medley of well-known pieces. As it was, when Martin laboriously announced the solution after the interval, it seemed like a test at school. And this audience, I mean really, none of them would have heard of Atterberg...

Memo to their management: I am sure they are very nice and very talented young people (and we saw the trio's talent when it played alone); just don't have them playing together.


violainvilnius said...

I see that in the March Strad the trio was described as 'compelling' in their Wigmore Hall concert in London. There they played with a different pianist, Daniel Becker.

This begs the question whether a string trio like this is at all sustainable ....