Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wiener Melange

Meant to write this tomorrow, but can't get to sleep - first had the Prokofiev cello concerto in my head, and now the second movement of the Schumann piano quintet (E-minor). Drat!

In a small town like Vilnius the music life is soooo transparent, like you would not believe! If only everything else were so transparent....So when you go to a concert, and you see an ambassador there, some people who would probably consider themselves glitterati (in a tiny, tiny way) and who never go to concerts, and people from the music academy including those who also don't usually go to concerts, you know that:
  • the embassy has helped to fund the concert
  • there have been master classes in the music academy
  • the embassy has invited people without whom the hall would be even emptier
If then the ladies of the music academy present their flowers to the performers before the interval, the whole hall knows that they are rushing home to their loved ones. Now, Ladies, you know who you are, it's not as if I see you in every concert every night of the week. I am there, you are not!

But anyway. Tonight's chamber music concert at the Filharmonija, the last of the season, was of the Artis Quartet of Austria, with Daumantas Kirilauskas on the piano. Ticket prices, for a chamber concert, were somewhat stratospheric, but it was possibly worth it. And anyway, we aficionados know that chamber concerts in May are not well-attended, so you buy the cheapest ticket and then sit down in the most expensive seats (those that are free).

The Artis Quartet is quite well-known, it would appear, and they even have had their own series in the Musikverein in Vienna for the last 20 years; that's quite a badge of approval! Their sound is awesome - pure velvet and chocolate; I haven't heard such a smooth sound for a long, long time. They have three valuable old Italian instruments, belonging to a bank, with the first fiddle being made in 2001. They play standing up (except the cellist) - I wondered if they had brought their own fold-up music stand, or whether this was the best the Filharmonija could offer - the stands waved about alarmingly at times.

They started with Mozart's quartet, K428, and this amazing sound. But somehow it did not feel right, even though they have lived in Vienna since at least 1980. It was like Mozart played by Johann Strauss in a Viennese cafe during a Heuriger session. Mozart did not write so many rubatos! And the sound was too smooth, I thought - it could have done with being spikier, and with the first fiddle coming out more clearly. Transparency was a bit lacking here. In some places notes disappeared under the expression. It was interesting - but what would Mozart have thought? The applause was spoiled a little what with David Geringas strolling into the audience from the stage side of the concert hall at that precise moment. Wonder what he is doing in town?

I don't know Alban Berg's quartet (op 3) but was struck by how 'normal' Berg's music is now, compared to 80 years ago or so, when it would have been heard as revolutionary. He's another Viennese, of course. I remember his violin concerto being performed by Tatjana Grindenko a few years ago, to the sounds of general puzzlement in the audience. May have had something to do with the interpretation. Sometimes I get it on my Ipod and it seems quite logical. This quartet seemed to work much better than the Mozart, for the players. I'm not sure about the tempi - the first movement is described as 'langsam' (slow), and the second as 'maessige Viertel' (moderate crotchets [quarter notes]) - the performance seemed rather hastier than that, but it really worked well and was very interesting.

Finally Daumantas Kirilauskas joined them for Schumann's piano quintet, op 44. Another piece I did not realise I knew, note by note! Now here, at last, we had some balance between pianist and string group, not like then and then! So I can no longer blame the Filharmonija for having a noisy joanna, but need to put the blame fairly on the musicians. This was a wonderful performance - occasionally there were moments of disjunct between the pianist and the string players, but it was hardly noticeable. I was a bit puzzled, though, by the second movement - I always thought it was a bit like a funeral march, but here it was a very jaunty funeral skip, rather than a march, every time the theme appeared. And it does so, often. There was a beautiful moment for the viola, which he played a little bit, just the right amount, of rough and dirty. There was another moment, oft-reoccuring, where the cello started a phrase and the viola ended it - this was incredibly smooth and just perfect. This was a stunning performance, and well applauded by the audience, who were rewarded with an encore of the third movement of the piece.