Thursday, July 17, 2008

Deus ex machina?

My first concert in the St Christopher Festival in Vilnius last night involved the trio of Petras Geniusas (piano), Algirdas Budrys (clarinet) and David Geringas (cello). (Since when do the Lithuanian announcers pronounce Geringas' first name as 'Deivid'?).

The programming was fairly conventional, with trios by Beethoven, Senderovas and Brahms. The programme listed them upside down.....not helpful.

For the first half I sat in the back row of St Catherine's Church, in the second half I was in the second row. The St Christopher Festival still seems to give out invitations to all sorts of people who don't actually appear, so just as the concert started I saw a lot of standing customers flooding into seats at the front.....worth learning from this what with the higher ticket prices...

All the same, I was glad I tried out the last row. A church does not lend itself to chamber music, especially music needing as much precision as Beethoven. By the time it got to me, what started up as meat and two veg had become a pureed mush of notes. It's a beautiful piece, and I realised that I knew it. I thought Geringas never-varying vibrato was a bit much for Beethoven, and occasionally I could not hear the clarinet.

This was followed by Senderovas' Trio No 2. Senderovas is well-known for writing Jewish music and music that is very accessible. Written in 1984, also with a violin-cello-piano version, this piece seems to be from a slightly avantgarde phase. Though not excessively avantgarde - the pianist stood up only once and stuck his hands into the bowels of the piano. It was interesting, but perhaps not typical Senderovas as one has come to expect. Here the cello vibrato was much more varied, probably precisely specified by the composer - don't remember much about the clarinet....Halfway through the piece there was a loud, musical hammering-on-the-door noise. Now, Senderovas is a composer who loves percussion music. Was this an addition to the score? The noise moved round from church door to church door, and eventually stopped. Turns out that it was not planned, but that it was the composer, who had come straight from the airport and asked to be let in. Bit outrageous, though, making such a scene!

The Brahms trio I realised was the one I had been confused about in Dussmann in Berlin last week. I had found a note in my notebook about a Brahms clarinet trio with Thomas Riebl playing the clarinet part on the viola but thought - surely I made a mistake writing it down, has Brahms written such trios? In fact he has and I am listening to it now, though I see that the CD also contains the two clarinet/viola sonatas of which I have I don't know how many recordings. Here I listened to the performance from the second row, and what a difference that made! This is a beautiful piece, with a rather delightful Austrian country dance in the third movement. Here occasionally the performance did not hang together - eg in the first movement when the cello and the clarinet had a lovely little conversation of little runs, but they played it as if they were not looking at each other while talking, each following his own train of thought. The clarinet had a few unexpected notes here and there, but generally it went well. I notice that the recording I am listening to has more dramatic dynamic contrasts than last night's performance...but the quiet bits in the performance had a habit of sounding a bit pointless.

It was interesting watching the players - whenever the clarinet had a bubbly run just using fingers, repeated by the cello, it looked like the cello was making heavy weather of them - but in fact it's the only way to get the sound out of the cello, by moving the bow backwards and forwards across the string. Incidentally, was Mr Geringas using a different cello than usual? It looked darker than I remembered, but very nicely polished (note to children - don't try to polish your cello, it's one for the experts!).

You may wonder why I have not mentioned the pianist? Actually, I could not see him regardless of where I sat - he was well hidden behind the bulk of Mr Budrys. Not only that, but he played like an accompanist, not like an equal partner in a trio as he should have been. It was hardly noticeable when he got 'bits of tune'. The lid of the piano was half-way down which may have been down to the church acoustics - in the Filharmonija the lid was always fully open in such scenarios. So, yes, I wish I could tell you more about Mr Geniusas, other than that his fan club was also in the audience, but I can't.