Friday, August 22, 2008

Questions of stability?

Weird audience at last night's concert of Mindaugas Backus (cello), Toni Salar-Verdu (clarinet), and Alexander Pouliaev (piano), who played a programme of late 18th/early 19th century music at St Catherine's church. Apart from being slightly sparse in number (about 75% attendance, as the Spanish papers might say), they applauded almost all the time (and being worn out, not enough at the end - I mean, you just don't let a bunch of performers go after only two bows!), did not stop talking before the second piece, and most extraordinarily of all - one guy wandered onto the stage to look at the Hammerclavier just as the pianist came out to do his stuff. The guy did not stop, and suddenly realised what he had done - meanwhile the audience had not noticed that the performer came on stage, and did not join in my applause (much). But I suppose it was nice that they came to a concert and that they enjoyed it, and maybe they'll be back.

It was probably the first time I had heard a hammerclavier in Vilnius. It looked like a harpsichord (and had no sustaining pedals), but sounded more like a piano - sort of half-way in between the two. The clarinet was an early model with open holes (like a recorder) and only about two bits of the metalwork that modern clarinets are covered in. And the cello, while described as a historic instrument, had no spike (and perhaps gut strings?) - I would have expected a shorter fingerboard; then again, maybe that only applies to the early models of upper strings - the Haydn cello concertos already go up quite high on the instrument. I was contemplating the playing position of a cello held between the knees - suddenly a cello, which might have served as a third leg, what with the spike, is becoming much more part of the player's body, what with the player cradling it between his legs. It must seriously change the stability of the player who no longer can lean on the instrument, where the instrument can slip (though those with a spike do too, from time to time), and where the pressure on the legs must be considerable. Did not some cellist retire hurt because of the damage to his knees from a career of historical instrument cello playing?
(The other question of stability related to the hammerclavier, of which only three of its 5 legs were supported by blocks, with the other two hanging in the air. Seemed to work, though).

The trouble with historical instruments, they say, is their limited dynamic range (apart from the squeaks and whistles you get in early brass instruments). I remembered this during the first piece, a very delightful classical trio by Adalbert Gyrowetz who I had never heard of. At times I found it difficult to hear the cello - even though I was sitting in the second row. The first movement of this piece is rather long, compared to the other movements - but it was very pleasant. Was it the opening of the third movement (three chords) which reminded me of something by Mozart? Gyrowetz was born seven years after Mozart, which explains the very classical style for someone who died 83 years later in 1850. The performance was nice, and well coordinated.

Following this Alexander Puliaev climbed on the stage for Beethoven's 32 variations on an original theme, once the audience had settled down. In my mind I had mixed up the variations pieces of the evening - I was thinking of 7 variations, so assumed the piece would pass in a minute or so. But it did not, and went very well - also showed that the hammerclavier, as opposed to the harpsichord, does have some dynamic potential.

Then there was some misunderstanding. I and some other members of the audience thought that it was the interval, so went out for a smoke. Some others did, too - but on the whole I was surprised at how few people came out. Discovered then Mindaugas Backus and Puliaev in the middle of Beethoven's 7 variations on 'Bei Maennern welche Liebe fuehlen'. And discovered I could hear the cello very well even at the back of the church, with the glass doors in between.

Toni Salar-Verdu and Puliaev's performance of Weber's concert duo for clarinet and piano, op 48 was good - it was clear that his original instrument, too, has a nice dynamic range, and he phrased the piece beautifully. Once a beautiful phrase in the first movement was broken up, but later, when it was repeated, it was played like it should have been played. Loads of engagement and fun.

Finally Beethoven's trio op 11 No 4 (I'm learning here to be more precise in my descriptions of pieces - Budrys, Geniusas and Geringas also played a Beethoven trio last month, but I cannot remember which one - if he wrote more than one for this group of instruments). This was a wonderful performance! Particularly Bachkus, in his opening of the second movement, played sublimely - and Salar-Vardu almost picked this up. I was wondering why Bachkus does not have a more international career.....Here it all came together beautifully! (But the audience, having tired themselves out applauding between movements, lacked the energy to ask for an encore - it would have been really nice to have one).

I was a bit annoyed that the BGG trio performance was attended by everyone who is anyone in the music world (they are such snobs, they just wanted to rub shoulders with Geringas), but this performance on original instruments - a very rare thing in Vilnius - was not.

The other thing that really irritates me with the St Christopher Festival is how hit and miss their concerts are in terms of programming. Tonight's concert is cancelled due to injury (fair enough, not that I would have gone to hear a solo plinky-plonky harp anyway), last night's concert had a programme change (which was right - the concert would have been too long), another concert I went to had a serious programming change, the website does not always give the programmes. That's not nice.