Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bags of enthusiasm!

One can never accuse Algirdas Vizgirdas, the director of Musica Humana, of lack of enthusiasm - he bounds onto the stage like the cat that got the double cream, produces encores at the drop of a hat and generally wheedles his crew into playing more, and more, and yet more.

Tonight was the second concert in a series of celebrations of Vivaldi's 330th birthday.  Surprisingly, it was in the Filharmonija at 7, rather than, as usual, in the Lutheran church at 6 - where I might have rushed to, had I not looked at the website at the last moment.  The Filharmoija's stalls had the audience tastefully sprinkled throughout it.

It was all Vivaldi, then, 8 pieces, plus 3 encores - one before the interval! I made a point of standing up and leaving after the second encore in the second half, and the band, who had been playing standing up, were also much in the mood to go.

It was a nice mixture of pieces, though; a few I did not know, which helps. Seems some Vivaldi is played all the time, and some not at all. There were three 'symphonies', 3 movement pieces (and you thought Haydn was the Papa of symphonies, no? - but he wrote 4-movement symphonies!).  They were nicely played, though some of the contrasts could have been greater. Also there was some breakneck speed - edge of seat stuff. 

Ieva Prudnikovaite sang Psalm 126 (in 8 movements); for a prayer I thought some of the introductions were a bit brisk (Vivaldi's fault, not the orchestra's).  She has a very dark and rich voice, and I wondered how it might have sounded sung by a boy.  She followed it by an aria from the 'Gloria' where I wish I could have understood the words better - I am quite good at liturgical Latin, but the 'qui sedes at dexteram Patris' always ended up a bit of a mumble.  Got the 'miserere nobis' though.

Then there were three concertos; the first was for violin 'and its echo' (RV 552). Here the group went a bit over the top, with planting the echo just outside the stage entrance (with the stage manager wandering about behind it). This did not do much for the sound quality - though again, which echo has a perfect sound quality. I thought the player on the stage was a bit uncertain rhythmically and in intonation, just slightly.  And in the slow movement the 'echo' could have ornamented her version of the same line; I know it's not exactly the function of an echo, but it would have made the movement more interesting. Overall, this is rather a dull piece, with a very pedestrian first movement.

Very young Simona Vaitkeviciute then solo'ed in the concerto for piccolo and orchestra - we all know it well. I've heard it live twice before; once with Evelyn Glennie and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra in a vibraphone (or marimba) version, the last concert ever under Saulius Sondeckis, and another time with Michala Petri on recorder and the St Christopher Orchestra quite a few years ago.  I would have expected Ms Vaitkeviciute to play it from memory; I mean, how many piccolo concertos are there in the whole repertoire?  But I think she might have been nervous, seeing as at the end she shot off the stage without thanking the conductor or first violinist. She played totally securely and nicely, though. Maybe there could have been a bit give and take in terms of tempi, particularly in the slow movement, but generally it was fine.

Finally Robertas Beinaris, without whose solo no Musica Humana concert happens, played the oboe concerto RV457 (in F major).  A concerto which I had never heard before, and which sounded a bit odd - but with amazing virtuosity. Beinaris held a long, very high note in the second movement - it was to die for. 

And then all those encores.  

I was a bit surprised to see a bassoon in the band, playing along in everything, including symphonies and concertos requiring string orchestras plus harpsichord only (poor harpsichord, it was audible once). The bassoon stuck to the bass line, I think, which is a justified use, though not, I would have thought, in a string orchestra. All seemed a bit pointless. Did he just want to have a go?