Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beethoven in miniature

Another day, another Vilnius festival concert. At the same time the European Festivals Association is having its conference in Vilnius, and so the fragrant Filharmonija Director, Ruta Prunskiene, was looking her best in a suitably Chinese-style outfit (and no doubt she was approaching exhaustion as well). 

This time it was Muza Rubackyte, the Lithuanian piano professor in Paris, a well-loved pianist in Lithuania, with the Shanghai Quartet plus Girdutis Jackaitis playing the second viola in the Beethoven 4th piano concerto. Where, I hear you ask, is the orchestra? There was none - it was a version for piano and string quintet!

That was interesting. I was wondering about the orchestration, were there no winds? According to wikipedia it contains a flute, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timps. All that reduced to 5 strings?  Must have been some job transcribing that, although often instruments were doubled in Beethoven's time anyway. My main worry was about the thinness of the violins; they sounded like mice squeaking away over the other instruments - but it could be with me sitting on the balcony on top of them, that the sound could not get through the balcony floor. I also felt that the strings and the piano had different interpretations; the strings were crisp and clean, whereas the piano was heavy on the pedal - and does the piece really start with an arpeggiated chord? The piano kind of washed over the much reduced forces. It was interesting to notice that the pianist was playing from a full score; maybe the absence of winds and timps did not give enough clues for the piece to be played from memory. The cadenza in the slow movement, I thought, ground to an unplanned halt at one moment, following an unexpected chord.  Quite a lot of people left after she had played - it is ever thus. They should have kept her till the end.

The second half was Penderecki's third string quintet 'An unwritten diary page' (2008) and Debussy's Quartet opus 10, written in 1893. Surprisingly, there was not much difference between the two; Penderecki was of course about 75 at least when he wrote his piece. Mellow old age? It had a lovely viola part, and the violist in the string quartet really has a wonderful sound. The Debussy was actually very nice; quite energetic, not like some of his simpering impressionist pieces - and the quartet played with great energy, enthusiasm and precision. Finally there were a couple of encores, arrangement of (Chinese?) folksongs, possibly written by the second violinist. Very simple arrangements for simple music, but very effective. To be honest, Chinese folksongs (if this is what they were) do not sound that different from other folksongs, certainly not like the sounds of Chinese opera. But then, whose folksongs do sound like opera?

It was a lovely concert. Before someone had tried to sell me a ticket for 100 LT (the concert must have been sold out); I got a slightly sarcastic comment when I refused saying I would buy one ('try then', he said), and I got a nice standing room ticket for 30 LT. There are steps people can sit on, so it's perfectly ok. In the second half there would have been real seats for me to move to, had I wanted to do so.