Friday, December 31, 2010

The boy has become a man!

(I am writing this as I am watching Cosi fan tutte on the ZDF Theaterkanal, which will be followed by a very funny production of Cinderella (the ballet), and a Berlinerised version of the Weiss Roessl Inn later - who needs to go out on a snowy winter's night?).

Last night at the Filharmonija it was the Kremerata Baltica with various soloists, but without Kremer. Note that one time Kremer, in one of his (many, largely complaining) biographical volumes, wrote scathingly about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York, which always plays without a conductor - he felt it caused total chaos. Not in 'his own' orchestra, presumably, even though by virtue of age his players are much less experienced.

The group started with an arrangement of pieces ('Trilogy') from the Art of Fugue (Bach), by three composers. One wonders how three composers (Alexandras Raskatovas, Stevanas Kovacsas Tickmayeris and Raminta Serksnyte - can't help feeling that the first couple of names were lithuanised) collaborate on the same piece; but since there were more than 3 pieces, the 'trilogy' may relate to the trilogy of composers rather than pieces, especially given the style of the pieces - some were much more modern than others. The Kremerata belted along, giving its best - but does the cello really lead the band? Nice, vigorous playing.

This was to be followed by the Telemann viola concerto with Ula Zebriunaite, but she was nowhere to be seen...So instead the violin and viola leader played a piece of film music by Nyman; ah well, we have to put up with anything. I thought the viola player would also be effective in a heavy rock band; he's a very vigorous player with a beautiful sound where he plays lyrically.

Then, in a daisy chain of repetitions, we heard the Bach concerto for violin and oboe again - had only heard it three days ago....Again the violin was not all that audible, but I wonder whether it is because an oboe can cut through a bunch of strings better than another string player. Agne Doveikaite who I think won third or fourth prize at the Heifetz competition a couple of years ago has matured very well since then, and seemed to have a lot of fun, as did Juste Gelgotaite on oboe.

After the interval we had some Gorecki. Older UK listeners will remember his third symphony which hit the top of the classical pops at the time. It's kind of wallpaper, or mood, music - does not say anything specific, but I suppose some people like it. I think Gorecki died this year, so maybe it was 'in memoriam'. All the same, there is more exciting music, though the Kremerata did its best to enliven it.

Finally we had Chopin's first piano concerto (which can be played with a string quartet, I have a recording with Luisada of this) with the young Lithuanian/Russian genius, Lukas Geniusas. He had won the second prize in the Chopin piano competition (which launched Marta Argerich in her day) with an all-Chopin programme. It was very nice - the first movement seemed a bit fast, and the last one a bit lacklustre - could he not have made the first theme a bit funkier? People had raved about his performance of the second movement at the competition. But generally it was a very sound performance, and he got a standing ovation from the rear of the hall. He seemed much more comfortable on stage than a few years ago; I hope he goes further. The first encore was another Chopin piece, stunningly performed - and then followed by a Piazzolla (?) piece with the orchestra (When I went into the concert I was sure we'd have some Piazzolla.) So he can play stuff other than Chopin - this one was fun! I hope his career gets going now!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Fashion on Parade!

The series of Christmas Week Concerts at the Filharmonija continued on Monday with the Concert by the Muzika Humana, the small chamber ensemble which more usually plays at the Lutheran Church on a Sunday evening (not every Sunday evening!). I have often commented on its conductor's style of conducting, his love of encores etc and will restrain myself this time.

The MH seems to have a new leader, Paulius Biveinis, whose career I have watched (from a distance) from when he had very long hair, very short hair, and now seems to have longer hair again. He used to be leader of the Music Academy's orchestra, played in the Chamber Orchestra, and now is in Muzika Humana (and maybe other orchestras as well since the MH is not full-time employment), but he's never quite hit the Big Time. Otherwise it was much the usual crowd apart from a young woman at the back of the first violins.

The programming was Bach and Corelli, starting with Corelli's Christmas Concerto. I always forget how long this is, with about 6 movements or so, and the 'famous bit' is about the fourth or fifth movement. Reliably played and all that.

Then we had some the first of a series of Bach; a couple of recitatives and arias for soprano (Raminta Vaiceskauskaite, an apparition in red) and bass (Ignas Misiura) from the Christmas Cantata. It was nice but a bit strange; only Ms Vaiceskauskaite was on stage first, doing her bit, very nicely, and then Mr Misiura strolled on, in an outfit that can only be described as a mixture between bell-hop and the hunter coming back from the hunt. A very short grey jacket, buttoned up to the neck, with one lapel hanging open, and a velvet collar and velvet pocket covers (or whatever you call those flaps above pockets). Mr Misiura is a very stylish man and appears to like following fashions, but I am not sure about the shortness of that jacket in a concert hall. How many female singers would you see in a mini-skirt whilst performing?

This was followed by Bach's first orchestral overture (hadn't we heard the first movement the day before?). I have to say I always find these boring, with all those stately dances and so on. I know the cello suites are much the same, also series of dances, but they seem to have more depth. This performance was solid and reliable, but did not set the heather alight.

After the interval we had the Bach concerto for violin and oboe, with Paulius Biveinis as the violin soloist and the inimitable Robertas Beinaris on oboe. A former trumpeter behind me muttered - this is not original. So I listened hard and thought that I had heard the first movement as an organ piece before, but Bach transcribed his own and other pieces, other people transcribed Bach's pieces ad nauseam - so who knows what was the original. Beinaris' performance was spirited, as always, Biveinis' might have been, had I been able to hear him. Not sure if it is his instrument, but his sound really does not cut across the orchestra - it sounded rather diffident. Technically it was sound but I would have liked more (audible) sparkle.

Finally we had the first movement of the Christmas Oratorio - at least something of it, it's so rare in Lithuania. The reason for the rarity may lie in the Soviet occupation; my trumpeter friend told me he performed it in 1976 in the Filharmonija - since under Soviet rules there was no god and no religion, the oratorio was performed in the spring, to quite clearly divorce it from any religious nonsense. Here the choir Jauna Muzika joined the band. What an apparition! It seems the JM has come into money - the ladies in individually tailored silk dresses according to their very different body shapes, with matching silk wraps or jackets (they often sing in chilly churches) in shades of brown and grey or grey-blue. What a change from the drab-looking church outfits!

Mindaugas Zimkus, tenor (normally dressed for a concert) and Jurga Prakelyte (alto, in a shoulder-less number in white with a black ribbon round the top) joined the others for this performance. Generally it was quite good, though the size of the choir overwhelmed the size of the orchestra. It also does not help when the reviewer knows every note and every word of this piece! Mr Zimkus really needs to work at his German pronounciation - it was pretty distant at times from where it should have been. There are textbooks for this. Overall there were notes missing, slightly sloppy entrances and exits, the timps did not quite sound as they should (I find this difficult to imagine, too, but they just were not quite right).... but at least it was the Christmas Oratorio! I suppose in Western Europe it is such routine that most performers can do it standing on their heads, which is obviously not the case in Eastern Europe.



6 months on, no music to report on in the meantime - cannot report on my own concerts in Botswana, nor other concerts there which are so dire (and I know the people personally) that normally I would ask for my money back, but if the concert is in Aid Of A Good Cause, what is a guy to do?

Anyway, my second concert in the Filharmonija in 2 weeks, and this week will be a busy week of concerts. It was the usual Christmas concert of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, which takes place on Boxing Day every year. Conducted by the Ukrainian Artistic Director, Sergey Krylov who was also a violin soloist in some pieces. Not much has changed in the orchestra; I spotted two new faces, otherwise it was the same group as before.

Aaaah, the bliss! It started with a beautifully executed overture from one of the Bach orchestral suites (got in too late to get a programme). Beautiful smooth sound - people do not realise how starving a guy can be for a good sound. Played more or less in the historically informed style, given modern instruments and all that, though some of the performers still struggled a bit with the bowing.

This was followed by a Mozart Divertimento, also very nice, and the audience applauded obediently between every movement. Never mind, at least they went to the concert, which was almost sold out (I had to stand in the second half).

Then Krylov was the soloist in a couple of pieces. The first was Schubert's Rondo for violin and orchestra (again I thought that Schubert tends to write very long pieces). Very nice, though the orchestra could have played this one in a more romantic style - here the Bachian historically informed style seemed a bit inappropriate. This was followed by 5 Paganini caprices, arranged for soloist and orchestra by E Denisov, a contemporary Russian composer. Not totally convinced about the arrangement - the background seemed to be mainly noise, rather than music. In the first caprice Krylov seemed not quite settled down - it was a bit like a bus driven by a drunk driver travelling along a narrow road with cars parked on either side, and with lots of tiny car crashes resulting in many cars being scratched. From the second caprice onwards it was a fine performance, were it not for this arrangement.

Finally we had Vivaldi's Gloria, with the aristocratic-looking Ieva Prudnikovaite and Ona ???? (no programme, website has moved on) as soloists. Both, like most young Lithuanian women, tall and slim as rakes - towering over the conductor. It was a very nice performance - I was word perfect for most of the piece (not that difficult ' gloria in excelsis deo', 'agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis', 'laudamus te, adoramus te, beneficimus te, glorificamus te' etc etc, not necessarily in that order). Ona ??? tended to drop off notes a bit, I felt - some could have been held longer, and Ms Prudnikovaite had a bit of a steely edge to her voice as she got lower; could have done with more warmth - might that be a factor of body weight? But otherwise it went well - the Kaunas State Choir at its best, though some of the dynamics could have shown more contrasts.

Very pleasant evening overall, and a nice end to Christmas.