Thursday, 20 November 2008
Deserting Bruckner for Boris
Giltburg, that is, not Godunov (he comes later in the week). And no, it wasn't the twentysomething pianist's winning smile, as pictured above by Eric Richmond, which had me pedalling like fury from the Barbican to the Southbank after my pre-performance talk on Bruckner's Fifth Symphony last Wednesday. Giltburg is already an interpreter of astonishing maturity and total control over the weighty, glowing sound he draws from the keyboard. I was bowled over by his debut recital disc in a BBC Music Magazine review, and a couple of months back, he talked to me over the phone about his then-forthcoming Queen Elizabeth Hall recital (the result appeared in this interview-profile).
It was a daunting programme indeed, and he swept into Beethoven's Op. 111 right at the start with magisterial aplomb, holding a very attentive audience silent between movements. I've never heard the trills of the variations quite so metaphysical or transparent. His decision to move straight on to the same unearthly light in Scriabin's Fourth Sonata was vindicated, too - such flight, such hovering on the brink of silence.
The second half was rather massive too: again, a monumental curtainraiser in the shape of Rachmaninov's greatest Etude-Tableau (and for me, perhaps the most haunting solo piano piece ever), Op. 39 No. 7. After bathing in the depths of Melnikov and Hayroudinoff for the Building a Library earlier in the year, I found this rather more externalised, if powerful all the same. Schumann's Carnaval had plenty of light and shade, not quite enough of the kittenish spring I love in Rachmaninov's own recording. The encores were idiosyncratic: a floating wistfulness about Rachmaninov's transcription of the Kreisler Liebesfreud, a further Etude-Tableau I was hoping for, the one about Red Riding-Hood and the Wolf. Again, I've heard more playful accounts, but none more frightening or ferocious.
So was it worth leaving behind Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner Five? Impossible to say; by the end of my allotted forty-five minutes of talk I was hungrier than ever to hear what they'd make of that greatest of all finale solutions, the introduction of the noble chorale minutes into the upheavals. Well, I'll get to hear the performance on the broadcast. My crowd included several enthusiastic Brucknerites who seemed to think I'd passed the test, so I was happy with that.
Yet what dilemmas London musical life poses. I could also have heard that same night Jurowski in Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, Elektra and Boris G (time enough for those anon) or Andreas Haefliger, whose agent had been torn between him and Giltburg. Sometimes I forget which mode I'm in, as in the case of the Friday before last, when I whizzed into Broadcasting House for five packed minutes with Tom Service, talking about another BBCSO concert from weeks back which was being broadcast that evening and whizzed away again to hear Rozhdestvensky in Tchaikovsky (some wonderful touches there, but generally too laid-back an approach to compare with the earlier wonders of Jurowski and Jarvi. And the Second Piano Concerto, played with surprising sensitivity by Mrs Noddy Rozh, Viktoria Postnikova, does go on for ever, though its level of thematic invention is extraordinarily high).
Just as dizzying is what one can catch between venues. That evening, having chewed the cud with Tom about Pintscher's hyper-refined, over-detailed Rimbaud piece Pourquoi l'azur muet, I found myself in Regent Street, dazzled for once by the Xmas lights: no Disney tack this year, just nets of stars.
With the moon above or behind them, they tied in rather nicely with the Rimbaud settings we'd just been discussing. How about (and I'm going to be especially pretentious and not give a translation):
Pourquoi l'azur muet et l'espace insondable?
Pourquoi les astres d'or fourmillant comme un sable?
Et tous ces mondes-la, que l'ether vaste embrasse
Vibrent-ils aux accents d'une eternelle voix?
Or - in the 'Phrase' leading up to 'Antique', my favourite 'bit' of Britten's Les Illuminations, lines not set by Pintscher:
J'ai tendu...des chaines d'or d'etoile a etoile, et je danse.
OK, these are just the twinkling summons to sorely-needed Christmas consumerism, and always too early - I don't linger in shops playing seasonal music. But the city does shine in the November gloom. On another short journey, from Mansion House to the Barbican for the Prokofiev events, I came across the Lord Mayor's coach temporarily liberated from the Museum of London and sitting in a glass booth of the Guildhall prior to its annual excursion in the City parade.
No doubt it's now turned back in to a pumpkin, but what a treat just to stumble across en route. Tonight I'll be taking another curious journey from London Bridge to Maida Vale for the only one of the three Turkish music events I can make in the BBCSO's collaborations with Istanbul-based composer/player/teacher Michael Ellison and the traditional Turkish ensemble of Ali Tufekci.
These events are free - the link for further details you can't click above (but can here) takes you to the BBC Symphony website. On Tuesday Michael came to my Inside the BBC Symphony Orchestra class with chief producer Ann McKay and fired us all up to hear more. He covered an enormous amount of ground, from folk and religious music to the four generations of classically-trained Turkish composers who have appeared on the scene since the 1920s, and his obvious enthusiasm was infectious. I think he and Ann were impressed by the students' lively questions, too, which ranged from observations on the similarities between this, Iranian and Cretan music to discussions about the Kurdish problem and the music being made by Turkish communities in Germany and whether there's any fusion going on (there is). I now have a long list of musicians and vocalists to go and hunt out on CD.