Friday, 18 November 2011
Every cut a little death
Brutal chops in a couple of large-scale works I've heard over the past ten days reminded me of what Sviatoslav Richter had to say, recounted with warmth by his one-time duo partner Elisabeth Leonskaja when I had the huge pleasure of interviewing her at last year's Verbier Festival. We were talking about various approaches to the Schubert sonatas and I said how surprised I was, much as I liked the lady's general approach, by Imogen Cooper's omission of the exposition repeats in the Big 'Uns. Like D960, for instance, where by missing out the eight bars linking back to the first-movement repeat, she deprived us of essential music including a terrifying new appearance of the subterranean rumble which threatens the movement's stability.
Anyway, according to Leonskaja re Richter, 'If someone did not play a repeat, his question was: "You don’t love Chopin? You don’t love Schubert? Why?" [Does humble pupil voice] "Yes, I love it." "But why don’t you repeat?" And very often he said, "You know, for the public everything is interesting, only for the musicians is it not interesting to repeat." '
So I would have the same question for, of all people, that ardent champion of his fellow Czechs' music Jiří Bělohlávek when, last Thursday evening, I heard him reducing the admittedly long and involved symphonic poem I discussed below before the concert had taken place, The Golden Spinning Wheel, by about a third: 'You don't love Dvořák? Why?' Admittedly an elaborately descriptive piece such as this has its problems, but if you're going to do it, do it properly and, ideally, give a short introduction drawing in the orchestra to play a few signpost-snippets to help unacquainted listeners.
I'm assuming Bělohlávek must also do the same in his Chandos recording of The Noonday Witch, for again the timing comes out about five minutes shorter than the Rattle interpretation, which is one of Sir Si's finest achievements in terms of both colour and - surprising, but in this instance true - phrasing. At any rate, no-one would cut The Wood Dove, the most Mahlerian of the pack and very much more to the point. But I love all four; whatever the scene being depicted, Dvořák's genius for melody and unorthodox orchestration seems to burn at its brightest.
A more familiar casualty, and in this instance conductors take the cue from the doubtful composer himself, is Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony. It would be ungracious of me to cite the recorded performance I've just written the notes for, and been edited for my pains in pointing out what's not so good about the cuts in question.
Suffice it to say this isn't the first time I've heard a Russian slashing and burning the work. Yuri Ahronovitch many years ago took us aback by cutting the finale short with a straight reprise of the first-movement coda, denying Tchaikovsky's Manfred the very unByronic redemption which usually comes as a stick-in-the-throat apotheosis (though Vladimir Jurowski convinced me it could work).
That doesn't worry me as much as the lopping of some decidedly strong stuff earlier, especially in the finale's underground orgy. Ever since I deduced that the voices in the central fugue depict the five tempter spirits, I've doubled my pleasure in it; but in any case I reckon Tchaikovsky is unfairly lambasted for the few fugues, or fugatos, he does write; they seem to work pretty well to me. And much as he may have thought of dropping three of his four Manfred movements, much of the invention here is as fine as anything he wrote, and certainly unique in terms of orchestration.
On a not entirely unrelated note, I've followed a convoluted trail to watch some very significant threads and patches of what may be Sibelius's Eighth Symphony as performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic under John Storgårds. Wouldn't it be wonderful, as I wrote at the end of this Arts Desk Buzz piece, if Saraste could append these startling fragments to his upcoming instalment in the BBCSO's Sibelius cycle?