Monday, 14 September 2015

Summer epics

Homer would have nodded not in weariness but approval of his Iliad - if indeed there really is a 'he' and 'his' rather a 'they' and 'theirs' - being read aloud, as it originally was, without a break for 16 hours by over 60 actors at the British Museum and later at the Almeida Theatre. Thanks to the wonders of livestream I saw and heard them all, writing up the experience bleary-eyed the next morning on The Arts Desk; hard to choose a best but certainly none was better than Rory Kinnear, pictured above by Helen Maybanks, and - a revelation to me, since I hadn't seen his Hamlet - Tobias Menzies, in a YouTube clip here reading the crucial Book XXII lines 25-404. Yes, he stumbles a bit at the beginning and gets a name wrong, but please have sympathy with the singular situation and stay with him.

The Almeida's website had promised to put up clips in the weeks following this triumph for Rupert Goold, but none has yet materialised, at least that I can find. Thanks to a Menzies fan for the above.

Pursuing the same line, Henry Wood would have been astonished to see how the BBC Proms now fires on every cylinder - populist and deep, on radio, TV and internet - in 76 Albert Hall Proms and eight chamber music events at the Cadogan Hall (the only statistic that's bad is the number of women conductors, still only three, of whom Susanna Mälkki, pictured up top and wonderful in Holst's The Planets, seems to me incomparably the best). I went to 18, participated in a pre-performance talk for one my self-imposed Gergiev veto wouldn't allow me to attend and heard all or parts of nine, including that Prokofiev Concertos evening, on Radio 3.

There weren't many disappointments (can I cite them quickly? The miking and much of the material in the semi-staged Fiddler on the Roof, the waste of time that is Shostakovich's Orango and Marin Alsop's dreadful "interpretation" of Brahms's First Symphony with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment). On the plus side, the mixed bag of Sibelius symphonies - and I persist in admiring the pell-mell nature of Thomas Dausgaard's interpretation of the First - was followed by Kullervo as I've never heard it before from Sakari Oramo and his BBC Symphony Orchestra plus superb Finnnish voices; I've already written about this here. Suffice it to say that when I met the players over breakfast in Lahti five days later, each one I spoke to is head over heels in love with the partnership. Here's Sakari conducting Prom 1, among the splendid selection that the great Chris Christodoulou sent over for The Arts Desk to choose from in its annual gallery of the conducting unexpected.

The Nielsen component did not disappoint. While Hymnus Amoris is youthful stuff with limited supplies of the indelible Nielsen personality, Springtime in Funen is stuff about youth written by a master. Henning Kraggerud did a wonderful job on the free-flowing Nielsen Violin Concerto, but the soloist highlight - for one who missed all the late-night Bach, despite best intentions - came in a concert remarkable less for its Nielsen than for the Nikolaj Znaider partnership with Fabio Luisi and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in a Brahms Violin Concerto which came up fresher than I've heard it before.

The day after I'd heard Andris Nelson's stunning new Shostakovich 10 on CD with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I encountered the team live in the best Mahler 6 I've heard in concert (Nelsons above palpably feeling it all, from the last concert of his CBSO tenure which I wish I could have got to). The Vienna Phil under Bychkov redeemed a torpid Brahms Third Symphony with a revelatory Franz Schmidt Second (an utterly original masterpiece, or so it seemed on Thursday night). The St Petersburg Philharmonic/Temirkanov partnership had lost none of its magic even in the most seemingly conventional of Russian programmes, with the great Nikolay Lugansky matching them for you-never-heard-it-like-this-before in, of all things, the Rachmaninov Second Concerto. There must be honourable mentions in this context for Jeremy Denk's string-breaking Bartok Sonata, Elisabeth Leonskaja's Britten cadenzas in her Mozart concerto and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's scintillating, playful-deep Ravel G major.

I loved the Etude-Tableau encore too - Lugansky has to come and play them all in sequence, as he did the second set of Preludes.

Too many highlights already; on with the new season, where the heart currently seems to be at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Can't wait for Bjarte Eike's two concerts with his Barokksolistene on Sunday and Monday.

One final epic footnote: we covered our 16 Norfolk churches in 17 miles on Saturday. The torrents that threatened on one forecast until 4pm actually eased up by 11am and from lunchtime to the end we walked in fine sunshine. The usual chronicle will appear when I've got all the photos sorted.


Susan Scheid said...

Bravo on 16 churches in 17 miles, and amazing to think of how tightly packed in those churches are. On The Proms, I am sad you didn't think well of Alsop, as she is such a wonderful advocate for engagement with classical music on so many levels. I know you've got to call it as you see it, but I can't help but wish it were different. On the other side, very glad to hear Fabio Luisi mentioned so positively. I've felt he's been unfairly overshadowed here in his tenure at the Met. I would have loved to hear Denk in the Bartok sonata. I do finally have tix to hear him live once again this coming spring. I do love those TAD conductor photographs. Was the head photo of Tilson-Thomas? We've been involved in a guessing game at GCAS on that.

David said...

Well, we did notch up quite a few in Cromer before they became more widely spaced.

As I wrote in the Arts Desk review, I think extremely highly of Alsop as a motivator and activist but I've twice been disappointed by her interpretations of the big symphonic repertoire. I wish it were different too.

Yes, that was surely instantly recognisable - if you've seen him lately - as MTT. Chris actually sent a file of 54 pics over; I only wish we could have used more, and needless to say my own selection would have been slightly different. But we're so lucky he's willing to do it for us every year. A real Mensch - and needless to say he's paid peanuts for what he does.

Susan Scheid said...

As a "Proms" aside: we're looking at Stravinsky on Stage at GCAS this month, and right now The Rite of Spring. Brian has chosen the Roth/Proms 2013 performance on period instruments, using the original 1913 score. Curious about the difference between that score and what we ordinarily hear, I found your TAD review quite interesting on that point, as well on the entire concert, which sounded fascinating.

David said...

It lacked spark, I think was my impression at the time. A purer original edition is the one used by David Zinman with the Tonhalle Zurich on an indispensible two-CD set with both versions plus a few other alternatives and a superb little woodwind arrangement of one of the folksongs from the Juskiewicz Collection(think I reviewed this in the BBC Music Magazine). The quality documentation in the booklet reminds me how much we would lose if CDs vanished.

Also just listened to a Les Siecles/Roth disc of French music inspired by Spain - I like the Le Cid excerpts but I don't think Roth is as good at dance music as he is in (R) Strauss.

Susan Scheid said...

David: From my own listen to the Roth Rite, I agree with you. While interesting, it did seem to lack the fire I've come to expect. I'm glad to know about the Zinman CD, and I do also often worry about how much we would lose vis-a-vis booklet information if CDs vanished. I've seen more and more instances of CD booklets being made available online to download, which of course has its own worrisome features, particularly if, as I've also seen, the download can be obtained without purchasing the CD.

David said...

I just can't get my head around reading notes online - long ones, anyway. Nor librettos. And I keep asking places like the Southbank and Barbican to send hard-copy booklets, because it seems so much easier to get an overview of what's on by flicking real pages. You won't EVER get me reading a Kindle, either. As a child I had a peculiarly reverent attitude to books, the smell of the paper and not breaking the spine of paperbacks (fortunately I got over that one).

Susan Scheid said...

I don't think your childhood reverence for books is the least peculiar. I still am nearly unable to break the spine of paperbacks! I use a Kindle app on ipad, but less and less. I appreciate the mobility--to be able to read short articles, etc. while I'm sitting around in waiting rooms, e.g., and with reference materials/books, it's handy to be able to have a search mechanism more robust than a paper index usually is--but I, too, find it easier, much easier, to flick real pages to get an overview. Also, REAL books do not require tech support. You simply open them, and voila, look ma, I can read!

Susan Scheid said...

Sorry to fill up your comments with asides, but I have just read your interview with Wigglesworth and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I do continue to disagree on Testimony, which I've made a point NOT to read, as I'm aware of its persuasive power and have seen the tendency in so many writings on Shostakovich to rely on it in a terribly reductive way--the leftover historian in me just can't tolerate reliance on an unauthenticated source. I do, however, think he sounds sensible cautionary notes and certainly comes to an appropriate "bottom line": "A. It seems to me in the music, and I would like to think that I didn’t need to read Testimony to hear that. Q. Sure, it just confirmed what you felt. A. And I like to think that people can hear the music without any knowledge of it." (I'd add actually that, if one sets aside Testimony, one can come to a far more nuanced and multi-varied view.)

Beyond that, there are so many, many interesting observations in the conversation between you both. Just as one example, I was particularly taken with your comments back and forth about the ordering of the symphonies, if you listened to them without knowing their numbers. Wonderful interview, top to bottom.

David said...

Well, no-one else seems to be in the building, but if we two were washed up on a desert island, I'm sure we could keep a good conversation going.

I read Testimony when it came out, as a teenager (my copy has the school label for Sixth Form English Lit prize). The style is superb, an authentic voice halfway between Shostakovich's beloved Gogol and Dostoyevsky. I think if you came at it now knowing what you do, and with the mental cautionary note in mind, you'd find it enriching.

But thanks for the kind words about the interview (I don't suppose that many people got to the end, but in my opinion everything MW had to say was interesting). I thought it was, like this, a proper conversation, and Mark wrote back to say it was the kind of 'collaboration' which interviews usually aren't. First night tonight, after what I hope will be a pleasant day in lovely weather walking between Kent churches to hear Bach Plus as part of the West Malling Festival.

Susan Scheid said...

David: All right, I do have to come over here yet once more to say I love your Testimony story--and for what did you win the prize? I know I probably "ought" to read it at some point, and you do make it sound enticing, in actual fact. But what I really came over here to say is a great big YES to the collaborative nature of the interview. Wigglesworth is exactly right. As a reader, I felt that so strongly, and not for the first time in reading your interviews. They are really alive on the page, and that is a key reason why. One more Shostakovich-related thing I do want to say: I was thinking again today how grateful I am to you for urging me on to make the effort to study the symphonies--and I do want to get to the 13th and 14th, particularly--it's on my list as a winter project. Each time I listen to a piece by Shostakovich, I am reminded how much my understanding has grown and my enjoyment is heightened by having taken that on, difficult though I found it. So, thank you, once again.

David said...

I'm delighted: there's nothing better than passing on the love of anything, is there? And when you come to 13 I can't recommend the Wigglesworth too strongly. He has just, as predicted, stunned us all with the opening night of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk tonight. Equal praise to Patricia Racette and director Dmitri Tcherniakov who made it all so horribly clear and shocking. But I must go to bed and get up fresher to write it. Gorgeous afternoon on the North Downs too.

The prize was just that, for English Lit (I suppose I was top of the class. Not so hard to have got one for Classics, since I was one of two in the Latin A level class and one of one in Greek before my grammar school dropped the subjects for ever. That label went inside Norman Del Mar's Richard Strauss Vol. 1).

Geo. said...

BTW, I'm sure you saw the official good news of Oramo's extension as BBC SO chief conductor for another 4 years, or perhaps you already had insider knowledge that this was in the works.

I just finally caught up with their Kullervo off of iPlayer; tremendous orchestral work, and indeed the choir as well. I've heard it once live, in Oslo, with Paavo Berglund leading the proceedings. I managed to wind up with a copy of the program when some kind soul left the hall and had forgotten to take it, after presumably forking over the cash for it.

For SS, you're in good company not to have read Testimony, as a 2000 article in The Nation severly questions its authenticity:

One "money excerpt":

" The manuscript’s signed pages generally reproduce the exact word order, punctuation (including parentheses, commas, dashes and quotation marks) and paragraph breaks of the earlier published material. Sentences that date the original passages have been deleted by hand. Two inflammatory passages, which Volkov’s supporters recently cited as evidence of Shostakovich’s dissidence, did not originally appear on these signed pages but were added later. In most cases, this word-for-word copying stops precisely at the end of the signed manuscript page –the very next word of the following (unsigned) page often veers off into uncharted anti-Stalinist territory.

One explanation, offered up in a 1998 book by Allan Ho and Dmitri Feofanov, Shostakovich Reconsidered, is that Shostakovich had a phenomenal memory, and often repeated himself in conversation. But how did Volkov, who did not record the conversations, manage repeatedly to reproduce the exact wording and punctuation from his scribbled shorthand notes? How could Shostakovich have confined his word-for-word repetitions to the precise length of one typewritten page? And finally, why did these passages always end up on the first page of each of Volkov’s chapters?"

David said...

The trouble is, Geo., that I practically fall asleep reading extracts like that one (from 2000? That's 15 years ago...) Which means I wasn't born to be an academic. But read the interview and see if Wigglesworth doesn't make sense. I still think it HAS to be read, but with a wary eye. And one always has to say 'The putative Shostakovich of Testimony' before quoting any of its eminently pithy stuff.

Yes, good news about Sakari. I'm not kidding when I say that every player I've spoken to adores him. That never happened before, not even with Bychkov or Gunter Wand.