2 April 2011

Towards romance

I like the more relaxed concert hall these days where conductors speak to the audience. It helps us novices. It helped me to understand the connection between Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony when they were played by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra at Llewellyn Hall the other night. Apparently the Beethoven piece was held in high regard by the Romantics. I’d heard of Beethoven as the height of classical and cusp of the romantic. I could hear it to some degree: those three big chords at the top, the semitone drop at one stage from B to Bb, the impassioned piano which I thought was played doubly so by David Fung. But there were also echoes of baroque formalism in the Beethoven that I noticed in conversational lines passed between strings and horns and flutes like a French courtly dance. I much preferred the Beethoven to the Mendelssohn. I put it down to the movies but it may be modern times that have destroyed my appreciation of the fervent dynamics and terrible ernestness of the Romantics. I’ve written this before on CJ, but listening to this style, I inevitably picture a horse chase scene, but there’s also the love scene and other filmic miscellany. It’s like the Nescafe effect on O Fortuna from Carmina Burana: the associations affix to the art. But I also see something about the rational era of atomic bombs (and meltdowns) and twentieth century total war that militates against the romantic. The Deep Greens and communitarians and simplicity movements are probably our romantics these days. I trust most people recognise that we must deal with climate change, overpopulation, peak oil, food, water and all the rest of our current threats, but see this path as reactive-romantic-regressive. But back to the music.

CSO is not a full-time professional orchestra, but they do a great job. They numbered about 50 players. I found the sound a bit small in the Beethoven, perhaps to match the piano, but didn’t notice this for the Mendelssohn. There were some indistinct lines in the more precise Beethoven and the Mendelssohn may have suited better. Our local orchestra is a bit like family: a little dishevelled but honest, informal and friendly. They become like friends as you come to recognise familiar faces and they do a great job despite their part-time status and limited rehearsal time. My mate Cameron Smith was sitting in on trumpet and reports this performance was rehearsed in 2 sessions with the pianist and I think another 3 sessions for the whole orchestra. It’s a wonderful outcome for a week’s work. David Fung was the pianist for the concerto. I found his interpretation more romantic than I’d expected with dramatic pauses and flourishes and I liked his youthful presence and his fine-fingered work. He must have been happy with his performance: he took three solo encores: a heavily flourished classical take on the Gershwins’ Embraceable you, something I guessed was by an early 20th century modernist and a snippet of a Chopin etude. Very happy indeed.

As always, we went out glowing, casually mixing with musos with instruments slung as you do at the Llewellyn. Again, like friends and rellies. Great job, CSO. The Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (no.5, op.72, Ebmaj) and Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony (no.3, Amin) with Marc Taddei (conductor) and David Fung (piano) played the Steinway grand.

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