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Schnittke and Granados : Tanya Gabrielian (piano). Purcell Room.

 

and


Wagner, Sibelius and Bartók
: Vadim Repin (violin) / Philharmonia Orchestra / Charles Dutoit (conductor)
. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 28.2.2006

 

Tanya Gabrielian:

Schnittke: Piano Sonata No. 2

Granados: Goyescas 'Los Majos Enamorados': Quejas ó la maja y el rusieńor, El amor y la muerte, Epilogo (Serenata del Espectro)

 

Vadim Repin / Philharmonia Orchestra / Charles Dutoit:

Wagner: Overture, The Flying Dutchman

Sibelius: Violin Concerto

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

 

As has become common practice now, the Philharmonia prefaced their orchestral concert with a free instrumental recital by a recipient of the orchestra’s Martin Musical Scholarship Fund in the adjoining Purcell Room.  The recital programme (though presenting two works by composers inhabiting vastly different sound worlds to those in the orchestral concert) nonetheless established a coherent theme for the evening: presentiment, meditations on imminent peril or death, and ultimately, life affirmation.

 

The willowy figure of 23 year old Tanya Gabrielian walking gracefully on stage in a full length flowing dress could not have left one more unprepared for the prolonged outpouring of dark and angished emotion that followed her entrance. Schnittke’s Piano Sonata No. 2 was written shortly after his first near-fatal heart attack, and the work addresses his feelings about the experience, revisited within each of three movements.

The opening Moderato begins with the feeling of tears, or perhaps, to read Gabrielian’s expressive facial gestures, that indefinable point at which laughter becomes crying. The music unfolded within a sense of self-contained form represented by fluid writing, and led to a point of self crisis, expressed by extreme angularity of writing and strength of playing. The pianistic challenges presented in making the whole thing hang together, along with the physical playing of it, are considerable: in bringing it off so confidently across the entire technical spectrum Gabrielian really showed her mettle.

 

The Lento was delicate at first, but falsely so, and showed both a certain foreboding and the possibility of happiness left unfulfilled. The futility of hopefulness is given sparse peckings of notes with which to express itself, yet even this was angst-ridden in Gabrielian’s interpretation. The closing Allegro moderato brought a return to angular discord once more amid fleeting moments of jazziness. Here, Gabrielian made the unmusical become musical by her attentive phrasing and responsive touch. And therein lay an irony. The music pursued an ever more mechanistic path, as if to display the dehumanising of the composer or player; who seemed to become one with the music's dissolving in on itself before a pounding repeated bass note imposed itself on the movement. A short pastel-shot chorale then served as a contrast – a view of the afterlife perhaps– and this towering work (given a performance of alarmingly assured stature) came to a close.

 

The selections from Granados’ Goyescas affirmed Gabrielian's great gift for producing sustained melodic lines inflected with passion. 'Quejas ó la maja y el rusieńor ' showed a wistful lyricism, somewhat sad and delicate, particularly towards the ending. The music represents a woman who opens her heart to a nightingale, and generates emotions akin to those in Schnittke’s Lento, even though the means of presentation could hardly be more different. Granados ‘Love and Death’ became a vision of stillness to Gabrielian, before giving way to emotions of unrest and longing, that turn fully to passion before sinking finally to nothingness. Once again, the parallels with Schnittke's thoughts were made only too clearly through playing of faultless control and telling expressiveness.

 

The Epilogue (Serenade of Death) was characterised by vivid clarity, the skeletal feeling  the of music and its subject captured by 'bare-boned' syncopation, within which an uneasy melody of glowering menace flashed periodically. Sarcasm and death, eternal nothingness after the memory of  tempting melody, were all that was left to us.

After such a high quality and emotional journey at the recital, the prospect of an orchestral concert that I had looked forward to since the last time Dutoit conducted the Philharmonia in October 2005 (Review) was very welcome. I was extremely impressed in October and had even suggested that the Philharmonia might consider Dutoit as a potential chief conductor in waiting. How different things can be from one concert to the next however, for this one was largely disappointing.

 

Though Dutoit has some experience with Wagner, he has never struck me as ‘natural’ in this music. On this showing the ever dapper conductor has never felt the Dutchman overture's lash of salt water, or if he has, he had promptly forgotten it on his way to the podium. The modern conductor's jet-setting lifestyle may not have helped of  course, but Wagner's billowing basses sank without trace here, the brass were left marooned due to ill-coordinated stage placing and the timpani (also oddly placed in the stage's far recesses) were too quiet to make any impact.

 

A controversial account of the Sibelius Violin Concerto came after this minor squall and it verged on the point of being anti-Sibelian in character. Dutoit, again unusually restrained in terms of both dynamic or impetus, presented a lyrical and romantic view of the first movement against which Vadim Repin’s account of the solo line was full of idiosyncrasy. With the following Adagio di molto almost devoid of forward momentum, the grand statements for soloist and orchestra that the movement contains, seemed falsely pushed in the context, and Repin’s solo playing broke musical phrases away from the composer's markings.  The finale had more of the requisite bounce, but it lacked much in the way of orchestral presence. Held under an artificially tight rein, the movement, and ultimately the whole work, failed to deliver its expected ‘disturbingly dark hue’ (Wendy Thompson’s programme notes.) 

 

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra should have taken the journey from feelings of darkness, via death in the Elegia, through to a brilliant affirmation of life. Things began more promisingly with greater orchestral cohesion and presence and Dutoit even managed to bring off passably well the episode where orchestral parts are used like solo instruments, though not always with total conviction. The final movement saw the completion of the evening’s thematic arch realised ineffectively: where the music should build in tension to a point where it can hardly contain itself any longer, and burst out as and irresistible force, could prevent it, what little tension there was gathered power far too late. Early hopes were dashed and only traces of dejection where their legacy.

 

The evening as a whole remains notable for Tanya Gabrielian’s contribution: she is a pianist with the promise of a formidable future. A masterclass with Pierre-Laurent Aimard awaits her in the next few days in which the subject is Bartók’s Out of Doors suite. With her standards set extremely high already and with the drive to extend her capabilities still further, Tanya Gabrielian is surely an artist to look out for.


Evan Dickerson

 

 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)