Webmaster: Len Mullenger
Seen and Heard Concert Review
A Romanian Musical Adventure: Chamber music by Saint-Saens, Anatol Vieru and George Enescu. Soloists / London Schubert Players / Hu Kun (conductor); Purcell Room, London. 18.2.2006 (ED)
Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921): Septet for trumpet, piano and strings in E flat, Op.65 (1881) Ciprian Ilie (trumpet), Anda Anastasescu (piano) and London Schubert Players strings
Vieru (1926-1998): Clarinet Quintet (1957
– UK Premiere) Nicholas Carpenter
(clarinet) and London Schubert Players strings
Enescu (1881-1955): Octet for strings in C (1900)
London Schubert Players strings
/ Hu Kun (conductor)
Since November 2005, the Romanian Musical Adventure Festival has taken in an impressive array of composers whose works that are all but unknown in this country. Each programme has grown in depth, spirit of inquiry and quality of execution – and this final concert proved no exception.
Anatol Vieru has a reputation as a progressive musical voice in Romania and much of his work has attracted a strong following on the Continent. The clarinet quintet, a “work of youth” according to the composer, at first might appear akin to a suite by being cast in four rather descriptively titled movements – Nocturne, Burlesque, Serenade and Humoresque. However there is much in it that points towards a goal only achieved in later works in terms of structure, tone or compositional technique. In this sense Vieru may be said to have been writing ahead of himself, let alone many of his contemporaries. Schnittke, for example, made known his indebtedness to Vieru’s Eratosthenes' Sieve for much of his own understanding of serial techniques.
The performance of the clarinet quintet benefited greatly from the passionate advocacy of Nicholas Carpenter, principal clarinettist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He variously brought to the work, repose, growing insistence of tone and agitation as required, though each emotion was projected with feeling. The string quartet backed this with a strong sense of inquiry that brought much of the writing for Vieru’s constantly shifting instrumental groupings out clearly through an overlaying of instrumental lines and the passing of thematic material between players. In this respect the Serenade was noteworthy, whereas the preceding Burlesque veered towards a carnival atmosphere – and a slightly surreal one at that.
One might fleetingly be tempted to think of Eratosthenes' Sieve as being surreal, but this would be slightly misplaced. It is musical Theatre of the Absurd and has much outward humour that masks an inner seriousness of intention. Indeed it is difficult to think of a work that conveys such a complex mathematical basis (the music presents sequences of prime number multiples) as accessibly as here, with a number corresponding to a mood, a given style of playing, or the playing of musical quotations and vocal contributions. Thus, as a result, a Mozart string trio rubs shoulders with Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, Sarasate and Bach, each played to leave the air of a simultaneous disjointed practice session – or at least organised chaos – during which the players comment (‘shhh!’, ‘zzzz’, or with frustrated coughs) – upon each other and the music itself to form a self-critical performance. Momentary enthusiasm for playing and virtuosity gives way to intentional half-heartedness. The effect is like hearing a string trio play with a sinking ship beneath it: the music must go on despite impeding peril. Brief spoken quotations from Ionescu’s play ‘The Chairs’ further aided the sense of futility, irritation and even boredom with the task at hand. Yet, Vieru chose his material with care to deliver function through dysfunctional music played by deliberately ‘dysfunctional’ musicians.
The performance was one of insightful integrity of execution, mixed with much enjoyment of the experience. Andrei Vieru’s own contribution was of unassuming brilliance; his part was delivered with all the seriousness and apparent simplicity for which his Bach playing is rightly famous. The whole ensemble became player-personalities with temperaments and moods and each offered contributions to bring smiles, amazement and disbelief at the proceedings from the audience in reaction.
The Saint-Saens with which the programme opened, seemed a world away in terms of style and compositional intention, yet his septet showed as keen a preoccupation with instrumental sonority as Vieru’s two works and Enescu’s string octet. By adding a trumpet to the piano sextet formation, Saint-Saens increases the opportunities for contrasting and blending textures in a unique way. The four movements – Preambule, Menuet, Intermède and Gavotte et Final – each took on their own character in this performance which featured fine solo playing from Ciprian Ilie. The unison playing and tonal blending was notable in the first movement, as was the sense of nostalgia inherent in the second, with more than a hint towards Enescu’s ‘Legend’ for trumpet and piano in terms of mood. The gradual combining of instrumental forces dominated the third movement, as did the exuberance found in the Gavotte.
Enescu’s great string octet seeks in its own way, to explore similar veins of concern, whilst – like Vieru's works – covering deeper levels of interest with construction and technique. The individuality shown in this mature work from a composer just 19 years old is astonishing in its grasp of structure, being a double layered sonata form within and across the four movements. Hu Kun, conducting with Enescu’s own baton, brought clarity of line and spaciousness to the first movement, then revelled in the highly complex contrapuntal fugal scoring of the second movement that acts as a massive developmental section together with the exquisitely nuanced third movement. The waltz ending, simultaneously French and Enescian, showed powerful thoughts held under purposeful restraint through magnificently projected playing which allowed individual voices to integrate seamlessly into the whole.
Enescu’s defining place in musical history is that he appeared as a composer of original personal integrity, with few direct compositional precedents, forging his own path whilst providing inspiration for others both at the time and long after his passing.
The most heartfelt
thanks that I can give this concert (and the Festival
as a whole) is that it spurred a parallel journey of
rediscovery and re-evaluation to complement new discoveries.
Composers and works I had previously known (such as
Vieru’s second symphony, revisited during the past few
days) led to an awareness of riches still to be discovered
and acknowledged by Western musicologists, alongside
the the huge variety that awaits the willing listener
or player. I would welcome further exploration of the
contexts of Romanian music as much as hearing composers
of such individuality in greater depth, or more examples
drawn from other musical forms such as art song. For
me, this is a journey that has only just begun, and
I am spurred onwards by the words that the ensemble
utter as they exit the stage to conclude Eratosthenes'
Sieve, ‘etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…’ This
is an adventure that must be continued.