The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

BBC Proms 2009 - Prom 64 - Jurowski/London PO - Zimmermann Dialoge (revival) - Aimard and Stefanovich

Prom 64. London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski. Pierre Laurent Aimard, Tamara Stefanovich. Royal Albert Hall. September 3, 2009.

Vladimir Jurowski, for annual 2009 London Philharmonic Proms showcase, got themselves allotted a well varied three-tier program of sorts. Least successful first segment had (almost) alone a Gallic emphasis. Point to be made by making constantly stinging accents out of gratuitous violin off-beats for procession opening the Jacques Ibert Bacchanale must have been important for all that Jurowski gave it. There just may be exception that one may have good reason to doubt it really actually was. Charming swagger of opening ideas for orchestra and brass, some interesting rhythmic shaping therein, including jazz-like syncopation, all became here somewhat rigid - allowed only limited space. Antiphonal chatter in woodwinds got undercut by being limited to so austerely shifting harmony within - as all compelled to yield to relentlessly driving motion. Gently broad relaxation was welcome for the trio section, in which full character of this music emerged at last and still somewhat through return of main section - that is until its closing pages that Jurowski gave all emphasis anyone could have mustered.

Including B.A. Zimmermann’s Dialoge inspired, for before the first interval, inclusion of Debussy’s Jeux. With slightly disproportionately arranged dynamics, this Jeux started off tentatively. Pulsation in harp and tone for line in the strings were both too dry and thin from the outset. Introduction of scherzando moments became antiseptically disjunct. Strings and winds making febrile warming up out of fluttering trill-inflected lines following this were apt and then were followed by well engaged Tristan-esque ‘Sans rigeur’ leaning appoggiaturas in first stand violins.

More than another minute into “Jeux”, trouble started to emerge, and things, before finally regaining some real footing just two minutes before the end, began to seriously unravel. What sense of structure even implicitly underpinning so much going on became completely lost. It was with hardly any natural or well cultivated feeling for the idiom that Jurowski may have felt that the best way to reveal to us the modernism of ‘Jeux’ is to have it turned almost entirely upside down. No strategy, except for how surface of things was approached ever became clear or coherent.

Working with a dry, even at times unresponsive timbre from the London Philharmonic, a lack of any real rhythmic life generated from anywhere beneath quickly became worrisome. This music thus sounded like it had been conceived as completely episodic, but in being so, with incredibly dauntless, careless distortions of Debussy’s rhythms, through which much of ‘Jeux’ – as even anticipating ‘Rite of Spring’ – finds its inner life. Debussy did not mean by ‘arabesque’, such as gesturally and otherwise animates so much of this music - distending languorous moments and by same token contracting measures of scherzando, staccato, etc. until the whole thing breaks apart. Little wonder that the climax to this piece, when it did arrive – strings heavily covered up by brass - sounded clotted or stiff. For sensuous effect, the gauzy, thin, vague tone of the strings of the LPO did not cut it, other than becoming part of a Debussy merely hard and vulgar.

Debussy’s marking, intense et expressif’ for unison of bass clarinet and bassoon (in part of long ascent to climax) in which Debussy gives his players plenty of space to make it happen settled for putting it out matter-of-fact. What then of the apoplectic hiccoughs Jurowski wrested out of the strings in heavily clipping their upward waltz tempo figurations? With so much heavy tweaking of all about going on, the modernism of descending xylophone moments earlier mixed in with downward slopes of light sonorities got neutralized.

The mouvt de valse ‘joyeux’ cascades up and down of arabesque got crudely shaved off, leading to much clotting and muddiness through ‘En animant progressivement,’ This led to from upon high long string unison agitated descending stretto, so heavily clipped that neither the concertmaster, nor anyone else when they repeat it could adequately emulate what had just been played. This all had by then become quite different music than what Debussy had composed.

After a segment that sounded much longer than slightly under thirty minutes, Mozart as part of a real study in contrasts came on for start to part 2. Pierre Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich performed the Mozart D Major Sonata K. 448. Not until Exposition section repeat did the duo sound entirely engaged with what they were playing, though competently accurate from the outset. Upon repeat, the gentle charm of second subject and animation of alternating downward arpeggios and sequencing scales back upward in very close imitation of string writing fully caught their imagination. They also pointed subtly the combining of thematic material from both main Exposition subjects in the brief following re-transition. Opening subject for recapitulation emerged better, with all sufficient grandeur; lingering over closing themes then became all supple and lissome.

Played very gracefully too was the slow movement, including embellishment of the line for recapitulation therein - only sign of heaviness where the duo matched up for ‘singing’ duet octaves in repeated alternating half-tones at crest of the line. Final sonata rondo was guileless, charming, with its opening carillon-march, with in effect tiny equestrian bells accompanying. Contrasting chorale subject had appropriate stately grace, runs very fluently, brilliantly accompanying it, in making way toward festive conclusion to this.

The Brahms First Symphony followed second break. That this received a conservative interpretation by design and impetus did not surprise. The first movement opened very forthright with such tight profile to line that it almost escaped altogether. All voice leading therein however was intact, if a bit dry, before clotting up at approach to one or two half cadences. Tight dense, thick articulation ran into the Exposition, with space allowed for second subject to breathe, before sloughing off its ending, making for workaday transition into agitated closing theme; clipping and flaccid response on ending figurations became evident upon repeat. After starting the Development short on atmosphere, things cohered well in extension of long line, but accompanied by weak string section tremoli, and dry voice-leading in woodwinds. Huge bump accents, grand-standing, capped the line to usher in the Recapitulation, after just adequate buildup to them. Final, brief, buildup of motto into the Recapitulation was entirely lacking in color. Jurowski shaped repeat of closing theme better, but after streamlining the lyricism right before. Passing around of three-note motto in the coda was strict, close to point of self-parody - with souring intonation in the winds.

The Andante opened with rhythmically amorphous color and profile, as though perhaps Scriabin instead of Brahms. Principal clarinet found more shape to second of oboe led subjects in the Exposition, whereas principal oboe had somewhat streamlined both. Ascending line in the strings betwixt the two was fine and matters improved for the recapitulation that opened in more yielding fashion. Violin and horn duet had fine shape and expression, but with dull string accompaniment underneath - all eventually to a slightly rushed, choppy close to what should aspire for sublime. Third movement intermezzo sounded somewhat disengaged with its pastoral character, bringing along with it fresh encounter of rhythmic vulgarities encountered earlier.

Understated opening to the finale sounded mildly Slavic, welcome in a way, but that did not get calibrated entirely right – until all improved upon repeat moments later. Steady, slow tread through remote sounding pizzicato was fine, but things became somewhat ragged in building stretto that followed all this the second time, making for fractious cut-off to open the horn call episode. Horn then was fine, principal flute drowsily very expressive, brass chorale spacious and dark, but strings thin. Good shape informed opening of the Exposition - pizzicati underneath animatedly nagging to push things along slightly faster than they would go. A little stiffness, crude gesture ended an otherwise fine Exposition. Expressive shaping of all informing what followed, led into well-organized, rhythmically well-sprung secondary Development - but with forte, fortissimo tutti strings clipped diminutions of horn call motif closing it plebeian. Remainder of the recapitulation slid off in phlegmatic manner from how focused things had been shortly before, with excessive detachment in approach to coda to this imposing finale. Shaping of the coda was engaging, but with some stepping on the brakes right before final reprise of loud brass chorale leading to a ringing if not especially memorable conclusion.

Debt of gratitude however is owed team who also put forth the performance of Dialoge by Bernd Alois Zimmermann – my hunch being that this was more Pierre Laurent Aimard’s baby than that of anyone else involved. Jurowski led slightly ad libitum a performance somewhat imaginatively rhapsodizing it and distending length of certain rhetoric, passages therein. Whatever help he had in organizing this performance, he did assist himself in doing this music some service. Next however to my one other source for listening to this, the recording conducted by Bernhard Kontarsky, there was something missing in line, thorough control of pacing and rhetoric to be consistent with maintaining what line there is. And yet that there is a different way of hearing this music did still enlighten and certainly could repeat doing so.

Dialoge is not a concerto, even in an unconventional sense, but just as named, a conversation between two pianos and different members of a large orchestra – a cornucopia of small groups made up of such. For those who become accustomed to many grinding dissonances found therein, there are certainly some riches to be found here, in its completely innate cross between serialism and collage. One eventually finds intimations, echo, mimesis in serial language of Mozart, Debussy, and Bach practically on order of the sublime.

Fine placement of different solo passages was evident, such as very expressive Stravinskian grace note infused chorale writing that during the fifth movement of this is first played on trombone then mid-to-back in apparently deep state of reverie in single line on piano. Fragment of such chorale line could be picked out in alternation of very strong echoing chords during the cadenza, that itself made for obvious reminiscence of passage heard earlier. Such was just merely one example of how snatches of melodic idea could mimic each other here, across both well varied different instrumentation and equal variety in means of figuration. It helps that there is written in here a strong ear for color, such as even in string harmonics does not always define pitch in any conventional sense. It is such that could be heard, at least under most optimum conditions, to echo such passages in this as heard giving more definite pitch.

It takes, such as exemplified on the Kontarsky disc, the best ear possible to have to be able to hear organization of such music in any way comprehensively. Reason for saying so is to be fair to Jurowski here; there is something ornately baroque about this music. It being so, with ear being sensitive to how different voices are placed, choirs thereof, this music most definitely has something to say about the function of memory in music. In question here is the effect of listening to any music on most any of us. The follow-through here is such that at times numerous references get even so subtly echoed to being commented upon by percussion. Evocation of memory works in making employ here of birdsong in the piano part, obliquely referred to by flutes and possibly also percussion during the fifth movement in genuinely stylized arabesque.

The opening of the fifth movement, with its whimsy of string harmonics, light combination of woodwind and percussion scoring can easily be a favorite passage of this for someone newly familiar with this music and key to what sublime ear Zimmermann possessed. .It contrasts well with the more sombre terraced framing of opening to and other passages in the sixth movement. An ear, if still a somewhat naïve one such as mine, could still pick up an intimate level of call and reply between individual musicians and aggregates of the same. At one point, string harmonics could be heard intimating at trope chords set up by combination of individual orchestra members, seconds beforehand to start the fourth movement.

Measured, broken recitative in pianos was found in the fourth movement mixed with contrasting interplay from minutiae, small gesture in brass and percussion, brightening up texture and thereby helping to move the line along. In the third movement, decorated single note ostinato in the pianos would yield intimation of line in vibraphone or xylophone that got set off by capricious writing for light instrumentation. The extensive cadenza for two pianos, almost completely serial makes excellent review, as to take inventory of much to have transpired earlier during the long sixth movement of this, with very fine grandeur and poise.

An excellent, disjunct postlude (‘Apreslude’) – on purpose mildly alienating - excellently framed ‘Dialoge, as did Prelude with its fine contrapuntal writing between lower strings and percussion intertwined by string section melisma at its outset. The postlude brought this nearly twenty minute piece that should be heard again at the Proms before long to an abrupt close. One should hope too that the highly unique challenge of taking on Zimmermann might sober Jurowski as to how he might approach the music of Claude Debussy next time opportunity arises. It would be good he see or hear things so.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters