Lost masterpieces qualify for championship
IT’S always given me a thrill when I suspect that somebody in the music world, dead or alive, has their work championed by somebody else. We’ve all had the experience of getting to know a piece of music that captures our imagination, and we want to share it; we want to tell others so that they go and listen to it too.
It can be very hard and thankless work. How do you persuade someone that such and such a piece of music is absolutely essential to hear? You can’t force anyone to listen. But you get such a kick if they do.
I’m not a great one for vicarious experience, but on the few occasions that I might have convinced somebody that something is unmissable, I have been seriously chuffed that they’ve bitten the bullet. And it’s rife in the music business, of course, where part of publishers’ and managers’ business is to persuade the public, and those who create the events we pay money to hear, that their artists and their performers are the ones we should be supporting.
Let’s not go down that commercial road today. Let’s stick to the music. There have been some good examples recently of championship appearing to be effective, and there’s another I think I can detect in the wind.
It’s not long since I finished a biggish survey, over a number of articles, into the music of Robert Schumann. He and his music, in recent years, have been the subject, through concert performances and recordings, of massive championship.
Violinist Isabelle Faust, cellist JeanGuihen Queyras and pianist Alexander Melnikov decided to record Schumann’s three concertos. They amplified each of three CDs with one of the composer’s Piano Trios. That project is finished.
Meanwhile, conductor Heinz Holliger and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra launched their own broad raft of championship with a six-volume set covering all of the composer’s orchestral music: a serious survey, just recently completed.
Then Thomas Zehetmair, early in the summer, came roaring up the back straight with a stonking recording of Schumann’s Violin Concerto and the First Symphony. And just in case we didn’t get the point, Zehetmair and the BBC Philharmonic with conductor John Storgards played the Violin Concerto in the Royal Albert Hall only a couple of weeks ago. It’s a serious business, this championship.
The most recent case of championship, which is ongoing, is that of Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto. Now there is a piece which needs championing, if ever there was one. After having been tinkered with by several critical commentators and pretty much butchered, the concerto has failed to make it into the repertoire.
Tchaikovsky was obviously aware of the criticism but refused to change a note of the piece. It has sunk into neglect, and not until today, right now, has it received the championship that might, just might, bring it to the fore.
Some of you might have heard the amazing young Russian Pavel Kolestnikov playing it recently with NYOS and Ilan Volkov in Glasgow. They then went on and played it in Cardiff. Then they took it to the Royal Albert Hall. Before that, behind closed doors and with another conductor, the BBC SSO made a recording of it for Radio Three in June. Kolestnikov, who has become absolutely hooked on the piece, hadn’t known it. He had never considered adding it to his repertoire until he was asked to. Now he’s “in love with it”. And he’s not finished with it yet. After all the performances and recordings with British orchestras, he’s taking it on tour in the autumn with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio and veteran conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev. Did I mention the word championship?
And, as part of the same trend, I should say, although RSNO fans will know it already, the RSNO has a brilliant new recording of the Concerto out on the Chandos record label, with Xiang Wang the soloist and Peter Oundjian the conductor. So will all this championship, through all these performances and the new recording help generate a wider appeal for this neglected and derided masterpiece?
Only time will tell.