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.

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