Mu­sic Richard Os­borne

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -


‘Did you see the con­cert at the Fes­ti­val Hall last night?’ I was asked by a ra­dio pro­ducer. ‘Well, I heard it, if that’s what you mean.’

This is Pedants’ Re­volt stuff. But the eye’s hege­mony does enough dam­age to the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of good mu­sic with­out loose talk about see­ing con­certs.

Take the prob­lem of filmed con­certs. Given a first-rate shoot­ing script drawn up by a di­rec­tor who lit­er­ally knows the score, the filmed con­cert can be ed­uca­tive. Sadly such di­rec­tors are rare and qual­ity film­ing is ex­pen­sive. Un­less you are Aus­trian Tele­vi­sion earn­ing megabucks from the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic’s New Year’s Day con­cert, the BBC in Proms mode or Her­bert von Kara­jan, such things are gen­er­ally un­af­ford­able.

The other day I was sent a Euroarts DVD of an all-beethoven con­cert from last year’s Easter Fes­ti­val in Baden-Baden, the south-west Ger­man spa town to which the money-mad Ber­lin Phil­har­monic de­camped in 2013 af­ter aban­don­ing its former Easter Fes­ti­val home in Salzburg. I watched with grow­ing dis­may as a ran­domly filmed per­for­mance of the Pas­toral Sym­phony un­folded in the hands of what ap­peared to be a half-attentive or­ches­tra per­form­ing in the pres­ence of an el­derly gen­tle­man who seemed to be do­ing very lit­tle.

Still, I had been here be­fore, which is why I rein­serted the DVD, dis­abled the screen, and sim­ply lis­tened. And it was won­der­ful. Here was cul­tured play­ing al­lied to an ease of ut­ter­ance with­out which this most pro­found of pas­toral med­i­ta­tions can­not hope to work.

The per­for­mance of Beethoven’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo was even bet­ter, though to be fair, it hadn’t been too bad on film. Where con­cer­tos are con­cerned, the ear and the eye can gen­er­ally come to some kind of ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The soloist was the spare-toned yet un­fail­ingly elo­quent Is­abelle Faust, a su­perb vi­o­lin­ist who is bet­ter known in Ger­many than she is here. Her play­ing of Beethoven’s slow move­ment – one of the vi­o­lin reper­tory’s sever­est tests – was mas­terly, as was the end­lessly pa­tient ac­com­pa­ni­ment pro­vided by the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic un­der the guid­ance of that afore­men­tioned el­derly gen­tle­man, the 87-year-old Bernard Haitink.

Ye­hudi Menuhin loved the Ber­lin­ers. ‘They ap­proach a note with an­tic­i­pa­tion and leave it with re­gret. What a priv­i­lege it is to play a slow move­ment with such mu­si­cians!’ He was think­ing of Furtwän­gler’s or­ches­tra and, af­ter him, Kara­jan’s. But it’s re­as­sur­ing to know that such skills have not been lost.

Both con­duc­tors cher­ished live mu­sic-mak­ing, though Kara­jan, un­like Furtwän­gler, revered the gramo­phone and the bless­ings pri­vate lis­ten­ing con­fers. In notes for an un­pub­lished book, he spoke of ‘the peace of my room where I am free of all dis­tur­bance, alone or with some like-minded friend, in the pres­ence of the mu­sic’. Nor was he de­terred by the record’s un­chang­ing na­ture. ‘Once a record is one’s own, one as­pires mu­si­cally and spir­i­tu­ally to ap­pro­pri­ate it by fre­quent lis­ten­ing.’

For all this, there is one com­poser whose sym­phonies I do go to see: Gus­tav Mahler, whose epic Third Sym­phony was re­cently heard (and seen) in Lon­don’s Royal Fes­ti­val Hall. Mahler was 36 when he com­pleted the work in Up­per Aus­tria in the sum­mer of 1896. When the young Bruno Wal­ter vis­ited and ex­pressed won­der at the magnificent wood­land and moun­tain scenery, Mahler an­nounced, ‘There is no need to look at that – I’ve al­ready com­posed it.’ Which is more or less what hap­pens in the Third Sym­phony, where Na­ture is sum­moned out of a state of non-ex­is­tence by the god Pan in three glo­ri­ous and glo­ri­ously con­trasted open­ing move­ments; where mankind, stricken and griev­ing, walks the earth; and where car­olling an­gels pave the way for an or­ches­tral fi­nale which of­fers re­demp­tion in D ma­jor.

Mar­shalling forces which in­cluded 34 ladies from Phil­har­mo­nia Voices, 34 smartly blaz­ered boys from Tif­fin School, mezzo-so­prano Bernarda Fink and a much aug­mented Phil­har­mo­nia Or­ches­tra, whose num­bers in­cluded eight per­cus­sion­ists, four tubu­lar bells, two harps and a rav­ish­ingly played off­stage posthorn, was the 34-year-old Czech con­duc­tor Jakub Hrusa. Per­haps you need a touch of mega­lo­ma­nia to di­rect such a work and Mr Hrusa didn’t dis­ap­point, strut­ting around the ros­trum like a mu­si­cal Michael Mcin­tyre and even es­say­ing the oc­ca­sional Bern­stein­like jump.

I seem to re­mem­ber Bernstein jump­ing even higher dur­ing a per­for­mance of Mahler’s Sev­enth in Lon­don in the 1960s, just as I re­mem­ber him fat­ten­ing up the New York Phil­har­monic sound by stroking his em­bon­point dur­ing the no­bil­mente of El­gar’s Cock­aigne Over­ture and di­rect­ing the Hoe-down from Co­p­land’s Rodeo from the hip like a gun­slinger in The

Magnificent Seven. Some con­certs need

to be seen.

Czech con­duc­tor Jakub Hrusa

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