Roger Quintana as the golfing virgin Fidel Castro in rehearsal

Friday, 2 September 2011

Fischer Cleans Up

The Hungarians were a hot ticket even before last night's interrupted concert. The public's attention has been drawn to the festival continuing at the Royal Albert Hall. Jeez, it's still going! The Budapest Festival Orchestra brought Mahler and Liszt. They played Mahler's Blumine, originally a fifth movement in the first symphony, as a sweet diversion. The trumpeter played his simple melody with brilliant tone but sad inflection. The orchestra softly took up this theme as if sympathising. Pianist Dejan Lazic arrived to perform Liszt's Totentanz 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Trouble at t'Mill

That Dowland published his fourth book of lute-songs, the Pilgrim's Solace, in 1612, is a fact I tell my neighbour Mr Bell who wishes me to accompany him in a few lute songs in a concert on 17th September. There will be a lot of interest in it next year, I exagerrate. We rehearse Go Nightly Cares in his flat above the launderette. I think perhaps I will perform the 1612 book at Shakeaspeare's Day next year and start to think what risque theme I could tempt Arthur Smith with. The Olympics? Didn't the original Olympians perform in the nude?

There is trouble at the Proms and I am not present. The Israel Philharmonic's concert is interrupted by Arab demonstrators. Every time Zubin Mehta raises his baton to start, they start singing. Last night it was me who nearly disrupted the event, tonight it is bona fide agit prop activists. Oh to have been there.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

An Embarrassing Moment

To Finchcocks to talk to Richard Burnett about the fortieth anniversary of his musical museum next year. He waddles up. 'You'll have to speak up,' he says, 'because I'm hard of hearing. In point of fact I'm stone deaf!'

Hi wife Katrina, the harpsichordist Steven Devine and the curator Alastair Laurence help out. 'It all started when I fell down the stairs!' Richard booms. The damage to his arms stopped him playing and sent him to Germany to recuperate. There he discovered early keyboard instruments and in his enthusiasm bought one. The collection now has 104 instruments including Clementis, Grafs, Pleyels, Erards adn Broadwoods. Contrary to popular belief, the Broadwood Company is alive and well with a workshop in the Finchcocks gardens where it produces pianos at the rate of one instrument a month approximately. 

A laid-back snapper comes too. He keeps popping out for fag breaks and has Richard pulling all sorts of faces during his portrait.

In the evening, I take Jane to the prom to hear the world premiere of Fitkin's Cello Concerto and Beethoven's Choral Symphony. The orchestra is on hot form for the Fitkin but rather too relaxed for the Beethoven and mistakes creep in. The oboe muffs his solo and the horn spoils a note at the top of a scale. The choir, singing from copies, strains at the leash in the Ode to Joy while the soloists scream their various solos not altogether attractively. The bass Iain Paterson fails to command the hall but tenor Toby Spence is inspiring at the Turkish march.

Yo Yo Ma is the soloist in the premiere. His first note lasts about three minutes. Biting clarinets refuse to relinquish their semitone clash. Ma's last note is also long and sounds an octave higher than the first. The middle sections, bound by tension and release, feature Fitkin's trademark mesmeric minimalism with twin harps tick-tocking a semiquaver pattern and marimba rocking on a two-note seesaw. Yo-Yo Ma lovingly bows the main theme over jazz-inflected chords, rubs harmonic glissandi from the strings and shivers over pizzicato strings in his expressive front man's job.

At the start, a mechanical voice can clearly be heard by many people in the hall. Even some orchestra members turn round quizzically. It's the radio I whisper to Jane. Suddenly I realise it might be me, and sure enough the tape recorder in my pocket has managed to switch itself on and is blaring out Richard Burnett's voice from the interview earlier. 'It's about four million pounds now...' he laughs in his distinctive guffaw. In the interval I spill chocolate ice cream down my white jacket. What a messy eater I am,'  I say to Jane. She will have me signed up for a care home before long.   

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Dutch Treat

The Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra arrive smoothly at the Proms, their motorcoach purring, their arrival on stage quiet. Their Chief Conductor Jaap van Zweden's typical stance is to lean backwards on the podium, arms outstretched, as if keeping a tight rein on a thoroughbred stallion. The strings play the opening of Mozart's Piano Concerto No25 in C K503 as if marking out the course while the wind entry is more of a poured viscous coating than blown air. The ensemble holds back so that the soloist's sound rings from the Steinway with silver clarity like sunlight on a grey day. French pianist David Fray, tall, thin and romantically long-haired plays his warm-up entries - right hand decorations to orchestral cadences - with nonchalant beauty before setting off on the easy melody, his head bent over the keys, his scales surging like like waves, his springing fingers producing fresh, bell-like tone in all registers.

We had the dark side of the same key in Bruckner's C minor Symphony No8. 

Monday, 29 August 2011

A Botswanian Sings

The Leeds undergraduate is off to Belfast before dawn to visit his girlfriend. I drive him to Victoria to put off writing a review. I take a handful of CDs and proudly demonstrate my discovery that Mendelssohn's tune Fingal's Cave is the inverse of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie, but he already knows this because I have shown him before. So I switch to the Prelude to Act III of Tristan, say nothing and then let Radio Five Live take over hoping for news of the Athletics in Korea. Botswana get their national anthem played for the first time ever. It is tinny and over-long and the shy Botswanian woman who won the 400m for it knows all the words. Soon I am back home and casting around for other excuses not to write the Tablet review. I put in some laundry and hoover the stairs. Later I will clean the kitchen sink and wash the cat bowls. The wife and the singing cellist return today which will be another reason not to work. 

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Thoughts Are Free

I am moved enough by the story of Hans Litten on last night's telly to google the words of Die Gedanken sind frei and learn them. Imprisoned at Lichtenberg, the Jewish lawyer sang them when ordered to provide something beautiful for the Fuehrer's birthday. His niece recounted the story with tears on her cheeks. The contributors then took a couplet each and sang it to the camera. The simple tune is haunting. Lyric and melody are anonymous, though some sources give Fallersleben as the author.