A day at the Royal Academy of Music Friday 3rd March 2006
Joan Rodgers soprano
Before parting company with Music Web to found Musical Pointers, I had suggested a regular monthly or bi-monthly diary article to cover the variety of musical experiences and one's thoughts arising from them, an offer which was declined as untidy and not fitting in with the house style. An exceptionally fruitful few days in early March 2006 lends themselves to being reported together discursively instead of compartmentalised in categories?
Friday 3 March at RAM made me think, not for the first time, that visitors from afar and abroad should be alerted to the fact that the freshest experiences, and indeed the centre of London's musical life, is to be found in the music colleges and academies, rather than at the regular concert venues.
RAM's Concert Hall was packed at 10 a.m. for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's masterclass on contemporary piano music from Debussy to Ligeti, 2½ hrs without break or pause. His English is not just good, it is amazingly fluent in conveying the most sophisticated concepts. This was perhaps the most intellectually demanding and satisfying of all the many masterclasses I had attended, each Master with his/her own personal style, a fascinating study on its own.
I arrived a little late to standing room only! All three pianists named above were advanced recitalists and presented their selections from memory, and with a quality that would satsify many of us in concert. None of the three pianists had any problems with Aimard's demands to take particular passages without the scores, and to try to modify their approaches in subtlest ways and before an audience of fellow students and members of the public.
With all three pianists Aimard emphasised the importance of 'centred' posture, 'opening' the chest and relaxing to enable production of tone that must not be 'blocked'. Dustin Gledhill was encouraged to sit tall with a straighter back, and to have 'deep structure' in mind to encompass rubato and textures. Natalia Wandoch did exercises alongside Pierre-Laurent to help her with Ligeti's 'crazy games', with noticeable improvement.
My only surprise (and regret on behalf of the pianists) was that the session was not recorded/or videoed - there must be substantial limits to how much of the tuition the pupils would have been able to take in and absorb during the lessons?
During the morning Pierre-Laurent evoked orchestral instruments to illustrate his wants in the most imaginative way, that suggesting that he ought to be commissioned to prepare orchestral arrangements of the music under the microscope, especially the Bartok and Debussy selections. But he is a busy man, and we had booked to hear him play Ligeti's Etudes at the Wigmore Hall the same evening....
That Wigmore Hall concert's mixed programme links with Arrangements - another theme in the forefront of my week's listening and thinking.
Lieder selections by established singers Joan Rodgers and Alice Coote failed to eclipse the pleasure of the younger Kate Royal's recital earlier in the week. My review of her recital draws attention to her contribution to a fine recording of Mahler's 4th Symphony in a reduced arrangement for chamber orchestra which had been premiered at Wigmore Hall.
The Tusa concert ended with Schubert's String Quintet in all its glory, given by five individual string players who came together at Sir John's invitation. That is how it should be - and was originally. Ensemble was excellent and there was no feeling that any one of the players was directing the others.
Schubert's quintets are amongst popular canonic masterworks that I tend to avoid hearing often now, and especially on cleaned up digital recordings. I also can become impatient with repeats, sacrilegious though that be thought - those on this occasion contributed to a very late finish.
Arrangements of canonic favourites
Earlier in the week I had listened to the slow movement of the string quintet in an arrangement for piano duet by Hugo Ulrich. Anthony Goldstone in his notes for that fascinating CD [The Divine Art 25026] adds a disclaimer, suggesting that those who feel affronted by the notion need not play that track! They would be seriously mistaken; it has a certain coolness which I found makes you listen in a different way without the screwing up of tension and intensity with strings vibrato. Goldstone and his wife partner (they have recorded all the legitimate Schubert duos) love it, and so do I.
The main attraction of that fascinating collection of "Unauthorised Piano Duos" of Schubert was a version of the Trout Quintet without strings at all, can you believe it? This came to my notice in the excellent notes by Misha Donat for Hyperion's new CD of the Trout coupled with the String Trios.
Its heavenly length claims relaxed listening, and I had not realised before that Schubert expanded it "in a less labour intensive manner than might have otherwise been possible" by creating second parts in three of the five movements by simply repeating the first in a different key! Donat also points out that the layout of the piano part, often in parallel octaves, reflects the sonority of the piano duet primo!
Hyperion's new studio recording with Paul Lewis is immaculate, but bland to my ears and unlikely to prove competitive with favourites of this much loved and oft-recorded work (Gramofile has reviews of some seventy recordings on CD & DVD). But quite another thing is the Goldstone/Clemmow account of the Trout in publisher Joseph Czerny's 1829 version, which he promoted in tandem with his posthumous publication of the familiar quintet original. Hyperion's version of the Trout [CDA67527 2006] is worth acquiring for Misha Donat's extensive researches and detective work, but Goldstone & Clemmow anticipated it in their 2003/4 recording, which really makes you sit up and listen, and is my strongly recommended preference between the two.
Re RAM Pagannini Festival see also Evan Dickerson in Music Web
* also his review of Tanya Gabrielian at Purcell Room shortly before this Aimard Master Class
© Peter Grahame Woolf