2016年7月4日 星期一

Bruckner No. 4 (布魯赫納第四)

Once one starts writing, it's difficult to stop. It seems that the process of writing seems to possess a certain momentum of its own, as if once the the cap for the thought or emotional pool is opened, the internal pressure inside that pool would somehow press itself upon the writer's mind and give him no rest until its dynamics has been given its due. For me, the energy triggered by music must be one of the most potent forces in my universe. So I must continue. I have little choice.

One of the high points in my musical calender of the previous two months must certainly be Anton Bruckner's Symphony No 4 in E flat, which was successively played by two very different orchestras: the first by the Philadelphia Orchestra whose golden brass sound was made famous by one of the favorite conductors in my youth, Eugene Ormandy and now under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the other by the HKPO under the baton of Van Zweden. The 4th was written by the composer in 1874 but he was one of those composers who endlessly revised his work in response to criticisms and suggestions. Until 1899, he had revised this piece 6 times! And it proved a huge success.

The Concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra was the second of its two day programme which took place on  25th May featuring  in the first half of the concert Beethoven's String Quartet in F Minor, Op 95 "Serioso" as re-arranged by Mahler, followed by Bruckner No. 4.

Beethoven's String Quartet in F Minor written in 1810 was classified by musicologists as the last in his so-called "middle period" (1806-1811). The four movements were to be played Allegro con brio, Allegretto ma non troppo, Allegro assai vivace ma serioso, Larghetto expresivo--Allegretto agitato. According to Beethoven, "the quartet was written for a small circle of connoisseur and is never to be performed in public" but Mahler found its melodies, themes and rhythm so fascinating that he adapted it for a chamber orchestra in 1899. However, he had it performed it only once to mixed reaction at the Musikverein in Vienna. As Beethoven's instructions indicated, the mood and pace of the four movements were to be bright and energetic, very fast but not too fast, lively but serious, slow and expressive and then very fast and excited. On the whole, it's a very energetic piece punctuated by some light and lyrical passages. Maybe the players that night were a bit tired. I found the their performance a bit dull, listless, unremarkable, spiritless and disappointing.

The second part of the concert that evening on Bruckner No. 4, a very "romantic" piece, was completely different. It seemed that the players had woken up and gave the kind of performance one has reasonable hopes of of hearing from that great orchestra. Could it be that in that second part of the concert, we had the brass section in full swing? For whatever it is worth, the musical directions by Bruckner for the 4 movements were 
I: Bewegt, nicht zu Schnell (rough or choppy, not too swift) 
II  Andante quasi allegretto (ambling almost a little fast) 
III Scherzo: Bewegt: Trio: Nicht zu Schnell, Keinesfalls Schleppend (Scherzo: rough/choppy Trio: not too swift, not at all tediously slow )
IV Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell( rough/choppy but not too swift).
Bruckner was one of those who would endlessly revise his works in response to suggestions and criticism. Between 1874, when he first wrote it and 1889, he revised it 6 times! The one we heard that evening was the version performed by most 20th century orchestras ie. the one he did 1878 for the first 3 movements and the one he did in 1880 for the 4th movement. In his correspondence with his friends, he said that the score was based on the story of a Middle Ages hunting expedition, beginning with dawn, then sunrise, with the knights riding into the fields "astride proud steeds", delighted by bird songs and sounds of rustling leaves of the woods, then some rural folk waltz, signaled first by the strings, then the horn playing a second theme, joined later by flutes with variations. Per Bruckner, the second movement is a kind of song or prayer., with the cello opening a theme to the rhythms of a funeral march which Bruckner said represents a declaration of "unrequited love", with the violas' pizzicato signifying "teardrops".  The third movement in Scherzo then portrays the actual hunt represented by the sound of the horns, with the Trio portraying another pastoral dance by one of the hunters, 'imitating the sound of a barrel organ entertaining the other hunters during their lunch break". In the final movement, the brass section brings the symphony to a glorious conclusion, with the sound of timpanis, explosive strings and brass all blazing out at maximum sound levels. He gave the symphony a subtitle" Romantic"  in the old Medieval sense of a story with twists and turns. It's the only one amongst his 11 symphonies to which he gave a title at all.

If I were forced to make a comparison between the performance of the symphony by the two orchestras under two different conductors, I would say I prefer the one by the HKPO more because it seems that the HKPO is better able to bring out the flavor of the more subtle passages. The structure of the sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra appears to me, whilst clearly and cleanly textured, a trifle too "mechanical" and almost "inhuman". Their brass is good but perhaps because of my unrealistic expectations of their famous "golden sound", proved upon the hearing, less than what I expected.

The HKPO's concert featuring the Bruckner No. 4  on 11th June, 2016 did not however, begin with that number. It started with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 in E Flat K 482, completed by Mozart on 16th December, 1785 which he performed that very same day! The first movement in Allegro began very grandly with trumpets and drums, followed by one of his always beautiful string melodies, decorated by flutes, clarinets, bassoons and horns. The piano enters rather late with its delightful, fast, flowing and delicate melodies which contrast sharply with the solemn and forceful string sounds. One seems to feel the almost visceral  lightness of a carefree existence in the dancing sound of the piano. The second in Andante opens with the strings playing a rather restrained and contemplative theme tinged with a tad of melancholy. Then the piano joins in with a solitary sound, playing all by itself and is then joined by the flute, clarinets . The main theme seems to suggest at a realm out of this world, with a kind of dignified solemnity and an almost Slavic fatalism,from which the piano tries unsuccessfully to elude. The third movement in Allegro begins majestically with the piano and the orchestra coming at the same time. It's mood is overwhelmingly positive with more serious passages interspersed with more light-hearted and and flowing ones, with the main motif introduced by the piano striding in with its head held high, like a swaggering child together with all kinds of childish pranks and bravado, deliberately stopping to test the effects of his theatrics before resuming his proud march and stomping about. And even at the end, he would still give a wink or two before the concerto finally draws to a rather more serious close. As pianist we had Louis Lortie, a French Canadian, who played very well, just that he seemed a trifle too "proper", almost as if he were playing a baroque piece where everything must be restrained and well-balanced. If he could let himself go a bit more so as to bring out the impishness of Mozart, it would have been even better.