2016年7月3日 星期日

Hodge-Podge of Recent Concerts (音樂大雜燴)

It's been a while since I last wrote about the concerts I attended. As I heard the HKPO's last concert for this season last night, it's as good a time as any to do a little recap of the many good and some not so good concerts that I heard in the last two months.

Last night we had a wonderfully Russian, whimsical, lyrical, colorful, sensitive, powerful and at times meditative piece from Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953): his Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op 26 in Andante-Allegro, Theme and Variations, Allegro ma non troppo. As soloist, we had a very talented,  musically sensitive and technically superb young pianist from Uzbekistan born in 1990 in Tashkent: Behzod Abdurraimov who had performed with the Boston Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, the Marinsky Orchestra under such conductors as Gergiev, our ex- conductor Edo de Waart, Vasily Petrenko, James Gaffigan and Vladimor Jurowsky. Last year he toured Stockholm, Vienna and Dortmund with Gergiev and his Marinsky Orchestra in a Prokofiev piano concerto cycle. As conductor, we had a very personable and quirky pianist cum conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy who was able to coax from the amazingly versatile HK Phil a sound of such subtlety and sensitivity I have never previously noticed. It was a totally satisfying experience. As Bezhod was trying to leave the stage for the second time after the thunderous applauses, Ashkenazy repeatedly pointed him to the pianist stool. We really got to thank this conductor for we got another wonderfully subtle piece played with great musical insight from the young performer.

After the intermission, we had a totally different piece from the greatest composer of an island off the coast of Western Europe now wallowing in the throes of regret and dazed confusion after a thoughtless plebiscite which places its ruling political party and the whole nation there into its greatest dilemma since the end of WWII following its recent majority decision to sever its formal political ties with its giant continental neighbor: Edward Elgar (1857-1934), a composer who made music for this nation which once boasted that the sun never sets upon its territories. We had his openly "patriotic" Symphony No. 1 in A flat, Op 55, which premiered 1908 in that jewel of British garment and machine tool industries at the height of its imperial glory: Manchester. It was then performed by the famous Hallé Orchestra conducted by Hans Richter. Like so many of Elgar's other pieces, it required all the conventional musical instruments but with special attention paid to parts by the brass and percussions. It's a stately, solemn symphony moving at a self-confident pace, displaying solid British virtues of staunchness and resilience and apparent nonchalance in the face of wars and conflict, having a leisurely country-walk feel. But nothing can hide the currents of the dark forces of disruption lurking underneath to wrack its surface calm, emerging at the start of the second movement. I the end, the disruptive forces are overcome and we return to lyrical calmness and serenity in the third movement and in the fourth movement, the symphony marches to a gloriously triumphal conclusion. 

Last week, it was something different again. We had a very mixed bag of short pieces and a violin concerto called "Bach and Beyond" : pieces from Western, Central and Southern Europe spread over 3 centuries:the French composer Jean-Féry Rebel' (1666-1747)'s Les Elements:Chaos (cancelled according to a leaflet handed to us with the Programme Notes "due to issues with the orchestral edition of the work"), the very short baroque Bach(1685-1750) piece Concerto No. 5 in F minor BWV 1056, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt "Fratres (one of my favorites),  the English composer Henry Purcell's(1659-1695) Chaconne in G minor, then the Hungarian composer Gyögy Ligeti's Violin Concerto, concluding with Musical Offering: Ricecar, a Bach piece as re-arranged by the French composer Anton Webern (1883-1945). The HKPO was conducted by a young American conductor who was constantly asking the audience to be patient with the more minimalist technique of Arvo Pärt 's minimalist and Webern's dissonance technique: Case Scalgione. As violinist, we had the young American violinist Caroline Goulding and as pianist for the Bach piece, we had Hong Kong's own  Colleen Lee, who first studied here and then in Hochschule fur Musik, Theater und Median in Hannover, Germany and now teaching at the HKAPA. 

Surprisingly, Rebel's piece Le Cahos sounded very contemporary although it was written more than 300 years ago. According to the programme notes,  it was supposed to depict the "confusion which reigned among the Elements before the moment, when subject to immutable laws, they assume their prescribed places within the natural order". Can you imagine that this piece was written by a 71-year-old French pensioner? It appears to me that it depicts quite well not only the state of the universe before the creation of order, it empresses equally well the current political situation in Britain and the in many other places in the world today where we have an accelerating resurgence of religious fundamentalism of every kind.

Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor is a favourite of Bach lovers with the  usual counterpoints and displaying Bach's restrained joy playing around with scales, rising and dropping according to certain predictable patterns with occasional surprises.

There's a strange sense of ethereality in Pärt's piece, with the percussions hinting at a certain kind of fateful and unalterable rhythm of another world which contrasts quietly with the freedom and leisurely sound of the strings in this piece, a piece which plunges one into a contemplative mood, as if one is seeing something unusual in a darkened and deserted chapel hidden amongst the woods and ruins in the middle of nowhere.

According to the Wikipedia, a Chaconne, which originated in Spain. was considered by some musical theorists as "a set of variations on a harmonic progression, as opposed to a set of variations on a melodic bass pattern" but in practice is not so very different from a passaglia. Whatever the proper description should be, for me, Purcell's Chaconne in G minor is just another pleasant piece from an era of balance, order and harmony to which we can no longer return except in our imagination. 

Then it was time for another young violinist to showcase her skill. Caroline Goulding's Ligeti's Violin Concerto show no surprises; another one of those rising young stars doing her best to develop her own style. The concerto, written in 1990, does not belong to the traditional violin concerto the normal concerto goer is familiar with. It plays around with the unusual rhythm and the concept of "harmony" and "disharmony" or "noise", with dissonances, contrasts, difference instead of identity and for that reason creates tensions and unaccustomed musical effects. It may not be everyone's cup of tea. Certainly two of my usual concert buddies complained about it. I don't blame them. It doesn't conform to their notion of what constitutes music. But different times, different sentiments and different modes of expressions.

The last piece of the evening is another experimental piece: Webern's re-arrangement of Bach's called "Ricercar à 6 "  but compared to the previous piece was certainly much less "radical" and more in line with traditional ways of composition: it has certainly not rejected harmony and innovates by adding different musical instruments and rhythm to enrich the sound I came away with mixed feelings. It has certainly made me reflect on what exactly we expect from our serious music.