Showing posts with label Edward Elgar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edward Elgar. Show all posts

Friday, August 25, 2017

A steamy date in Snape

Spent most of yesterday driving to and from Aldeburgh with the OH to experience a very special night of Strauss and Elgar at the Snape Proms. Renée Fleming sang the Strauss Four Last Songs and the programme was topped and tailed with his Till Eulenspiegel and Elgar's Symphony No.1. On the platform was a familiar presence who's nevertheless unusual in the context of this orchestra. It wasn't his first concert with them by a long chalk, but the first in a little while. So, with apologies to The Guardian's 'Blind Date', here's what happened when Ed Gardner met the LPO.

You'd never think that just behind you is one of the best concert halls in the country

What were they hoping for?
A dynamic partnership of orchestra and conductor in which sympathy is found, sparks can fly and the audience can get really excited about the music. At least, that's usually what they want. 

What did they talk about?
The end of days, intentionally or not. Poor Till is hanged at the end of his Strauss tone poem (I must look up what he's supposed to have done to deserve it - maybe he spoke out about politics...). The Four Last Songs are, well, the four last songs, ending implicitly with the souls of Richard and Pauline rising towards heaven in the form of larks; and Elgar, in his Symphony No.1, takes an eloquent "idée fixe" melody with regular, walking-type accompaniment and then, to use a modern-day trendy word, 'disrupts' it in almost every way conceivable in England in 1908. It was hard not to read the second movement as a macabre, scherzoid battle scene. The final pages, in which the theme returns surrounded by a great musical firework display, seemed simultaneously a celebration and a fearfully pertinent farewell to a vanishing era.

Rehearsal in Snape Maltings
Renée Fleming's performance of the Four Last Songs, and the encores Cäcilie and Morgen, offered a raw revelation of innermost heart, at times almost spoken more than sung; however quiet she goes, her voice still shimmers through the music fabric as only hers can, drawing us in towards her and softly wringing us out. Explaining the encores, she noted that the two they had chosen were early works dating from around the time of Strauss's marriage, and adding: "I just want to say: thank God he married a soprano..."

Any awkward moments?
If so, very few and well masked. 

Good podium manner?
Splendid. Gardner is debonair, extrovert, charismatic, with plenty of audience appeal. For the orchestra, one has the impression he seems clear, positive and cogent, wearing his expertise lightly.

Best things about the meeting?
The freshness of it. Imagine a spouse who is used to - and loves - long, deep, intense conversations, in which each word is controlled with immense precision and the underlying philosophy must be considered at every moment...suddenly taking a walk with someone who laces up his boots, links his arm through hers and points out the dramas among passers by, the green parrots flying about and the sun sparkling on the water and says "great, so what do you want for lunch?"

Gardner is a splendid storyteller, pacing the narrative and sustaining tension over long expanses of music with vivid colour and detail around a rock-solid core. 

In addition, it was a massive treat to hear the home band in the Aldeburgh acoustic, which is warm and flattering, bloomy and gorgeous.

Would you send your friends to hear them?
Heavens, yes.

Describe the meeting in three words.
Energetic, inspiring, promising.

What do you think they made of each other?
Very different from one another, but they seemed keen to adapt, to find common ground and to, er, make beautiful music together.

Might they go on somewhere?
They might. We'll have to see.

And...did they kiss?
Definitely having a good old flirt. 

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Distance. It's a long way to Aldeburgh and we didn't get home til nearly 2am. 

Marks out of 10?
Eight.

Might they meet again?
I reckon so.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

When Edward met Gabriel

I spent a very pleasant evening yesterday addressing the London branch of the Elgar Society - a remarkable collection of knowledgeable enthusiasts who meet regularly in Harley Street for lectures and studies of their chosen composer. Membership is highly recommended! People from all walks of life, many with fascinating backgrounds, are drawn together by their love of the great man's music, and I was invited to come along and give the Christmas talk as "something a little different". I went down memory lane a little way, exploring Elgar's impact on my life for, sort of, ever.

One matter we revisited was that of "Windflower" and the Violin Concerto; and it was also a fine opportunity to draw attention to the closer-than-expected links between Elgar and Fauré. Interesting to think that had the publisher's series elected to count Elgar as a 20th-century composer, I might have ended up writing about him instead of, or as well as, his fabulous French colleague, who lived through a decade less of the century. Here is a brief taster from last night.

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Fauré and Elgar had the same British patron, the banker Leo Frank Schuster, who was responsible for Fauré having a strong reputation in certain educated circles of Britain, rather to the composer’s own astonishment - though nevertheless not to the full extent that he deserved, as Elgar recognised. On one occasion in 1908 Fauré came to England to hear the rehearsal for the London premiere of Elgar’s First Symphony and Schuster held a dinner party for both composers together, which must have been a fine moustache-fest. 

They had much in common besides those moustaches, silver hair and dark eyes: an elegant sensibility, an unfailing instinct for songful melody, an intimacy of expression and a very rich, flexible harmonic language, which Fauré took considerably further; and each enjoyed an unexpected "Indian summer" of composition in which they produced some of their finest works. They also both had a great fondness for younger women, but thereby hangs many other tales: notably a Vera for Elgar and a Marguerite for Fauré...
Elgar held Fauré in very considerable esteem. After the French composer died, Elgar wrote to Schuster: “He was such a real gentleman – the highest type of Frenchman and I admire him greatly. His chamber music never had a chance here…I feel that it was held up, to our loss. As far as I resent anything – which is not far – I resent such neglect.” There’s no record, unfortunately, of what Fauré had thought of Elgar. But there are passages of Faure in which one can detect a real convergence of style.
I think that what the two shared in musical terms was actually the influence of Schumann. If you take this slow movement from Fauré’s Piano Quintet No.1, written in 1905, you can detect very Schumannesque qualities in the off-beat rhythms and the kind of textures and polyphonies he employs; it’s as if he’s passed Schumann through a prism and turned him inside out.
Or the beginning of the Piano Quintet No.2, written in 1921 during his "Indian summer", features the kind of long-breathed melodies with plunging sighs that we find so often in Elgar but that can be traced straight back to Schumann. First, think of the slow movement of Schumann's Symphony No.2.



Then try the Fauré quintet...
Now, here’s the beginning of Elgar’s string quartet, written just three years earlier in 1918 – a very different piece, but it is nevertheless fascinating to hear the two composers back to back, which doesn’t happen very often. You can detect some of the same kinds of gestures and the underlying harmonic instability that both are evoking, as if the ground under their feet is no longer so solid.



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If you want to explore the other artistic relationship here in more depth - that between the music of Schumann and Fauré - do try to come to the Aspect Foundation's concert at the 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2QA,  on Thursday. This intriguing organisation - which puts on lecture-recitals with knobs on, featuring top-quality artists - has an evening devoted to the idea of 'Schumann and Fauré: Kindred Spirits', starring our violinist colleague Philippe Graffin, pianist Alasdair Beatson, violist David Adams and cellist David Waterman. More info & booking here.