This was the last in the ECMA series of concerts at Wigmore Hall and was probably the best. This young Danish Quartet are very impressive. I went because I can never resist Bartók’s string quartets and the concert started with is second quartet. It was enjoyable but it does not reach the levels of greatness that his later quartets reached. The surprise for me was the second piece, Beethoven’s String Quartet In E Minor, Op. 59 No. 2 ‘Razumovsky’. I knew Beethoven’s late quartets were wonderful but I have never heard one of these earlier quartets sounding so good before. For a relatively young quartet that is a major achievement and they certainly deserved the resounding ovation we gave them and gave us in return an encore of the second movement from Rued Langgaard’s Third Quartet.Short and sweet, it was a fun way to end a lovely concert.
This lunchtime concert formed part of the European Chamber Music Academy series of performances by up-and-coming chamber ensembles. First, the Wu Quartet played Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 in C Op. 36, a wonderful, complex work. It sounded to me as it was telling a story, full of melodies talking to each other and transforming into new ones. It is clearly a difficult work to play but they managed it well, even if they looked exhausted at the end – apart from the quartet’s leader, Qian Wu, who smiled triumphantly. The Streeton Trio then played Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101. It is a shame the concert was programmed in this order. The Brahms trio would have made a good warm up for the Britten but, coming second, I felt it was somewhat overshadowed by the much greater complexity of the Britten quartet, even though it was played highly skilfully.
I have seen far too few concerts this year. I’m really glad I saw Jah Wobble at last (I didn’t see Public Image until after he left) but I think it’s the last time I’ll be able to stand up waiting for a band to come on late in the evening. The Wigmore Hall lunchtime concerts are more my thing nowadays. However, it was well worth going out in the evening to see two massive works as part of The Rest is Noise: Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony and Tippett’s Child of Our Time. Both overwhelmingly good but there are a dozen other concerts I’d have loved to go to as part of this season – if only they did matinees.
Another lovely lunchtime concert from the Radio 3 series at this wonderful venue. The Haydn trio was pretty but my main interest was in Dvořák’s Piano Trio in F Minor Op.65 which was very good. Stefan Heinemeyer was particularly passionate on cello, flourishing his bow, throwing back his long, curly hair and relishing every moment. It is unfair to compare it to the stunning Bartók string quartet a few weeks back but Dvořák was clearly an influence on Bartók, particularly in the allegretto. Generally, for me, the string quartet is a more satisfactory combination of instruments than the piano trio, or maybe composers take it more seriously.
The draw for me was the Bartók’s quartet but the lunchtime concert started with Haydn’s very pleasant String Quartet in C Op. 33 No. 3 “The Bird,” presumably chosen for its Hungarian feel. This was followed by György Kurtág’s Hommage à Mihály András (12 microludes) Op. 13 with which I was not familiar. As the title suggests, it is made up of 12 very short movements, each between 16 seconds and two minutes long. As a result, I could barely get into one movement before it was gone – I’d have to listen again to judge it. The climax of the concert was Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4, one of the greatest 20th Century works, brilliantly played and absolutely wonderful. After much well deserved applause from those who were not rushing back to work, they gave an encore of a delightful polonaise from a Mozart quartet.
You can hear the concert (apart from the encore) from BBC Radio 3 on the BBC iPlayer. Sadly, the picture of the quartet was not taken at the beautiful Wigmore Hall, though.
Another concert in the stupendous The Rest is Noise at the South Bank, as part of which I saw Child of our Time a few weeks ago. As with that work, I have loved Messiaen’s amazing “symphony” since the 60s but have never seen it live. As with all concerts in the series, there was an introduction and an interview with the conductor, Thierry Fischer, who explained the scale of the work: two soloists (Stefan Stroissnig on piano and Cynthia Millar on the astonishing ondes martenot), 12 percussionists, including celeste, glockenspiel and vibraphone emulating a gamelan orchestra, plus full symphony orchestra with what is effectively a brass band’s worth additional instrumentation.
It is no wonder that this (like the Paris premiere) was performed by a student orchestra and they performed it excellently. Although the work seems very complex on record, in a live performance it becomes clearer that virtuoso performances are only demanded from the two soloists, each section of the orchestra performing simpler, highly tuneful music – the complexity comes from hearing all of them at once. It is still a very distinctive, joyful and highly melodic work which made for an extremely enjoyable evening. Tippett started composing Child of our Time on the day war was declared; Messiaen started composing Turangalila in 1946, just after it ended. The first was a warning about the war to come, the other a celebration of its ending, both huge, both intensely beautiful.
I have loved this work by Tippett since I discovered it in the 1960s, around the same time as Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. Ryan Wigglesworth conducted with great skill and passion and the choir were in fine voice. The bass, Matthew Rose, was astonishing with every word coming across clearly; the other three soloists were good but slightly less clear. Tippett started writing this oratorio in 1939 on the day Britain declared war and continued through his own internment as a conscientious objector. It deals with the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis but was completed in 1941, before the true horror of the Holocaust was revealed. In looking for a voice to represent an oppressed people, he turned to spirituals rather than more conventional religious passages. I was not sure these would still work but within seconds of “Steal away” starting, the prickles ran not just up my spine but all my body. My only slight reservation was seeing black music sung when there was not a single black person among the 200 or so in the orchestra and choir. This work is crying out for someone to bring it to life with a gospel choir, and Willard White would have been even better as the bass. A great start for my first concert in The Rest is Noise, the massively ambitious run through the 20th century music at the South Bank.