Monday, 1 February 2016

a musical triumph

Last night's concert at the music society was really, really good.  It was good in its own right, a virtuoso performance from the two musicians, but also because it was a triumph snatched from the jaws of potential disaster.

The line-up originally consisted of a very eminent specialist in early pianos, performing on his own historic 1828 Broadwood piano, a cellist and a violinist.  With a few days to go, both the string players had to pull out for separate and inescapable reasons, leaving us with the prospect of an evening of solo piano music, which would probably have been very good but not what our audience was expecting.  A replacement violinist was found, who was himself in the middle of moving house and whose partner was expecting a baby rather shortly, so his presence was contingent on the baby not arriving early.  They had about four hours to rehearse together and the violinist's scores were already packed away in boxes, so he was playing from printouts downloaded from the internet.

And they were brilliant.  Nothing they played was on the original programme, which was a waste when the concert's sponsors had kindly paid for us to have glossy coloured professionally printed ones instead of the usual home printed black and white, but apart from one disappointed concert goer heard to declare on the door that if there wasn't any Schubert she wasn't coming, nobody else seemed to mind.  And we had sold a lot of extra tickets, so the audience wasn't limited to regular supporters who know the Chairman and would try to avoid upsetting her.

Instead of Beethoven's Archduke trio and the Schubert we got Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelsshon, plus variations for solo piano on Robin Adair (as mentioned in Jane Austen's Emma which tied in nicely with the topic of the year before last's annual lecture, which was What Matters in Jane Austen? Answer: Everything).  The violinist explained about his photocopied score before one of the Beethoven pieces then announced that he had the wrong one, and disappeared to the vestry to get the right bits of paper.  The period piano went out of tune so frequently that the eminent pianist retuned it not just between pieces, but between some of the movements.

And the playing was electric.  I thought of those scenes in Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels when the captain and Stephen Maturin play Beethoven's chamber music together and the reader is reminded with a jolt that in the early 1800s Beethoven's music was new and cutting edge, and that people played it for fun.  Despite, or perhaps because of, the impromptu programme and lack of rehearsal time and makeshift scores and the piano drifting out of tune in the chilly air of the church, this concert crackled with the energy and sense of improvisation of people playing new music for the fun of it.

The heroes of the hour were David Owen Norris, pianist, scholar, composer and TV and radio presenter, and Adrian Chandler, baroque violinist and leader of ensemble La Serenissima.  I would leap at any chance I got to hear either or both of them again.

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