Sunday, 22 January 2017

a musical interlude

I made it to the music society concert, and the huge expensive thyme infused throat sweets preserved my decency and I did not cough, and the hall was jolly cold although the heating had been on.  We all sat there in our coats, while the pianist appeared perfectly comfortable in a sleeveless dress.  A friend told me she would be feeling OK because of the adrenaline, but I hope she didn't get chilled.

The concert opened with a suite by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.  Born twenty years before JS Bach, she performed at the court of the Sun King aged five, published her first set of suites for harpsichord at the age of twenty-two, and was the first woman to have an opera performed at the Academie Royale de Musique.  Radio 3 chose her as the Composer of the Week back in 2015 as part of their celebration of International Women's Day, which was when I first came across her.  Sadly, their enthusiasm for one of the greatest French Baroque composers didn't seem to last beyond the need to find some female composers for Women's Day and she's had little airplay since, or at least not when I've been listening.  I would say I like the French Baroque, except that an unkind person could point out that I have no recordings of it beyond a cassette of Lully somewhere in a drawer, but nonetheless I do like the French Baroque and was delighted by the pianist's choice of opening number.

Then we had some Beethoven that was new to me and also to the friend sitting next to me, Sonata No. 4 in E flat major.  It was big and muscular and brilliant, one of those pieces of music I find easier to respect than to love.  Beethoven quite often has that effect on me, which says more about me than Beethoven.

After the interval we had a newly written piece by Kim Ashton, a selection from Ornithology, which was inspired by birds and unabashed by the fact that Charlie Parker already used the title.  This afternoon's birds were the goldfinch, the kestrel, and a third bird I didn't know.  I tried hard to listen with an open mind, while aware that my preconception was that I was not going to like it, but I'm afraid none of it seemed to me to have anything to do with goldfinches or kestrels.  If forced to guess I'd have said that it was about Brutalist architecture or collapsing icebergs or a series of lorries breaking down on the M25.  I am afraid I am hopelessly middlebrow and modern classical music is wasted on me.

Then we had two Fauré Nocturnes, perhaps chosen as a contrast or palate cleanser after the birds, romantic and effusive.  I have no recordings of any of his work except the Requiem, which I adore. Every so often I think I should get some more, and then I hear some and remember that on the whole I don't like late nineteenth and early twentieth century French music very much.  We finished up with three movements from Igor Stravinsky's Petroushka, except that that wasn't quite the end because we got a little piece of Scarlatti as an encore.  The Scarlatti was wonderful.  In my secret heart if we could have just have stuck to Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Scarlatti for the whole concert, and maybe slipped in a bit of Antonio Soler and even some Handel, I'd have been entirely happy, but that probably wouldn't have suited the majority.

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