The year really is galloping madly towards summer. I went today to the last of the LSO St Lukes lunchtime concerts I had booked. The final music society concert of the 2016-17 season is this coming weekend, the following Sunday I'm going to hear a youngish quartet in the church at Wrabness, and then that's it, the end of classical concert going until October.
Today the Nash Ensemble were making an appearance. I bought the ticket nearly six months ago, back in October of last year, and I'd forgotten what combination of elements from the Nash Ensemble to expect or what they were playing. The answer turned out to be Bruch's piano quintet in G minor, and the four string players sans piano doing a late Vaughan Williams string quartet, number 2 in A minor. Wearing my music society committee hat I was impressed at the idea of having a piano and then not even using it for half the concert, but I'm sure St Lukes has the piano anyway. Out in the sticks by the time we've paid five hundred pounds to hire one we don't want any downtime.
I don't believe I ever heard the Bruch quintet before, or at least not knowingly. The only bit of Bruch I would recognise is his violin concerto, which probably leaves me in the same boat as the majority of middlebrow music enthusiasts. The quintet is absolutely lovely, madly romantic, and as the programme notes said belongs firmly in the tonal realm of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, which is one of the places I feel happier. The notes said that Bruch despised the New German school of Liszt and Wagner. I wouldn't dare despise Liszt, but I don't warm to him, and I find The Ride of the Valkyries plus the Liebestod between them provide quite enough Wagner (and I mainly like the Valkyries for their association with Apocalypse Now and The Blues Brothers). So in a division of late nineteenth century German music I that puts me firmly in team Bruch.
The Vaughan Williams was first performed at the height of the second world war, and when I saw in the programme notes that it was in a tonal idiom with a sharp edge derived from its insistence on the dissonant interval of a tritone my heart sank, but in the event as it went on I liked it a lot. The first movement was indeed agitated and dissonant and if it had gone on like that for twenty minutes I'd have been wishing that it could just stop, but having set his agitated scene Vaughan Williams progressed to quieter and spookier things (some recycled from earlier work on film scores. The great Baroque composers recycled their material so why shouldn't Ralph?) and the whole effect ended up being very satisfactory and not too long, which is not meant to damn it with faint praise, only there is a limit to how much dissonance I can take.
The Nash Ensemble were marvellous and looked as though they were having a ball, and I think Lawrence Power is rapidly replacing Jon Boden in my affections. Fiona Talkington of Radio 3 told us that today was a special birthday for him. Well, that is one way to celebrate your fortieth.
In the afternoon I went to see Portrait of the Artist at The Queen's Gallery. It's on for another month, and it is a really good exhibition, and was practically empty. As I entered the largest gallery the attendant commented that I had it to myself, and I expressed my amazement and asked why it was so quiet and she said that was what she had been asking herself. She thought the topic must sound obscure or dull, plus it wasn't very colourful and there weren't that many paintings by big names. It is true that there is a high proportion of drawings and engravings in the exhibition, but they are of superb quality, and there are some fantastic oils, including a trio of self-portraits by Rembrant, Rubens and Daniel Mytens that once hung in the breakfast room of Charles I, and Artemisia Gentileschi's extraodinary foreshortened self-portrait in the act of painting. I was greatly struck by Judith grasping the head of Holofernes by the hair as she stared straight out of the canvas, but had to read the caption to discover how it fitted into the exhibition theme, the answer being that the model for Judith was the artist's ex lover, and the head was his own. Some of the works show artists and engravers depicting each other, until you end up with an engraving showing an artist holding an engraving based on a painting by somebody else (or something. I lost track). There are some nice miniatures too. It is a great exhibition, and if you buy your ticket there and have it stamped before you go it will get you into the next two exhibitions as well, on Canaletto, and art of the Stuart court.