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A day at the Royal Academy of Music Friday 3rd March 2006
and Arrangements of canonic favourites

10:00am–12:30pm Concert Room

Piano Masterclass Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Dustin Gledhill
Debussy Etudes nos 11 and 12
Tanya Gabrielian
Bartok Out of Doors Suite
Natalia Wandoch
Ligeti Musica Ricercata

1.05 p.m. Paganini with Orchestra

Academy Concert Orchestra/ Edward Gardner
Liszt Totentanz (Trang Trinh piano)
Paganini Violin Concerto no 2 op 7 in B minor (Pedro Meireles violin)

2:30–4:30pm Viotti’s Performance Ideals
Strings Gallery, York Gate Collections
Peter Sheppard Skærved & Howard Davis

7. 30 Wigmore Hall
Sir John Tusa 70th Birthday Concert  

Joan Rodgers soprano
Alice Coote
mezzo soprano
Julius Drake piano
Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Anthony Marwood violin
Lucy Gould violin
Lawrence Power viola
Paul Watkins
Thomas Carroll

Richard Strauss
Die Georgine. Die Verschwiegenen Allerseelen Rote Rosen. Die erwachte Rose
Begegnung S chlechtes Wetter
Gustav Mahler
5 Ruckert Lieder
Gyorgy Ligeti
7 Etudes
Franz Schubert
String Quintet in D

Before parting company with Music Web to found Musical Pointers, I had suggested a regular monthly or bi-monthly diary article to cover the variety of musical experiences and one's thoughts arising from them, an offer which was declined as untidy and not fitting in with the house style. An exceptionally fruitful few days in early March 2006 lends themselves to being reported together discursively instead of compartmentalised in categories?

Friday 3 March at RAM made me think, not for the first time, that visitors from afar and abroad should be alerted to the fact that the freshest experiences, and indeed the centre of London's musical life, is to be found in the music colleges and academies, rather than at the regular concert venues.

RAM's Concert Hall was packed at 10 a.m. for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's masterclass on contemporary piano music from Debussy to Ligeti, 2½ hrs without break or pause. His English is not just good, it is amazingly fluent in conveying the most sophisticated concepts. This was perhaps the most intellectually demanding and satisfying of all the many masterclasses I had attended, each Master with his/her own personal style, a fascinating study on its own.

I arrived a little late to standing room only! All three pianists named above were advanced recitalists and presented their selections from memory, and with a quality that would satsify many of us in concert. None of the three pianists had any problems with Aimard's demands to take particular passages without the scores, and to try to modify their approaches in subtlest ways and before an audience of fellow students and members of the public.

With all three pianists Aimard emphasised the importance of 'centred' posture, 'opening' the chest and relaxing to enable production of tone that must not be 'blocked'. Dustin Gledhill was encouraged to sit tall with a straighter back, and to have 'deep structure' in mind to encompass rubato and textures. Natalia Wandoch did exercises alongside Pierre-Laurent to help her with Ligeti's 'crazy games', with noticeable improvement.

Tanya Gabrielian was the most interesting, her body mobile and her face expressive in responding to the changing moods of the music in a way that I felt was natural and not added for effect; I think we were all captivated watching and listening to her. Might not Aimard's advice that she should practise with a mirror be inhibiting and undermine her spontaneity? I look forward to hearing Tanya in recital. *

My only surprise (and regret on behalf of the pianists) was that the session was not recorded/or videoed - there must be substantial limits to how much of the tuition the pupils would have been able to take in and absorb during the lessons?

During the morning Pierre-Laurent evoked orchestral instruments to illustrate his wants in the most imaginative way, that suggesting that he ought to be commissioned to prepare orchestral arrangements of the music under the microscope, especially the Bartok and Debussy selections. But he is a busy man, and we had booked to hear him play Ligeti's Etudes at the Wigmore Hall the same evening....

Pagannini Festival

In the middle of my Aimard sandwich I was able to sample the major Pagannini Festival in full flood at the Academy, with numerous performances and academic events based on their precious collection in their Strings Gallery. Peter Sheppard Skærved demonstrated Viotti's Strad and Paganini's Del Gesu-Il Cannone, & with eminent violin teacher Howard Davis held a splendidly spontaneous public conversation around the glass cases, going into arcane aspects of bowing and shoulder rests, and constructing pedigrees through generations of teachers back to Pagannini himself! Illuminating for cognoscenti, entertaining for the rest of us.

I caught unusual repertoire in the Concert Orchestra's lunchtime concert in the large and completely full Duke's Hall. It was good to hear Liszt's variations on the Dies Irae and a Paganini Violin Concerto, neither of which would normally attract our critical attention, in good live accounts; the essential components of vulnerability and tension are destroyed by the 'perfectionism' of digital recording.

At Wigmore Hall's 70th birthday tribute for Sir John Tusa, regulars who filled the hall were astonished by Pierre-Laurent Aimard's account of seven of the brain and finger twisting studies of Ligeti, now well established in the essential repertoire of ambitious young pianists.

That Wigmore Hall concert's mixed programme links with Arrangements - another theme in the forefront of my week's listening and thinking.

Lieder selections by established singers Joan Rodgers and Alice Coote failed to eclipse the pleasure of the younger Kate Royal's recital earlier in the week. My review of her recital draws attention to her contribution to a fine recording of Mahler's 4th Symphony in a reduced arrangement for chamber orchestra which had been premiered at Wigmore Hall.

The Tusa concert ended with Schubert's String Quintet in all its glory, given by five individual string players who came together at Sir John's invitation. That is how it should be - and was originally. Ensemble was excellent and there was no feeling that any one of the players was directing the others.

Schubert's quintets are amongst popular canonic masterworks that I tend to avoid hearing often now, and especially on cleaned up digital recordings. I also can become impatient with repeats, sacrilegious though that be thought - those on this occasion contributed to a very late finish.

Arrangements of canonic favourites

Earlier in the week I had listened to the slow movement of the string quintet in an arrangement for piano duet by Hugo Ulrich. Anthony Goldstone in his notes for that fascinating CD [The Divine Art 25026] adds a disclaimer, suggesting that those who feel affronted by the notion need not play that track! They would be seriously mistaken; it has a certain coolness which I found makes you listen in a different way without the screwing up of tension and intensity with strings vibrato. Goldstone and his wife partner (they have recorded all the legitimate Schubert duos) love it, and so do I.

The main attraction of that fascinating collection of "Unauthorised Piano Duos" of Schubert was a version of the Trout Quintet without strings at all, can you believe it? This came to my notice in the excellent notes by Misha Donat for Hyperion's new CD of the Trout coupled with the String Trios.

The latter I enjoyed; they are not played too often. But I have problems with the Trout, House-musik of the highest order, composed for domestic use and not one of Schubert's profoundest utterances, says Donat.

Its heavenly length claims relaxed listening, and I had not realised before that Schubert expanded it "in a less labour intensive manner than might have otherwise been possible" by creating second parts in three of the five movements by simply repeating the first in a different key! Donat also points out that the layout of the piano part, often in parallel octaves, reflects the sonority of the piano duet primo!

Hyperion's new studio recording with Paul Lewis is immaculate, but bland to my ears and unlikely to prove competitive with favourites of this much loved and oft-recorded work (Gramofile has reviews of some seventy recordings on CD & DVD). But quite another thing is the Goldstone/Clemmow account of the Trout in publisher Joseph Czerny's 1829 version, which he promoted in tandem with his posthumous publication of the familiar quintet original. Hyperion's version of the Trout [CDA67527 2006] is worth acquiring for Misha Donat's extensive researches and detective work, but Goldstone & Clemmow anticipated it in their 2003/4 recording, which really makes you sit up and listen, and is my strongly recommended preference between the two.

Re RAM Pagannini Festival see also Evan Dickerson in Music Web

* also his review of Tanya Gabrielian at Purcell Room shortly before this Aimard Master Class


© Peter Grahame Woolf