After another hectic week, I longed for Saturday. Saturday always has a special meaning for me. It's the day when I can immerse myself completely again in one of the activities I like most, being touched by music. Last Saturday, it was music from a country where I spent the happiest days of my life: France. We had Ravel, Berlioz and Debussy, impresionists all under the baton of Carlo Rizzi and the voice of soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci.
The first piece of the evening was Maurice Ravel's La alborada del gracioso( Funny Dawn) composed in 1905 as the fourth movement of his Miroirs for piano and only adapted for the orchestra next year. Ravel's mother, Marie Delouart was a Basque and he had a strong emotional attachment to the region and visited it frequently in his life. His most famous work, Bolero was based on a Spanish dance rhythm. It is a very lively piece of music, full of color, dramatic switches of mood, from loud explosive and colorful sound involving many different instruments to low, soft and wistful melodies and he made use of includes some typically Spanish element, those AminorGFE chords we so often hear in Flamenco songs and the use of castanet-like sound and some of parts sounded very Arabic with the same motifs repeated by different sections of the orchestra and the peculiarly clear tapping sound of castanets. It opened with a light wind with plucked strings to maintain a lively rhythm, then moved to the tuba and then exploded in full splendor, then a soft flowing sound from the wind and quite sudden drops and then changed dramatically again with sound from the low strings before exploding again into almost a jazz like cacophony before reverting to soft and then a cartoon music type of sound. It's a piece full of unexpected changes of very colorful sounds.
We next had 6 excerpts from Hector Berlioz's Les nuits d'été (Summer Nights: Villanelle,, Le Spectre de la rose (the Ghost of the Rose), Sur les lagunes: Lamento ( The lament over the lagoons) , Absence, Au cimetiere: Clair de lune (Moonlight at the Cemetery), L'ile inconnue (Unknown Island), which were titles of 6 poems in Theophile Gautier's poem collection called Comedie de la mort (The comedy of death )(1838-1841) which Berlioz set to music for mezzo-soprano in 1843. It has been described as a perfect union of poetry, song and orchestral color where each element reinforces the others. The first was a rather light and very French piece, the second a bit sad at the start but changed moods quickly, the third was hauntingly reflective, the fourth a bit melancholic, the fifth quite dreamy and last has a lingering mystery about it. Antonacci was described as a dramatic singer. She certainly has a very strong stage presence. She is a lady with broad shoulder partly obscured by a matching shawl which however fail to hide a big sparkling diamond necklace below a head of black hair in big curls in a flowing bare shoulder and back silk dress in shiny navy blue: a most Italian look. She sang with a beautiful voice and with great expression, aided by many dramatic Mediterrean gestures but I could not help feeling that she rounded up the sound of many of the French words in the songs so that they have lost completely that nasal and strong end accent of the last syllable of some of the French words. But who cares if they did not sound completely French!
The last piece of the evening was Claude Debussy's Images: Gigues, Iberia ( Par les rues et par les chemin (by the roads and paths), Les parfums de la nuit (the fragances of the night), Le matin d'un jour de fête (the morning of a festival day")and Rondes de printemp (Spring Rounds). Debussy has been described as one of the most innovative composers of the twentieth century. He is most famous for evoking the moods of uncertainty, wistfulness, dreaminess in ways rather like the effect of the ineffable play of the hazy sunlight over a misty sea. He achieved this effect through a most unusual technique: the blurring of boundaries of musical phrases by de-emphasing the conventional rhythm which normally marks the end of one phrase or motif by playing the relevant notes with an obvious increase in force and emphasis so that the music has a quality of never quite ending the previous phrase before easing into the next. Another technique he used was to write music in full tones (tonal intervals) so that the normal CDEFGAB become CDEF sharp, G sharp, A sharp C, thus achieving a kind of uncertainty of effect to confuse our accustomed conventional tonal intervals. These three pieces were written by him during different periods and were never intended to form a single work. The first, Gigue was supposed to describe Debussy's feeling about northern England, using a folk tune "The Keel Row" but the top and the bottom sounds were set off against each other, with the upper rigister gay whilst the lower strings sad and menacing. It's a rather dreamy song beginning with the winds, becaming very atmospheric when the strings came in, and then there was a sharp burst of the drums whereupon the other winds would join in and the pattern was then repeated with some variations. The next piece Iberia was rather long and is a very popular peice has some very Spanish sound with a great deal of variety, with its full complements of castanets and Arabic sounds and some slow ambiguous and very atmospheric, almost dreamlike sound and then ending very very quietly with the percussions. The final piece of the Images was originally written for the piano in 1886 and has some French motifs taken from the French folk songs Nous n'irons pas au bois (We are not going into the woods) and Do do l'enfant ( do do child) . It is a joyful piece to celebrate the coming of spring. It a very unusual composition: dreamy, colorful, strong, soft, fast and slow by turns.
Like the previous concert, none of my friends came. Fortunately there was a European lady sitting at my side who was not too shy to engage in conversations. But we didn't talk much. But still better than having nobody at all! It was good concert and the HKPO seemed to have come back to form this time.