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2011年9月18日 星期日

Rolling Drums

I heard some rough hammering sound from the strings and some brash brass. The music continued, and with minor variation, building up in rhythm, becoming faster and faster until it reached a climax. What was it? It certainly didn't sound like the Haydn's Symphony No. 103 advertised on the ticket! What happened? Owing to a miscalculation of time, I had almost to do a 3-minute run from the Tsimshatsui MTR station through the maze of tunnels to the Cultural Centre before I could finally place myself on my usual balcony seat, panting and wiping off the beads of sweat from my forehead. There was no programme note on the seat! Immediately the piece finished, I rushed up the aisle to get one but was told by the door attendant not to leave the hall. He would bring one for me! Thank God. Only when I opened the booklet did I discover that the piece just played was Pacific 231 by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), part of the group of musicians who were friends in 1920s Paris which some call "Les Six" (The Six), comprising Auric, Durey, Poulennc, Tailleferre, Milhaud and Honegger, though their personalities, tastes and musical styles were quite different, with Poulenc following the the ideas of Jean Cocteau, Milhaud following that of Mediterannean lyricism and Honegger that of German Romanticism. Their nickname came from Collet in the French journal Commedia, comparing them to the Five Russians viz. Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. when they published their one and only album of piano pieces together called "Album des six" and also jointly composed the music for Cocteau's ballet Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel.

From a young age,  Honegger was fascinated by the steam locomotive of the port of Le Havre, where he was born. He is reported to have said," I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me, they are living beings whom I love as others love women and horses...I have translated into music the visual impressions made by the locomotive and the physical sensation of it: the quiet breathing machine in repose, its effort in starting, then gradual increase in speed leading from the lyrical to the absorbing spectacle of a train hurling itself through the night at a speed of 120 km an hour "  and he wrote his autobiography Je sui compositeur "...In Pacific 231 was on the trail of a very abstract and quite ideal concept, by giving the impression of a mathematical acceleration of rhythm, while it movement itself slowed." He was born in the French port Le Havre. The figure "231" refers to the number of axles on the wheels ( two wheels per axle) of the locomotive and "Pacific" probably refers to the American railway route called the Missouri-Pacific. The puff and huff and the excitement of the gathering train rhythm was excellently captured by the HKPO performance under the able baton of its guest conductor Ainãrs Rubikis from Latvia, the 27-year-old winner of the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Bavaria in February 2010, a slim and forceful conductor who would jab his fingers to the relevant section of the orchestra with such force to start playing that you can feel its trembles across the whole expanse of space separating him from where I was sitting on the balcony.

The next piece of the evening was the piece I thought I would be listening first: Haydn's joyful Symphony 103 in E Flat, the "Drum Roll" which marks the start of the work, his second last, which he wrote for the 1795 London opera season, following his second successful tour to England where he earned more than he had ever done over all the previous years put altogether. It has a very long, slow, dark beginning in Adagio, played by the bass instruments, which changed into something much gayer by the violins with its two themes in Allegro con spirito in sonata rondo form before returning to its sombre beginning . It has a second movement in Andante piu tosto allegretto with two themes based on Croatian folk songs one in C minor and the other in C major with a violin solo passage which Haydn specially wrote for the famous violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, just gone to England as a result of the French Revolution. The third movement in menuet in E flat majo,r gave prominence to a playful clarinet trio. The finale in Allegro with  just one theme in 5 notes, also taken from a folk song, and which begins with a horn call, is supposed to describe an English hunt.

The final piece, Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society (which also commissioned Beethoven's Ninth) following his successful tour there in March 1884 and was written in four months between end of 1884 and the spring of 1885. Some say that its polyphony may have been influenced by Brahm's No. 3 which premiered in December 1883. Encouraged by Smetana, it involved the introduction some Czech folk themes. It is sometimes called "The Tragic" because he sub-titled its third movement "From the Sad Years"  perhaps referring to his mother's death.Its first movement in Allegro maestoso, began darkly with an ominous theme and struggled with a more lyric theme but ends equally darkly. The second,  Poco Adagio, with three themes, the first by the woodwind, the second by the strings and the third introduced by the horn ends quite softly and tenderly, contains Slavonic pastoral folk elements, The third, a Scherzo in vivace and poco meno mosso, is a cross between a furiant and a polka dance, alternating between various themes, some yearning, some heroic, some gay, some quiet and wistful until it dazzles to a conclusion. The last Finale in Allegro has a militant marching rhythm but also with lyrical parts, is another struggle between moods of joy, anger, sorrow and ultimately ends in an ecstasy of sadness.

Rubikis got an enthusiastic reception, which I think he fully deserves. The music was still lingering in my mind upon my MTR journey home. Unlike Trpceski, he did not throw the flowers to the audience but gave them to one of the lady violinists. Definitely a conductor to watch in the future.