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2012年3月18日 星期日

The Splendor of Russia

Saturdays are usually quite hectic for me because of my commitment for various talks and photographing. But I had a way to give myself a relaxing and often exhilarating evening: a night at the Cultural Centre. I'm seldom disappointed. Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, who needs no introduction,  had come to Hong Kong. He conducted for us a piece he conducted in Chicago more than 30 years ago, Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, composed by this genius from Russia based upon a poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimmage by the romantic poet Lord Byron on his adventures from Eastern Europe to Spain, meeting all kinds of peoples of very different climate, history and customs and personalities.

In the Preface to the piece, Lord Byron said that the character Harold was introduced merely for the sake of giving "some connexion to the piece" and that he is "entirely a child of the imagination" .The piece belongs to the genre of "programme music". In relating his adventures, Tchaikovsky always associated the appearance of Harold with a characteristic motif which is repeated in each of the symphony's four movements. The piece has a rather checkered history. The idea was first suggested to Berlioz, a master of this form, by the Russian critic Vladimor Straso. Berlioz started on it but never finished it. So Strasov approached Mily Balakiev, who finished some skeleton but again didn't finish it. After another 15 years, Balakiev passed his ideas to Tchaikovky who quickly finished in 1855 whilst in an Alpine resort. It's a very colorful piece with a short title for each movement: the first in lento lugubre--moderanto con moto-Andante, is Harold in the Alps, the second  in Vivace cons spirito, "The Fairy of the Alps appears before Manfred through the rainbow of spray from a waterfall, the third in Andante con moto  "Pastorale. The simple, free and peaceful life of the Alpine hunters" and the fourth in Allegro con fuoco "The subterranean palace of Aimanes., Manfred appears in the centre of the orgy. The appearance of the spirit of Astarte who predicts the end of Manfred's earthly life. Manfred's death." It has a very important part for the piano in the piece, something very convenient because Rozhdestvensky arrives with his very accomplished pianist wife Viktoria Posnikova, who also played for us the first piece of the evening, Tchaikovky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G, Op. 44, a piece seldom heard in Hong Kong. A usual criticism of the piece is that to please his patron, Tchakovsky included a very long section for dialogue between the violin and the cello but Tchaikovsky did make some effort to cause them to interact with the piano towards the end of the movement. There is a long version and a short version of the first movement which when it was first performed in November 1881 in New York drew the comment that its first movement was too long. It has since been revised but the one we had was Tchaikovsky's original long version.

Posnikova is an excellent pianist. A rather substantial lady with an ample figure, she appeared in a long and colorful Russia evening gown which hugs her body and gives an air of lightness. But her play was powerful, passionate and sensitive and drew long applauses.from the audience who was so stunned by her performance that they stopped for a really long while before they started to clap their hands. Rozhdestvensky was an old gentleman who walked slowly and with great dignity upon the stage with his fringe of white hair upon his bald head and his big belly, rather like the old man in Walt Disney's Pinnochio cartoon  He conducted with an apparent ease which only a master can command and drew a wonderful performance from the HKPO. The only complaints my companions had for the evening came from Mr. Chu, who gave me one of his characteristic rueful smiles indicating that it meant his chance for another post-concert evening snacks had been rendered entirely illusory now! It was an excellent concert. I'm really lucky to be able to be a part of it.