2015年7月5日 星期日

The Finale (终章)

The HKPO concert last night was memorable. It was memorable for two very special reasons: not only was it the last concert of the season, it was also a very international evening. It shows in the clearest possible way in music there can be no boundaries, whether in terms of time, space, culture, race and nationality. We had 19th century music from a Hungarian pianist turned composer in what was then Austria and then a 20th century Russian who made revolutionary music in France and also 19th century music from Russian composer. To perform and conduct for us, we had a man and woman who were both half German and half Japanese.

The evening started off with Franz Liszt (1811-1886)'s Les Preludes, one of the first attempts to transcribe into music certain images culled from literary sources into a form which has subsequently been called "symphonic poems" which is a kind of 4 movement symphony compressed into one and incorporating a "programme". Liszt did 13 of them, three quarters of which were based on the French historian, novelist and poet Alphonse de Lamartine's (1790-1869) Nouvelles Meditations poetiques (1823), one of France's poets drunk with romantic visions of a brighter future for humanity who pushed for the abolition of slavery and the right of workers to work and was for several months the President of the Provisional Government of the 2nd French Republic after the 1848 Revolution which ended the ancient regime restored by the Treaty of Vienna 1815 which ended the Napoleonic Wars. To Liszt, a third order Franciscan who is strongly affected by religious mysticism, life is just a series preludes to a song "the first solemn note" of which is sounded by death. In fact, the Les Preludes was the third in the series of his symphonic poems but it was originally intended as an overture to another work he was thinking of writing, a mixed piano and choral piece "The Four Elements" (1844) (originally the Greek Earth, Air, Water, Fire) but which according to the poems given to Liszt by his friend Joseph  Autrans (1813-1877) in 1844/45, were named Les Aquilons ("The North Winds",) La terre ("The Earth"), Les flots ("The Floods") and Les astres ("The stars"). It was later rewritten for the orchestra by Liszt for the orchestra. In this piece the leitmotifs for the stars appear in the introduction, whilst the north wind, the earth, and floods appear as different themes in the piece.

The second piece in the first half of the concert was a piece which music lovers must have heard a hundred times but which still never fails to evoke each time they hear it, a wonder at the beauty of its themes and musical thought which Tchaikovsky put into it. Good music remains good music. There's absolutely nothing time can do to destroy it. It's Tchaikovsky' (1840-1893)'s Violin Concerto in D Op. 35 in Allegro Moderato, Canzonetta (Andante) and Finale (Allegro vivacissmimo).  What is different this time is that it's performed by a violinist I never heard before Arabella Steinbacher, (b 1981) a German-Japanese violinist who trained under Ana Chumachenko in Munich, Dorothy Delay in New York and Anne Sophie-Mutter as one of her Freundeskreis ("Circle of friends") . It tells in her manner of playing: very precise, stable, even, balanced, controlled, technically perfect and very good for the soft and tender passages especially in the second movement but somehow lacking in a certain 'fire" and "abandon" in the more tempestuous passages last night as in the last movement.  Her overall sound volume was quite moderate and in passages completely overshadowed by the orchestral sound. A bit feminine in her approach. She gave as an encore an extract from one of Prokofiev's violin sonatas. She appeared in an elegant green bare back gown slung across her right shoulder and always walked across the stage with perfect poise in several rounds of the acknowledgement of the well deserved applauses.

The second half of the concert was an all Stravinsky (1882-1971) affair. The first was another symphonic poem: the Le Chant du Rossignol (Song of the Nightingale) (1917) based on a story by Han Christian Anderson, a story in three parts and rewritten from an opera of the same name by the composer which was in fact the composer's very first work. There one already finds his desire for innovation, his use of discordant notes, phrases and jerky rhythms. When first performed it was not very well received and he later turned it into a ballet to be done by Diaghilev. It's a story about how a Chinese emperor first heard a nightingale (played by the flute), was fascinated by it, then when a Japanese presented a mechanical nightingale ( played by the oboe) to him forgot about the real nightingale which flew away in despair and then when he got very sick and asked to hear mechanical bird nightingale to ease his pains but found it broken. Then when the real nightingale learned about the preparations for the Emperor's funeral, it returned to sing for the Emperor who then quickly recovered (sounds by the trumpet). it's interesting to note how he portrayed China in this piece, by using the 5 notes used in the traditional Chinese musical scale C, D, E, G and A. But their combination is not very Chinese, a bit like "sweet and sour pork" prepared by non-Chinese cooks in Europe.

Stravinsky is fascinated by birds. So the next piece based on another bird-theme, his Firebird Suite (1919). It was Diaghilev who commissioned it for another intended ballet, a ballet which went quick well. To get more money, Stravinsky adapted it into a suite for performance as stand alone pieces divided into 6 sections viz. Introduction (where the king met a magical bird with feathers of fire in one of his hunting expedition), Firebird and its Dance (where, the king got a magical feather of fire as compensation for not shooting the firebird) Dance of the Princeses (where the king saw 13 princesses dancing with golden apples outside an enchanted castle) , Internal Dance of King Kashchei ( where the King Kashchei who would turn people into stone once they enter his castle, dances to exhaustion upon being shown the feather of fire) and Finale (where upon the death of King Kashchei, all the people he previously turned into stone were returned to life and the king married one of the 13 princesses.

It's not the first time that our guest conductor Jun Maerkl, a world renowned German-Japanese conductor who has batoned many orchestras in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Leipzig, Lyon, Prague, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tokyo, Edinburgh etc, came to HOng Kong. He first came in 2012 (See http://elzorro927.blogspot.hk/2012/06/french-mystique-in-hk.htmland again in 2013 ( see http://elzorro927.blogspot.hk/2013/01/light-french-and-heavy-german-music.html). As usual, his conducting is careful, delicate, sensitive and a delight to behold. I hope he'll return soon.