Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Tale of Three Concerts, or the great, the not-so-bad and the ugly

Now that the exercise season is winding down, and my departure from Berlin is imminent, I felt it was time to top up my concert quotient for the year: somehow, we don’t seem to have taken in very many musical evenings since those fine evenings with the Quatuor Ebène and Mdlle Trommenschlager. Radialsystem seems to be devoting itself to weird programmes, the Spiegelsaal is closed … but our much-loved Piano Salon Christophori is open, and even giving vocal concerts, so we booked in for three evenings, this week. Three evenings very different, as it turned out, from one another, in interest, quality and performance.

The first was a concert by a Uzbekistani pianist whose name I forget. And, a week later, I'm afraid I’ve sort of forgotten the whole competent but rather unmagical concert. We chose it because the programme included Scriabin, some Schumann, but mainly the Schubert impromptus, which had been part of our lives for a week or three. One evening, I had tried to describe to Paul the last stages of my own pianistic career, and the piece of Chopin with which I had won my last-ever prize. He didn’t know it! Eventually, I managed to one-finger it out on the piano and a magic website identified it: Schubert’s A flat impromptu. So we had to go and hear it live! So, thank you for that, sir. And for an introduction to the wee Scriabin piece.

We were excited about the second one. The Copland songs, which Paul knows intimately and adores unconditionally, and the whole of the Charlotte Bray ‘Yellow Leaves’, of which Lea Trommenschlager had given us an interesting taste. It looked like a long programme, so I was a bit cross when it didn’t start till nearly 9pm. I was soon very, very much crosser. And Paul was ropable. Stiff with fury.
Copland was crucified. The pianist seemed to be sight-reading, the soprano was consequently terrified into unsure pitch, short breathing and just plain errors. Professionals (who charge 25 euros a ticket) just don’t present a work in such a state. Culpably under-learned and under-rehearsed. Even amateurs do better. Herewith a couple of students in the same work:

I don’t know if ‘Yellow Leaves’ was better. The composer hugged everyone, so I assume that most of her notes were played and sung. But it, too, was wracked with nerves and unsteadiness. And then, finally, we got to hear the young singer in her comfort zone: three beautiful songs of Faure, beautifully sung. If you are going to give what was, clearly, an ad hoc concert, stick to works you know. Even if the concert is sponsored by a composer’s agent. And don’t charge 25e a ticket. Your reputation will suffer, and so will that of everyone else concerned.

And if you don't know your music, don't insult us by bringing on the score ... even of 'Der Nussbaum'!

I cancelled the next night’s tickets. The Strauss etc songs promised had been sicked-off, and replaced by Alban Berg etc by a different singer. But just a minute! That singer was Stella Doufexis, whom we’d tried to see last year. Accompanied by Daniel Heide. We un-cancelled. And thank goodness we did. It was, by a street, the best concert of the three.

The lady is a stylish, intelligent, consummate Lieder singer, with an attractive mezzo voice. You knew you were going to be all right when she walked on. Svelte, unfussy dark dress, everything from great hair, to well-planned make-up, to a pair of can't-resist-em dangly earrings that brought your gaze to her face. The face where the stories of the songs were to be enacted. As they were.
The Berg was early Berg, so turned out to be neat and pleasant. The Debussy was deliciously sung, in such crystalline French that I assumed the lady was native French, the Schumann cycle was a total pleasure. And all sung with effortless accuracy (and just an occasional opening up of full, rich, mezzo forces) and accompanied by a real five-star accompanist …

Piano Salon, you are redeemed. I consider I have paid (happily) 50e for the Doufexis-Heide concert, and the other one was free. That makes me content. And we even bought the CD, and instead of going straight home (my invariable rule), stopped for a midnightish pernod on the Ufer.

You win some and you lose some!

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