Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Piano Salon Christophori: Raves for Ravel!

There was a question mark in my diary for last night. Piano salon? One of the ‘possibles’ that I’d marked in back in April, I guess …  Morgenstern Trio: piano, fiddle and ‘cello … Ravel, Mendelssohn, Boulanger (Nadia or Pierre?) … better ask Paul.
Paul said an enthusiastic ‘yes’. I would really love the Ravel, he assured me. Well, he should know. He played it himself, in concert, a year or three back. So, book us in. A night at the Piano salon Christophori is always enjoyable. And sometimes special.

Tonight was one of the special ones.

The evening at the Piano salon doesn’t start till 8.30, so we had time for a visit to the gym, some shopping, a photo-session (my latest slimming pix), and we even got to miss France scoring two goals, sometime during our walk from Humboldthaim to the Uferstrasse. But at least they scored them!

Arrive at the concert room, half empty (oh! the football), a nice glass of red wine in my hand (‘vive la France!’), and I’m ready for a first half of suitably French music.

The warm-up act at the Piano Salon is traditionally a gentleman with a grey ponytail tuning the pianoforte. Tonight he was tuning two. Steinway and Erard. Interesting. But the tuning sounded like Mr Reich again. Bring on Ravel, I thought. However, when you have two pianos, they have to be moved, and when the elderly Erard was asked to budge … its back wheel fell off. So it had to play its part sitting on a block of wood! Maybe talking to the wobbly violin-stool. But hey, they couldn’t be in a better place: right in the middle of a piano workshop!

The Morgenstern Trio are Catherine Klipfel (piano), Stefan Hempel (violin) and Emanuel Wehse (‘cello) … aided by a valiant if under-dressed young page turner … and all I can say of them is ‘I love you, guys’. I’m not going to try to be analytic, for I don’t have the technical expertise (that’s Paul’s department): I just say ‘I love you’. The three players all performed with the most amazing warmth, feeling and, in turn, tenderness and temperament. The piano flowed. Even in the most voluminous passages, it was strong and firm rather than loud and showy. Just the sort of playing I prefer. The fiddle never cried out: it sang. Mezzo-soprano. Some of the time, I felt I was listening to a viola. Beautiful. And the ‘cello! Such glorious soft playing – actually, that goes for the trio as a whole (for it’s very much a whole) – the pianissimo bits of the Ravel, the delicate bits of the Mendelssohn … a true treat.

I have but one complaint. The shaping of the programme. Well, it wasn’t shaped. Is it wise to start the evening with … well, I think, one of the most amazing bits of chamber music I have ever heard?  Yes, Ravel’s trio, discovered by yours truly this very night, is very, very special. The first movement was my favourite, but that may have just been the joy of discovery and the pianissimi. Anyway, whatever, it was one of my best (go on, THE best?) chamber music moments ever.

The Boulanger (which turned out to be Lili), which followed, was a pleasant, lightweight filler, but it meant we came to half-time on a frivolous note rather than floating on Ravel. Pity.

Part two, the Mendelssohn second trio. Another lovely work, played beautifully. Interesting to hear it with the taste of the Ravel still around. A demonstration of how musical styles changed in those 19th-to-20th century years. In Mendelssohn’s time, I guess, the ‘Thalberg-style’ of virtuosity was more in favour than it was in 1914: and there was plenty of florid playing to go with the flowing, tuneful and skittish melody. The skittish bits were great fun (watching the ‘cellist was almost as good as listening to him!) … and the whole was utterly enjoyable.

The ‘encore’ of the night was one movement of a Schumann trio. I actually have to admit to liking it even more than the Mendelssohn, but, really, it wasn’t a traditional ‘encore’, and it rather destablised the evening. Lili Boulanger would have made a good encore. But a whole movement of a major work?

Well, who cares? Stable or unstable, conventional or unconventional, every bit of the evening was a joy. Players and music. I happily emptied my wallet into the tube at the door – held this time by the agreeable, hands-on boss of the lieux – and walked out into the night, and the … rain. The pub screens showed us that it was Germany 0 Algeria 0, as my espadrilles sank uncaringly into irretrievable ruin in the sludge on the road to Humboldthaim.

Back at the Piano salon, I guess they were re-shoeing Monsieur Erard for the next night’s concert. Me, I didn’t even make it to Germany’s and Algeria’s goals. I had to get up at 2am to find out who had won. For I was very soon sleeping happily on my bed of beautiful music.


PS The 14 euro minimum ‘donation’ does seem to have become policy. So maybe it wasn’t only the football which shrank last night’s audience.

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