Thursday, July 19, 2012

Vienna Piano Trio. 7/18/2012.

Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, Princeton University, Row 1, Balcony Center (free).

Trio members: Wolfgang Redik, violin; Matthias Gredler, cello; Stefan Mendl, piano.

Piano Trio in A Major, Hob XV/18 by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).
Piano Trio in A Minor by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).
Piano Trio in B flat Major D. 898, Op. 99 by Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

I again met up with David and Vivien for this concert.  Anne is overseas so I went to Princeton by myself.  It was raining hard, with the area drenched by a thunderstorm caused a temperature drop (per reading inside my car) from over 100F to the mid 70s in less than 30 minutes earlier in the afternoon.  Traffic was bad, but not particularly so for this time of the day.  David and Vivien got to Princeton early and picked up the (free) tickets, and we had dinner at Panera Bread before going over to the venue.

There were quite a few empty seats in the balcony, probably because some people decided not to venture out due to the heavy rain.  Which is a pity as this was a great concert.  There was a lot of music squeezed into the program, which, including the encore, lasted more than two hours.

I don’t go to chamber music events that often – I joke with David that 80% have been with him at these Princeton events – I certainly don’t feel I understand the “genre” well.  Regardless, I thought there was something un-Haydnesque about the Haydn piece: the techniques, the dynamics, the harmonies, are not what I would usually associate with Haydn.  Of course my knowledge of Haydn is limited by-and-large to his symphonies, string quartets, and a few choral pieces, but nonetheless … The three movements of the piece are: Allegro moderato, Andante, and Allegro.  It was brilliantly played, and got the evening off to a great start.

The Ravel piece, in my opinion was the most interesting of the three performed tonight.  It has four movements: Modere, Pantoum – Assez Vif, Passacaille – Tres Large, Final – Anime.  I don’t know French, and can only guess at the meaning.  No matter, it appears to be a rather difficult piece, and again was beautifully played by the trio.

Ravel supposedly was a bit frustrated people called Bolero his most famous work.  That complaint probably had a lot of merit to it.  I did a quick review of my blog entries, and over the last few years I have heard quite a few pieces of his, and – per my notes – I enjoyed quite a few of them (notable except being “Mother Goose.”)  If you ask me what I remember of yesterday’s piece, not much – as evidenced by what I have written about it so far.  But, if you ask me what Bolero sounds like, I can probably tap out the snare drum rat-tat-tat correctly.

Schubert’s Trio is the longest at a bit over 40 minutes.  It is very classical in structure, complete with theme, development, and modulation.  The four movements are: (i) Allegro moderato, (ii) Andante, un poco mosso, (iii) Scherzo: Allegro, and (iv) Rondo: Allegro vivace.   In and of itself it is a great piece, however, it felt a bit light-weight when compared to Ravel’s work.  Which probably makes for an interesting programming question: why not flip the two halves of the program around, and have the concert end on the more exciting Ravel.  Not that the energy level of the performers was sapped by the time they got to the end, but the music did come across somewhat that way.

While writing this blog, I looked at my iTunes library and found out to my surprise (dismay) that I actually have a recording of the Schubert piece.  Didn’t I say I don’t listen to chamber music that much?  In fairness, the first movement did sound a bit familiar …

The audience applause was very enthusiastic, justifiably so.  The Trio played an encore: a slow movement from a piece by Schumann.

A few words about the Trio, gleamed from the short writeup in the handout for the evening.  It has been around for about 20 years, and has an active performance calendar.  The members – all male – are all middle-aged, not the usual age of chamber music players that perform at these Princeton summer concerts.  The two string instruments are Guadagninis (1772 violin, 1752 cello.)  One would think the tone and volume should be quite similar.  Not so, at least to my ears, the violin’s sound is much more brilliant, and the cello is at times overwhelmed.  I wonder if my hearing is what it used to be, or that there is quite a bit of learning to do …

One of those days I will be able to write a “real” chamber music review, but not today.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Paris Opera Ballet – Adolphe Adam’s Giselle. July 14, 2012.

David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center – Orchestra (Seat L102, $82).

Libretto by Theophile Gautier, Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint Georges
Music by Adolphe Adam
Choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot (1841)
Original Staging by Marius Petipa (1887); restaged by Patrice Bart, Eugene Polyakov (1991)
Origianl Set and Costume Design by Alexandre Benois (1924); Sets Realized by Silvano Mattei; Costumes Realized by Claudie Gastine

Story.  See prior blog.

Conductor – Koen Kessels; Giselle – Isabella Ciaravola, Count Albrecht – Karl Paquette, Hilarion – Audric Bezard, Berthe – Christine Peltzer, Peasants (Pas de Deux) – Heloise Bourdon & Axel Ibot, Myrta – Marie-Agnes Gillot, Two Wilis – Amandine Albisson, Sarah Kora Dayanova.

I do not understand ballet, I have seen this before, I didn’t plan on it (actually I literally flipped a coin), so why did I come see this again?  I am still trying to understand ballet; I also wonder how ABT compares with other ballet troupes; the tickets are on sale for a substantial discount; and with Anne away overseas I am by myself.  These were reasonably good reasons to go.  I decided not to get the supercheap fourth ring ticket and got a seat in the orchestra section instead.  Given the smallish size of Koch theater, I was seated quite close to the stage.  With the use of binoculars, I actually could see the expressions (and sweat) on the dancers’ face.

It is a bit ironic that you can’t see the orchestra while seated in the orchestra section.  And the slope of the seating section is too gentle so if you have a tall person in front of you, then you are out of luck.  Alas, that is the situation I found myself in.

When the music began, I found to my dismay that I didn’t remember it – I heard it in May 2011.  The orchestra – NYC Opera – played quite well.  I have the same opinion of the music as I did after the first hearing – sugary, oft-repeated, serves mostly as accompaniment – but to my surprise I found it to work quite well in this instance.  The sets are not elaborate, and I am sure some of that was just trees painted on fabric.  I do appreciate the simplicity, especially of the second act – just a simple cross over a tomb in the forest with a church in the background.

I have always wondered if the group dances at ABT can or should be more precise.  Well, I am not going to get the answer from this group, because they certainly didn't move with the precision of a marching band.  (Or perhaps that is not something to look for to begin with.)  In general I thought the dancing was very good.  The choreography for the group dances called for rather difficult moves on the individual dancer, to do that collectively would be quite an achievement, and the troupe did that on multiple occasions.  Some of the vignettes (segments? I don’t know what they are called) are a bit drawn out, but I suppose the intent is to give dancers the opportunity to show off their skills.  The beginning of Act II was quite convincing, the spirits first came out with veils on their faces, these veils were yanked off together by people off-stage, creating an interesting effect.  I actually caught myself thinking “this is giving me the willies!”

The individual dancers were impressive also.  When one sits up close, one can see some of the hesitation and mistakes (for example, not nailing a landing), but one also appreciates how difficult some of the movements are.  The foot movements look awfully difficult, and impressive, and boy, can Albrecht jump.  And it is amazing to see how Giselle transforms from a happy-go-lucky village lass to a somber ghost.

A few words about the Paris Opera Ballet.  It is the oldest national ballet in the world, dating back to the days of Louis XIV, and was formed under the name of the Royal Academy of Music.  It apparently draws most of its performers from the Paris Opera Ballet School.  Which makes me wonder if the dancers are mostly French, or the school enrolls a lot of foreign students.  They didn’t have a performance on during our few days in Paris in late May, and I wonder how they would look on their home turf.  (They will probably have an advantage over the Opera since there is no language barrier.)

Looking back at my writeup on the last time I saw this ballet, I discovered I was okay with it.  I am sure I enjoyed today's a lot more, since I don’t recall liking the music and appreciating the dancers’ virtuosity that much.  Maybe this is due to my proximity to the stage?  Maybe the ballet is the “oldest continually-performed ballet” for a reason?  Or maybe the Paris Opera Ballet is simply better at this then American Ballet Theater?  If it is the last reason, then – like my remark about some concert reviewers – perhaps I need to go out more.

The troupe will be at Lincoln Center for about a month, this was the second performance of this ballet during the troupe’s visit.  As of now (late evening, July 14) I have not found a review.

I found on 7/15 this New York Times review.  The reviewer succeeds in talking from both sides of his mouth and sounding sophisticated at the same time, praising and condemning the performance in alternate sentences.  He did make an interesting observation about the necks of the French dancers and alluded to the fact that they are mostly French without sounding too politically incorrect.  He also likes the music here more than ABT's; evidently they are different scores.  It's a pity that he didn't provide a head-to-head ABT and Paris Opera Ballet comparison, perhaps his courage does have a limit, afterall.