Friday, July 26, 2013

Orchestra of the Royal Northern College of Music of Manchester. Roland Boer, conductor; Justus Grimm, cello. July 24, 2013.

Piazza Grande, Montepulciano, Italy.  E21.50.

Le fontane di Roma P. 106 (1916) by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936).
Concerto per violoncello in mi minore op. 85 (1919) by Edward Elgar (1857-1934).
Fluss ohne Ufer (Fiume senza argini) (2008) by Detlev Glanert (b. 1960).
La Mer, trios esquisses symphoniques (1905) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918).

We are spending the week in Tuscany.  This area is characterized by rolling hills, small towns built around castles, and shops that sell cheese, salami, and wine.  We have visited several of these towns, and they all seem to have some sort of music festival going on.  Montepulciano, in particular, has an “International Arts Festival” going on from July 19 to 28.  We asked about an operatic performance, unfortunately that was canceled.  However, this symphonic concert, part of the Cantiere 38 series (the name of the festival), was going to be staged.

The Piazza Grande makes for an interesting concert venue.  Even though it is at a high point in the city, it is not level.  The stage is in front of the duomo, and (perhaps) 15 rows of chairs of about 50 each arranged in front of it.  In the back there is a small bleachers section.  So perhaps 1000 people when filled to capacity (there would still be a lot of standing room around).  For tonight I estimate fewer than 300 were in attendance.

Being an open plaza, sound insulation is a problem, especially since there are a couple of restaurants that are at the corners of the square, and people here eat late.  So we could hear the clinking of silverware throughout the concert.

The program notes describes Fluss ohne Ufer in an interesting way, stating that by the time the piece is done the audience will not remember any of the orchestral themes.  There is indeed quite a bit of “shimmering” to denote water, but other than that I didn’t get much out of it.  It was close to 20 minutes in length, at least it felt that long.  The composer was in attendance and came out for a bow.  His opera will be performed this coming Friday, I think we will skip it.

The evening started with a piece by Respighi that many had no doubt heard about, but not necessarily had heard.  Of course being in Italy, things may be a bit different with an Italian composer.  The composition has four movements that evoke different well-known fountains in Rome: (1) La fontana di Valle Giulia all’Alba.  Andante mosso. (2) La fontana del Tritone al mattino.  Vivo, Un poco meno allegretto, Piu vivo gaiamente; (3) La fontana di Trevi al meriggio.  Allegro moderato, Allegro vivace, Piu vivace, Largamente, Calmo; and (4) La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto.  Andante, Meno mosso, Andante come prima.  Having just visited Rome last week, I somewhat kick myself for not having visited any of these fountains.

I had heard the Elgar Cello Concerto once before in Hong Kong, and recall liking it.  Tonight’s soloist is German, in his 40s.  The thing that caught my attention right away was how nice the sound was, whether the high or the low register.  This is a piece that has both melodic and virtuoso elements to it, and Grimm did both well.  For encore he played Saint Saens Cygnet, accompanied by two harps.

The last piece was Debussy’s La Mer, which I have heard on several prior occasions.  It is only today that I found out from the Notes that Debussy was beginning to move away from the “debussyism” that most music listeners are familiar with.  Although I must say in this composition the deviations, if detectable, are quite small.  Knowing what I know now, I must say the piece seems to be heavier duty than your typical Debussy.  The three sections of La Mer are (1) De l’aube a midi sur la mer; Tres lent; (2) Le Jeu des vagues; Allegro; and (3) Le dialogue du vent et de la mer; Anime et tumultueux.

Overall it is an enjoyable concert.  I do wonder how they decide on the programming.  First, it is way too long.  I joked to Anne that by the intermission we already got our money’s worth and could leave.  With a late start and an intermission, we didn’t get done until about 11:45 pm or so.  This is late even for some Italians, and many left before the end of the concert, which is a pity and discouraging since there were not that many people to begin with.  While the compositions are not that esoteric (with the exception of the Glanert piece,) it still would be nice to throw in a Beethoven or something to make the program more accessible.  With music festivals you always wonder whether the programmer is trying to be popular or to impress his colleagues.  I have a suspicion much of the latter drove today’s programming.

The orchestra apparently consists of music students at this Manchester college.  Anne remarked that there were no Asians in the group, which is a bit odd.  The concertmaster, a young lady,  had quite a few solo lines to play but was unfortunately a bit weak.  The conductor did his job with a lot of animation, but I wish he had brought out more contrast from the musicians.

This area gets quite warm (around 90) during the day, but night time temperatures are in the 60s.  With a good evening breeze going, we felt quite cold towards the end.  We rushed back to the car at the conclusion for the short drive back to La Bruciata.

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