Saturday, 11 July 2009

Out of order at the Festival

I've been reading Pope Benedict's new "social" encyclical - rather appropriate given that today is the feast of St Benedict. "It is good for people to realise," he writes, "that purchasing is always a moral - and not simply economic - act." Well, I can't claim any very high-minded motive for declining to purchase a £9 Music Festival programme (or even the £1 throw-away sheets) when I've attended this Festival's concerts. I came to realise at a certain stage a few years ago that the house - or rather the attic - was already too full of old concert and theatre programmes, and that I just had to stop buying them. Anyway the Festival provides a perfectly adequate advance booking brochure, setting out what we are to hear.

Perfectly adequate? Yes, for the most part, but this week there have been two irritating occasions when the order of the pieces performed has not been as set out in the advance brochure - and I and those others in the same boat were not given prior notice of this. While most of those of us left in the dark could probably tell after the first couple of bars that it was Beethoven not Shostakovich that the Borodin Quartet were playing in the middle of their recital programme, it was not at all obvious yesterday evening that Steven Isserlis and Connie Shih were launching into Schumann instead of Mendelssohn after their opener. So, a little more consideration please, Meurig "Hedgehog" Bowen, if the order is to be changed in future - particularly as you were up there on the stage, chatting away to us anyway before the concert, with your roving mike.

Having got that off my chest, I will say immediately that there was absolutely nothing out of order about the playing last night. It was a delight to hear two performers so much in sympathy with one another, and with a passionate shared commitment to the work of those two composers. OK, the "new" variations spurieuses - Thomas Ades's description, we were told - by Mendelssohn were perhaps a bit boring; but the second half of the recital took fire in no uncertain terms. This, anyway, seemed to be the post-performance consensus over supper - one of those present being particularly hungry having (aged 75) bicycled 12 or so miles to the concert.

Meta4 (pictured here before their rushed exit to catch their flights home to Helsinki) and the dynamic Ingrid Fliter likewise took fire yesterday morning, in the same hall, playing more Schumann - his great Piano Quintet: why is it so much less celebrated than Schubert's Trout? Perhaps because it doesn't have a nickname.

Before their interval, Meta4 had - with all the fearlessness of youth - launched into Beethoven Op 130, with the Grosse Fuge thrown in. We were in Cornwall last week, and I marvelled at the beauty of the waves, for surfing; but also at how perilous was the undertow. I was reminded of this during parts of that great fuge, where the playing rolls along, but can so easily come adrift: happily the quartet, 3/4 of whom played standing up (on their surfboards), all ended together eventually. A brave performance.

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