Schubert on Speed ​​in Marble City – The Irish Times


Violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s performance of Bach’s cello solo suites at the Kilkenny Arts Festival was a marathon. Gandelsman stood up and performed his own transcription of the six suites, in uninterrupted sequence, at a late-night concert at the Black Abbey. And audiences stood still for almost two hours in what must be one of the most uncomfortable places in the country to listen to music.

The idea of ​​highlighting the differences between cello and violin seems to be at the heart of his approach. The resonant sounds of the cello linger in the air unlike the sound of the violin. The violin is nimble in a way that the cello is not. So Gandelsman focused on speed, aided by the fact that the cello suites are designed quite differently from Bach’s works for solo violin. The moves are all either preludes or dance moves. There are no fugues as in the solo violin sonatas, and none of the fullness or complexity of the Chaconne from the Partita in D minor for violin.

Gandelsman navigated the works with ease, seemingly assuming that playing dances faster and finding ways to introduce light, folksy, sometimes Irish embellishments is a sure way to make them more interesting. And he did it all with flawless consistency and technical polish.

The effect, in musical terms, was more like using a camera filter or post-production processing in film to drain or add warmth to particular scenes or sets. For all the skill, the music felt both whipped and straitjacketed, with whole swaths of its natural expressive domain blocked.

It was interesting to hear the Sixth Suite, which Bach specified for a five-string instrument, played on a five-string violin, which introduced a new timbre to the evening. And it was quite wonderful in itself to attend such a focused performance. If only Gandelsman hadn’t driven everything so relentlessly, he would have looked less like someone bent on turning these works into musical tongue twisters.

The sense of ideological play was also evident when the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, of which Gandelsman is a founding member, teamed up with Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, for an evening of Rufus Wainwright and Schubert at St. -Canice.

The major work was Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet, interspersed with songs from his Winterreise cycle in arrangements by Osvaldo Golijov, all topped with songs by Wainwright in arrangements by Colin Jacobson of Brooklyn Rider.

The easiest way to describe Death and the Maiden would be like Schubert on speed – unnecessarily, relentlessly, out of breath, with some odd reversals of balance that saw accompanying motifs pushed to the fore without apparent reason. A tour de force in its own way. The singing was more persuasive with Schubert than with Wainwright, the voice, less full than before, somewhat disembodied from my seat fairly close to the front.

St Canice was also the venue for an opera gala with soprano Ailish Tynan and the Irish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Stephen Barlow. The only weak points of the evening are the overtures by Rossini and Mozart (The Thieving Magpie and The Marriage of Figaro) which open each half of the concert, while the orchestral playing is less disciplined.

Tynan, who gave spoken introductions with the timing of an experienced comedian, was radiantly vocal in arias by Handel, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi and Lehár, the tone both clear and luscious, the situation and the well conveyed character, and the highest notes always seeming within reach. In short, she was at the top of her very considerable form. Barlow and the orchestra have always been supportive partners.

Festival director Olga Barry has chosen two Russian landmarks for this year’s program. Chamber Choir Ireland sang Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom at the Black Abbey, and the Carducci Quartet performed a full cycle of Shostakovich’s String Quartets at St. John’s Priory.

I captured the second half of Shostakovich’s cycle, from the rather restrained Seventh, written in 1960 in memory of the composer’s first wife, Nina, to the uninterrupted sequence of seven slow movements that make up the 1974 Fifteenth.

The Carduccis were at their peak in the early works, where they fully responded to the harmonic tensions of the music. They seemed less at home in works where the writing became strongly dissonant, but were in their element in passages where a brighter, searing intensity could prevail.

Paul Hillier’s account of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy was as bracing and comprehensive as interpretations of this work should be. Tchaikovsky was acutely aware of the Orthodox tradition for which he was writing. As he told his patroness Nadezhda von Meck: “I am still bound to the church by strong ties, but on the other hand, I have long since ceased to believe in dogma.” The sonic richness he was looking for is achieved by pared-back means – simple harmonies, almost no counterpoint. Hillier’s singers have given everything to provide a prolonged and moving immersion in choral resonance.

On a completely different scale, recorder player and record producer Laoise O’Brien’s For the Record at Kilkenny Castle’s Parade Tower was a video presentation with spoken introduction and live musical creation. It intertwined the history of the recorder as an instrument and the story of the professional career of a versatile recorder player, who abandoned her instrument for an affair with the flute, before returning to the true path. O’Brien’s account of his musical life story was informative, self-deprecating, and witty.


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