Prokofiev, Grieg and Beethoven at St David’s Hall

This afternoon found me once again at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, waiting for a concert to start.

This time it was the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera under the direction of Tomáš Hanus. And very enjoyable it was.

The first number was a bit of a taster for the forthcoming WNO season, which includes Prokofiev’s War and Peace and Rossini’s Lá Cenerentola. The latter being the story of Cinderella, it made sense to include Prokofiev’s Cinderella Suite from the ballet he wrote in the 1940s.

After that we had the evergreen Grieg’s Piano Concerto, by Grieg, played by the excellent Peter Donohoe, exactly how I like it: with all the right notes in the right order, and the Orchestra not too heavy on the banjoes.

Following the wine break we had Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, a work which has to be one of his most uplifting pieces. Beethoven was very good at ‘uplifting’ so that means it is very special indeed.

A lovely concert, warmly received by the audience and a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

17 Responses to “Prokofiev, Grieg and Beethoven at St David’s Hall”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Beethoven’s 7th did a stint at the top of my personal classical chart a long time ago. Magnificent symphony.

    • telescoper Says:

      The 2nd movement really gets me…

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        That’s the funeral movement isn’t it? The 3rd movement is the weakest, but that’s hardly a complaint. Other pieces of classical that have topped my charts since I became an adult have been Beethoven’s last piano sonata; his 3rd symphony; O Welche Lust from Fidelio; Tannhauser overture; Act 3 of Gotterdammerung; slow movement of Mozart’s 24th piano concerto in C minor; the climaxes of each act in Don Giovanni; Bach’s unaccompanied violin music.

      • telescoper Says:

        I don’t think it was intended to be a funeral march, although it is somewhat sorrowful and tender and starts in a minor key (A minor actually), with the change to A Major later. The score is marked Allegretto for this movement, which means it’s a bit slower than the others but not `dead slow’. I think many performances take it far too slowly, funereally slow in fact. The writing for the strings in this movement is exquisite.

      • “Other pieces of classical that have topped my charts since I became an adult…Bach’s unaccompanied violin music”.

        There is one (very substantial) overlap.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Phillip, have you a favourite recording of Bach’s unaccompanied violin music? I have one by far; I have taken the trouble to get over the shock of the new when I listen to others, and Josef Suk’s still has it for me. I don’t know if it’s him or his instrument – violin design has changed somewhat – but the combination is superlative.

      • I have only one, actually, part of a boxed set containing the complete works of Bach. I had about 20 CDs by Bach—mostly orchestral music, but some chamber music, no vocal music—all carefully chosen for one reason or another, then the boxed set became available with reasonably good recordings at a reasonably good price, so I went for that, figuring that I could always buy a further version of the favourites if necessary. However, since then I’ve bought mostly new stuff. Life is short. Time to buy some more Telemann, who did write a lot but much of it is actually very good. I usually discover new things when someone puts some obscure piece on the programme; some are so good that I wonder why they are obscure.

        Wednesday is the next chance for a mixture of the familiar and (to me) unfamiliar.

      • Whenever someone plays Bach’s unaccompanied violin stuff nearby, I go if I am here then, usually about every 15 months. I’ve already got a ticket for next year, with all 6 pieces in one evening. They are often split across two evenings. Probably the best live rendition I’ve heard was by Julia Fischer.

        The most memorable was in St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg, which is the most famous landmark in the city, probably, and certainly in St. Pauli (these days famous mainly for its football club—one of the few (if there are any others) with a(n openly) gay boss, though I think he has stepped down now—and the red-light district), where C.P.E. Bach is buried (successor to Georg Philipp Telemann, his godfather (hence the common second name)). I didn’t like the performance that much, the player showcasing the Albert Schweitzer (also second name Philipp) bow. The nearest public transportation to take me home was the Reeperbahn train station, which is a few minutes away. The Reeperbahn was full of Trabis (cheap East German car); the Wall had fallen around the beginning of the concert. 😐

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        So who is the player on your preferred version?

      • As I wrote above, I own only one such (must be a pun on “Nonesuch” there somewhere) recording, part of a boxed set containing all of JSB’s works. The works for solo violin here are performed by Mark Lubotsky.

        I’ve probably heard/seen them live about 10 times. Next time (probably) will be a bit more than a year from now.

      • “I usually discover new things when someone puts some obscure piece on the programme; some are so good that I wonder why they are obscure.

        Wednesday is the next chance for a mixture of the familiar and (to me) unfamiliar.”

        The new (to me) good piece at that concert was a sonata for by Francesco Mancini (don’t know if he is related to Henry—it’s a common name, though; there are at least three painters, two footballers, and one cardinal also called “Francesco Mancini”).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Thank you Phillip!

      • “I usually discover new things when someone puts some obscure piece on the programme; some are so good that I wonder why they are obscure.”

        By the same token, I also hear pieces which I don’t really like, when for example a non-Baroque piece is in a programme of mostly Baroque music, which confirms my opinion.

        Another option is a programme of (mostly) completely new (to me) music. There is always the chance that I end up liking nothing, so I am sometimes hesitant. A year or so ago I bought a ticket for an entire evening of Rameau. Since then I have wondered whether I should have taken the chance. Last night was the concert, so I would find out.

        This is one of the rare times when I was completely blown away at a concert, even more surprising since the music was unfamiliar. Like Bach, Rameau was essentially forgotten before being revived. Unlike Bach, he wrote mainly vocal music for the stage (Bach wrote in every genre of his time except opera, though he did write a lot of (mostly, but not exclusively, sacred) vocal music). I am not a big fan of Baroque vocal music (though the accompanying instruments and the purely instrumental passages can be good, making it something of a curate’s egg), which is why I wasn’t very familiar with Rameau’s work. The programme listed 23 pieces, five of which included a soprano. Only 3 of these were performed (perhaps because the soprano was not the one originally planned, though that seems unlikely). The instrumental pieces were a mixture of chamber music and orchestral pieces from vocal works. Absolutely wonderful stuff, and quite unlike the more famous Italian and German Baroque music (Bach was a big fan of Vivaldi, who was his role model for the concerto, so there is much similarity here), even though contemporaneous. (No internet back then. It is said that Händel never heard anything by Bach and vice versa, though they both new Telemann and his music.)

        Not only was the music wonderful, but so was the performance. There were period instruments, but otherwise it wasn’t retro: no period costumes and there was electric lighting (though sometimes the musicians performed in complete darkness). My impression is that it captured the spirit of how this music was performed almost 300 years ago. More encores than usual (including another soprano piece, and one in which the soprano took over conducting while the conductor grabbed a drum from the percussionist and played that at the back). Standing ovation—rare (less than 10 per cent) at this venue.

        I’d never heard of the conductor or orchestra before, but perhaps not surprisingly: the conductor is originally from Greece but now a Russian citizen, the orchestra moved from Novosibirsk to the Ural—a bit off of my beaten path. Apparently he is taking up the directorship of a German radio orchestra, though, so perhaps I’ll hear and see more of him in the future.

        So, if you have a chance, do check out Rameau, Teodor Currentzis, and MusicAeterna—all at once, if you have the chance.

        Connection to another recent post in this blog: the director also acted in a film about Lev Landau.

      • telescoper Says:

        Rameau is an interesting composer, but a bit too heavy on the harpsichords for my tastes.

      • There is also a CD with substantial overlap of last night’s performance. I’ll definitely buy it. However, this concert is a good example of why seeing and hearing something live is often better than a recording.

      • He is known for harpsichord music, but wrote even more big works for the stage. The orchestra included a harpsichord (and viol, and guitar, and lute, and percussion, and harp), but the rest of the orchestra was loud enough so that perhaps even you could ignore the harpsichord. 😐

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