October 15, 2009, CH
Members of LCO chamber group-Pascal Roge
This is return engagement for both pianist Pascal Roge and the London Chamber Orchestra chamber group. Previously I had heard and greatly admired their playing, and so I attended with high expectations. Attendance was rather abysmal, though the small audience was enthusiastic and informed.
The excellent cellist Pierre Doumenge was the only member left of this LCO quartet that had appeared here before. This incarnation was led by the Andrew Haveron, no sophomore given his leadership of the Brodsky Quartet! The viola Joel Hunter too was notable for his passion and big tone. Only second violin Magnus Johnston was comparatively reticent and served mostly as a subdued inner voice, sometimes difficult to hear behind the bright tone of Haveron.
The highlight of the concert was Faure's rarely heard Piano Quartet No. 2. The playing of the LCO group astonished me yet again (see below for 2007). With ensemble that was superior to many a more famous quartet (like the Emerson, Hagen etc), the threesome plumbed great depth in this piece which they likely had never played before. The ebb and flow of Faure's music were better conveyed through their kind of incisive playing than performances that are softer. Haveron was positively virile in his playing, which is appropriate in Faure's music that is imbued with (sexual) undertones. From my sixth-row-center seat the piano sound was not quite completely released but, an odd moment here and there notwithstanding, pianist Pascal Roge was caught up by the passion of the strings and delivered playing that was a little soft in volume but idiomatic. Given the difficulties in balancing a piano quartet I was very pleased by this performance. there was plenty of contrast between troubled, stormy episodes and tender moments; between drama and quiet passages of reflection.
The Shostakovich Quartet No. 1 was given another fine performance that lacked only a little in quicksilver about-turns and that sense of the macabre that Shosty's music almost always harbors. In other words, though aggresively played, it was not really gritty.
The ensuing Brahms Clarinet Trio benefitted from the excellent clarinet playing of LCO member Timothy Orpen. Although emotionally slightly cool, his tone and control left little to be desired. Here, Roge's piano playing was more troubling, almost never coming to the fore (except near the end). The ensemble hence lacked a give-and-take quality that prevented Brahms' music to be completely unfolded.
Concert opened with Two Waltzes from Dvorak's Op 54, given a slightly polite delivery.
I re-read my old notes, appended below. Despite personnel changes, much about the LCO chamber playing hold true, though I heard from 2 different sources Gary Graffman was electrifying this year.
Many audiophiles showed up, and I had a good time chatting with ken1967, icefox, jules, whlee, Hoi, sokps, Wesley (sans elegant wife this time), mansanwai, 一休大师, Robin etc. Afterwards, four of us went to have some German beer in Lan Kwai Fong. Wonderful evening!
Chopin Society/Joy of Music Festival
Like last year, this was a week-long festival, featuring the London Chamber Orchestra String Quartet, Pascal Roge and many others. I had really wanted to attend the Wednesday recital of Anna Vinnitskaya (First Prize, 2007 Queen Elizabeth), and the Thursday concert that featured Roge playing Faure’s piano quintet #1 and Brahms piano quartet #3. Alas, previous commitments precluded my attendance. But I was lucky to have attended the final concert.
Gary Graffman must be around 70 years old now. He opened the concert with a Scriabin etude and an obscure Reineke sonata, both left-hand pieces. His accounts were troubled. While there were some nice tonal shadings, technical failings were difficult to ignore, and the Reinecke was further hampered by a lack of flow. Quite disappointing.
Things got a lot better with the London Chamber Orchestra String Quartet. The Schnittke Piano Quintet was very well played by all parties, atmospheric, by turn funereal and nostalgic. Graffman played with both hands and had some nice sonorities.
The second half featured Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, played urgently. The blend of the four strings, while not perfect, was decidedly superior to many a more famous ensemble. Vasko Vassilev, first violin, stood out for his incisive, even vehement playing. He phrasing was sharp, his tone often declamatory, yet his iron grip proved the perfect foil for his softer sounding colleagues. If the playing sometimes lack a lyrical side, it was always engaging.
Attendance was not too good. Andrew Freris’ customary address at the start of the concert took almost 10 minutes. Given that now there are program notes (pretty good) I see no good reason why the audience is obliged to listen to his pedestrian delivery.