15 June, 2018

Geneva Camerata Greilsammer Mullova

Concert review: Geneva Camerata Greilsammer Mullova

June 14, 2018, HKU Grand Hall
Geneva Camerata - Victoria Mullova - David Greilsammer
Mendelssohn - Beethoven

After many years' absence (around 20 in fact) Victoria Mullova returned to HK. These days she has ventured into period performances, jazz and other things, so no wonder she was here partnered by the Geneva Camerata, a 5-year old ensemble under the leadership of the eclectic pianist David Greilsammer.

Each half opened with a recomposition by the Israeli composer Keren. The better was Debussy's Fireworks, from the Preludes. The orchestration reveals how "orchestral" the score is; indeed, many places revoke La Mer. Much less effective was the Variations on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess - not much swinging feeling, and the solo cello part felt perfunctory.

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto was played in Mullova's usual literal manner, technically impeccable but without much tonal shading, not to mention the elan so needed in this work. The HIP styled accompaniment was way too lean for this work. In my opinion, the luxuriant style of Mendelssohn is much less suited to HIP styled performances than his more classical forbearers Beethoven and Mozart (as borne out by the second half). Indeed, this performance mirrors that of the Ibragimova recording with the period Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Jurowski. Mendelssohn should be a well made Riesling rather than a very dry but colorless white.

While I was not thrilled, the audience gave Mullova a great ovation. As an encore she played a composition by her son Misha Abbado (what a name; son of Claudio), Brazil. It is actually an interesting piece, redolent of Bach and Villa-Lobos, but, again, Mullova was too literal.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 fared much better. Despite its reputation of New Age, the orchestra was obviously much more at home here. The playing was lean and mean, yet with verve and elan. Ditto the encore, last movement of Mozart's Prague.

Throughout, the young and excellent players played with great enthusiasm. Obviously, there was not the classic blend. The small string section (5, 4, 3, 3, 2) sounded seriously deficient in the Mendelssohn, less so in Beethoven and Mozart. Thus configured, the winds and brass were prominent. The wind players were characterful but a bit loose, and the valveless horns were a matter of taste. I cannot really assess Greilsammer's conducting, such a hell-fire bent! For myself, when it comes to chamber orchestras, I like a more mellifluous blend, such as those achieved by some of the Czech ensembles.

11 June, 2018

Artemis QuartetConcert Review: Artemis Quartet

June 7th, 2018, CH
Artemis Quartet

I have followed the Artemis Quartet (on CD) for a long time. However, this iteration of the Artemis Quartet is not one I am familiar with. The library has a lot of their EMI/Virgin recordings, which were all led by the formidable Natalia Prishepenko. Since she left in 2012, there have been no new recordings until relatively recently (on Erato). In the interim, like the Alban Berg, the ensemble also suffered death of a member (see wiki entry).

It must have been a tall order to be Prishepenko's successor but, judging from this concert, Latvian Vineta Sareika has done an excellent job. The ensemble plays with well-nigh perfect intonation and integration, with not a hair out of place. No wonder they are still an ensemble of top standing.

Beethoven's Op 18/3 was stylish and fluid. Janacek's No. 1 and Schumann's No. 3, both difficult works to carry off, were exemplarily played - in fact, I'd prefer a little more struggle and vehemence in both of these pieces.

One thing I found interesting about this ensemble. They possibly have the most blended sound I have heard in a quartet. In most quartet's (and other ensembles too) the lead violinist almost always sound just a little sharper and stand out more, but not this Artemis ensemble. Though she leads faultlessly, Sareika simply does not dominate the sound picture.