La valse poème choreographique
Concerto for piano Left-hand and orchestra
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
Maria Redman (piano)
Trinity College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 19 January, 2006
Venue: Concert Hall, Blackheath Halls, London, SE3
First a couple of ‘housekeeping’ items. The auditorium was both too hot and too brightly lit; in the case of the latter, literally an eyesore, the spotlights high above the audience could have been switched off to advantage without causing any reading problems for the orchestra.
The concert itself, well-prepared, and contrasting two of Ravel’s ‘darker’ scores alongside the spacious Messiaen, was a worthy occasion. Yet it seems that the ambient acoustic was responsible for there never being, once, a genuine pianissimo – thus what should be shadowy and sinister beginnings to both La valse and the Left-hand Concerto were vivid indeed but wholly lacking in mystery and anticipation; the contrabassoon and double basses that launch the concerto were simply too loud and clear.
However, the presence of Diego Masson, closely associated with Trinity College, ensured disciplined and engaging performances. He was somewhat too deliberate in La valse in that although the swaying motions that characterise the Viennese swirl were caught with affection (the strings producing an attractive bloom), come the cathartic moment when 19th-century ‘high society’ is subsumed by 20th-century destruction (La valse is, surely, a direct response to the horrors of World War One), Masson’s tight grip on the piece softened its barbed edges; furthermore, brass could be overly loud, and percussion, timpani especially, rather reticent.
If the acoustic was, once more, a barrier to the subterranean menace of the concerto (and, anyway, this important aspect seemed rather glossed over on this occasion), it was good to hear Maria Redman, a Trinity student, who gave an impressive performance. If she over-pedalled at times, and maybe nerves caused an occasional lack of poise, she maintained the concerto’s course admirably. Again there was little that was quiet – the piano, lid fully up, and positioned very close to the front row – contributed to this; but Redman’s shaping of the music was idiomatic and her playing of the cadenza, which can seem divorced from the whole, was a true culmination. She is someone to hear again – with both hands!
Although a concert hall – and, more appropriately, a church or cathedral – is perfectly fine for Messiaen’s Et exspecto…, he had in mind the great outdoors, the musicians spatially separated and sounding to each other across mountain tops. Impractical, no doubt (although Stockhausen’s helicopters could transport the musicians!), and perhaps not literally intended, but an interesting insight into the composer’s conception. Thus, had Trinity’s brass and percussion (bells and gongs) remained on the platform instead of coming down to floor level and the woodwinds had stayed as they were (instead of replacing the now not-required strings), then this relative distance might have been preferable to the rather claustrophobic ambience that was presented and in which some gong crescendos must have broken EU regulations on noise levels!
Nevertheless, this was a very fine performance, with a sonic splendour in the sonorous, long-note music, and a superb and confident co-ordination of the woodwinds’ rhythms; there were some very expressive solos, too. This is music that seems to have its own in-built acoustic, one that suggests tempos considerably broader than Masson chose; in fact, he chose ‘normal’ speeds and guided his musicians with skill, and the performance was a rewarding one, both in itself and as a Trinity showcase.
At the close Diego Masson was presented with a bouquet of flowers, and his final gesture was to gallantly hand it to a lady clarinettist.