The Rite of Spring *
Douglas Finch & Aleksander Szram (piano) *
Linda Hirst (soprano)
Ian Caley (tenor)
Omar Ebrahim (baritone)
Trinity College of Music Chamber Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 3 June, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
The advertised bill of fare had undergone a few changes come the actual concert – only Pulcinella remained, and conductor Diego Masson had withdrawn. What we had though was a fascinating juxtaposition of very different Stravinsky ballets, The Rite of Spring in blueprint rubbing shoulders with the baroque-based Pulcinella, which followed the Rite just a few years on; all part of a “Diaghilev 75th Anniversary Concert” (the impresario died in 1929), part of the Park Lane Group’s Anniversary Series, PLG’s chairman John Woolf on hand for a few introductory words.
Gavin Henderson, the Principal of Trinity College, wrote an enlightening article for the programme, “Picasso, Diaghilev and the Commedia Dell’Arte”, which had been illustrated earlier in person as the pre-concert talk. It was equally enlightening to hear the Rite in Stravinsky’s fully composed, and published, version for piano, four hands, especially in this very accomplished performance. While, inevitably, one misses the orchestra in certain passages, it says much for the sheer strength of the music that its harmonic and rhythmic innovations can be so well sustained in ‘black and white’ terms; even made clearer. With the orchestral colours so familiar one tends to hear them in the inner ear anyway – and I wonder if the performers are influenced in this way too – yet what was consistently compelling was the way Douglas Finch and Aleksander Szram thought and played as one – their four hands intertwining was fun to watch – with a technical and musical completeness that was revealing and fertile, the recesses of the opening to Part Two being hypnotically sounded. Prior to this, was it a member of the SBC staff that could be heard backstage on her walkie-talkie?
I changed seat for the second half to get away from some undesirables – to the left of me a woman flicking through her programme and mumbling; to the right another woman rustling the contents of her handbag (surreptitiously during the ‘loud bits’); a man behind was constantly shuffling, and behind him there was someone prone to unguarded throat-clearing.
Sitting further back in the QEH is to discover how resonant the hall is, which blunted the activities of the string players if not the wind and brass. Stravinsky is specific in requiring 33 wind and strings in total, five of the latter forming a separate group (here the Trinity-formed Elysian Quartet and, presumably, double bassist Javier Rodriguez); but balance wasn’t all it should have been, and Jan Latham-Koenig didn’t always find the score’s deadpan wit, preferring to keep a tight grasp on proceedings, which the more dramatic moments enjoyed, but there was overall a relentlessness and a lack of dimension that kept the score within parameters. The solo singing was sometimes inappropriate – Linda Hirst overly dominated ensembles and broke the line by being too operatic; Omar Ebrahim rather hammed things up; and Ian Caley at least offered something in-scale; although Koenig could have been more helpful to the vocal trio by setting more relaxed tempos, and been more hands-on when the strings were not unanimous.
However, one can only admire the dedication and skills of the young musicians – although it was an off-night for some of them – yet the oboes were excellent, Karen Chalmers’s bassoon playing was outstanding, and trumpeter David Hopkin contributed a crisp, confident solo. The good folk of Trinity College of Music are a lively and friendly bunch – there was a pre-concert and interval reception – and one looks forward to keeping in touch with Trinity’s future activities.