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Notes from the 2010 Salzburg Festival ( 5 )

Camerata Salzburg 2

The second pianist to replace Ivo Pogorelich at the Camerata Salzburg Schumann/Chopin concerts (after he had been kindly asked to catch a ‘summer flu’ on short notice) was the 29 year old St. Petersburgian Polina Leschenko. Highly pregnant, she waddled to the piano bench, carefully placed herself on it, cradled her tummy during the orchestral introduction of Chopin’s e-minor concerto (No.1, op.11), and then hurled herself into the piano entry with headlong abandon. She made clear from note one that this wasn’t going to be another conservatory-style performance of immaculate facelessness, interchangeably pleasant and impeccably boring. Nor did she bother with dreamy, chiffon-in-the-breeze exaggerations that might fit the pregnant-with-Chopin cliché. Hers was a boldly willful interpretation, with a decidedly personal stamp but without distorting the concerto, as individual as it was musical, spellbindingly irregular, unpredictable. Attitude without the dysfunction. Had she played an encore—she didn’t seem keen on doing so and the audience’s applause, though generous, didn’t outright demand it, either—she might actually have played something funky like the Shschedrin Humoresque.

available at Amazon
F.Chopin, Piano Concertos,
Zimerman / Polish Festival Orchestra

available at Amazon
R.Schumann, Symphonies,
Barenboim / Stakap.Berlin

After the first movement, spontaneous applause broke out, but the applause-police was alert and hissed them back into shamed silence. How dare they be so misled by their emotions. But seriously: If you can’t get at least a few listeners to clap on instinct after the first movement of this concerto, then you have failed completely as a pianist. I can see myself agreeing that when you clap into a Bruckner Adagio or Wagner’s Good Friday music, the applause might be ill-placed. But if you think spontaneous appreciation mustn’t happen even after the bravura ending of a romantic concerto, then you clearly are mistaking art for religion, stages for altars, and you don’t act musically but cultish. Coughing your lung out is better between movements than explicit excitement?

The real crime is in any case committed by the eager early clappers, ready to ruin any resonant reverence just to show how very well they know the piece (and convention). I bet the intersection between those and the hiss-police is telling. (See the scientific looking, albeit completely speculative Venn diagram below.) Paula Polina Leschenko meanwhile, even if her many dynamic changes could have benefitted from more dynamic gradations, earned the highest possible compliment (lest we forget the purpose of Chopin—or any other music): She entertained. If the orchestra had supported her better, it would have been greater fun, still.

Speaking of orchestra: the Schumann—Symphonies Nos.4 and 2—was an improvement over the performances from Wednesday… but not by much and not by enough. The Camerata Salzburg still didn’t seem able to make much of Philippe Herreweghe’s chicken-dance conducting maneuvers. Timid trombones and drowsy clarinets, occasional, obvious attempts at zest and vigor, redeeming qualities in the respective last movements but flubs elsewhere: The artists’ individual excellence did not prevail in this coming-together. Herreweghe, methinks, should stick to orchestras and ensembles that know him well and with whom he achieves world class results and the Camerata Salzburg should stick to more efficient guest conductors if their artistic director Leonidas Kavakos isn’t on duty.


herman said...

A review that spends more time talking about the adience response than the performance is on the wrong track.

You can talk about applause; about coughing and rustling; about what to wear; the amount of silly stuff you can fill your review with is basically endless, and it will shrink the public, because you're not talking about the music in an exciting way, and you make the business of being in the audience more complicated.


jfl said...

Naturally I disagree; I think it's the audience that makes being in the audience more complicated... or else I wouldn't have dedicated a paragraph to the topic.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

Ah, the eager early clappers. One maimed the end of a performance of Billy Budd at the Kennedy Center a few years back. All I could think of at the time was my high school choir director who told us that "spontaneous" silence at the end of a piece is sometimes much more fitting and rewarding than an instant burst of applause.

(I also agree with your take on the vigilant applause police. I had a run in with them in Munich years ago. I still have the emotional scars.)

Thomas Hogglestock said...

Oh, and by the way I thought your description of the music was very compelling. I got a very vivid image of the pregnant pianist and wished I could have heard her play the piece.