Sunday night's SJE Arts concert at
We began with Arensky's Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky Op. 35a. Arensky was embedded in the musical life of late 19th century
To my ear Prokofiev must have had the opening Moderato as one of the pastiche models in his head when composing his Classical Symphony (1916) since in it there are surely nods to Arensky. The most attractive of the Variations elements is, I think, the fifth of them, the dreamy Andante, in which our pair of cellos and solo bass of Peter Buckoke displayed a pleasing depth of sound and resonance, a pretty precursor to and contrast with the twin plucked notes that concluded the variation.
W. A. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, is not one of his best-known from the 23 that form the true set; not of the complexity of the last nine or so, nor of the scintillating 'Jenamy' Concerto No. 9 (wrongly Jeunehomme). But then Mozart was not aiming here for complexity. Composed for a large public, he described them as having 'passages.... with which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction while the less learned also cannot fail to be pleased, although without realizing why.' He left a note in the manuscript that it could be performed a quattro (for strings alone) and this was our version here.
Pianist Viv McLean, an Oxfordshire musical stalwart, now appeared and it was immediately evident from the opening notes after the orchestral preamble in this unusual A major key that he intended to take his part at quite a rattle; I'd say at vivace rather than the marked allegro. Both here and in the concluding Rondeau I detected a bit of a rushed feel to the playing, and when I spoke to a knowledgeable music aficionado in the interval, I was interested that she used, unprompted, precisely the same word that was in my mind. In these concertos it's generally the soloist who sets the pace and the conductor, to a large extent must follow. In the
The second half began with Finzi's Eclogue for piano and strings. An eclogue is a short bucolic piece, and the well-read literatus will no doubt think of Virgil and Alexander Pope, and then in musical terms of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Finzi, contemporary of Delius and Vaughan Williams, was a keen gardener and in particular apple grower; he rescued some varieties of apple from oblivion. Was he contemplating upon an Ashmead's Kernel or a Pitmaston Pineapple as he composed this work in the late 1920s? There were to my ear hints of Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending in the opening, though perhaps not quite managing the sense of passionate pleading of that work, and the music ebbed and flowed between soloist and orchestra, building to a preliminary climax and then ebbing away again to a quiet solo piano passage.
Tchaikovsky left behind him a manuscript note to the effect that: 'The greater number of players in the string orchestra, the more this shall be in accordance with the author's wishes'. I doubt that 12 would have satisfied him, but our dozen belied the recommendation by playing with brio.