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Sunday, 20 December 2009





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Contemporary art gallery in the concert hall

A preview by Gwen Heart From the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Sometimes when I push my luck too far, it inevitably works. After rushing through many corridors and passages, I managed to sneak in for a preview of something my eyes failed to comprehend. I pinched myself to know whether I was dreaming because such was the impact. And here I was at the citadel of classical music.

Pianist Laif Ove Andenese and Robin Rhode

No; I was not dreaming; right in front of my eyes I was beholding a dramatically different scenario unfolding. Was I in the Royal Festival Hall or had I walked into a contemporary art gallery? Two great but different nationals were going through a dress rehearsal that was incredible. The stage was bare and dark. Powerful jets at focal points flickered in radiance to cast a mysterious effect. The piano (visual) and the paintings were in movement. There was magic in the air as well as mystery. Mussorgsky's voluptuous strains were in the air as well as merging visuals from an icon art gallery. One was passionately playing the keyboard cleverly visualised by the other while the stage was illuminated by a fleeting arabesque of colour. Clever and extraordinary lighting, set the artists apart.

Norwegian Pianist, Leif Ove Andenes and the youthful South African artist, Robin Rhode redefined the piano recital, bringing the aesthetics of a contemporary art gallery to the concert hall. Together, they created a new version of Mussorgsky pictures at an exhibition. The original score accompanied paintings by Viktor Hartmann. Today's new version created images for a 21st century performance.

Their pianoforte performance is not confined only to the works of Mussorgsky's earlier scores but included a new work by Thomas Larcher, written to accompany visuals. Ove Andenes also performed Schumann's Kinierszenen.

Leif Ove Andenes

This South African born virtuoso pianist is an amazing artist with new-thinking and a sense of momentum within stasis that is intended. There is clarity and texture at the tip of his fingers and although he plays an imaginative piano, it seems so realastice, out of this world. He is one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century. Renowned for the purity of the Masters, he pays tribute to them in the highest calibre.

In a sense, he demonstrates a poetic sensibility and relies heavily on Robin Rhode for greater assurance.

Balancing against the transcending music of the Masters, Ove Andenes is a confident Master himself in fluent music-making unimpeded by others or their influence, no matter how greater a composer can be.

The scores he selected for tonight's pre-performance had something to do with pictures and paintings that involved both Mussorgsky and Schumann.

Schumann's Kinderszenen op. 15 (1818) is an album of childhood scenes through an adult's eyes. The thirteen brief musical pictures include the ever popular Traumerei (Daydreams) which every student of the piano would have encountered. This score too was visually projected in a magnificent manner with the South African at the keyboard.

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) is one of the rare breed of composers. He was also one of the group known as the Mighty Handful especially for his forceful and original compositions. Widely accepted as the most perceptive and cultured thinker of his generation, Mussorgsky infused unusual brilliance to his scores that set him apart from the rest. Mussorgsky is difficult to digest unless one is into his music in a big way. His excellence and refinement in his music stemmed from the fact that Mussorgsky was a heel-clicking, impeccably dressed high society man from a landowning aristocracy.

Passionately fond of music from the time he was able to walk, his mother nurtured his talent with such fervour that he was able to play a John Field concerto by the time he was 13. A perfect intellect, both in music and academics, he became a heavy drinker that slowed his magnificent career.But Mussorgsky was well established in line with his contemporaries such as Bizet, Rheinberger, Sir John Steiner and Tchaikowsky among others.

He was as good as the rest. Fiercely loyal to his country, he depicted the Russian people in his music but with drinking in the process, his inspiration suffered a setback as he wrote pitifully small amount, often faultering.

Essential works

'Pictures at an exhibition' (1874) is Arguably the most important piano work by this Russian nationalist that impressed pianist-Leif Ove Andense and artist Robin Rhode of the London Philharmonic orchestra and since then, it is included in many of his presentations. Pictures at an exhibition was inspired by a memorial exhibition of paintings and drawings by Mussorgsky's friend, Victor Hartmann which reflects a visitor to the exhibition promenading from one work to another. It is even more popular in its orchestral version by Ravel.

Night on the bare mountain (1867), the better known version of this score by Mussorgsky as well as the original as well as the one by Rimsky-Korsakow is much in demand at concert halls. The work is a portrait of a midsummer night when the witches of Sabbath is held on the Bare Mountain near Kiev.

The Boris Godunov opera (1868-73) is essential to follow with an English translation this long and complex work as it extends over three hours. Regarded as one of the most significant epic operas, it will be difficult at the first hearing but once absorbed, turns out to be very fresh and rewarding. It is still the first authentic Russian opera with a Russian subject.

The music springs from the infections of speech, translated into natural melody. The highlights of the opera are 'The Coranation scene', and the famous 'Death of Boris' in Act. 4. The recording of the latter score by the icon, great bass, Feodor Chaliapin, is unforgettable.


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